Tag Archives: guesthouse

sri lanka photos, part ii

silentbeach01This is the second round of the Sri Lanka photos.  Lots of beaches—best to be in a water mood when you view them. They begin at silent beach, which is a five minute walk from ashtangalanka. It’s the beach of the Amanwella resort, though we saw maybe one guest on this beach, and he was in sandals, walking. He didn’t swim. It was bizarre to swim in such a gorgeous place alone, with Andrea, or the other ashtangalankans, but never a crowd. This was the most beautiful beach I’ve ever visited, I think. It was deserted because there aren’t many tourists in Sri Lanka because of the war (which has since officially ended) and because it was the very end of the tourist season. I hadn’t swum in the ocean for years (since India, I think) and it was amazing. There was, at times, a strong current, and there were moments in the water when I considered that these beaches were hit by the 2004 tsunami. I felt very, very small.

andrea&puppiesMoving along, the house and dog belong to Ben and Katrina, neighbors of Fred who came to dinner several times. They’re an interesting British couple who spend part of the year here. Ben made Andrea a proper coffee (actually, Lalith the gardener made it), which pleased Andrea immensely. Then it’s back to Rocky Point, with some pics of me, Andrea, and two puppies in the cafe (at right). The puppies were strays adopted by Kathy Cooper, the ashtanga teacher.

These are followed by photos of the road in and out of ashtangalanka, which led to the path to the surf beach (where the cows were). We passed Samatha’s (the manager at AL) brother, who tried to convince Andrea to buy some jewelry. Alas, it was on to the beach. Andrea body surfed, while I took pics with my semi-dead-battery powered camera. It was fun.

To view the slideshow, follow the link and press the play button in the bottom right. The arrow keys take you forward and back, if you don’t like the pace of the show. This is the last of the ashtangalanka/beach photos. Next up: travels in the hill country.

the sri lanka photos!

Finally! The first round of Sri Lanka photos are up. This slide show is the first of three or four to come.


Andrea took the photos of me, I took the rest. Most are taken around AshtangaLanka, aka Rocky Point. The rest (the cow pics) are at the next beach.


Still to come are more photos from around ashtangalanka and the nearby beaches, then the photos from the travels around Sri Lanka (which I’ve barely looked at much less edited). Enjoy!

ashtangis & other guests @ashtangalanka

There were about five other guests at AshtangaLanka when we arrived. Jacob, an ashtangi friend of owner Fred and his partner, Mira; Hector, a Miami-based Cuban ashtangi; Alberto, a Paris-based Italian artist & ashtangi; Nicolai, a German juggler-engineer with an interest in yoga; and at a few meals: Stephanie, a Parisian ashtangi who’d come to visit Alberto; and Katrina and Ben, friends of Fred who had a gorgeous house a few beaches over.

Fred, Alberto, and Cathy 11 March 2009Hector, Alberto, and Stephanie were all on visa runs from India, where they’d been practicing Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore. Indian visas are good for six months, after which many yogis head to Colombo to apply for a new one. It takes a week, so some go to the south coast to continue their practice at AshtangaLanka.

Together with Fred, Jacob, and Cathy (the teacher), they’d talk on and on about the Ashtanga scene, Mysore, the Jois family, etc. When it wasn’t terribly boring, it was fascinating. Long before Sri Lanka, I’d done a bit of Ashtanga in a small shala. There were never many people there, so I didn’t realize what a scene it was. They talked about the ashtangis of the 70s, who they studied with, where they stayed in Mysore, what the practice was like, what it meant to them. On and on.

rockypointcakeWhile ashtanga is amazing, this chatter was more interesting to me from an anthropological standpoint—much more than the yoga gossip itself. Jois’s shala in Mysore attracts hundreds of students from around the world, who take up residence in Mysore to study Ashtanga at the crack of dawn (they said class was at 5am), then have the rest of the day to conduct themselves as they like. It’d be fascinating to go there and see what percentage of the town they impact. Or is it just the small area around the shala?

