Exploring Kochi!

Yesterday was quite a day and was an almost exhausting load on the senses. Today we started nice and slowly with a Keralan breakfast courtesy of our hostess Jeen. We had some pancakes filled with coconut and some nuts accompanied by bananas and some sugary, milky strong tea. They were delicious and set us up well for the day.

The plan today was to get some SIM cards for the phones and then take a more leisurely stroll around the Fort area of town and really try to soak it in. Our hosts at the guesthouse were very helpful in sorting us out with all the correct documentation, well almost all the correct documentation, we had to do a quick run back to the guesthouse for some extras but that’s wasn’t too much of a problem.

We had decided today to be more firm with the rickshaw drivers in terms of what we wanted. Sure enough the driver who had been hired to take us to the phone shop started off with the usual patter asking us where we were from etc and then started immediately offering tours of the city and reduced fares if we “just visited one shop” “No buy, just look!” We replied that we would prefer to just pay the figure on the meter.

Well he wasn’t happy about that and said that he would wait while we were in the phone shop and we could sort payment out later, after we had “just visited one little shop!” Also I noticed that the meter that we were going to sort out later was still running!! So much to his annoyance I managed to pay the fare then sort out the phone. He was still there when we got out and so we had little choice but to use him to get us home again, negotiating our way out of tours and shop visits all the way back into town.

I think India is going to involve a fair bit of negotiating!

First stop today was the Jain temple which is a temple for those practicing Jainism which is described as a small religion of just 0.4% of the population. Another way of putting it is that it has 5 million followers!! That would be just under 25% of the Australian population. It’s just amazing how many people live here.

Anyway back to the temple and Jainism. They are known for practicing non violence in thought and action towards any living being and so sweep the floors regularly and even wear cloths over their mouths so as not to ingest any animals. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of this and I have a feeling that all the practicing Jains hide away during the 1 hour a day that the temple is open to visitors. Still with millions of them around I am sure we will come across another temple in our travels.

We then went for a wander through the streets to see what we could find. Even though it was stinking hot we still had a wonderful time wandering around the area where the traders were based. There were trucks laden with bags and bags of produce and then men sat in offices or shops with scales and bags open and ready to sell their spices. We have often marvelled in the past when we find a great spice shop but this was another level completely. Traders have been coming here for over 600 years and even though its mostly set up for tourists now there were areas were it seemed pretty authentic and the buildings, while not spectacular, certainly had a charm about them.

I think we are going to be able to people watch for days at a time in India and that’s pretty much what we did. There is obviously a huge amount of poverty here and even only after two days that is very evident but people so far have been very friendly and very keen for a chat which has been really lovely.

We then headed back to the more touristy parts of town where we discovered that the number of tourists had swelled dramatically since yesterday. It turned out that a cruise ship had arrived and bus loads of cruisers had come to visit the area. There was general excitement from the local rickshaw drivers and food stall guys who were all obviously trying to make as much money as possible out of them in the 7 hours they were docked. When I was paying one rickshaw driver I noticed that he had a US $20 bill in his small wad of change. I commented on it and he smiled and winked at me. He must have taken the customer who paid him that for quite a ride!! The other way of looking at it is that, what’s not a lot of money for some people is a fortune for others. I think we might have to respect that when we are here.

Our hosts had kindly given us some complementary tickets to go to an art gallery so we couldn’t not stop in for a look. I am so glad we did as it offered another distinctly different side to the Indian culture. It was a modern art gallery set in a most unusual collection of buildings called Aspinwell House. It was a modern art collection set in a group of old warehouses and the whole thing was very cool. It was also being enjoyed by a younger generation of Indians who were also looking very cool.

By about 2 pm we had had just about enough of the heat and stopped in at Kayees Biryani. An establishment praised for its biryani. It was full of locals, which is always a good sign, but no menus. Just when we were deciding what to have a waiter came up and gave us a bottle of water and told us we were having chicken biryani. It was absolutely the most delicious biryani I have ever had, finger licking good (no cutlery offered)!

Our guesthouse had suggested a visit to the theatre to watch a Kathakali performance. This is a local art form with actors dressed up in fantastic costumes with brilliant face paintings being accompanied by some singing and drumming. The participants have to spend 6 years training to be able to perform and the show we went to see allowed us to watch them preparing their make up too.

