Sunday, June 17, 2012

Summer Holidays - Sri Lanka Part IV– We visited Ahungala

05 to 07 May 2012 – Festival of Vesak

As we travelled from Yala to Ahungala, one could see the entire country engulfed in a festive spirit. ‘Thrice Blessed’ anniversary of the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha – ‘Poya’ is celebrated all over the country with great passion. May 6 to 10 saw Sri Lanka rejoicing the 250th year anniversary of Buddha. Visak is essentially a festival of illumination. The city centers are decorated with colorful flags which brighten the day and lanterns which illuminate at night – with a strong belief that ‘The light of knowledge dispels darkness of ignorance’. ‘Poya’ though a religious festival takes on a carnival atmospherewith people coming on the  streets dancing and making merry

They also set up food counters on these days distributing sweets, aerated drinks, ice cream, noodles and variety of food - free to the public. The event is termed ‘Dansala’ meaning free offering of food and drinks. In the hotel they had organized a special entertainment program for “Vesak Poya’. Fire dance in the pool, mermaid display and live band entertained us into the wee hours.
We were very fortunate to have witnessed and participated in the festival. 

Figure 1 - A boy distributing soft drinks

Figure 2 - Dancers wearing Hanuman – Monkey God costume

Figure 3 - Road side decoration

Figure 4 - Decoration in the city - Galle

Figure 5 - A decorated elephant

Figure 6 - Another decoration

Figure 7 - Traditional dancers at the hotel

Figure 8 - Lighted lanterns at the city center  - Colombo

Figure 9 - Buddha lit up for the occasion - Colombo

Figure 10 - A round about decorated with lighted lotus - Colombo

Figure 11 - A lotus in the entrance of 'Taj Samudra' – Colombo

Figure 12 - ' Taj Samudra’ itself lit up for the occasion - Colombo

05 to 07 May 2012 – Stay in hotel ‘Heritance Ahungala’

The drive from Yala to Ahungala is along the coast line and the sea keeps you company all along. The entire belt is full of beach resorts, hotels and home stays, maximizing sun and sand tourism. Our next stop was at ‘Heritance Ahungala’. Built on an excellent location the hotel offers all the very best a tourist desires. A stretch of absolutely clean beach faces the property, inviting the residents to go on long walks or catch a dip in the sea. The hotel has a very nice pool which is quite popular with the residents.

Travel Advisory - Gorging

Another very interesting feature of any holiday or travel is ‘Gorging’. I do not know what exactly happens with the human body and mind when on a holiday – may be they also go on a holiday and allow unabated gluttony. Take my own case – I am overweight and diabetic – I control my diet very carefully and monitor my sugar levels and weight on a continuous basis. Normally my diet is what you may term ‘frugal’. I maintain my sugar levels under control by eating less and eating right. Limited quantity of South Indian breakfast or eggs, lunch made up of either rice or chapattis and finally lots of salad, soup and no carb at dinner. I complement this diet with golf three times a week and four Km walk every day.

Figure 13 -Effect of Gluttony post breakfast

All the determination and control comes to a full stop during holidays. The sight of the different types of food displayed on the table sends confusing signals to the brain, making it slowdown and eventually shutdown. A new nexus between the eye, hand and mouth is formed hastily and the tucking in commences. Fruits look very attractive and catches one’s immediate attention – a plate full of assorted fruits is the first to go in. Thereafter the gaze falls on the table with variety of bakery items, butter, cheese and jam. Equally inviting are the cold cuts, sausages and bacon – how can any breakfast be complete without a helping of baked beans and hash browns. Just then, in spite of a dead and decayed brain, one suddenly remembers the core of any breakfast ‘eggs to order’ – once this trivial matter is attended to - one can then proceed to one’s table and sit down peacefully and concentrate on the fare for the first time. Whilst you are busy enjoying the limited breakfast one hears praises from your own table or the adjoining one – extolling the virtues of ‘Banana Cake’, Appam and stew or a rare type of cheese – not to be out done, one is left with no option but to take these jabbering seriously and revisit the table. Jai and Navin are vegetarians – one thing good about non vegetarians is their ability to taste vegetarian food without much ado - one might as well taste a little bit of grass and greens - no harm done.
May be, we feel it is our right to wolf down whatever is there on the table, just because we have paid for it. The dinners at ‘Heritance Ahungala’ were simply excellent and the gluttony that followed was sheer greed and ravenousness.

