Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer Holidays 2012- Sri Lanka – Part I - We visited Pinnawala & Kandy

I did a lot of planning for the annual foreign jaunt – East Europe, Turkey, Far East etc. Somehow, none of these destinations worked out. The response from my friends was also not very encouraging. People dropped out due to clashes in program, shortage of funds and a variety of other reasons. I was determined to give Jai a break from her hectic school routine. I firmly believe in the adage ‘Work hard and play even harder’. It’s very important to break away from everything routine and embark on a trip of some sort, somewhere, just for a while, to nourish one’s body and soul. French President Mitterrand was famous for sneaking out of Paris without letting anybody know where he was spending his holidays. If he, with a nuclear button in hand, could get away from it all – I am sure we ordinary mortals can do the same.Once again Ms Gowri from ‘Travel Bazaar’ did all the ground work and made out a very interesting 13 day package for Sri Lanka. Kats and Navin joined us very eagerly. I had visited Sri Lanka many times during the IPKF operations, but in a non tourist mode. So, I was keen to see Sri Lanka after 30 long years of bloody internal strife.

Sri Lanka figures high in the list of ‘Breakout Nations’ by Ruchir Sharma. He notes ‘Sri Lanka may surprise us as a high-growth nation in the coming years’. Post 2010 there has been a steady growth in FDI. Tourism has emerged as one of the top six FE earners along with tea, rubber, garments and low end manufacturing. Sri Lanka is home to eight World Heritage Sites: Galle, Kandy, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruva, the Dambulla cave Temple, the Central Highlands, and  the Sinharaja tropical rain forest. The industry has picked up dramatically post 2009 and continues to attract tourists from all over the world. In real terms, visitors from India topped the list in 2010, while UK came a close second. Germany, Middle East and France accounting for the other major shares.The 800,000th visitor to Sri Lanka arrived in Colombo on 16 Dec 2011. Tourism revenue rose  from 64.8 percent in 2010 to a record US$ 576 million. This year the country expects US$ 800 million tourism income and US$ 1 billion next year. Nearly 950,000 tourists are expected to visit Sri Lanka next year.Apart from heritage sites, hill stations, golden beaches, rivers and wild life – Sri Lanka also has the advantage of offering 4/5 star accommodation at very reasonable prices when compared with Europe and India. The package offered by Travel Bazaar was indeed reasonable and included some of the best properties in SL.

27th April 2012 – Arrival Colombo

After a very short journey we landed at ‘Bandaranaike International Airport’, Colombo at 2200 hrs. Kats and Naveen joined us from Delhi a few minutes later. Without further ado, Kats and I proceeded to the duty free shop to fortify ourselves with some elixir for the duration of our stay. With our newly purchased confidence we were ready to face whatever Sri Lanka had to offer. We checked into the Jetwing Beach Hotel in Negombo. The hotel is located on the beach and the rooms have a clear view of the sea. After a good night’s rest and a scrumptious breakfast we commenced our SL tour. Negombo is similar to Pondicherry in many ways.

Figure 1 - View from the room

Figure 2 - View of our room

Figure 3 - Mighty Indian Ocean

Figure 4 - Jai and Naveen

Figure 5 - Kats and self

28th April 2012 – Pinnawala - Kandy

As we finished our breakfast and came to the hotel lobby, Mr Duminda, a giant of a man and our driver and guide, was waiting to receive us. He had brought along a ‘Nissan Caravan’ which was going to be our ‘vahana’ for the next 13 days; a very spacious, comfortable and sturdy vehicle. The best part of the travel deal was that, both the Nissan and Duminda would stay with us for the entire duration.

Figure 6 - Photo op with Duminda

Our first stop was the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian Elephants located at Pinnawala village. It is notable for having the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. In 2011, there were 88 elephants, including 37 males and 51 females from 3 generations, living in Pinnawala. The orphanage was established to feed, nurse and house young elephants found abandoned by their mothers. Young elephants sometimes fall into pits and ravines in their quest for water during periods of drought. Other orphans have been displaced from their wild habitat by development projects or have been found abandoned before weaning, diseased or wounded. This elephant orphanage also conducts captive breeding of some elephants in its care.

Figure 7 - Three more elephants - 88 + 3

Figure 8 - A close up of elephants having a mud bath

Figure 9 - Jai and Naveen feeling happy about their size

Figure 10 - An 82 year old blind elephant in the orphanage

Figure 11 - On their way through the village for a bath

Figure 12 - The naughty ones are chained

Our next stop was the ‘Elephant Poo Paper’ factory – a very interesting and educative visit.