We arrived early and scored some great seats right at the front and as the rest of the crowd came in the actors sat on stage and began applying their make up. It was fantastic to watch. The colours were all so vibrant and the skill with which they painted their faces was amazing. The most amazing was one lead character who not only had his face painted but had paper gill like structures attached to his cheeks with rice paste. The whole process took 1.5 hours and was actually quite amazing to see.

We then had an explanation of what the hand gestures mean along with a demonstration as to how the actors represented certain emotions and common phrases. They are not allowed to speak during the performance so the hand gestures and facial expressions are very important.  

Then amongst plenty of wailing/singing and drumming the play started. Luckily we had a summary of the plot of the play so we could understand what was going on. It really was fantastic to see the costumes and the actors and all we saw was a tiny portion of a play that normally lasts about 6 hours. Great experience though and we felt very cultured indeed.

Restaurant recommendation number three was a more upscale place where mains were going to set us back about $4 each!! The menu was huge and not too dissimilar to a curry house menu from the UK. Sarah had a superb looking Thali and I had my first “Indian” jalfrezi. I am not going to say any more than that they were both amazingly delicious. I have a feeling we are going to very much enjoy this trip!! T

Outside one of the many shops which seem to sell just about everything.

Fantastic looking trucks waiting to be loaded outside of the warehouses.

The buildings, the shops and the electrical cables…all typical of the trading area.

We were expecting cows to be wandering around but here in Kochi we saw more free range goats.

There were dozens of these shops lining the roads.

Chilies and spices by the bag full, just adding to the smells.

Just wonderful buildings.

The interior of the Santa Cruz Basilica.  It was actually painted wood on the interior.

The first but certainly not the last stop at a roadside for a samosa chatt…a great tasty treat for 20 rupees (40 cents).

Adapting to the pollution?

The exterior of Aspinwell house where the art gallery was.

One of the exhibitions which involved walking around in the water.

We started making this puzzle in the exhibition and soon enough we had plenty of help.

If it’s one of the best biryanis in Kerala it must be right up there and it certainly was the best I have tasted.

The star of the show beginning his make up.


The final scene of the wonderful production.

Cricket in Colombo

Last day in Sri Lanka today, boo hoo. It has been an absolutely wonderful experience here and we were determined to enjoy our last day so we decided to head down to Colombo to watch the Sri Lankans take on the Bangladeshis at cricket.
It would be fair to say that while the number one international sport here is cricket the majority of Sri Lankans would prefer to watch a 20 or 50 over game but we were still excited about watching the first day of the test. So were the tuk tuk drivers who helped us get there, in fact the second guy in Colombo managed to weave the tuk tuk very skilfully through the traffic all the way across town to ensure that we arrived just in time for the first ball!
The game was being played at the Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu Stadium (just rolls off of the tongue) and while it wasn’t the biggest of stadiums it had bags of charm. We weren’t sure what tickets to buy but asked to be in the shade and were told that we could get tickets for 300rupees ($2.60)! Bargain! They weren’t really stands more buildings surrounding a third of the ground and when we got in through our gate we found about six rows of wooden benches terraced up next to the boundary rope with fans overhead to cool us nicely.  
We found a spot and relaxed, it was really quite brilliant. We couldn’t believe that we were watching international cricket though it felt more like a school game. There wasn’t a huge crowd but enough to get a little bit of atmosphere and the only other sign that it was a big game was the presence of the TV cameras and the fact that there were televisions everywhere showing the broadcast. There were a couple of major differences between here and other test matches I have been to, firstly no-one was drinking beer here. Secondly the screen behind the bowlers arm while electronic couldn’t obviously be turned white so at the end of every over two men would hoist a sheet over it!!
We were enjoying relaxing and watching the game but the cricket itself wasn’t great and we watched Sri Lanka slump to 4 wickets down for not many before lunch so decided we had experienced enough and headed off into Colombo to do some last minute shopping. We found a huge department store which had loads of cheap designer brands as well as a few imitations so we were able to replace a few items which were getting a bit worse for wear.
Then it was back on the bus to head back to Negombo once again timing our arrival back to the hotel just before the afternoon storm!!
We had a lovely meal to finish our stay in Sri Lanka and we were both reminiscing about some of the truly great experiences we have had in Sr Lanka whilst also getting very excited about our imminent arrival in India! T

A very relaxed affair at the P Sara stadium!


Just about as close to the action as we could get.

