Wednesday, 4 July 2012

SRI LANKA - so much in so little

Beaches and....
....mountains
You might say Sri Lanka has been hiding in plain sight. Countless scores of travellers have passed overhead on their way to someplace else, but years of war and challenges such as tsunamis have kept Sri Lanka off many itineraries.

But now the war is over and Sri Lanka’s looking up. If you’ve ‘done’ India, spent months in Southeast Asia or simply want to explore a place whose appeal and pleasures are myriad, then it’s time you dropped in.Few places have as many Unesco World Heritage Sites (eight) packed into such a small area. Its 2000-plus years of culture can be discovered at ancient sites filled with mystery. Legendary temples boast beautiful details crafted by artisans through the centuries.

Colombo
With around 6 million inhabitants, Colombo is not even close to being one of the larger cities in Asia – yet there’s no denying that the city is full of vibrant energy and always action packed!
The streets of central Colombo are characterized by bright colorful signs, streams of rickshaws, tons of pedestrians and rowdy buses that look like they plan to hit anything in their path. I chose to spend more time in Isuru´s house (my CS host) and with his nice family than explore the city. His mum was a really good cook and I loved the curries she made (almost crying eating it, so spicy J). I also cooked one night for the whole family, the classic “moussaka” and I think they all liked it.
Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple is one of the most iconic religious places of worship in town and one of the few things I visited.

What´s pretty annoying in Sri Lanka is the hassle from men. Generally the people here are gentle and tolerant because of the influence of Buddhism but sometimes they just follow you for ages, trying to be your guide, your friend, your everything. The idea of a single woman traveling is strange so by the end of my stay, I had to invent a story of a boyfriend I have, who is supposed to come really soon.
Fruit of all kinds grows in abundance on the island of Sri Lanka. Mangoes and coconuts in particular are everywhere to be seen. Make sure to sample the rice and fish curry as well as the piping hot roti paratha flatbreads. Basically you have to haggle for everything but even if u don't, it´s still pretty cheap!
Isuru´s house

King coconut
Leaving to Kandy in morning on the 3rd day after my arrival, Isuru told me that there is a wedding the same night and that I´m invited as well (he asked the groom if he can bring me). I was about to kill him cos he didn’t tell me earlier...Imagine, Sri Lankan wedding! What’s the chance that you get to go to one of them! And after going to the wedding in Uzbekistan I´m sure the Sri Lankan wouldn’t be less spectacular. No I didn’t go, unfortunately I couldn’t change my plans that quickly...

Kandy. Situated in the central part of the island, surrounded by rolling green foothills, Kandy is the ancient royal capital of Sri Lanka.
Temple of the Tooth (1500 Rupees for foreigners), now a UNESCO World Heritage Site is probably the most important site in town.
The story of the tooth relic is extremely complex and after reading the story a few times, I still don’t begin to fully understand. The temple is believed to house a tooth of the Buddha – but it’s not that simple. Over the yearsthe tooth has passed through many hands, been fought over and been crushed. some believe the tooth is authentic, while others are not that sure anymore.




Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue on top of the hill in Kandy

They love walking on the rail track
7,30 am. Ready for school
I didn’t have good time in Kandy though. All I remember is lots of hassle from men and one of the very few bad Couchsurfing experience I ever had. Don’t surf with Benjamin, even though he is the most experienced host in Kandy, im not the only one who had bad time staying with him, it actually ruined my stay there and I tried to run away as quick as possible. Don't wanna explain why cos I always try to ignore the bitter...and sooner or later I forget it.
Met an Israeli girl who didn’t feel comfortable either, she actually said that she didn’t feel safe walking on the streets alone. I can see why, the locals in Kandy are too insolent. Probably the best thing I did here was to go to one of these dancing shows which lasted 1,5h and includes 10 different performances, traditional dances and fire walking. 


Fire walking

SIGIRIA
The most amazing rock in the middle of Sri Lanka, the home of a king's court in the 5th Century. It still has most of the surrounding grounds intact, with modern day style aquatic systems which allow fountains and flowing lakes, and a number of frescoes of beautiful women again dating from the same time. The best time to get there is early in the morning when is not that hot cos you have to get to the top of the rock. I got up at 5am in order to get the first bus to Sigiria, actually if you do it the cheaper way, there are 3 local buses you have to take, thats what I did, got there around 9,30. Paid the entree fee which was ridiculously expensive (2800 Rs for foreigners and Rs40 for locals, whatever your view on whether there should be different prices for locals, that's a pretty big difference, no?) and once in, a young guide got attached to me even though I told him 1000 times I don’t need a guide and he better look for real tourists who would actually pay him and be at least a bit interested in the history of this place (I´m the worst tourist ever but I cant help it, get bored quickly, just need the basic stuff). Nevertheless he walked all the way to the top and back with me, said he doesn’t want money. Felt bad for him at the end but was quite pissed off because of the prices so I only gave him a souvenir from Terracotta army in Xi’an, China. 








From the top
Apparently is not that safe walking in Sigirya, the guide said that these snakes are really poisonous 



Another thing that everyone in Sri Lanka needs to see is Pinnawala Elephant orphanage near Kandy on the way to Colombo (you have to get there in the morning cos they take a bath, they feed them and so on, you can’t touch them or get close to them though, they are wild). The entry again is so overpriced for foreigners (3000 Rupees) but I got offered on the side to ride an elephant, go to the spice garden and get a free massage for the same price plus I was taken to see the elephants on some side tracks. Ok, have to admit it, riding an elephant is rubbish, felt sorry for the poor animal having to do this don’t know how many times a day, its not comfortable at all and is so slow. But the view from there was amazing - elephants taking a bath.







