A Travellerspoint blog

Haputale


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We had booked a 3rd class carriage (400rps / 2GBP each) for the 5.5 hour train journey from Kandy to Haputale, and from previous experience on Indian trains thought we might be in for a crampt, noisy journey. In fact there were more tourists than locals on the surprisingly comfortable train, and we settled into our window seats to gaze out to the incredible view, palm trees and paddy fields, tunnels and temples changed to high bridges that stretched over wild rivers and tea plantations with mountains that cascaded into the distance. All the windows and doors of the train open with lots of tourist heads leaning out to get a glimpse of the view, photographing and waving to locals as the train rattled past the stunning landscape.

At the station we were greeted by the unique humor of Ali, who insisted we should see his homestay, 'Ali Home', and maintained his daughter cooked the best food in Sri Lanka. How could we resist? He sat us down on the balcony with a pot of tea overlooking views of the mountains, telling us on a clear day you could see the sea.

We walked the 5 minutes into town, and were relieved to find that tourism hasn't left its footprint here quite yet. Lots of mechanical and paint shops, bakeries, fabric and bangle shops and lounging tuk tuk drivers. After a quick lap we returned back to Ali's homestay for a dinner of vegetable rice, plantain and coleslaw and it was easily the best we had tried so far. We booked a 5am tuk tuk for the following day so we could see sunrise over Lipton's seat and wrapped ourselves up for the cold evening ahead.

The alarm went off and we dragged ourselves out of bed, had a very quick cold shower, cup of tea, picked up our take-away breakfast of Jaffles (toasted sandwiches) and patiently waited for our slightly late tuk tuk. It was a slow, bumpy 40 minute journey to Lipton's Seat, the young driver had borrowed the tuk tuk from his brother and seemed to be struggling with the hills. We found ourselves peering into the darkness, following his finger where he was enthusiastically pointing out sights to us. By the time we reached the gate at the top the sky was getting lighter. We had missed the sunrise and a sign informed us there was still a 1.4km hike to reach Lipton's Seat. We started to follow the winding road, and seeing the routes through the tea that the pickers use, glanced about us and as there was nobody around, took the short cut. We scrambled up to the top to see the sun appearing through the clouds over the captivating mountains, the tea covering them like fur. We used the tea pickers route back and found ourselves in and amongst the beauty, continuing the 5km along the main road to the tea factory, the sun starting to warm up while the icy breeze kept us cool.
It was 9am by the time we reached Dambatenne Tea Factory and we were told to take a seat and wait for a guide, 40 minutes later we were still waiting. Eventually we were called in and the guide talked us through the process. Dambatenne have 1500 people working for them in over 370 hectares of land. Over 80kg of tea a day is picked and it takes them 3 days from picking to packing. They start by drying the leaves, and then place the tea into rollers that begin to break up the leaves, they are sent through a series of conveyor belts and machines that refine and cool the leaves. Eventually the tea powder is removed and then fired at 260 F and sifted removing any additional fibres. Five different grades of tea are produced at the factory and we tried tasting it alongside some french wine enthusiasts rolling and spitting expertly. We just drank ours and thought they all tasted the same - bitter and strong with tannin! Couldn't help feeling they needed a bit of milk and sugar!

We continued to walk further through the tea plantations not quite ready to take our eyes from the stunning views around us and eventually once our feet were hurting and we needed another cup of tea, caught the bus back. Ali had recruited a few more couples for his homestay and it turned out we had already met the German couple, Felix and his girlfriend on the train the previous day, we sat on the balcony watching the dark rain clouds roll in, and later as we sat down to vast amounts of assorted vegetable curries that Ali's daughter prepared and we were introduced to Arrack, the local liquor fermented from coconuts and surprisingly drinkable, especially when mixed with fresh coconut milk. The eccentric and drunk Ali was good entertainment, massaging the heads of the English couple with Vicks where they were suffering from colds.

The next morning the rain had cleared and we were woken up too early by unreliable cockerels and happy birds. After a breakfast of string hoppers, coconut samba, coconut curry, eggs and papaya, we caught a bus to Wellawaya and then waited for the next bus onto Tissamaharama. We were told by the enterprising locals that the next bus wasn't for another 3 hours and we should definitely get a tuk tuk, as the buses would be standing room only. Once they realised we weren't going to cave in, a bus was suddenly and immediately available and we settled into our seats for the 2 hour journey to Tissa.

