Sri Lanka and the Maldives
(16 june/ 3 juli 2001)
Dambula & Sigiraya
Nuwara Elliya - Galle
Hikkaduwa - Colombo
Colombo - Male
This journey started in march of this year when we started talking about a possible destination for our honeymoon. I found out that traditionally the groom has to choose the destination and to organise the journey so I could suprise my wife to be. When we looked at some brochures she mentioned she wanted to go to Sri Lanka in order to feed little elephants with a bottle. This was the reason why I booked a trip with Globas verre reizen to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. We both wanted to see and do something but also have some feelling about a romatic trip and for once spent some time on a island to rest a bit.
Sri Lanka is an island south east of India and is about 1300 km. long. The island has two periods of monsoon, from may to september in the west and south and from november to march in the east. The population consists of about 18 mln. people, who can be divided in 75% Singalees and about 25% Tamil. About 70% percent of the population is buddhist, 15% follows the hindu-religion.
General assumed is that Sri Lanka was inhabited around the 5th century BC. Up to 1815 AD there was a king who ruled the island. First the Portugese occupied part of the country. They invited the Dutch to help them fight the locals through the king of Spain (Phlip III) around 1602. The Dutch made a treaty with the Kandyan king and drove out the Portugese. They never occupied the whole country but took over the trade and were allowed to build fortresses on the coast. Bit by bit they drove out the Portugese and established a legal constitution on a great part of the island. Ceylon as it was called then played an important part in their exploration and occupation of the south east of asia.
From 1796 the English occupied the whole country of Ceylon. From 1948 Celylon became independant and was renamed to Sri Lanka. Since 1983 the country is in a state of civil war that is fought almost completely in the nortern part where the Tamil people fight for a separate state.
Second remarkable fact was that on thursday the 14th of june right in the middle of the last preparations the phone rang. It was my mother who was checking the travelpapers. She noticed that we were not leaving on sunday but on saturday immediately after the wedding. I was completely convinced we were leaving on sunday the 17th. Fortunately in the stress of the wedding preparations we managed to pack our suitcase also so we could leave immediately.
The next day we finally left. After a great day with a terrific party we came home around 1.00 AM and after unpacking all envelopes and read all the cards we went to sleep at 3.00 AM. I had to because I was exhausted, I cannot remember any other occasion when I was that tired. One hour later the alarmclock went off and at 5.00 AM our taxi was ready. after 3 strong cups of expresso we went to Schiphol to leave for London at 7.15. There we left around 11.00 and all the way to Colombo we just slept and eat. The food on Sri Lankan Airways was quite good. This new aircraft, an airbus had a camera in the nose and on the bottow of the plane and in each seat you had your personal screen so you could see takeoff and landing quite well. I had never seen this like that before and the landing in Colombo at night around 3.00 AM was quite impressive.
The local agent was waiting for us at the airport and together with 2 other Dutch people we were brought to two different hotels in Negombo. We arrived at 4.15 in hotel Browns Beach in Negombo. This was a different hotel than was mentioned in the brochure so we were a bit sceptical about what to expect next. It turned out to be a fine and beautiful hotel so no complaints. We went to sleep and woke up the next afternoon around 15.00.
That day we only had a meeting with the agent to discuss the program that was going to start the next. Again a suprise because they completely reversed the schedule that was mentioned in the brochure. He explained it was done because of minimizing travel. That day there was nothing else scheduled so we went to eat something in the hotel and went back to sleep again.
June 18 Dambula en Sigiraya
At 7.30 we were picked up by the guide at the hotel. The guid was also our driver and he was going to make the tour of 7 days with us and the other two Dutch people. Siripale the guide first asked money, about 200 R$ per person which is less than 1.50$ in order to tipp off people. We took our suitcase with us and again gave the porter of the hotel tip for carrying our luggage to the van .Later it turned out to be a wise move to let the guide do the tipping because he exactly knows when and how much to give. As a tourist you often give too much.
After an hour we made our first at a rubber plantation just outside negombo. They get about 30 liters of later per hectare. The next stop was about 2 km further at a small brick factory. They make bricks by putting the clay by hand in a form. The form is turned upside down and the clay is dried in the sun and eventually backed in a oven that is made of the stones themselves completely piled up and they make a fire in the inside.
Traditional way of making bricks
Next we drove to Dambulla to see the 2000 year old monastery in several caves in a mountain. After a short steep climb and with a nice high temparature and humidity we went to visit 5 caves where several buddha statues can be honored. The oldest statue you can find in the first cave and is completely carved from the rocks. The other statues in the other caves are mostly donated by people during the centuries depending on when they had enough money to donate a statue of buddha and to honor him. The last cave was made 25 years ago. Most remarkable is that the plaster in the last cave is already deteriorating and in the first cave that is about 2000 years old it is almost completely original annd in good shape.