Negombo

We found ourselves with 3 nights left in Sri Lanka so decided to head to Negombo just north of Colombo where we booked in to a hotel with a pool to enjoy a few peaceful days before the craziness of India. The trip to Negombo wasn’t the greatest of bus trips as it was hot, took us three and a half hours and Tim had to stand for a lot of it as the bus was so full. But we made it in one piece and spent the afternoon in the pool.

Negombo is a place where most people start and finish their Sri Lankan holiday and it is situated on the coast but unfortunately its beach isn’t the nicest. It does have a really fun main strip of shops and restaurants that come alive when the sun goes down and the heat subsides.

The next day we headed into the main part of town to check out the fish market. A pretty primitive affair with the fishermen or their wives selling their night catch on wooden tables. Everything was on offer from octopus to lobster to king prawns and giant tuna. The fish was certainly fresh but years of the market being in the one spot certainly produced a smell that wasn’t that pleasant. Out on the beach kilos of fish were drying and the fishermen were out cleaning the last little fish from their nets. It really good to see a part of the Sri Lankan culture that hasn’t been affected by tourists. This is what they have done for hundreds of years and are probably still doing it in exactly the same way.

In the afternoon we had decided to spoil ourselves and go for an Ayurveda treatment which is an ancient form of medicine. According to Ayurveda, the body has 3 doshas air, fire and water/earth and your body should be in equilibrium of these 3, therefore the treatment aims to restore the balance. To do this you either do internal purification which is as horrible as it sounds such as fasting and enemas and/or you get herbal massages. No prizes for which ones we went for! For a grand total of $45 each we got 3 and a half hours of treatment. We were picked up in a taxi and driven a few kilometres inland to a beautiful building which had a lotus pool courtyard in the centre.

We started off with a full body massage which included an amazing head massage. They don’t miss the oil here so by the end we were covered in it. We were then hustled into a herbal steam room where we then proceeded to sweat rivers until we could no longer take it and actually left before we were supposed to get out. We were then thinking we would get a cold shower but after some water, tea and a 10 min sit we found ourselves blindfolded and underneath a swinging oil dispenser which produced a constant flow of oil onto your forehead and it was slowly moved around in a figure of eight. It was a really weird sensation and Tim described it as being subjected to Chinese water torture but to be fair he still hadn’t gotten over the sweating part so wasn’t in a very open minded state.

The treatment finished with a floral bath in a candlelit room and i must admit I felt really great after it all. I felt cleansed and smelled fantastic. Back in the town we headed out for another great curry and were both feeling pretty relaxed and ready for our upcoming India adventure. S

The customary shot of the railway tracks.

The fish market in action.

A sample of the catch.

Fish out to dry.

The fishermen cleaning their nets.

Now that’s a knife.

Wilpattu National Park

Our next stop was Wilpattu National Park. The biggest national park in Sri Lanka and touted as one of the quietest in regards to jeep numbers, so we were pretty excited. Our guest house owner organized a jeep for us and a few hours after arrival we were off on safari.

The national park has many natural lakes and it’s much more densely wooded that any of the other parks we have been to. Once in the park you drive start down a main thoroughfare through thick forest which means it is very hard to see anything. We did manage to spot several deer and a few birds. One of which was the Sri Lankan national bird, the jungle fowl which looks like a pretty rooster. 

Our driver was doing the token stop and chat to the other drivers going the other way and we thought something must have been spotted as we seemed to be driving through really quickly. On the way, there were a few little water holes and open areas where we would briefly stop and we managed to see water buffalo and a crocodile but we still felt that our driver was impatient. He wasn’t even turning his engine off when spotting something and several times we asked to stop as we had spotted something. At one stage Tim even asked him to slow down as we weren’t seeing anything.

About two hours in we came to a really lovely and big lagoon and grass land area where Tim spotted a Jackal. She was just lounging around in the open and slowly walked off when we arrived. Her coloring meant that she quickly blended into the grassland and I can imagine they would use the camouflage to their advantage when hunting. I must admit at first I thought we had come across the very illusive Leopard which is the apex predictor of this park but alas no. 

The area was really picturesque with deer and wild boars drinking from the water hole on the far side. We even got to stop and walk around a little of the lake before setting off again. We had a suspicion that the reason why our driver was going so quickly was to get us to this point and our fears were confirmed when we started to drive back down the main road.

I mentioned that this park was supposed to have the fewest number of jeeps which it probably did but due to the fact that everyone was driving up and down the one road and there was not enough side roads to get off the main road we ended up following everyone else. Don’t get me wrong the nature side of it was lovely but we didn’t feel we were on a safari more just driving along a track towards a lake and than back.