Figure 13 - Vegetarian Diet

Figure 14 - Food on table

Figure 15 - The process

Fibers are then boiled in a container for at least a day to ensure they are clean and soft. Later, they are washed in fresh water. Surprisingly it does not smell at all. The next process is to spin dry the fiber and soak it in the required color for 3 hours. The fibre is then pulped and mixed in a small paper making vat and put in a shallow mould to make paper. Once the paper id dried it is either smoothened by stones or by passing it through a calendaring to make it smooth and usable. It was a very interesting revelation to all of us. In the end it pays to be a vegetarian.

Figure 17 - The final product

Figure 18 - Paper quality

Figure 19 – Circle of Conservation

Drive to Kandy

The country side in many ways resembles Kerala, Goa and Mangalore – lush green country side with varieties of trees, plants and shrubs. The weather is also similar – hot and humid. However, under the shade it is comfortable.

Figure 20 - Country side

The comparison ends there. As one drives on their national highways, the differences start to slowly emerge and stand out. All the roads are in an extremely good condition and are clearly marked. The population of Sri Lanka is just 21 million – with Sinhalese 73.8%, Sri Lankan Moors 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 3.9%, other 0.5%, unspecified 10%.The religious break up being - Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10%. Majority speak Sinhala, followed by a small percentage speaking Tamil. English is widely spoken, especially by those connected with tourism.

To understand the impact of population on various aspects of Sri Lankan life, I have made some simple comparisons.The State of Kerala  has a population of 31 million people in an area of 38863 square Km. On the other hand, the island of SL has an area of 65610 square kilometers - almost double of Kerala with only 21 million. The Population density (people per sq. km) in Sri Lanka was last reported at 332.64 in 2010.Where as Kerala has a density of 859. As a result, their village centers are not overcrowded; highways are relatively free from traffic congestion and the overpowering presence of humans is less if not totally absent.

We reached Kandy by 3PM and checked into a hotel called the ‘Mahaweli Reach’, located on the banks of the river Mahaweli. The hotel has a nice blend of both old world charm and modernity – the staff is very pleasant and welcoming, their spontaneity  makes the guests instantly feel at home. The over bearing and officious atmosphere of a 5 star hotel is fortunately absent and one finds a feeling of familiarity.

Figure 21 – Mahaveli Hotel - by the river

Figure 22 – The Jack Fruit pool

Figure 23 - The dining area

Figure 24 - Photo op in the garden

29th April 2012 – At Kandy

The very first item of the day was a visit to – Temple of the Tooth - Sri Dalada Maligawa 

Located in Kandy, the stunning 17th-century temple is believed to house the left upper canine tooth of the Lord Buddha himself. This precious relic attracts white-clad pilgrims, bearing lotus blossoms and frangipani, every day.
According to legend, the tooth was taken from the Buddha as he lay on his funeral pyre. It was smuggled to Sri Lanka in 313 AD, hidden in the hair of Princess Hemamali who fled the Hindu armies besieging her father's kingdom in India.

The tooth relic is removed from its shrine only once a year, during the Esala Perahera, a 10-day torchlight parade of dancers and drummers, dignitaries, and ornately decorated elephants. It is now one of the better-known festivals in Asia, and it may be the largest Buddhist celebration in the world.

Figure 25 - The Sanctum Sanctorum

Figure 26 - Navin offering flowers and prayers at the temple

Figure 27 - The walls leading to the inner chambers decorated with intricate and colorful batik paintings depicting the life of Buddha

Figure 28 - Images of Buddha

Figure 29 - Old walkway in excellent condition

Figure 30 - A colorful wooden exterior

Figure 31 - Beautiful Kandy Lake

Figure 32 - Jai and Naveen at the temple

Thereafter we went and visited a gem factory. Sri Lanka’s mineral rich soils have been yielding a seemingly never ending supply of high quality precious and semi precious gem stones such as Sapphires, Star Sapphire, Rubies, Star Rubies, Alexandrite, Cat’s eyes, Garnets, Zircons, Tourmalines and Spinels. The gem industry in Sri Lanka is of great antiquity.

In the factory we were able to watch a very interesting and educative video on gem mining.

Figure 33 - Sand model depicting the insides of a mine

In the evening we attended a cultural show depicting various dance forms of Sri Lanka

Figure 34 - Traditional Pooja dance

Figure 35 - Thelme dance which is a vibrant expression of pure classical and rhythmical dance from the low country

Figure 36 – Salupliya dance depicting several demons. Popular in Southern Sri Lanka

Figure 37 - Raban dance, displaying balancing with skill

Figure 38 - Kulu traditional folk dance

Figure 39 - A drummer in a Ves dance - King of Kandyan dance form

Figure 40 - Traditional Fire walking

Total Relaxation with Kats

This marked the end of our stay in Kandy.After paying respect to 'Johnnie Walker' followed by a light dinner we went to sleep in the luxurious confines of 'Mahaveli Reach' 

1 comment:

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