We had lunch in Dambulla and then drove on to Sigiraya. Originally we were scheduled to first to Polonnaruwa but then we had to return the next way on the road we drove to get there in order to go to Sigiraya so those two were reversed. Sigiraya the lion mouth is a steep 200 mtr high rock where king Kassapa the first by the end of the fith century AD had built his palace to govern from here. The temperature was now quite high and we were having more and more thoughts about climbing that steep hill. You enter by the gardens and through some big irrigation works. Nice story is that the king had his father inmured alive in the walls such that he could not endanger him and his prosperity because the father had let his sister be burned alive because of a small thing.
Sigiraya seen from one of the lakes
The climb itself was not that difficult because you go up in stages. Impressive are the frescos halfway up and the iron stairs made in 1945. On the backside of the mountain you first seen a couple of huge lion feet and then you know why it's called the lion mouth. Between the feet there is second pair of steep stairs. When you are finally on the top there you have a terrific view of the surrounding environment. The ruins of destroyed complex are not very impressive but you can imagine that the palace was very impressive in those days. It was definitely worth the effort to go up there.
We ended that day in hotel Giritale where you have a terrific view on the lake with same name. This is a very nice hotel on a beautiful location but the food was a fixed menu and not very good. It was also low season but only in this hotel we had a disappointing experience with the chocolate dessert that tasted like everything but chocolate and the fish from the lake that had far too much salt on it.
June 19 Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa was the capital from about 900 to 1200 AD and three kings had built several palaces and monasteries here. In Sri Lanka it was custom that each king choosee his capaital and had his own palace and monastery built. The island is independent since 1948 and a republic since.
The city is situated on a great artificial lake that was meant to serve for irrigation purposes. There are several of these lakes on the island and they are called tanks.
We first visited the statue of Parakramabahu that lies outside the palace. Next we went to the museum that is next to the complex and contains quite some beautiful and complete pieces that were dug up during excavationa. The complex is quite big and is surrounded by a city wall. You need at least 3 to 4 hours to visit most of it and that it is worth. There are still restaurations going on with help of Unesco. The palace of Parakramabahu inside the walls is remarkable high. You'll find some marvellous carvings on the walls of the temples and also worth seeing is the council-hall next to the palace.
The "vatadage" is one of the temples dedicated to the holy tooth. This relic is supposed to be one of the teeth of buddha that remained after his death and is of immense importance because of its origin. Each king during centuries let built a temple to honor this tooth and to safegaurd it there. At this complex you'll find three temples also because there were three kings that choose this city as their capalital. Our driver who was also our guide knew alot to tell about the history and culture of the island and told quite some stories here.
Vatadage: the sacred and holy tooth temple of king Parakramabahu
In the temple complex outside the city walls you will find amongst others a temple with a huge buddha statue that is about 13 mtrs high. This statue remined me of the famous statues in Afghanistan that were recently blown to pieces, Close to this temple there is the temple seen in the picture below with the huge "dagoba". This is how these typical temples are called.
Dagoba Rankot Vihara
The thirth complex is called the "Gal-vihara" (the monastery of stone). This monastery contains four immense buddhas complete carved from the rocks. This is dated from the 11th century.
At the end of our tour in Polonnaruwa we went to see the "jetvana" monastery where you can find, quite impressive frescoes from the 12th century.
That day was very hot and after 3 hours sepnt around the complex we first took lunch in the resthoude next to the museum at the lake. They only showed us a map with a choice of a eastern menu. The food was not that good and for 5$ I thought also quite expensive.
Just outside the village we stopped at a small factory where they were doing wood-carving. Of course there was a shop and you were meant to buy something. I bought a small Ganesh statue and Louise a small elephant. On both we bargained a discount of about 40%. Bargaining is something you're expected to do and the people of Sri Lanka are very clear about what's their last price.
On the way to Kandy we stopped in Habarana for an elephant ride that was not on the original schedule. For 15$ each we went to rock on an elepehant for one hour. It was nice to do so. On the road we happened to pass a house where somebody was selling small bananas that the elephant liked very much so very touristic indeed. I was happy to see something not arranged like the fisher below we happened to pass.