We were also a little disappointed to see man made drinking pools that had been built along the main road to, we assume, lure the animals closer to the road. In all the other parks there have been little side roads branching off so you can get away from everyone and the main road. But maybe they can’t do that as well here because the trees are much thicker. I don’t know but we were a little disappointed with the experience. We had read in trip advisor to do the full day and not the half and we think we realize why as you get further away from the road on the full day and you probably get to a number of big water holes not just the one. But none the less we were still glad we took the time to go.

Our spirits were lifted by the amazing meal we had which was cooked by Champa the lovely lady who worked at the guesthouse. We got into a conversation with her and she was telling us how she longed to move to Australia to earn better money so she could better support her family. Her wage was only 750 rupees per day which is roughly $7 Australian. This is not the first time we have heard this as many Sri Lankans made the move to Australia during the war when our immigration policy was a little more friendly. Unfortunately now it is very difficult for a Sri Lankan to even come on holiday to Australia as the visa requirements are so strict. We did try to explain to her that the cost of living in Australia is a lot higher but it is hard to imagine it being as bad as being in Sri Lanka and earning $7 a day. 

The guest house itself was also made the trip worthwhile as it was a little mud hut with concrete floors and a basic cemented washroom. The hut was separate from the main house were we ate via a walkway through the scrub. We were the only guests and after dinner Champa and her helper went home so we felt completely secluded in the middle of the Sri Lankan countryside. It was made even more special by the torrential rain that pelted down on our tin roof just as we went to bed. The scorpion we found on a ledge very near Tims pillow was not so great! S

Our little bungalow in the bush.

The main road we went in and out of the park from. As you can see it it is pretty dense either side.

The jungle fowl. Unfortunately every time we went to take a picture of one it turned around!

The deer are obviously know we are not the predators as they let us get right up close to them in our jeep.

Some of the amazing scenery in the park.

The jackal. Such a perfect colouring for the surrounds.

This little guy is called a mouse deer. Apparently quite reclusive so we were very lucky to see him. I honestly didn’t know you could get a deer this small.

These trees lined the water hole where we got out for a walk. Crocs in the water, monkeys in the trees, deer and wild pigs drinking on the other side.  All we needed was a leapard to come out and hunt a deer and the scene would have been complete.

No wonder the leopards love it here. Herds of spotted deer everywhere.

Found this guy casually crossing the road. Such a beautiful shell design.


Spotted this mongoose towards the end having a look around. Unfortunately didn’t see it fight with a cobra but there is always India.

Another epic meal.


The scorpion! 

The Ancient City of Anuradhapura 

It was a stinking hot day for our journey to the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura and by the time we arrived the weather apps were saying that it was 39 degrees! I don’t know if that knowledge made us feel better or worse but the humidity was high and there was an ominous feeling about the weather.

Still we headed out to try and see a couple of sights as there were plenty to see but just as we were walking out of the first temple we stopped at the sky went black as black and we were stuck on a path around a lake with nowhere to hide!! As the rain started we found a water tank to shelter under but it was so high that we were soaked within minutes. 

It was about an hour before the rain eased off slightly and we were able to make a dash for a road nearby and flag down a tuk tuk. Game over for today soaked and now cold and the sun had set so we thought we would arrange a tour for early the next morning.

Sugath, our guide, turned up nice and early with a big smile on his face and we immediately felt like it was going to be a good day. He had a good grasp of English and was certainly adopting the role of guide over just driver which was brilliant. He wanted to know where we wanted to go and we just told him that he knew best so to do his stuff.

He gave us a quick background on Anuradhapura which was one of the original capitals of Sri Lanka in 380 BC and remained the capital until about 800 AD when the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa to try and stop the repeated attacks from the Indians. The place was huge and much of it has been left alone so the result today is an abundance of Dagobas, temples and ruins all spread out in a forest.

First stop was the Sri Maha Bodhi which is 2000 years old and was planted from a cutting from the original Bodhi tree underneath which Buddha gained enlightenment. This being a Saturday as well meant that there was a steady throng of people visiting all dressed in white. The tree itself looked surprisingly youthful for such an old tree and although not an especially fantastic sight it was pretty remarkable to be there amongst all the locals.

