Tag Archives: sri lanka

peradeniya botanical garden, sigiriya, dambulla swim

The last batch of Sri Lanka photos (link is to the sixth and final Sri Lanka slide show)! Thank heavens. In the interest of completion, I can’t start on the Australia snaps until I’ve finished all the Sri Lanka photo tales.

On our way from the elephant orphanage we stopped for tea at a road house, where this adorable girl was lunching. We went on to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, where we were descended upon by school groups who wanted to practice their English. We got stuck in a thunderstorm with school boys from an elite school in Colombo (all the above illustrated in the slide show), and chatted with a Muslim Sri Lankan selling ice creams at the refreshment stand who told us about the cruelty of the Buddhists (the majority religion in Sri Lanka). We heard this complaint from other Muslims and Hindus as well.

The next day we went north to Sigiriya, where a 5th century king had built a palace on top of a huge slab of granite. There was a big climb to see the remaining frescoes, more school children (right), and a great view. Andrea wasn’t terribly impressed by it all, but I was glad we climbed it.

We skipped some of the other sites and instead went for a swim in the river near Dambulla, which our driver recommended. There was a strong current on one side and we floated around in circles, battling out of the current back toward the rocks as not to be swept downstream. I swam in my pants and shirt as not to scandalize the locals who were there shaving, bathing, and laundering. The swim (pictured below) was the highlight of the excursion. Our driver (I’m blanking on his name) asked us not to tell the guesthouse owner he’d taken us swimming. Of course we wouldn’t.

We went back for our last night in Kandy, in our guesthouse with the great views. The next morning we took the train to Colombo and spent my last night in luxury at the Galle Face Hotel (Andrea stayed on in Sri Lanka for two more weeks, exploring the beaches between Colombo and Galle Fort. I went back to work.) The Galle Face Hotel was lovely.

My Colombo-Bangalore-London flight back was on Kingfisher. The flights were great, the food was great, the entertainment was great. I recommend them highly, though no one at JFK had heard of them or knew how to put our bags through when we left. And though the flight attendants were all stewardesses—old-fashioned, high-heeled, hyper-girly servants. On the Bangalore to London flight there were a number of bronzed, muscly, hippied-out ashtangis leaving Mysore. They made me smile. My London-NYC flight was on Virgin Atlantic, which was also quite good, though their customer service leaves something to be desired. Both airlines were light years better than my United flights from Sydney earlier this week.

That’s it! That’s the Sri Lanka saga. Did not finish it before Australia, but I finished it before launching into the Aussie photos. Coming soon.

the next trip: down under

rani elephant sri lanka

Now that I’m almost done with editing and posting the Sri Lanka pics (above, Rani. More in the next post), my free time has been hijacked by planning for the next trip. I bought tickets this week for an eight week trip to Australia, a 40-hr journey to Perth (perhaps more door-to-door), where I’ll meet Andrea. We’ll hang out there awhile and then head south to Margaret River, Esperance, and continue on across to Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney. Yes, this is a huge trip to be taken in Andrea’s green station wagon, purchased more or less for this sort of trip. I’m excited because I can use some time camping and resting on the beach after so much city life. Will be an adventure if the car breaks down, but that’s all part of the deal. Anyone who tells me this is mad can read about my friend Sherry’s lone bike trip across Australia. I think we can manage it in a car (though that train does look nice).

So I’m a bit behind on finishing up on the Sri Lanka stories. I’d hoped to be finished by now. And scancafe is meant to have my 5,000 some images ready to peruse—in ten days. To divide the free time between finishing and planning is difficult, as plans have a deadline. (Though it might not seem so from my travels, I do work.) I’m hoping to write and edit a bit as I go on this trip, but we’ll see. It is nice to set the laptop down (if not the camera).