To overcome a very powerful feeling of guilt, I had to visit the beach and the pool very often.

Travel Advisory - Companions

There are many aspects to an enjoyable holiday- the place one visits, finances, the weather and more importantly the company. During honeymoon the most important criteria is take your spouse and there can be no argument about it. As marriage stabilizes and children come along, we take them with us and the holiday takes on a different meaning. A time comes when the children take flight and establish their own nest in faraway places. With passage of time they beget their own off springs and we go on holidays with our children and their children – this outing is a very private affair.
Juxtaposed In between all this, are the holidays with friends, which are generally very enjoyable – provided one selects the right people. We have been very lucky to have likeminded friends and our holidays have been memorable. All of us had a whale of a time in China, Greece, Hampi, Conoor, Chikkamagaluru etc. This time too it was most enjoyable with my soul mate Kats and Naveen.

Reasons for travelling with a soul mate or mates are very elemental. At sharp 7PM, the minds should meet. It’s time for all likeminded and able bodied people to exchange subtle glances and congregate near the source to partake elixir –firm orders having already been placed with ‘room service’ for soda and ice. The entire process of opening the urn, pouring the right measure and adding S and I should be executed with utmost precision and without attracting undue attention from the fair sex. While you are busy doing the honors, with your back facing the girls and your hands executing the task as deftly as a surgeon – the mate should engage the girls with an exciting narrative, ensuring their gaze never falls on the healing and uplifting tonic. This intricate military operation can be achieved only by soul mates with decades of experience and practice in this direction. Recharging is almost an art form. This delicate maneuver fails if either of the mates were to withdraw, quoting – blasphemous words such as ‘time for dinner’, it’s enough for me’ etc. It is prudent and far sighted on part of the mates to hold early morning conclaves and decide in advance the POA (Plan of Action) – weather to G and T or give PLD (Pre Lunch Drinks) a go by, congregation place and time for sun downers, milimeterage, recharging frequency, glass down time etc.In this context,Kats is a wonderful soul mate - on a serious note Jai and Naveen are extremely accommodative.   

Figure 14 - On way to Ahungala

Figure 15 - Sea Temple

Figure 16 - Close up

Figure 17 – Coastline

Figure 18 - The road runs parallel to the coast – shades of blue sea

Figure 19 - Dutch city of Galle from a distance. The city was very badly affected during the Tsunami

Figure 20 - Galle fort

Figure 21 - The first person I met at the hotel lobby

Figure 22 - Our room in 'Heritance Ahungala'

Figure 23 - Posing

Figure 24 - View from the room

Figure 25 - A flautist brings in the day with his melody

Figure 26 – Sri Lankan bride celebrating her wedding at the hotel

Figure 27 - Digesting the meals

Figure 28 - View of our room

Figure 29 - Simply fascinating - Sun, shade, sand, sea, sky and finally the swimming pool.

Figure 30 - Another view

Figure 31 - Sun sets in Ahungala

Figure 32 - Rugged coastline

08 to 09 May 2012 – Colombo

We spent two days in Colombo and finally bid goodbye to Diminda and Sri Lanka, after having holidayed for 14 days – city to a hill station and then to a wild life sanctuary and finally to good old sea was a heady mixture. Every one of us had a relaxing and memorable stay in Sri Lanka – thoroughly enjoyed the beauty the country offers. Sri Lankan hospitality was singularly responsible for making our trip a success and in the end Mr Duminda clinched the deal.  