Sugath took us aside after our visit and gave us an insight into what was going on. He talked about the significance of the tree but also mentioned how many of the people there weren’t necessarily fully embracing the philosophical side of the religion and were more going through the motions. He felt that there wasn’t enough meditation and thought involved and his biggest gripe was that people would bring food to offer to Buddha and then rather than eat it or give it to those who are hungry they would throw it away. The futility of this frustrated him and he felt that throwing the food away completely missed the mark as it should have been eaten or given to the poor.

Outside the Bodhi tree there was a procession of people carrying trays of orange flowers. Sugath told us to follow them up to the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba a walk barefooted of about 500m. All the way along there was chanting which was a little eerie although the general atmosphere was definitely one of calm and happiness and people were smiling at us the whole time. There were hundreds of people and when the procession arrived at the dagoba they placed the trays of flowers around it under the direction of a monk.

Meanwhile there were musicians playing drums and people chanting!! We didn’t know where to look. I almost forgot to mention the men who where dangling on ladders attached by rope to the top of the dagoba…I have no idea what they were doing but for us it just added to the atmosphere and experience. Just as we were about to leave another procession arrived, this time they were carrying a roll of orange fabric which stretched right outside the gates and down the road. Everyone then helped wrap this around the dagoba. It was all just amazing to see and for a second time here in Sri Lanka we were able to witness quite an amazing ceremony.

Back in our tuk tuk we were then whisked away to the Vessagiriya caves which Sugath walked us around. I wouldn’t describe them as caves, more or a series of enormous boulders sitting on a much larger boulder. In the shadows of these boulders Sugath pointed out worn patches where 3000 years ago Buddhists were practicing meditation. So he settled us into a couple of groves and left us to meditate for ten minutes.

After our brief but relaxing meditation we were off to the Royal Pleasure Gardens where we were shown and impressive bathing systems which would have rivalled the efforts of the Romans and dated from about the same time. It was very well preserved and required no entrance fee it was quite incredible to see such an impressive sight in such a way and once again Sugath was there to show us how it all worked which was brilliant.

Next stop was a working Buddhist monastery which offered cheap accommodation for locals visiting the area and looking to study there. We got a brief tour of the place and got to see them waiting for lunch which was the main meal of the day and served strictly between 11:30 and 12 noon. After that they were not allowed to imbibe anything other than herbal tea until breakfast the next day.

We were learning so much with Sugath it was brilliant and our next stop was one we wouldn’t of experienced without him. We arrived at the building site of a new stupa and after removing our shoes went in. The army were there helping with the building but so were a few hundred people dressed in normal clothes. It turned out that they were volunteering for the day by helping pass the bricks up human chains to the top of the dagoba and we were able to join in!! We were very popular and got to have a good chat with the volunteers. Up until this point I had thought that the dagobas were hollow, but no, they are built from layers upon layers of bricks with compartments for the placement of precious stones and jewels.

We were then back into the past and walked through some ruins where we got to see moonstones (decorated stones placed at the entrances to buildings) and the remains of a hospital for the monks before we got to the Thuparama Dagoba which is meant to house the right collar bone of Buddha and is probably the oldest visible dagoba in the world. It dates from about 300 BC and in surrounded by 41 tall stone pillars. Originally there were 176 and the point of them is not known for definite although Sugath told it it was for a cover for the dagoba.

By this point we had had a great time and Sugath grinned and asked us how the day had been. We told him we were having a great time but we were a little concerned that we hadn’t paid our entrance fee yet and so therefore thought that we hadn’t seen it all. He grinned and told us that he had managed to get us passed all of the checkpoints so we had got away without paying!! I am not sure how this fits in with the Buddhist teachings but I will have to defer to his expertise!!! Well done him!

