The Lanka Sojourn- Part 4 (Bentota)

And here I am with my final part of the travelogue before the year is over, as promised ๐Ÿ˜€

Part 3 can be read here,

Part 2 here and

Part 1 here

*******

So after a blink n miss visit to Nuwara Eliya, we set out at 7 in the morning for Bentota, a beach town.

Here again it was a long long drive which took us about 7 hours to get to our destination, despite travelling through the newly built expressway. But this time I didnt let that dampen my spirits, even though I was being sprayed with bullets of ‘when will we reach?’, ‘how much more time left?’, ‘where is the beach?’, ‘are we there yet?’ from Namnam.

Oh c’mon! We were heading to a beach town. Beaches- our favourite holiday destination. We couldnt let anything kill that excitement for us, could we? Not even a long stretch of road!

So off we zoomed, halting on the way to pick up some yummy Rambutans (which tasted very much like lichees) from a street-side fruit-seller

Rambutans
Rambutans

and then for lunch, where we got to taste some finger-licking devilled-chicken with rice and later on some delicious Helapas, a sweet dish wrapped in banana leaves!

At around 2 in the afternoon we reached Avani Bentota Resort & Spa, a beautiful resort tucked cozily by the beautiful Bentota beach. The very fact that the resort opened out to the beach was enough for us to fall in love with the delightfully refreshing surrounding. We checked in to a spacious room that had a balcony boasting of a lovely view of the swaying palm-trees and the sea.

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And for the next 3 days we had a completely relaxing and rejuvenating time, just the kind of break we needed. Most of our time was spent lazing around the beach. Even though there were red flags put up at every few meters on the beach cautioning us of heavy tides, it didnt stop us from venturing out to enjoy a little bit of splash of our own every now and then :).

Let me not do any more talking and rather let some of the images talk to you all instead…

Avani Bentota Beach Resort..
Avani Bentota Resort & Spa..
There's my monkey learning to climb a tree!
There’s my monkey learning to climb a tree!

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Nooooo, dont wash away my drawing...
Nooooo, dont wash away my drawing…

And on days when we felt unsafe going to the beach, we either lounged by the pool

Avani Bentota Beach Resort
Avani Bentota Resort & Spa

or stepped out to explore the vicinity.

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Even though there were many water-sports activities that one could indulge in, we weren’t very keen on trying any. The only outdoor activity we did was go on a boat-ride for a mangrove tour on the Bentota river.

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Now that looks eerie, doesnt it?
Now that looks eerie, doesnt it?
Thats a water monitor we met on the way and said hello to :)
Thats a water monitor we met on the way and said hello to ๐Ÿ™‚
And a crocodile too. Do you see the small black streak in the water? Yep, thats the one!
And a crocodile too. Do you see the black streak in the water? Yep, thats the one!

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feeding the fishes in the resort-pond
feeding the fishes in the resort-pond

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Waves coming at me, are you?
Waves, coming at me, are you?

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With the mornings largely being spent drenching ourselves, and soaking in the sun, the evenings were about listening to the lilting sound of the waves lapping against each other, feeling the soft cool brush of air with a book in hand to engross in...
With the mornings largely being spent drenching ourselves, and soaking in the sun, the evenings were about listening to the lilting sound of the waves lapping against each other, feeling the soft cool brush of air with a book in hand to engross in. Perfect way to unwind!

With this its a wrap on a reliving recount of a truly memorable holiday ๐Ÿ™‚

The Lanka Sojourn- Part 3 (Nuwara Eliya)

Part 2 can be read here and Part 1 here

********

The only leg that turned out to be a blot in our otherwise fabulous holiday! Yeah, you read that right! We didn’t enjoy the city as much as we had hoped to.

Nuwara Eliya, situated at an altitude of 1868 m, is mainly known for its vast spread tea-plantation. And when our guide cum driver mentioned that the city was further up from Kandy, I let out a yelp thinking about the long drive ahead!

But the prospect of driving past the picturesque locales and beautiful waterfalls got us all excited and charged up! To add to that we learnt while checking out of Kandy, that our tour operator had upgraded us to a 5 star hotel in Nuwara!

The day had started off well.

We set out in the wonderful weather on a drive which was supposed to take us just about 2 hours or so … but ended up taking more than 4 hours!

The views on the way were beautiful, no doubt. Perhaps even more than Kandy. The entire route was filled with water falls and tea plantations spread far and wide.

The waterfalls

Barely an hour into our drive, we were taken to a tea factory where we got to see how tea was manufactured, how tea leaves were ground, then dried, powdered and then graded.

Grinding in process

Getting briefed about how the tea leaves, once ground, dried and powdered are graded based on their strength.

We were treated, right after to a steaming cup of factory-produced tea.

