Choosing a destination for our holiday is always a hectic event at our home. Guides, Websites, books and folders, everything is examined and discussed and the whole world in mind travelled. Striking is that we almost always end choosing for Asia. So is the case in 2009. By a colleague, we were alerted on Namasté travel. A Dutch travel agency specialized in organizing customized tours. We opted for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka offers many features on a small scale and has a beautiful nature, impressive culture and not to forget a very friendly population.
When reading the travel report: click at a picture and it will be increased. After clicking the photos can also be viewed as a slideshow. If you see a link, like: Namasté click on the link and it will be opened. When referring to the map of Sri Lanka, the map can be accessed by clicking on the link: Map of Sri Lanka The clips that are included are HD recordings and can best be viewed full screen.
English is not our native language, so we apologize in advance for translation- spelling- and grammar errors
Day 1: Saturday, November 7, 2009
At half past 9 in the morning our daughter Marjon and her friend Bram are putting us of at Schiphol airport Amsterdam. At Schiphol the four of us drink some coffee and then it's time to say goodbye. Behind customs, we look around in the tax free shops. We leave punctual for a stopover in London.
In the plane we see a familiar face. Prince Friso - the second son of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands - is one of our fellow passengers. In London we have a little more than 2 hours before our plane by Sri Lankan Airlines leaves for Colombo. The time appears broad enough, despite the fact that we have to go at Heathrow airport from Terminal 1 to Terminal 4, which is quite a long way! Transport from terminal 1 to 4 is done by bus, where we were the only passengers. The system looks very complicated but there will be a - undiscovered - English logic behind it. The plane leaves exactly on time. It's a long flight of about 10 hours. We don't manage to take a nap on the plane but our seats are well. The plane is nearly full. We look forward to the trip we are going to make.
Day 2: Sunday, November 8, 2009
We arrive on time in Colombo (Map of Sri Lanka). As we leave the aircraft we feel a kind of moist heat. We don't travel in a group this year but individually with private chauffeur. Our driver / guide is already waiting for us at the airport. It is a fairly young, friendly man. He introduces himself as Sarath and collects the car. We drive to Negombo, our first guest spot.
In Negombo we stay in Villa Aralya. As we check-in we get a pot of tea. The owner here is a Dutch woman. She is married to a Sri Lankan. We go for a 2 hours sleep because we are tired from the outward journey. Then we eat a sandwich. Furthermore, it occasionally rains considerably. Sometimes there is sunshine.
Negombo is situated on the coast and the hotel is near the beach and the sea. We make our first exploration. At sea we see the typical catamarans. Many boats are ashore. Everywhere you see stray dogs and cats. A sterilization program in Sri Lanka would be a good idea! We have a drink at a bar on the beach and then we walk back to the hotel for another quick power nap. We are still a little lethargic, because we still have to get used to the heat.
Around 7 pm we'll have dinner at the hotel where we are the only guests today. We eat curry with rice and various side dishes. Some are a bit too spicy. The wine is very tasty!
After diner we drink a glass of wine outside on the balcony in front of our room and we go to bed.
Day 3: Monday, November 9, 2009
We set the alarm so we are sure to wake up early. We make a morning walk to the beach before breakfast. bootIt is always good to visit a fishing village like Negombo early in the morning. There is a lot of activity. At the beach we looked at the fishing boats arriving from sea with their catch, the fishermen and the fish market. After a long walk we go back to the hotel. We sit for a while by the pool. At midday we are still a little tired. We take our time, stay near the room and read a book before heading to the town. We take a tuk tuk to the centre of Negombo, drink a cup (tasty!) Nescafe and walk back to the beach on a narrow path along the fishermen's cottages.
Not very much live anymore at the beach at this time of the day. We walk along to an eatery where we have a pancake with a delicious lassi. Eventually we arrive at King Coconut, a recommended restaurant where we have diner. The food is good but not very special. Meanwhile a violent storm erupted outside so we take another tuk tuk to bring us back to our hotel. It was a quiet day today. The tiredness left our bodies and we are ready to start the tour with our driver and guide Sarath. We're curious!
Day 4: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 up
Set the alarm clock at 6 o'clock. After we packed our suitcases and took a shower we sit down to breakfast at 7a.m. The breakfast is very tasty. Choice of scrambled or fried egg, toast with butter and jam and lots of fresh fruits like passion fruit, pineapple and papaya. Fortunately it is dry. Sarath arrives around 7.30 a.m. to pick us up.