It might also be quite annoying. When I was in Pune (in India) years back, out of curiosity I went to the Osho ashram (or the “Multiversity” as it now seems to be called) for a tour. The neighborhood of the ashram had a western bake shop, many stalls selling maroon robes and Osho books, and lots of white hippies roaming about. It creeped me out. I happened to take the tour with a group of visiting american christian missionaries who asked probing questions like, “why do you insist commune members take an HIV test before they are allowed in?” Osho was known for his questionable sexual practices and group orgies were thought to be common. Osho is the guy who had the 20 or so Rolls at his commune in Oregon before he was deported for tax fraud. This has nothing to do with Ashtanga other than my wondering what Mysore is like with all the international yogis. I suppose it fascinates me because yoga usually adapts itself to the culture it enters (like Chinese food, as yoga teacher, Mona Anand, says). But astangis from the US, europe, isreal, australia, japan, etc, all come together to practice as Jois has laid it out (see the videos in the last entry). That must be interesting. My friend Jamilya, in Kyrgyzstan, is very into Ashtanga. She went to Thailand for a retreat and training recently. You get the idea.

n.jugglingAshtangis aren’t hippies, for the most part (though Fred certainly is/was). Hector, who overlapped our stay for only a day before he went back to Colombo to pick up his visa for his return to India, is in real estate in Miami, and teaches vinyasa on the side. He told great stories about his kids, India, and life in general. Alberto and Nicolai were there almost our entire stay. Alberto is a serious ashtangi and a fine artist based in Paris. When he was in the mood to talk, he was quite funny and opinionated. He was known to take off on long ocean swims followed by juice and espressos at the Amanwella next door, and often did not return until after dinner started. Nicolai is a quiet German engineer who would wander off and juggle when the chatter became too much for him.

He had never done ashtanga before, but had taken many holidays at different yoga places in India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. He avoided going into town, but did so to get skirts and other gifts to take home for his daughter. He lives a 9-6 life (the only person we met there, I think, who did) in Germany and isn’t happy with it. He deals by taking vacations. Most of us know this doesn’t work (but haven’t figured out another way). Ben & Katrina are Brits who work in antiques. Ben bought a place on the beach a decade ago, and they holiday there whenever they can. We didn’t learn much about Stephanie other than she prefers to take local transport to Alberto’s private cars, likes a bit of exploration to Alberto’s beeline to the beach, and doesn’t look forward to trying to find a job in Paris when her money runs out. (There’s a theme building here.)

alberto_connectingThe characters at AshtangaLanka inspired me. It was wonderful. In the three weeks I squeezed away from work, teaching (2nd job), and training, I met people who reminded me that there are much, much more interesting ways to live a life. Maybe not easier, but much more alive. I realized how disconnected I feel, grinding my days away to put 56% of my primary income toward rent, running uptown and downtown, almost always too exhausted to give my best to what matters most, when I’m able to give anything at all.

March is the last month of the season in southern Sri Lanka. The rains come and the ocean gets too rough in April. As we were settling in, the others were leaving. After everyone else took off, it was only me, Andrea, Fred, Mira, and Cathy. With fewer stories to hear (over and over), a strange family dynamic developing, and no curtains on our open bungalow windows, we opted for some couple time. After ten days, we moved on and explored Sri Lanka. Thank heavens we did.



first night, first day at ashtangalanka

goo.RP.mapWe left home (NYC) at five on Tuesday morning and reached Tangalle around eleven Thursday night, after an unplanned but mostly refreshing day in London due to a mechanical problem and missed connection. Our first night in SL was a horror. There was no mosquito net on our bed at Rocky Point. I should say beds, really, as a double bed is something of a luxury in SL and at all but one of our accommodations (The Galle Face) we slept in two twin beds pushed together, under one not-quite-big-enough net. The beds were nowhere near the ceiling fan, which is not only meant to keep things cool, but to discourage mosquitoes. We were mauled. So many itchy bites. So hot. We got up and pushed the beds closer to the fan, which helped a very little bit. “I was more comfortable and slept better on the flights over,” I thought repeatedly. Ugh. We both wondered what on earth we’d gotten ourselves into.

nicolai.cocoAfter almost no sleep, we got up at 6:45a and walked over a few bungalows for ashtanga yoga. This was how we greeted the next 10 days. The hot and sweaty (demanding, hard, fun) practice somehow helped me recover from the sleepless night and our first full day in SL was amazing.

Our schedule at Rocky Point was beautiful. Its absence from my life makes it almost painful to recollect now that I’m back to the grindstone: We woke around 6:45am. Yoga from 7:30am to ~9am. After yoga, a quick shower, then a snack of fresh coconuts. First we drank the juice, then cracked open the shell and ate the flesh. “It’s delightful,” said the venerated coconut. We shared this ritual with the owners and other guests at Rocky Point, before heading to Silent Beach for a swim.

sanju.cocoBy 11:30a, we returned for breakfast. After a few days of trial and error, Andrea and I settled on the “Sri Lankan omelet” and the coconut pancake with treacle (kithul palm syrup), which we shared, with toast, jam, and two lovely bowls full of papaya, pineapple, banana, and mango. After breakfast, we sat, drank tea, chatted with other guests, read, and relaxed until three or four, when we prepared for a swim and surf at Palm Beach. This joy lasted until dusk, when we returned for dinner, usually an amazing spread of veggie Sri Lankan curries with rice. The bugs became unbearable by 7:30, so we were rarely outside past 8p. And because we’d moved the beds to be under the fan (which Samantha, the Sri Lankan manager, thought very wise), we were nowhere near the reading lamps, nailed to the wall by what had been the sides of the beds. They gave us a mosquito net, which somewhat solved the bug problem, but it was too dark to read in the room on the bed, under the protection of the net, and we couldn’t take more than an hour of the mosquito swatting required while seated on a chair under a lamp. We were usually asleep well before ten.