He was obviously pretty proud and we said that we honestly didn’t mind paying so that gave him the confidence to try and go further. He managed to get us to see the remains of the royal palace and then we were dropped off on the side of the road to walk through some ruins to see the huge Abhayagiri Dagoba. It has been rebuilt but was originally one of the greatest structures of the ancient world dating back to 100 BC when it was 100m high!! It was an impressive height and a fitting way to end our tour.
It was a stinking hot day for our journey to the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura and by the time we arrived the weather apps were saying that it was 39 degrees! I don’t know if that knowledge made us feel better or worse but the humidity was high and there was an ominous feeling about the weather.
Still we headed out to try and see a couple of sights as there were plenty to see but just as we were walking out of the first temple we stopped at the sky went black as black and we were stuck on a path around a lake with nowhere to hide!! As the rain started we found a water tank to shelter under but it was so high that we were soaked within minutes. 
It was about an hour before the rain eased off slightly and we were able to make a dash for a road nearby and flag down a tuk tuk. Game over for today soaked and now cold and the sun had set so we thought we would arrange a tour for early the next morning.
Sugath, our guide, turned up nice and early with a big smile on his face and we immediately felt like it was going to be a good day. He had a good grasp of English and was certainly adopting the role of guide over just driver which was brilliant. He wanted to know where we wanted to go and we just told him that he knew best so to do his stuff.
He gave us a quick background on Anuradhapura which was one of the original capitals of Sri Lanka in 380 BC and remained the capital until about 800 AD when the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa to try and stop the repeated attacks from the Indians. The place was huge and much of it has been left alone so the result today is an abundance of Dagobas, temples and ruins all spread out in a forest.
First stop was the Sri Maha Bodhi which is 2000 years old and was planted from a cutting from the original Bodhi tree underneath which Buddha gained enlightenment. This being a Saturday as well meant that there was a steady throng of people visiting all dressed in white. The tree itself looked surprisingly youthful for such an old tree and although not an especially fantastic sight it was pretty remarkable to be there amongst all the locals.
Sugath took us aside after our visit and gave us an insight into what was going on. He talked about the significance of the tree but also mentioned how many of the people there weren’t necessarily fully embracing the philosophical side of the religion and were more going through the motions. He felt that there wasn’t enough meditation and thought involved and his biggest gripe was that people would bring food to offer to Buddha and then rather than eat it or give it to those who are hungry they would throw it away. The futility of this frustrated him and he felt that throwing the food away completely missed the mark as it should have been eaten or given to the poor.
Outside the Bodhi tree there was a procession of people carrying trays of orange flowers. Sugath told us to follow them up to the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba a walk barefooted of about 500m. All the way along there was chanting which was a little eerie although the general atmosphere was definitely one of calm and happiness and people were smiling at us the whole time. There were hundreds of people and when the procession arrived at the dagoba they placed the trays of flowers around it under the direction of a monk.
Meanwhile there were musicians playing drums and people chanting!! We didn’t know where to look. I almost forgot to mention the men who where dangling on ladders attached by rope to the top of the dagoba…I have no idea what they were doing but for us it just added to the atmosphere and experience. Just as we were about to leave another procession arrived, this time they were carrying a roll of orange fabric which stretched right outside the gates and down the road. Everyone then helped wrap this around the dagoba. It was all just amazing to see and for a second time here in Sri Lanka we were able to witness quite an amazing ceremony.
Back in our tuk tuk we were then whisked away to the Vessagiriya caves which Sugath walked us around. I wouldn’t describe them as caves, more or a series of enormous boulders sitting on a much larger boulder. In the shadows of these boulders Sugath pointed out worn patches where 3000 years ago Buddhists were practicing meditation. So he settled us into a couple of groves and left us to meditate for ten minutes.
After our brief but relaxing meditation we were off to the Royal Pleasure Gardens where we were shown and impressive bathing systems which would have rivalled the efforts of the Romans and dated from about the same time. It was very well preserved and required no entrance fee it was quite incredible to see such an impressive sight in such a way and once again Sugath was there to show us how it all worked which was brilliant.
Next stop was a working Buddhist monastery which offered cheap accommodation for locals visiting the area and looking to study there. We got a brief tour of the place and got to see them waiting for lunch which was the main meal of the day and served strictly between 11:30 and 12 noon. After that they were not allowed to imbibe anything other than herbal tea until breakfast the next day.
We were learning so much with Sugath it was brilliant and our next stop was one we wouldn’t of experienced without him. We arrived at the building site of a new stupa and after removing our shoes went in. The army were there helping with the building but so were a few hundred people dressed in normal clothes. It turned out that they were volunteering for the day by helping pass the bricks up human chains to the top of the dagoba and we were able to join in!! We were very popular and got to have a good chat with the volunteers. Up until this point I had thought that the dagobas were hollow, but no, they are built from layers upon layers of bricks with compartments for the placement of precious stones and jewels.
We were then back into the past and walked through some ruins where we got to see moonstones (decorated stones placed at the entrances to buildings) and the remains of a hospital for the monks before we got to the Thuparama Dagoba which is meant to house the right collar bone of Buddha and is probably the oldest visible dagoba in the world. It dates from about 300 BC and in surrounded by 41 tall stone pillars. Originally there were 176 and the point of them is not known for definite although Sugath told it it was for a cover for the dagoba.
By this point we had had a great time and Sugath grinned and asked us how the day had been. We told him we were having a great time but we were a little concerned that we hadn’t paid our entrance fee yet and so therefore thought that we hadn’t seen it all. He grinned and told us that he had managed to get us passed all of the checkpoints so we had got away without paying!! I am not sure how this fits in with the Buddhist teachings but I will have to defer to his expertise!!! Well done him!
He was obviously pretty proud and we said that we honestly didn’t mind paying so that gave him the confidence to try and go further. He managed to get us to see the remains of the royal palace and then we were dropped off on the side of the road to walk through some ruins to see the huge Abhayagiri Dagoba. It has been rebuilt but was originally one of the greatest structures of the ancient world dating back to 100 BC when it was 100m high!! It was an impressive height and a fitting way to end our tour.
Sugath had passed on so much information which had made a good day into a great day and I think he had enjoyed getting one over on the authorities too!!! It was back home for a late lunch at our local for us and then took cover at the guest house for the afternoon thunderstorm!! T