First we go for a last stop at the fishing boats at Negombo. We look at the catch. The catch is meagre. Local fishermen suffer from major Japanese trawlers with whole factories on board that ensure coastal fish poaching. It is a very unfortunate development for the people here.
We leave Negombo and drive to Pinnewela: the elephant orphanage (Map of Sri Lanka). Unfortunately the Elephants will not bath in the river in the village this day because it has rained a lot the last days. But do not worry. There is enough to see. We enjoy a great herd of elephants, messing around in the pool of the park. Especially the little ones are entertaining, they slither in the mud and have, and it seems, has a lot of fun. Also with each other (see movie).
After the elephant orphanage we drive on. We make a stop in Kurunegala (Map of Sri Lanka) where Sarath and his family live.
We are welcomed by his father. The mother of Sarath and his wife are in town. His father is at work, he has impressive machines that operate on diesel which he uses to crush the nuts of the King Coconut to shed the oil from the nuts. He gives us a small bottle with oil for multiple purposes (Grease or hair). It smells good. We are grateful and drink tea with Sarath in the house of the parents. After tea we drive on. As we drive through the city we see the wife of Sarath. She seems to be a very fine lady.
It is today one of the longest travel days and we still have a long way to go. But it doesn't matter. There is enough to see and the car is very comfortable. We stop for lunch and have several photo-stops. How fun it is to look outside. Still, Ingrid regularly falls asleep.
Around 5 pm we arrive at Palm Garden Village Hotel in Anuradhapura. What a luxury again. We sit at a table and get a fresh juice, while Sarath arranges the room for us. We have a beautiful large room with coffee and tea facilities. The garden is big and overwhelming beautiful. We will be here for 2 nights. That will be no punishment! In the evening we have an extensive and very tasty meal at the restaurant of the hotel. That night we slept like oxen!
Day 5: Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The day starts with breakfast at the hotel. Sarath is exactly on time. We have a long tour ahead in Anuradhapura (Map of Sri Lanka). First we pass a pond full of lotus flowers where a man floats around in a strange craft (swimming band or something). He collects the lotus flowers. Very nice face that industrious man among all those flowers. Well, among all those steals because most of the flowers are already plucked.
Anuradhapura is the oldest city of Sri Lanka and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city served for a long time as the capital of the kingdom of Anuradhapura. More than 12 centuries, this royal city was the centre of power where politics, culture, economy and religion came together. A lot of treasures of the past are well preserved. With the royal gardens, the palace Mahasena and the magnificent temples with huge domes, Anuradhapura is like a big open air museum!
Today there are not many people walking around on the grounds of Anuradhapura. Virtually no tourists, but in terms of local population is also fairly quiet. We visit several stupas and the holy 'Bodhi Tree' on the spot where the Sri Maha Bodhi stands. Under this sacred tree Buddha received his enlightenment in Buddhagayain India.
When Buddhism in the 3-century BC was spread from India on Sri Lanka, a cutting of the tree is planted here. That is why Anuradhapura became an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. People attach notes with wishes to the holy tree. Many notes are written by hand. The script is very special. It does not look like our own or for example the Indian script. We light an oil lamp for the mother of a good friend of us who deceased just before we left.
We see a monk in prayer walking around a stupa with incense in his hand. He mumbles a prayer walking around ticking the stupa every few meter.
We visit the ruins of an ancient monastery and arrive at Jetarana Viharaya. This red brick stupa stands around 300 AD. Sarath tells us proudly that it is the largest brick building in the world.
During our tour we stop at a tree that is completely full with bats. Impressively, the sounds! We see a Ratufa macroura, a Sri Lankan giant squirrel who is curiously looking at us too. Amazing how many dogs, cats, monkeys peacefully coexist here. Not seen a fight between any animals here.
At the end of our tour we climb a lot stairs. We arrive at a sort of plateau. From there on you can continue climbing to a Buddha statue and a stupa. Some steps are quite worn so you really must watch out.
The view above is great!
By 4 p.m. we are back at the hotel. Jan's camera is causing difficulties. We are afraid it is broken down, but fortunately it appears to be only some moisture behind the battery. Drying is the only medicine needed for the camera.
Day 6: Thursday, November 12, 2009
After a good breakfast we depart from the Palm Garden Village Hotel to Habarana (Map of Sri Lanka). We drive for a while alongside several lakes. The vistas, trees and rice fields are beautiful. We can´t remember exactly where we have been, but there were very many ruins and many Buddhas. The ruins were not all that exciting, but the Buddhas were. Various Buddhas are cut from the rock, which you can easily see because of the structures in the stone.