Any thoughts (advice, experiences, etc) are very welcome.

haputale train station on to kandy

From Sri Lanka::Hill Country Trainscapes. I love the way the girl’s dress blends into the flowers at the station.

haputale train station

The train ride became less and less scenic the closer we got to Kandy, and the extremely slow pace of the train, then our unexpected change of trains in Kegalle (I think) became a bit draining. Once in the station at Kandy, we found a driver to take us to Sharon Inn, which Samantha had recommended. It was run by a Muslim Sri Lankan and his German wife.


We choose a room on a higher floor with amazing views from the balcony. The Inn sits on top of a hill overlooking the lake and the Temple of the Tooth. We were starving and so ordered up tea and cookies (biscuits) because dinner wouldn’t be ready for a few hours. Exhausted but pleased, we sat outside on the balcony and marveled at the city below. It was fabulous.  (Our view pictured above, Temple of the Tooth at top left.)

I just came across this excellent site, Lankapura, with old images of Sri Lanka. Very nice. I’m in the process of editing the elephant orphanage photos. They are amazing creatures.

the best train ride ever

sri lanka trainWell, in my life anyway. I’ve travelled a bit by train. Moscow-Leningrad (was L at the time), Berlin-Warsaw-Vilnius-Kaunas, Mumbai-Kochi (before the west-coast train went in, so it went through Hyderabad and Bangalore. It was about 36hrs long. India hours, mind you), Mangalore-Goa, Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Jaipur, Jaisalmer-Delhi, Tashkent-Ferghana/Kokand, Tashkent-Samarkand-Bukhara, and NYC-Montreal. Some were hellish, some were quite nice, but this ride, though long, was gorgeous.

Some of the photos are blurred because of the motion of the train. Slideshow iv is done. It’s entirely the views from the train and train stations, so it’s a bit shorter than the others. Only two more shows after this, and the Sri Lanka photos will be entirely edited.

The train was the first we came across non-Sri Lankan tourists. There were two tattooed Germans (note the motorbike jacket over the seat) and a middle-aged French couple. They all got off in Nur-Eliya (Nuwara Eliya). We didn’t have the time.

There are photos of women tea-pickers. One is obvious, but the others are less so. Look for dots of white amidst the green of the tea plants. Again, Cerno and Sigma have good blog posts about tea cultivation in Sri Lanka (called Ceylon by the British colonizers).

train from ella to kandy


I spent my morning looking for Ingrida Cox (née Gunkaite). We met in Klaipeda in 1995 and she moved to Australia with an Australian she later married. I lost track of her around 2000, I think. Today is her birthday (if you know how to reach her, send her to me via contact at GrumpyYoga).

I’m still editing the train photos. I love trains, and this was certainly the most scenic I’ve been on. We waited almost two hours for the train, as it was late. We’d booked our tickets on the first night we arrived in Ella, as the “scenic” car, which is somewhat comfy, sells out very early. We found our seats and settled in. I was glued to the window for hours, while Andrea read. He found me quite funny and childlike to be so excited by the train. How could I not be? It was so gorgeous, moving through that scenery.

We heard plenty of stories before and after about the safety of the trains, about how the tracks wash out, and how it’s common to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. By the end it was exhausting as the last few hours aren’t scenic, the novelty has worn off, and the train barely moves. A trip that would take two hours by car on western roads took about 10hrs on that train. But the views were incredible and the roads don’t offer the same views.

Slideshow to come.

halpewatte tea factory tour~or~think for a second about what you use

view from ambiente guesthouseThe previous night (16 March 09) we’d arranged for a car to take us to the tea factory and Dunhinda Falls. Andrea had done well finding a place in town with much much better rates than Ambiente (as a rule when traveling, unless you’ve money to burn, always find your own driver/guide. Eliminate the middle man, especially if it’s the hotel). I insisted we do the tea tour. I like tea. I like factories. If nothing else, it reminds me how luxurious my life is, even when I’m crammed into a subway car and people are snarking at each other.

We ate an enormous Sri Lankan breakfast of hoppers and curries and sat mesmerized by the view (see the last ten photos of the slideshow iii, if you haven’t already), which made up for our mediocre dinner the night before. It was so breathtaking. So good to be out of the city and so amazingly beautiful.