**Unfortunately the Ceylon tea, as it is more popularly known worldwide, was not much to my liking…even the strongest tea was too light for my taste! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Nevertheless, the tour around the factory was well worth the experience.

From here, we set out on our way up to the hotel and it was from this point that our journey began to drag. We had hoped to reach the hotel in time to have lunch but even after two hours’ drive, it was nowhere in sight. Thats when our driver said that the hotel was a good two hours further away from the city which made us realize that not all upgrades can be a welcoming proposition!

Namnam was so bored and we, so tired after the long walk around the factory followed by the long drive that we decided to halt at a cafeteria on the way and fortunately for us the cafe also had an outdoor play area. So we rested there for about 15minutes while Namnam had some fun on the slides and swings.

By the time we reached Heritance Tea Factory after a steep climb up, we were famished and terribly exhausted.

So much so that we couldn’t wholeheartedly enjoy the beautiful surrounding which the hill-resort was known for.

View from the lawn of Heritance Tea Factory

We were to be there for just one night and more than half the day had already passed which we had spent mostly on road.

And since we had reached well after the lunch hour there wasnโ€™t much we could feast on either and the restaurant staff took their own sweet time to serve us food.

Even worse the location of the hotel was so far away from the city that there were no restaurants or eating joints that we could just stroll by to feed our growling tummies. Not even a shop where we could run to get a pack of biscuits for Namnam who was terribly hungry.

To add to that we were put through a long wait for checking in ๐Ÿ˜ก

It was clearly not turning out to be a very relaxing and stress free day.

This is where we realized that the hotel, although a five star property, was not something we would recommend for families with small children, because for us it was not favourably placed at all. Not only did we have a rough time getting there, but the place seemed completely cut off from the city with no shops or pharmacies in the vicinity.

It may be a good option for couples, young and old alike, for whom the townโ€™s obvious detachment from the city could be appealing. But it didnโ€™t appeal to us much.

Anyway we checked ourselves in , finally, after which we had only few hours in hand within which time we unpacked, freshened up, managed to walk around the property, take a few pictures of the surroundingโ€ฆ and got back to the room to pack again for the next dayโ€™s journey.

Some snaps of the moments captured..

Oh yeah, we did find a play area in the hotel premises too! The only plus we could attribute to the hotel, aside the beautiful surrounding

Like I mentioned earlier, it was not that the city was not beautiful. Perhaps on another day, at a different time I would have enjoyed staying in tea factory, but not this particular day that we chose, or rather our tour operator chose for us.

To be continued…

PS: Dont worry, people! I shall be back with my final part before the year is over ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Lanka Sojourn- Part 2 (KANDY)

Part 1 can be read here..

******

Where were we? The spice garden, right.

So after a long walk around the garden we set off for Kandy.

About 115kms further from Colombo, Kandy city is situated in the midst of hills with an altitude measuring 500m. It was also the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom. It is now a World Heritage Site.

The distance between the garden and the hill station was covered in a little over an hour. It was a smooth drive for the next 30 minutes or so with heavenly weather riding along with us all through. There were some downpours on the way, however, which reminded me of the warnings by the weather sites and almost made me anxious about the possibility of having our holiday getting doomed even before it took off properly. But the rains lasted barely for a few minutes, lifting my spirit up again.

Oh no dont get me wrong! My eternal love for rains was very much intact and I didnt mind the showers…but I didnt want a busted-holiday either, you see! :mrgreen:

With the start of the next half hour began our climb up the hills. It was a bumpy ride up which we were prepared for after reading about it in TripAdvisor. The website had even reviewed that the rough ascent would give way, in time, to this hotel where we were to check in, and which would boast of a scenic view from atop.

And as we drove up, our guide pointed us towards the hotel beautifully nestled in the hill tops of Kandy.

Amaya Hills

In a few minutes we were in Amaya Hills completely spell-bound by the breathtaking view of the valleys and mountains. Add to that- yes, you guessed it right- the smiling faces and warm welcoming gestures of the hotel staff :). In no time the bumpy rides that got us here were forgotten!

The header that you see now was taken from the lobby of the hotel. It was an amazing feeling to see Namnam take in the beauty of her green and lush surrounding, breath in the cool breeze and connect with nature from up close ๐Ÿ™‚

A bit of a downside here and every hotel that we stayed in Sri Lanka, though, was the long wait that we were put through while checking-in. In Kandy, however, we were willing to over-look the waiting time of almost an hour, mainly because of the picturesque views that we had been greeted with all around the property.