Figure 33 - Warm welcome at Taj Samudra

Figure 34 - An impressive flower decoration

Figure 35 - An unusual entrance to a bar

Figure 36 - A well appointed room

Figure 37 - View from the room

Figure 38 - City centre Colombo

Figure 39 - Good breakfast and out

Figure 40 - A view of the hotel

Figure 41 - Good bye

Figure 42 - Final good bye to elephant country

Figure 43 - Big thanks and 'Ayubowan' Mr Duminda

Friday, June 8, 2012

Summer Holidays - Sri Lanka Part III – We visited Yala

03 May 2012 – Nuwara Elyia to Yala

There are a number of interesting features about Sri Lanka which I noticed during our short stay. The number of beggars is very miniscule – one could get away by saying there are no beggars. I saw one in Nuwara Eliya and that’s about all. The country has rolled back to peace time double quick – you do not find either policemen or the army on the streets patrolling - one finds the usual traffic and beat cops, as in any other part of the world. Only on May 1st  did we find some bandobust because of Labour Day. Our guide told us that the Army has been kept busy in nation building activities – literally into civil building construction. The literacy level is very high – 90%. The government runs free schools for all and the population is very happy with the arrangement.

The Maruti 800, Alto, Swift and Nano are colourfully painted as taxis and are very popular in the island along with the Indian auto. Autos in bright red, yellow, black, green and blue ply on the road.

Their highways warn you of an ‘Earth Slip’ instead of a ‘Land Slide’.The Jungle Fowl is the national bird and the Blue Water Lily is the national flower. Na is their national tree and the elephant their national animal
A can of light beer is 40 SLR. Every city has a memorial in honour of their dead soldiers. The army is revered by the common man.The Sri Lankan New Year is on 13 and 14 April every year.

Sri Lankan food has a slight resemblance to our own coastal food, especially that of Kerala. We made it a point to eat some Sri Lankan food – similar to a thali – it is spicy and nice. What stands out is the quantity which is served. Over a period of time we learnt to order one plate and two of us would share. Curd is very popular – which came as pleasant news to both the parties - from Haryana and Mysore. Cow’s milk is used in tea and coffee and buffalo’s milk is used for making curd. All along the highway one finds curd being sold in earthenware pots. Mr Duminda made us eat ‘Mangosteen’- The fruit is sweet and tangy, juicy, and somewhat fibrous, with an inedible, deep reddish-purple colored rind when ripe  and ’Durian’ which is a fruit with a unique odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust.

Figure 1 - Mangosteen’ and Durian

After a bit of fruit tasting we finally reached the Seetha Amman temple. The Seetha Amman Temple is located approximately 1 km from Hakgala Botanical Garden Garden,  16 Km from Nuwara Eliya. The temple is located in the village “Seetha Eliya”. This place is believed to be the place where Sita was held captive by the king Ravana of the epic, 

Figure 2 - Sita Amman Temple

Figure 3 - Sanctum Sanctorum with deities of Rama, Sita and Hanuman

Figure 4 - Another view of the temple

Figure 5 - Images on the temple

Figure 6 - After the pooja

Figure 7 -- Impression of Hanuman’s feet in the rock

Figure 8 - Our very own Rama and Sita

Figure 9 - Cliff resembling 'Ravana's head'

The road to Yala is excellent and we passed through two lovely hill stations Ella and Banderavella. The landscape, with lush green hills, makes the drive very pleasant. We stopped for a short while at the ‘Ravana Ella’ water falls and thereafter chased down a hot and tasty Sri Lankan meal with some chilled beer.

Figure 10 - According to legend, it is said that Ravana (who was the king of Sri Lanka at the time) had kidnapped princess Sita, and had hidden her in the caves behind this waterfall, now simply known as the Ravana Ella Cave

Figure 11 - At the falls with Naveen

Figure 12 - With the restaurant staff

Figure 13 - Mihisara Lake at Yala

Figure 14 -  Lotuses  practically cover an entire section of the lake

03 May 2012 – At the 'Chaya Wild Hotel'

Chaya Wild, located within the Yala National Park, blends beautifully with the surroundings. Aptly named wild – the Jungle Chalets offer the tourists a feel of the wilderness through the safe confines of the room. The chalets are inconspicuous and merge beautifully with the forest. The hotel itself is extremely eco friendly and the inside of each chalet is constructed in such a manner as to showcase simplicity and at the same time maintaining elegance and comfort. The hotel has a very nice observation post, which offers a panoramic view of the forest area.