So this is the 2000 year old bodhi tree with its branches held up by golden supports.

The procession of flowers which we followed to the dagoba.  Even though there were so many people it was all very calm with a background sound of religious chanting.

The entrance to the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba.

I have no idea what these guys were trying to do but I really hope that the rope was strong enough and that the knots were tied well!

A typical procession around the dagoba.  In this one they walked on a carpet which was hastily carried from the back of the group to the front as they walked around.

The result of the flower procession.

The fabric arriving at the temple to begin being wrapped around it.  You can see the previous wrap at the base of the dagoba.

The procession carrying the fabric stretching right out down the promenade.

Meditating on some grooves which have been used for meditation for over 2000 years. Surprisingly comfortable and perfectly positioned to be in the shade and to take advantage of the cool breeze.

Relaxing beside some of the baths which date back to about 100 BC.

The human chain passing the bricks up to build the new dagoba.

None of these people were getting paid they were doing it as part of their faith.

This model out of the front of the “building site” shows the final plan and a progress report. Brilliant.

The Thuparama Dagoba with the right collar bone of Buddha inside.


The Abhayagiri Dagoba, still a huge structure but must have been incredible back in 100 BC

Swim time at Trincomalee

This was our first forage into the Tamil area of Sri Lanka and we certainly weren’t expecting any trouble but were intrigued as to what we would find. Unfortunately we probably weren’t here for long enough to experience any real differences, from the outset everyone was just as friendly and welcoming and the food was pretty much the same.

The only time we had any sense of tension was when chatting to a tuk tuk driver who wouldn’t support the Sri Lankan cricket team as there were no Tamil players nor would he support India as he hated India due to their support of the Sinhalese during the war. It was difficult to know where to go from there but after he had blown off some steam we got back to the usual tuk tuk journey conversation of naming great cricket players.

We had decided to increase our budget a little and for $30 a night we managed to find a place with a pool and so to be honest have spent a glorious couple of days lounging beside the pool reading books! The weather has been stupendous and cooling off in the pool and enjoying a decent bed and hot showers has also been a real treat.

The Main Street next to the hotel had about a dozen restaurants on it which were reasonably cheap while the restaurants on the beach nearby were double the price and didn’t seem to serve Sri Lankan food which is a bit strange but we have enjoyed walks on the beach and dinner from the fantastic cheap restaurants. In fact we have found that the more we have paid for food on this trip the worse it has been…good news for us!!

It hasn’t been all lounging about though as we felt we had to take a trip into town to see an important Hindu temple and the fort lining the harbour.

Kandasamy Kovil is one of five Hindu temples built around Sri Lanka to protect the country from natural disasters. It sits on top of a hill on a peninsula jutting out into the ocean and although we didn’t see any it’s meant to be a great spot to see Blue Whales from. So far we have been mostly seeing Buddhist temples with a bit of Hindu influence but this was the biggest Hindu temple we have seen yet and it was really quite colourful and intrinsically impressive.

The many many figures decorating both the inside and out were painted in all sorts of bright colours so the whole place seemed really light and open. We are going to have to do some learning as to what everything means and which gods are which because at the moment it’s just an overload of things to take in.

The rest of the peninsula is taken up by an army base and some old colonial style buildings. We wandered back through the shady streets and were surprised to see a few dozen deer wandering around the grounds.