We made our way down to town and met our driver for the day. We started at the UVA Halpewatte Tea Factory, which looks amazingly flash in the website. On our tour, well, the picture below is a bit more accurate. The guy we organized the tour with was cranky with us and rude to his employees. There was no photography in the factory, which was fine as it was dark, and flash photog is generally miserable in dark places.

UVA Halpewatte Tea FactoryThe process of making the tea was interesting and amazingly greuling and hot for the women doing it. There might have been a few men, but it was mostly women. And this was probably easier than picking the damn leaves, which women do from 6am to 6pm, in addition to caring for their families and being bossed about by the man of the house. Sigma has an interesting blog post on the life of a tea planter, and Cerno offers a caricature (perhaps best read first) of this colonial legacy. Definitely worth a read.

Knowing the labor behind what we consume is important, I think. The world would be very different if we all had to put that kind of labor in for even one day. Puts a different light on the groans of a day job when I consider what could be. Often I go back to the conversation I had with a young guy selling lemonade drinks outside the gates of Khiva in Uzbekistan. I was complaining about the tourists (I was their guide and had momentarily escaped them) and the kid told me that I had quite a good job, actually, even if I did work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, because I would leave Khiva and eventually Uzbekistan. He could not.

In Sri Lanka, I missed the aspect of learning about what was going on behind the scenes, what workers really experienced and felt, which took time, contacts, and trust to learn firsthand in Central Asia. It’s just not possible on a quick country tour, which is why I’m so glad to have come across blogs that discuss this, and their comments as well (thanks for the links, Kirigalpoththa).

At the tea factory, we were again the only tourists around. We didn’t get to try their tea, as they didn’t have water that day, or were having problems with it (huh?). So after our tour, we left and headed off to Dunhinda Falls, an hour or so away.

buduruwagala~buddhist rock carvings~southern sri lanka

WalawelaPretty, right? Such was the scenery en route to Buduruwagala. The elephant-shaped rock (below) has seven huge Buddhist figures carved into it.  We went with Samantha and the requisite guide. I’m not sure that the following info was explained as the guide was quite hard to understand, the midday heat was, well, hot, and cheeky Samantha was on the lookout for snakes. He eventually found one hanging in a tree.

Guides in Sri Lanka (okay, the planet over) tend to prefer local lore to current historical scholarship (especially the case at Sigiriya in the north).  I don’t mind this, as the history can be found in a book, and lore tells at least as much about people and their identity.

buduruwagala temple02Reading about Buduruwagala now, it doesn’t seem to be called a temple, but I’m quite sure that locals referred to it as a rock temple. It was  carved in the 10th Century, at the end of the period when Mahayana Buddhism was popular in Sri Lanka, as well as Theravadan Buddhism, which continues to thrive in the present day. These Mahayana carvings feature the Buddha, tall at center; Avalokiteshvara, in white at left; and Aryathara (Tara) and an attendant further to the left.

In the slideshow (part iii), there is a photo (before the incense box) of three more figures. On the right is Vajrapani holding a dorje, a thunderbolt which is a tantric symbol seldom seen in Sri Lanka (but common in Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhism). Natha, the future Buddha, is in the center, and Vishnu is at the left.

Buduruwagala translates from Sinhala as “stone images of the Buddha.” At 51 feet it is the tallest rock carving of Buddha in Sri Lanka and arguably the world, after the loss of the Bamyan figures to the Taliban.

ravana falls, sri lanka


It takes a long time to edit photos. Usually a few days for each of the batches that you see. Part three is done. I just have to put it into flash and tell the story. In the meantime, here’s a shot of guys taking a shower next to Ravana Ella, or Ravana Falls, in the hill country of Sri Lanka. I took this the day we left Tangalle for travels about the country.

Ravana Falls (also spelled Rawana) is so named because it’s said to be near the cave where Ravana, the evil “Lankan” of the Ramayana, hid Sita from Rama.