So while R went to take care of the check-in formalities, Namnam and I went around taking pictures of every plant, every flower, every mountain, every corner in sight, in every possible angle and expression! Even the balcony railing was not spared by Namnam, who had a field click-clicking with my phone-camera during our entire holiday ๐Ÿ™‚

And then, as though, to make up for the delayed check in, we got upgraded to a junior suite. We didnt mind it one bit of course! :). It was a very spacious, well made up and extremely comfortable suite with an amazing view of cloud capped valleys.

Heavenly, isnt it?

After a long flight and a winding drive up, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to unwind and relax.

The next day, after a sumptuous breakfast, we headed to the Royal Botanical Garden, a sprawling garden situated in Peradeniya, about 4 miles off Kandy. The garden covers approximately 147 acres with extensive and well-kept lawns, varied collection of medicinal plants, orchids, spices and palm trees.

Namnam was so taken in by the numerous flower beds donning the garden that she had my phone firmly focused all through the walk, continuously clicking shots of whatever she could lay her eyes on!

The garden’s history dates back to year 1843 when it was formally established with plants brought in from Kew Garden, United Kingdom, Slave Island, Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka. We saw many trees that had their origins going as far back as 1900.

This tree was planted in 1922 by the then H.R.H Prince of Wales

And this very space was alternately used by our little princess to hop back and forth as a means of amusing herself!

Dont believe me? See for yourself..


And this went on for sometime until madam declared that she was tired and needed a break. She perched atop ‘her throne’ and we headed to a nearby cafe.

What did y’all think ‘her throne’ was? The father’s neck of course! ๐Ÿ˜€

And here I’d like to mention another attribute of Sri Lanka that I was very impressed with. Hygiene.

There was no doubt that this was a beautiful country, but what particularly amazed us was how much they cared about hygiene, especially in the restrooms. And this held true for not just the star-category hotels and upmarket restaurants, but even those small shops in the nook of a city. There were a couple of occasions where Namnam had had to use the public toilets, sometimes at a garment shop, sometimes in a cafe and sometimes in a street-side restaurant, but each place we went to, had a spotless, clean and well-maintained toilet. I couldn’t help but wonder about how this country which otherwise looked and felt so similar to my own, was way different and ahead, when it came to keeping and maintaining a clean environment around. And I admit I felt a tad bit envious upon realizing this.

Next we visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which houses Sri Lanka’s most revered Buddhist relic- a tooth of the Buddha. The tooth is believed to have been retrieved from the Buddha’s funeral pyre in 543 BC and smuggled into Sri Lanka in the 4th century AD hidden in the hair of a princess.

Interestingly it is during poojas or special offerings that the heavily guarded room which houses the tooth is open to devotees and tourists. It is kept in a gold casket which further contains six caskets of diminishing size with probably the smallest casket containing the tooth. Even then one doesnt get to see the actual tooth. On days when the room is open the visitors are only allowed to see the gold casket from the doorway.

The room that houses the tooth relic- Unfortunately the time we visited the shrine, there were no poojas or offerings, hence the room was closed for public viewing.

However we were lucky to have stumbled upon a taxidermy of Raja and learned about this great tusker who carried the casket of the tooth relic at the Esala Perahara- the grand tooth festival- from year 1950 to 1987. He was declared a national treasure by the Sri Lankan Government in 1984. He died in 1988. His stuffed remains are kept in a museum within the safe confines of the Tooth Relic Temple.

Raja taxidermied…

From the temple, we, then, headed back to the hotel. We were so famished that a simple dhall and rice tasted the yummiest to our growling tummies!

Dhall, by the way, is the Sri Lankan version of Daal, a very very delicious one at that. I could have it plain with no side dishes and relish all the same!

With this, our two-day stay in Kandy was almost over :(. We packed and kept our bags ready for the journey ahead and retired for the day. Our next destination. Nuwara Eliya, the hill city known for its tea plantations.

To be continued…

The Lanka Sojourn : Part 1

*** A long long travelogue up ahead.Tread with caution ๐Ÿ˜‰ ***

More than a month has passed since our trip to this beautiful country… yet it brightens my whole being, even now, when I think of our days spent here.

The land where cool breeze of air brushed our cheeks, where the wet muddy smell of earth awakened our senses early in the morning, as soon as we stepped out of the airport, where the grey clouds smiled at us invitingly, where vast spread mountainous greenery mesmerized us with their lushness, was a welcome change from the torrid land we were coming from.

Sri Lanka, with an apt alias of ‘The Resplendent Isle’, an island so rich and resplendent in nature was a joy to explore.

It was after much discussion and pondering that we zeroed in on this destination as our probable holiday spot. Now most of the odds were in favour of us going to SL…

Its close proximity to India, being one. We anyway had plans to go to India for summer, so making a stopever in Sri Lanka on the way would only add to the fun quotient.