Jane

Posted by gonetravelling 20:03 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged haputale Comments (0)

Kandy


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It felt good to get back to the hustle and bustle of city life. We arrived around lunchtime so set off around the lake to hunt down the hotel we had in mind. Found a little cafe on the side of the lake and decided to stop for a bit of lunch. The menu was quite extensive but after a brief chat with the owner we realised the only thing available was a 'rice and curry'. After a filling lunch we set off again circling the lake for what seemed like ages (especially with heavy rucksacks on) and started to wonder where the hotel might be. Decided to take a tuk tuk and the driver assured us that he knew a better, cheaper place that he took us to. Took a stroll into town and chatted with local stall owners about the different teas for sale whilst on route to the Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple Of the Sacred Tooth). Whilst on our way there we got chatting to a local kid about the famous Kandyan Dance and drum show that we also wanted to see. He convinced us we needed to get the tickets now to ensure a good spot to see the 'fire dancers'. Had about one hour to kill before the show started so walked back to the temple and persuaded the guards to let us into the grounds so we could take some photos whilst there was still daylight. Our seats for the show we on the balcony and we were surrounded by Chinese tourists, each with several cameras in constant use. The show had been advertised as a beautiful demonstration of traditional Sri Lankan dance, music and costumes. Unfortunately we both were left a little disappointed. The costumes were amazing, the drumming impressive but the show seamed quite amateurish and i felt half the cast didn't want to be there. Most disappointing were the 'fire dancers'. Everyone we had spoken to in Kandy told us how amazing these dancers were and that we simply had to see them. There were two guys who rolled a fire stick across their chest, put it in their mouths and then as a 'finale' walked up and down a short pit of hot coals in their bare feet. Maybe it was because we were a bit far away up on the balcony but i wasn't that impressed and the whole show did not live up to the hype.

The show finished with time for us to nip over to the temple for a special ceremony where we had been told the doors to the relic chamber would be opened and we could actually see the sacred tooth relic. The temple itself was incredibly grand with some very intricate carvings. There were lots of devotees patiently waiting with their flower offerings so we took up a spot in the background as the place seemed to fill up with more tourists. At 18:30 they opened the door to the relic chamber and swarms of tourists piled forward desperate to take a photo of the relic. Photo taken they would swarm out only for another group of tourists to take their place and repeat the process. It was so sad to see the tourists take priority over the religious devotees (who were still patiently waiting). All they seamed to want was a photo of the tooth relic with no real interest in the beautiful building they were in. I found it all very uncomfortable and rather embarrassing so we made our way out and walked along the lake back to the hotel. How cynical am I getting in my old age!

In the morning we returned to the restaurant where we had had lunch the day before because the breakfast menu looked so good. Same principle applied for breakfast and nothing on the menu was available! We had to settle for some veg rolls and samosas and a couple of milos to wash it down. Spent the rest of the morning getting supplies for the train ride up to the tea plantations.

James

Posted by gonetravelling 08:34 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged temple the of lake dance kandy tooth kandyan Comments (0)

Habarana


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Now considering ourselves veterans of the local Sri Lankan buses we settled in to our ride to Habarana, a good base to visit the ancient cities of Sigiriya, Dambulla, Ritigale and Polonnaruwa. Having skipped Anuradhapura we had our fingers crossed that these four would deliver..

First on our list was Polonnaruwa, the 12 century capitol of Sri Lanka, and Ritigale if time allowed. Our (Jane's) research had indicated the whole archeological site at Polonnaruwa could take a day to visit so, having woken up late we decided to drop Ritigale and hire bikes at Polonnaruwa to save a bit of time. Having haggled well for the bikes we headed off to the ticket office to purchase the rather extortionate $25 entrance ticket to the site. The ticket also included entrance into a very well thought out museum, showing intricate scale models and fascinating before and after shots of lots of the restoration work that has gone on. After the museum and our first taste of a proper Sri Lankan rice and curry we set off with our trusty guide who had agreed to show us the highlights of the archeological site. The most memorable for me where the Vatadage (circular relic house) with it's impressive moonstones, the precision of the Interlocking stonework of the Hatadage, the shere size of Rankot Vihara Dagoba, and finally the giant Buddha statues carved from a single rock.

The following day we set of early for Sigiriya, a giant rock that is said to be the highlight of the cultural triangle. We paid the overpriced (again) entrance ticket and walked through the ruins of the ancient city gardens to join the queue to the top of the rock. On the way up we stopped to marvel at the beautiful and highly skilled paintings of court ladies. The half way point saw us walk through the Lions Paws. Fending off bouts of vertigo we climbed the rickety steps up the side of the rock to the top. Once there we had an incredible 360 view of the Sri Lankan landscape. We wandered through the brickwork ruins of the ancient city palace, marveling at how this place was built during King Kashyapa's reign (477 - 495CE). We could soon feel the heat of the day and decided to make our way back down and headed for the museum. Unfortunately this was nowhere near as good as the one in Polonnaruwa and whilst impressively laid out it appeared to us to be scrapping the barrel a bit when it came to the things on show