We see many birds, storks, pelicans, and large lizards. A lot of different kinds of monkeys. It is funny to see that the monkeys really play their game between the ruins. They swing from one tree to another, and have great fun. It really seems like jungle book! In this environment of ruins of palaces and temples they are the kings. At a lake we see a nice girl. Finally we can give someone a toy we brought with us from Holland. We give her a cat key chain and a rubber ball. She is very happy with the gifts. At one point we see more then 4 wild elephants walking across the lake. To see those big animals in the wild is very special.
At noon we eat in the Pollonaruwa Rest House where Queen Elizabeth has also slept when she was visiting Sri Lanka, about 55 years ago. It is a funny old-fashioned English establishment, but when Elizabeth would come again it could use some renovation. It really is a piece of faded glory, but we love it.
We see a bus loaded with monks who are on pilgrimage. Good weather today. Dry. The humid heat stays oppressive. Little effort causes a lot of sweat. Thousands of bats have find shelter in the armpit of a large standing Buddha. Very funny to see, but people are not so happy with it because - as you can imagine - their droppings damage the Buddha.
A family is doing the laundry on the banks of a river. Meanwhile, the children are playing in the river. In their tuk tuk sleeps a baby. Clever family: the useful united with the enjoyable. We end our visit in this area visiting a few Buddha’s hewn out of the wall. Nice. There is one large reclining Buddha. The story tells that a piece of the arm of the Buddha is blown away by a bullet shot by an Englishman, a few years ago. Locals say that soon after an elephant came to the man. No one knows what happened, but from the profane man is never heard anymore.
On the way home we see a wild elephant by the side of the road. He just crossed and walks slowly back into the forest.
Sarath has organized an Ayurvedic massage for us. We get pampered for 1.5 hours. In the beginning there was al lot of disturbing noise. Doors were opened and closed and there was loud talking; vey restless. But the massage was good and after half an hour the atmosphere got better.
We stay at Chaaya Village. We arrive in the dark. Again it seems to be a beautiful hotel with a nice room. Tomorrow we will explore the facility. We are received with a fresh fruit drink. For the evening meal we go to the restaurant of the hotel. So far we have barely seen another tourist, but here are many.
Day 7: Friday, November 13, 2009
Early breakfast. We had a delicious breakfast buffet together with lots of squirrels, who were also trying to get something eatable. Nice!
We drive to Sirigia (Map of Sri Lanka)In Sirigia is the Lion Rock, a large rock in a relatively flat country. According to Sarath the mountain was formed by the impact of a meteorite that fall on earth here. We have to climb 1200 steps to the top of the Lion Rock. The fort on the top of the rock was built in the 5th century AD and served as the royal citadel. Ingrid is reluctant, but the climb is relatively simple. Going upward we occasionally take a break and enjoy the view. After a few hundred steps we come by a spiral staircase to a number of beautiful frescoes located under an overhanging cliff.
The 20 frescoes are called the "young ladies of Sirigiya". It is thought that there were more in the past. The frescoes are very well preserved. The ladies all have bare breasts except for one (presumably a maid).
We survive the 1200 steps to the top and then ...... all the way down again. Return a different route back. Going down was much easier then the way up. It went very fast. We could hardly believe we were already down!
We drink coffee in a café. The ordinary black coffee is not so special but the Nescafe is good.
In the afternoon we have an elephant ride. Obviously somewhat touristy, but we found it quite fun. In India we refused an elephant ride because it was in Rajasthan, not the natural habitat of the elephants. They suffer in the dessert for the fun of tourists. Here in Sri Lanka it is a different story. We have the elephant for ourselves. A boy went along to take pictures with our own camera. The ride partly followed the road and went partly off-road in the greenery and water.
A lot of water buffaloes lying in the water. White birds pick insects from the skin of the buffaloes. The buffalo tolerates them, but when they want to pitch out of his nose he gets irritated. At the end of our ride it starts to rain, but an umbrella is never far away In Sri Lanka. There are even two attached to the elephant. So we and our cameras can stay dry.
Originally we had planned a visit to the village at the end of the afternoon, but the village did not look very exciting. Therefore, we decide to stay the afternoon at the hotel. We enjoyed our free time at the hotel reading a book. There appeared to be Wi-Fi in the hotel. Very nice to make contact with your family sitting near the pool with a cool drink writing an email, attaching some photo's and sending the message home with one click.
Jan thought for a moment that it was going to thunder, but he heard a troop of monkeys jumping on the roof of the restaurant! In the evening we had a good diner in the restaurant again and a nice glass of wine in our room.