Next up: the yoga.


one of us

The guesthouse now sports a giant neon sign over the door—quite a bit easier to find than the unmarked alley door of years back.

Ulug showed me to my room, where I unpacked and readied for a much needed after-the-train shower. Before I hopped in, he knocked and announced breakfast was ready. I threw water on my face and went up to the dining area to breakfast with him. Soon Mariam, his mother, came and joined us. Miriam! She sweetly announced that when she approached us, she thought “Is that Anechka sitting there? Who is that? That can’t be Anechka. She looks like one of us.” Especially sweet, as I don’t look a bit Tajik. We sat and chatted and oh how I wish this family were not so damn far away. That Bukhara was not so damn far away.

After breakfast I managed a shower before Ulug and I met in the lobby, where we waited for his little sister, Bonu to join us. Slightly tired but wanting Bukhara, I sat with my camera and its manual, still figuring out the thing exposes. I’d yet to take a photo on this trip with it. Thus far I used only the S60 point & shoot. Ulugbek grabbed my camera and took the first pic of the trip:  Me on the couch waiting for Bonu, D70 manual in hand. Though not evident here, the resolution is amazing. The close up of my feet is from this shot. I’ll spare you the close-up of sweat trickling off my nose:

I took the next:

Mariam, Ulugbek’s beautiful mother, opening her present

We decided to wait on Bonu at the restaurant by the Lyabi Haus pool in Bukhara’s center, after which their guesthouse is named. It’s only steps away. I was anxious to see Rustam, my favorite waiter, so Ulug & I went over and had a beer. Rustam is well. He’s married now and has a newborn baby girl.

Bonu showed shortly after we arrived and I used the time to practice exposure while Ulug pried open the case to my polarizing filter.

lazing about around the lyabi haus pool

tashkent since 9/11

Gulnara chatting with neighbor through courtyard wall

It was Friday night when I arrived, and the family was sitting down to dinner while minding a table of tourists across the courtyard. I joined them for melon and beer and we caught up on the last four years. Gulnara and Nasibulla are well, though tired. The tourist season is endless, mindless work. Gulnara often gets up at 2 a.m. to feed transiting tourists then Nasibulla drives them to the airport. Back to bed, then up again at 6 until bed at 12 or 1 a.m., and up again in the wee hours for the airport. After age 55 this must be extremely unpleasant. They appreciate their business and situation, because it’s wildly fortunate for Uzbekistan, but they seem heavy, cynical, and tired, and rightly so. Gulnara is fond of saying that she works like an American, incessantly and without pleasure. Their eldest son moved to the States with his family in 2001. Their daughter is in Tashkent raising her two boys on her own. And Rufshan, their youngest, graduated from University in Economics in May and can’t find a job. They don’t seem hopeful that he will, to put it mildly. The economy is bleak.

They’ve added on to the house. More rooms and many now have bathrooms, so no more schleps across the courtyard for a shower or toilet. It’s still Gulnara’s though, with the same Soviet-issue furniture, machine-made Bukharan rugs, and the wonderful courtyard with fig trees and traditional homtakhta, where we eat her homemade jam and fresh lepyoshka.

Gulnara supported Alisher’s idea of taking the night train to Bukhara instead of a car. It made sense, as I’d have all day Saturday to look around Tashkent instead of running immediately to the autostation for a taxi and eight hour ride through the heat to Bukhara, only to arrive at night and go to sleep.

On Saturday morning I visited with them some more, then took off for Chorsu Bazaar and the nearby metro station. Chorsu is where the suicide bombings occurred last March, steps away from Gulnara’s in the old town. It feels more or less the same, unlike the rest of Tashkent.