Since I was the only one getting the massage, the guy literally wanted me to be half naked in something like a shed when anyone could come. So I limited the massage to head massage trying different oils and ayurvedic products. Later on when I was waiting for the bus to train station, the same guy came to me and asked me if I wanna go with him to a hotel room and teach him Russian for 2,3 hours cos he needs it for the tourists!?! To a hotel room!!! 

The train to Colombo was late, very old and so full (at the beginning I was standing) but the views were WoW. I think everyone visiting Sri Lanka has to take a train at least once.

Back in Colombo. It was the weekend and Isuru and his friends had planned to go to the south which was my intention as well, so we jumped on the first bus. On the way to Unabatuna we stopped at Ambalangoda, a small village, well known for traditional masks carving and dancing (and ugliest women in the country). Isuru had the idea to export masks abroad so while he was talking to the owner I was examining masks from all shapes and sizes.



On the way to Unabatuna
Unabatuna has a classic mellow traveller vibe and pretty much every bit of development is aimed at the mostly young visitors who come here. Being with Isuru I was safe, I mean didn´t look like a potential target for the locals...as I said sometimes they are quite aggressive. The town is heavily affected by tsunamis, in 2004 the tsunami washed away many houses and killed hundreds.









Stayed in a Village Inn listed in Lonely Planet (for 800Rs for double room) - mosquito nets, clean and nice staff. Was definitely beach time for me – white sand, turquoise water, chiringuitos. In the evening we met up with Veronique from Switzerland who stayed with Isuru before me and her friend. I was always thinking that by the time I meet another Bulgarian travelling, the first thing I would do, is just to give them a hug... Im always the first Bulgarian people meet. So was quite surprising when I met this half German, half Bulgarian – Korina. Nice and full of warm feelings about Bulgaria.

Galle is the old port town near Unabatuna, one of the best preserved examples of colonial life in Asia, also Unesco listed. The streets of the fort are lined with old, unrestored buildings (and churches, mosques and temples) that show the influences of the Dutch, Portuguese, British and Muslim that have passed through.








Met up with Korina and Veronique again. And as we were walking toward the beach, we heard this really nice music and rhythms coming from a villa called “xxxx joy” and we stopped listening and looking through the grid of the front door. There was a group of locals playing guitar, drums, singing and dancing... I instinctively opened the door and made myself in and the others followed me. When they saw us, they just waved inviting us to get closer. Then, as you can guess, we never made it to the beach...We just got involved in this private birthday party, including lost of drinking, singing (don’t worry, I didn’t participate, didn’t ruin anything), dancing, eating Sri Lankan food and later even going back to Unawatuna and the beach for even more drinking. They were all very hospitable and friendly....


Mirissa
Staying in Club Mirissa, nice atmosphere, nice people, very close to the beach. Met Korina´s mum there and she even made “tarator” for us, first time since I left I was eating something typically Bulgarian. The owner of Mirisa Club and his family are very, very nice, its the best place to stay there.
Korina and I hitchhiked to Tissa, took us the same time the bus would take, but much more fun, being taken by 8 cars...

Club Mirisa
Tissa and Yala National park
The safari cost us 4000 rupees (around 27 euros) each, leaving at 4,30 am in the morning. We were quite lucky cos we saw so many animals, including leopards twice, second time was just so close... grouchy water buffaloes, monkeys, deers, elephants, crocodiles, all kind of birds.

There was a leopard on the tree





 Crocodiles basking in the sun 





Was so elegant...and so close

Hitchhiking to Ella, 3 of us (Veronique had ridiculous amount of bags with her – 4, all small but still four). We stopped at the Rawada waterfalls just before Ella where the monkeys were everywhere and trying to steal your belongings.

Rawada waterfalls



Veronique´s arsenal
The sleepy village is nestled in a valley peering straight through Ella Gap to the plain nearly 1000m below, and across to the coast where, on a clear night, you can see the Great Basses lighthouse. And as if the views weren’t enough, Ella is surrounded by hills perfect for walks through tea plantations to temples and waterfalls. Ella only received electricity in 1984. I think Veronique wanted to kill us because Korina and I probably went to every single guesthouse in Ella before we make our minds up :))





Veronique and Korina

More tea plantations
Felt like a princess under these mosquito nets (especially the pink ones)
Next day we took a train to Nuwara Eliya, long trip by train but amazing views. 



Nuwara Eliya

Stayed in a nice guesthouse (Hill View Bungalow) on top of the mountain with spectacular views and real hot water!

Tea plantations again


Roamed the streets of the city, bought 2 nice sarongs and went back to our nice guesthouse. Next day was time to say goodbye to Veronique as she decided to go to Adam´s peak with a Polish guy who stayed in our guesthouse and Korina and I headed to Kandy hitchhiking. 

Didnt take long till someone picked us up and just before Kandy (no way i was going back there!) we said goodbye to each other, both hoping to meet another Bulgarian again. I hitched another ride to the closest town where I took a bus to Colombo. Spent another night at Isuru´s place (and had more of his mum´s amazing curries) and early in the morning headed to the airport by taxi.



Sri Lanka is spectacular, it’s affordable and it’s still mostly uncrowded. Now is the best time to discover it before it turns into another Vietnam or Laos.



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