Our last stop on the triangle were to be the caves at Dambulla and we were looking forward to getting out of the hot sun for a change. We jumped on the bus to Dambulla and chatted to a local boy on route to the caves. We were ushered off the bus opposite another stupa and behind a very gaudy and ugly building that turned out to be a museum to global Buddhism and also the same place that the caves were located. Again we paid the extortionate $35 entrance fee and set off to find the caves. We should have known that just because they are caves did not mean they would be up a massive hill (again!). Trying to convince a rather reluctant Jane that it would be good practice for Nepal we began yet another uphill climb. Finally we made it to the top where we had to leave our shoes before we could enter the cave temples. There are a total of five caves in all and they contain a collection of 150 Buddha statues of various sizes and positions. Upon entering the first cave i was surrounded by colourful Budha's and surprised to find every bit of the cave painted in someway or another. Although impressive, I felt they lacked the finesse of the paintings at Sigiriya. The other caves had much of the same with one having a large statue of a dead Buddha taking up the entire cave. After a short while we set off back down the hill and caught the bus back to the guest house to rest our weary bones

James

Posted by gonetravelling 08:29 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged caves stones buddha rock moon polonnaruwa dambulla sigiriya Comments (0)

Anuradhapura

sunny

We had pre-booked a train to Anuradhapura and after some initial confusion found the almost empty 'Expo' carriage. Grateful for the rush of air con that flooded over us, we were also treated to complementary bottled water, newspaper and cool towel (could get used to this). The 4-hour journey rattled along and it was dark when we arrived at 8pm. We relied on the taxi driver to recommend some accommodation for us, and he patiently drove us to ever cheaper hostels until we found a basic room in our price range.

The next morning we jumped on a local bus to Mihintale, 15km from Anuradhapura and 70rps (35p) for the both of us. The journey gave us a good view of the pleasantly green landscape, lush from the recent monsoon rains and was accompanied by Sri Lankan music loudly pumped through powerful speakers. The bus thermometer was already reading 33 degrees and it was still only 10.30am. We got a nod once we reached Mihintale and peeled ourselves off the plastic covered bus seats. Off the bus we were instantly greeted by a friendly tuk tuk driver, Amora who became our comprehensive guide. He spoke fondly and with great knowledge of the area first showing us the caves where the first Sir Lankan monks lived. Using acid made from the bark of a local tree they cut into the cave walls creating guttering, viaducts and stairways. These ancient cave dwellings were contrasted with the modern day caves where the monks live, now powered with electricity and better amenities but still humble. We walked around Black Water Pool (Kaludiya Pokuna) and watched the kingfishers and cormorants, the humidity making it feel like hard work.

It was 800 steps to the top of Mihintale Hill and on the way up we saw our first Giant Squirrel - lets hope these monsters don't get introduced to the UK. The grounds at the top opened out to a small stupa in the center. Looming large on one side another stupa 50m in height, in front of us steps leading to a sacred rock, and on the far side a huge Buddha on yet another raised stairway. The large stupa and views from it were stunning, the rich kaleidoscope of green trees below us, and the first time I have seen monkeys swimming, trying to cool down in the midday sun!

Jane

Posted by gonetravelling 07:36 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged anuradhapura Comments (0)

Colombo


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The Sri Lankan Air flight from Cochin was a lot quicker than we thought, we were still trying to identify our in-flight meal when the pilot announced we were coming in to land. We were stamped into the country and found a bus that seemed to be heading in the right direction, after an hour jumped out at Colombo Fort Bus Station, hailed a tuk tuk and after several attempts finally found the City Beds hostel where we were warmly greeted with cool towels. Its amazing how quickly small things become a luxury, and the clean room, comfortable bed and soft pillows were fully appreciated.

At breakfast the next morning we found we had a whole new menu to decipher and experiment with, and started off well with the Egg Rotis served to us on plastic wrapped plates. Refueled we set off to Pettah Market and on the way got chatting with a chap who told us that he was heading to a ceremony at Gangaramaya Temple for today's Hindu holiday and invited us to join him. The beautiful Buddhist temple had painted murals, towering Buddha's in different poses surrounded by figures of dwarfs and other sculptures with the temples prize on show, a lock of the Buddha's hair. We walked through the complex of rooms full with praying people, sacred trees, stupas, a museum of religious antiques and on the way out to collect our flip flops, the resident temple elephant.

Our new found guide suggested we visit a gem shop, and we thought we would take a quick look knowing there was no chance our budget could stretch to the beautiful sapphires Sri Lanka is known for. We bought a token $1 gem stone and on the way back to the hotel dropped our 'guide' off at the station. Now no longer accompanied by a local, the tuk tuk driver decided to name his price as a ridiculous 2000LKR (£10) - new country, new currency, new rules and a little unsure we argued our way down to a still ridiculous 1000LKR and walked the rest of the way to the market airing our frustration.

The Hindu holiday meant that a lot of the stalls around Pettah Market were shut, so we walked through the food market trying to identify the various weird and wonderful fruit and vegetables neatly stacked and colour coordinated. We strolled past the old town hall building and the 10 minutes back to our hotel, and as we only had an hour before our train, walked over to see the old dutch hospital that had been converted into trendy restaurants well above our budget. Instead for lunch we picked up some vegetable roti for a quick take away snack for the train.

Jane

Posted by gonetravelling 05:29 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged colombo Comments (0)

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