From Chorsu I took the metro to the train station, got my ticket without a hitch (about ten dollars for a coupe/sleeper) and made my way by metro to the city center.

tashkent trams 2000
tashkent trams 2000

By this point I was shocked by how much Tashkent has changed in four years. I thought perhaps that in 2000, I just didn’t notice how heavy it feels because I was so involved in my worries with the tourists and my own idiotic situation, but I wasn’t quite that self-absorbed. Tashkent is different. Heavier. There’s no one about. Buildings and streets look cleaner and fancier, but there is no one around using them, no one out in the street cafes, no one shopping. I asked why, and most gave me their honest opinion—it’s because no one wants to deal with the Militsia (police). And because no one has the money to go out. The situation is that much worse. In 2000, during the six months I was here I was never once asked for my passport while walking around. Today, my first, I was stopped in the metro. I admit that I kind of glared at the officer. It wasn’t intentional; it was a look that just sprang up because of the stories I hear. He stopped me and asked for my passport, and said “What? It’s not Uzbek? Where are you from?” He didn’t stop me as a foreigner but as a local. He took me into a small room and went through my bag, told me about his time working as a driver in L.A., made some more small talk and sent me off.

Tashkent feels like New York did just after 9/11. That’s really the only way to explain it, it’s that heavy. One day in Tashkent and I’m more than ready to shove off to Bukhara and see what’s happening there.

Gulnara & Nasibulla

So I complain, do I? It keeps me sane and entertained, though the locals do an even better job of it. Yes, and even some of the tourists, but let’s talk about them another time.

I’m at Hotel Tsorbi now and Victor has already had a go at me. “So, did you get your work done yesterday? Wake anyone up?” He knows damn well I did. He claims that he’d promised use of the computer (and the couch) for the night because one of the 17 year old girls wanted to write her autobiography. Oh, that explains everything. And here I thought they were all made up on a Saturday night for less literary reasons.

When I have no tourists I do not stay at the illustrious, internet accessible Hotel Tsorbi, but at Gulnara’s Guesthouse in the old town.

Gulnara Karimova is possibly the best person in Uzbekistan, though her husband, Nasibulla (at left), is also quite worthy of note. They have a big house with a large, decadent, lush courtyard. It’s heavenly respite from grimy Tashkent. Gulnara is one of those angels who convince me that some women actually do enjoy housewifery. She’s up at dawn and in bed after midnight and seems to work every moment between. Rarely does she go out, other than to Chorsu bazaar down the road.

Each morning she makes a huge breakfast spread (breakfast is one of the four English words she knows) and is prepared at any moment to serve hot tea, fresh bread, homemade jam or whatever else I fancy. “Melon? Melon?” In addition to housing travelers, she and Nasibulla feed and entertain groups of up to 40 tourists with dinner and traditional Uzbek music and dancing. Yes, she does my laundry too, though she doesn’t like to iron (luckily Rufshan, her 19 year old son, does).

The other guides (all guys) call her old, but I doubt that she’s much over 55. She has a big, comfy, babushka look about her and she’s always, always smiling.

The guys love her as much as I do and no doubt wish she had daughters (the perfect Uzbek woman, she has only two sons).

One wall of the courtyard has a little window that opens (and shuts) onto her neighbor’s courtyard. Gulnara can stand there for hours talking to her friend through the window-it’s the most excellent sight. One day I took many, many photos of her there. I hate that I must wait until autumn to see them.

When I have time between tours, this is where I stay. One morning after I returned from a tour, Gulnara came to me after breakfast and handed me a small plastic package with something black inside. I thought, “Oh heavens it’s a bra; she’s upset I don’t wear a bra to breakfast.” But she looked more concerned than chastising, and began a very long, very fast explanation in Russian. The words I understood were ‘sorry,’ ‘flowers,’ ‘iron,’ ‘white,’ ‘hot,’ ‘sorry,’ and ‘okay?’ (This was back in May; now I am sure I could understand at least ten of those words.) The gist of the matter quickly dawned on me. I reassured Gulnara that there was no problem and thanked her profusely.

The package held an extremely small silky pair of black underwear. A few weeks prior, she accidentally burned a hole in my white flowery unders with her iron and while I was on tour she found me a much sexier replacement. I still can’t get over it.

Later that day I went to Hotel Tsorbi because a new tour (the Tourist Nancy Nightmare Tour, actually) began that night. I’d left laundry there to be done and asked the manager (Victor) to see that it be placed in the room I’d not yet checked into. When I arrived, there was a note directing me to my laundry, which had been left in his office-my unders all neatly ironed, folded, and left waiting on the desk. Fabulous!

Updates: The black marketeers have learned they need a higher rate than the gov to get business. The black market rate is up to 700.

Tashkent Plaza has changed their prices to cym; Levi’s has not. Perhaps it’s time to ditch the jeans and start wearing make-up.

Next time: the story on Victor, his wife, his American girlfriends, and his concern for women’s liberation. “What can I do to help?”

Just got word on my next tour: only two clients, Oeyvind & Gunda. They’re Norwegian. The fun begins Saturday.