The main attraction at Trincomalee are the beautiful beaches surrounding the town and we had a couple of lovely walks with hardly anyone else around. During one walk we came across fifteen fishermen pulling in a huge net so sat down and enjoyed the spectacle. It all happened at a steady but sedate pace and it took them the best part of 45 mins to pull in the huge net. I don’t think that they would have made much money once the catch was divided by all the fisherman.

It has been great relaxing here and even though we haven’t done a lot we have really enjoyed meeting all the locals and once agin enjoying the food and this time the swimming pool!! T

We haven’t had many beers in Sri Lanka but this spot was just perfect for one!  Shame they didn’t serve any Sri Lankan food otherwise it would have been a great spot for dinner too! 

Outside the Hindu temple, shame we couldn’t take any photos inside but the theme and the colours certainly continued.

The figurines were all over the outside including this spot where you can see Blue Whales, if you are lucky.

A refreshing lime juice looking back over Trincomalee bay.

The start of the long process of pulling in the net.

After about 45 mins they were nearing the end and the birds had begun circling.

Everyone working together to make sure that no fish were lost.

The catch.


Our view for the two days!  So nice to have a swim.

Sigiriya Rock

Heights, humidity and hornets. Not exactly my favourite type of day but to be fair we had to climb Sigiriya rock as we were here in Sri Lanka and in order to avoid the humidity we started as early as we could and we were passing through the gates of the place as soon as it opened. There was a steady stream of people but it wasn’t packed but the humidity and heat had set in early and we were both sweating even before we had begun the climb!

The base of the rock is a garden and pond area surrounded by a moat and had lots of ruins scattered around but we were keen to get up the rock so decided to have an exploration of the grounds when we got back down.

It wasn’t long after we started our climb that I had our first vertigo inducing moment as we climbed up a rickety spiral staircase bolted on to the side of the rock. We went up these to see some paintings in a cave but I have to admit that I am not sure if they warranted the climb up and back down again.  

The next stage of the climb was fairly easy and we ended up at the feet of the Lion’s gate where there was a sign warning about wasps in the area! (Don’t worry mum I had my antihistamines with me) but still didn’t fancy hanging around so headed up the stairs in between the two huge lion’s paws. 

The concrete stairs soon turned into metal ones which were bolted on to the side of the rock. They seemed fairly sturdy other than the odd creak and strain and even though it hasn’t happened in ages a bit of vertigo set in but onwards we went and in no time at all we were at the top!

We weren’t sure what to expect but what we saw was almost the entire top of the rock, 1.6 hectares, filled with ruins. There must have been quite a few buildings up here and even a reservoir! I do not know how on earth it would have been possible to build such structures up here and even now there are many unanswered questions as to how it was done. It is believed that it was a fortress of a king and was built in 400 AD and at the time it must have been impregnable.

We sat and enjoyed the breeze and the view and then headed back down again. Just as we were coming out down the bottom we passed some Red Cross workers and asked if they were there to help with rehydration and heat stroke? They answered that their main reason for being there was to deal with the wasp stings!! Lucky.

The other lucky thing was that we had beaten some quite huge crowds. There was now a constant stream of tourists coming into the park and beginning their climb up. I have to admit I don’t think that they would all make it and if they did I reckon the procession would be grinding it’s way up at a snail’s pace. They were all heading up the stairs though so we got to enjoy the surrounding gardens which again were quite breathtaking and much larger than I had imagined them to be.

Last stop in the tour was the museum which although might have been interesting wasn’t air conditioned or fan cooled and we were both far too hot to walk around inside so began our walk home. All this and it was still only 8:30am!!! T

I will never get tired of seeing these fantastic animals as we travel around.  Just so much amusing personality.

Some of the man made lakes/baths/reservoirs.

The key for me was not to look down! At the top of the spiral staircases were the murals.

The paws are all that’s left at Lion’s gate, the entrance to the second stage of the climb.  How on earth they got up here 1000 years ago I have no idea.

A view back towards the gardens we had just walked through.

Brave and casual!

To be fair the views were spectacular!

All smiles at the top.

The size of the ruins up on the top of the rock were something to behold.

There was even a reservoir up here!

I think Sarah enjoyed the views on the way down more than I did!

Just massive amounts of uninhabited forests all around here.

I was very quiet!!

Scary walkways around the side of the rock!  The Sri Lankan engineering held up!