Chaya Wild shares its border with the mighty Indian Ocean. The sea, beach, a nearby lake and the forest join each other seamlessly, making the hotel stay very interesting. The residents have multiple options to explore Mother Nature. The beaches are pristine with not a single soul as far as the eye can see.

The area adjacent to the swimming pool is divine. The constant roar and hum of the sea, the rustle of dry leaves, the sound of the wind through the trees, makes the place a true paradise. One can hear various birds in constant melodious conversation with each other. The atmosphere is sheer bliss.

The weather in the shade is very comfortable – the proximity of the sea and the ensuing sea and land breezes keep the area cool.

The entire hotel area is full of wild life – langur monkeys, wild boars, bison and if one is lucky wild elephants pass in front of the chalets – as if to ask us what we humans are up to on their land. The animals appear to have a daily routine and a set route to follow each day. We saw hordes of monkeys and wild boar at the door step going about their business – the residents can move about without any hindrance from these animals. The playful monkeys are a sight to watch.

The stay in Chaya gave all of us a different kind of experience and we were able to savor it to the fullest as time slows down in such places- a far cry from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Figure 15 - By the pool

Figure 16 - Jai all pleased with the hotel

Figure 17 - So are Navin and Kats

Figure 18 - A different view

Figure 19 - Lots of trees surrounding the pool

Figure 20 - As the sun begins to set

Figure 21 - Simple yet beautiful and cozy

Figure 22 - A very well appointed bathroom

Figure 23 - Our Chalet

Figure 24 -Loitering wild boar

Figure 24 A - Evening Conference

Figure 25 - The night has just started

Figure 26 - God knows what they are doing

Figure 27 - From a distance

Figure 28 - My turn to pose

Figure 29 - Spot the bison

Figure 30 - Spot the Lizard

Figure 30 A - Hello Good morning

Figure 31 - View from the canopy

Figure 32 - Walk on the beach

Figure 33 - The family on the sands of time

Figure 34 - Sea thrashing the rocks

Figure 35 - Who has a bigger paunch

Figure 36 - Previous night's elephant walk down the beach

Figure 37 - Jai ready for breakfast at the ‘Machan’

Figure 38 - The observation post

Figure 39 - The mighty sea and the forest

Figure 40 - The scene is complete with the lake

Figure 41 - With my very dear friend

Figure 42 - All happy

04 May 2012 – Safari to Yala National Park

Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. Actually it consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public. It is situated in the southeast region of the country, and lies in Southern Province and Uva Province. The park covers 979 square kilometres (378 sq mi). The park is best known for its variety of wild animals.

Yala lay in the direct path of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which impacted Sri Lanka 90 minutes after its generation. The tsunami caused severe but localised damage to the park, with around 250 people being killed.

Yala is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Of 215 bird species of the park, six are endemic to Sri Lanka. They are Sri Lankan grey Hornbill, Sri Lankan Jungle Fowl, Wood Pigeon, Crimson - fronted Barbet, Black Capped Bull Bull and Grown capped Babber. Including the Sri Lankan Elephant, 44 species of mammals are residents of Yala National Park, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. 25 individual leopards are estimated to roam in Block I. The elephant herd of Yala contains 300–350 animals. The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear, Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lankan Elephant, Wild water Buffalo are threatened species that Yala is harbouring.
We went on a safari and were lucky to sight many wild animals except for the famed cheetah.

Figure 43 - Commencing Safari

Figure 44 - Giant Monitor crossing in front of us

Figure 45 - Yet another monitor

Figure 46 – A stork feeding

Figure 47 - Any dentist around

Figure 48 - Catching up on sleep

Figure 49 - Very strange to find both the prey and the predator

Figure 50 - Ready for a bite

Figure 51 - Wild elephants bathing

Figure 53 - A close up of a young bull elephant

Figure 54 - Another loner

Figure 55 - Jungle Fowl - The National bird

Figure 56 - Painted stork

Figure 57 - Pea hens

Figure 58 - The forest landscape

Figure 59 - Plenty of water bodies

Figure 60 - Lotus in abundance

Figure 61 - Darkness begins to envelope the forest