The second reason was that the island, we had heard, was very much like India, more specifically Kerala. And Kerala was one place I was yearning to go back to but kept pushing it away, for that would have taken up most of our time shuttling between relatives’ houses back and forth and given us very little time to enjoy the real beauty of the place. Hence Lanka which would give us a very homely feel to our stay and at the same time let us enjoy nature in its own beautiful way.

And the third reason was that I always had a desire to visit this little tear-drop shaped island tucked cozily off the coast of India at some point in my life.

And this year the time seemed just right.

The only thing that held us back, if at all, was the country’s long drawn battle with terrorism and climatic challenges like Tsunami. But a general read through various websites and checking up with some friends and tour operators gave us a clear idea of how the country was well past its turbulent phase and looking up again.

Our fears quashed and we geared ourselves up to plan our vacation further.

The very prospect of planning a holiday, browsing through all possible travel sites, looking up hotels, reading their reviews, chalking out the things we could do, the places we could go to was as exciting to me as the holiday itself ๐Ÿ˜€

After some massive research and calls to our travel agent I chose a 6nights 7 days package for us. Although a couple of weather sites had warned about the monsoon season peaking at the time of our travel, we still decided to go ahead with our plans. Whats vacation if not laden with some uncertainties and adventure on the way, isnt it?

So off we set out for our journey ahead…

We arrived at Colombo airport in the early morning of 10 July and one of the first things to appeal to me was the smiling faces of the people of Sri Lanka. From the air-hostesses with their hands folded, welcoming us ‘Ayubowan’, a Sinhalese way of greeting which has a wider meaning roughly translating to “May you live long and healthy” to the immigration staff to the guide who greeted us at the arrival desk to the hotel staff to practically any random stranger we came across through our journey, everyone had a warm smile on their faces. It made us realize how much of a positive difference it can make to your holiday if the people of the country you are trying to explore are warm and courteous and are willing to make you feel welcome.

From the airport we headed towards Kandy, the second largest city in the country after Colombo.

Enroute we visited the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a nursery housing a large herd of orphaned elephants.

A little trivia about this nursery…

***Please feel free to doze off or take a stroll and come back fresh to view the pictures I have shared below ๐Ÿ˜€ This is purely to keep a record of this wonderful place we visited :).***

As per Wikipedia, Pinnawala village is known for having the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. This orphanage, established in 1975, was founded to provide care and protection to these wild elephants found straying in and around the forests of Sri Lanka. The orphanage started off with seven orphaned elephants. Today, however, some of the orphans have the good fortune of seeing their grandchildren being born in the same area. With the help of some local and some foreign elephant experts, the nursery successfully started a captive breeding programme through which the first baby elephant was born in 1984.

After a four hour flight, I was not sure how well Namnam would enjoy the trip to this nursery. But it was endearing to see her elated face as she spotted so many elephants from close quarters.

The oldest Tusker

We had oodles of fun watching these elephants move about freely with no fear or threat, particularly adorable was to see baby elephants run around trumpeting mischievously.

We got a chance to feed one of the elephants too. Namnam was a bit hesitant to feed the tusker herself, so she chose to stand by me and watch instead ๐Ÿ™‚

From one elephant to another ๐Ÿ˜€

What made our experience even better was the amazing view of the mountains surrounding the park majestically

God how I can never have enough of greenery!

Our next halt was the spice garden where we got to see some of the plantations like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, pepper, etc. that Sri Lanka was famous for.

Pepper
Cocoa
Cocoa
Bay leaves/ Tej-patta

We were greeted by the garden-representative who, very enthusiastically, took us around for a tour of the garden. So charged up was he to make us buy all the spices and herbs that he ensured to show us every possible corner. And finally succeeded in convincing us to buy a bottle of mosquito repellent made with citronella grass produced there! Must say that the repellent was quite effective though.

We were also greeted by a bunch of touch-me-nots who particularly amused Namnam :).

Watching her playfully fiddling with them made me reminisce about my own childhood when I used to have a field fingering touch me nots grown in my grand-parents’ garden in Kerala :).

While R & Namnam were giving a bored patient hearing to the representative’s briefing, I meandered away to indulge myself in a far more interesting activity- click some photos..

No I am not going ask you to guess the fruit! I know you all are smart enough to know it to be a red pineapple!! I clicked this because it was the first time I had spotted one raw in a garden! Now go ahead laugh all you want! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜›
Yep that’s lime! And you get 100 points ๐Ÿ˜€
The rep engaging his young client by giving her some of the garden-produced cinnamon powder to smell. Hmmm what aroma!

So..after a lot of photo clicks and an energy-sapping garden tour we finally rode our way up to Kandy, a beautiful city situated in the midst of hills.

Journey continued..

**I heard your squeal of dread**