Next we continued to Kandy in order to arrive about 2 hours later at hotel Topaz. This hotel is situated on a mountain overseeing the city and the view is great. Probably I insulted the porter to give him only 40 RS for carrying our bag because he looked angry and could not say anything when I gave him the money. Tipping is extremely difficult in Sri Lanka because you often give too much or not enough.
june 20 Kandy
This day we started late and had time to swim at the hotel and left around 11.30 AM to visit the elephant orphanage in Pinnawela. This is a tourist attraction first class but really a must see. During the ride we noticed that the traffic around Kandy is very chaotic where everybody first thinks about himself and then about others. Because of the traffic it took us around one hour to get there and we were just in time for the feeding of the small elephants. All little ones are born there and are part of the group that consists of around 70 elephants. Of course you can touch the elephants and make pictures with you standing next to them. The attendants do expect a tip for taking the pictures.
Milk for the little ones
After feeding we went to the bank to change money and the local bank opposite of the orphanage did offer a good rate for changing money. Next we continued to the river where around 14.00 PM the whole group of elephants came down the small street of shops to the river for their second bath of the day. Each day they take a bath from 10.00 - 12.00 and from 14.00 to 16.00. Some elephants were kept seperate because they were in their fertile period and then they can stir up the group. A few minutes later the rest of the group came.
When the whole group comes near the water this is very impressive. There is a restaurant situated next to the place where the elephants bathe and of course very tactical situated but you have an excellent view on the animals. During their bath the only exciting thing that happened was that some elephants followed their own instincts and were called back.
Around 15.00 we left Pinnawela. First Louise wanted to buy a leather bag and of course negotiations had to take place. After reaching their minimum price we left without buying but then we regretted that and went back to buy the bag. Just outside the village we stopped at a garden specialized in spices. We got an explanation and a demonstration of several products where they tried several massage oils on us. The product for sexuals problems were not demonstrated. Of course you can buy all those products. A treatment for 30 days for varicose veins consisted of 3 bottles of oils and 3 botlles of some kind of cream and costed about 40 $. This was not cheap and we settled on some chocololate powder and cream of bananas.
Next we continued to Kandy because of the tickets the guide had ordered for a dance exhibition at the Kandy lake club. We were in a terrible hurry because of the time and the enormous traffic and arrived about 10 minutes late. The traditional dances looked familiar because of the resemblance with dances I have seen before in Indonesia. This was less elegant so I found the show a bit disappointing.
June 21 Kandy
The most important thing in Kandy is probably the temple of the golden tooth. In this temple the relic is kept which conceals a tooth from buddha. This tooth is protected by 7 small dagoba's which fit into each other and are really some kind of bowls shaped in the form of the tradiional temple and made probably from silver. The temple is heavily protected because several years ago the Tamils tried to bomb the place.
The temple has a separate museum dedicated to the elepehant who has walked the yearly festival Esala Perahera in Kandy with the relic of the tooth of buddha. The elephant recently died and already got that museum before that moment because he of his famous career in Sri Lanka. In the museum you'll find some pictures and attributes worn during the parade at the festival.
Each morning at 10.00 AM the ceremony starts to open the temple of the tooth. First some high ranked people can enter to honor the tooth and next are the people that donate substantial funds to the temple. Finally the ordinary people and tourists are allowed to enter. On the second floor everybody can pass a small window where a short view at the relic is possible. You don't see much more than a silver bowl in the form of a dagoba. Monks accept your gifts through the panel and are blocking your view dominantly.
Clear was that this holy relic is extremly important for the people of Sri Lanka. The temple is in de middle of the royal palace and especially the building right behind the temple is worth seeing because here the history of the tooth is explained by several paintings.
Building where the history about the tooth of buddha is explained
Our next stop in Kandy was a small batik factory. Of course there was a shop involved. This time we didn't buy anything also because it was quite expensive and we did not plan to buy those kinds of stuff.
Next we went to a so-called juwellery musea. Of course this is just a shop and of course they try to persuade Louise with a beautiful ring. After some serious negotiations between her and the salesman they reached their last price. Unfortunately it was a little bit above our budget so she decided to not buy it but afterwards we regreteed doing this because the price was not bad at all.
Of course we were travelling with the other Dutch couple and they did do business but it took a long time. In the mean time we were talking with our sales and that was a really nice conversation that showed how friendly and hospitable the people of Sri Lanka are. He was not pissed about not selling to us and was very friendly. He explained for example that several kind of stones are dug up in the north of Sri Lanka and for several years now nobody is allowed to got there because of the civil war. So those kinds of stones are rare and those which do reach the trade are far more expensive. Before the war he regularly visited the north and that part of the country must be very beautiful and different from the rest of the country.
The next stop was at the botanical garden of Peradeniya just outside of Kandy. This garden is absolutely worth visiting and is founded in the 19th century by the british ! When I wanted to take a picture of the huge trees which grow almost horizontal the batteries of my camera stopped working. After lunch Siripala our guide went to look for some batteries and fortunately he found them already in the souvenir shop just outside the garden. Those batteries were not expensive even cheaper than in Holland and that was a suprise. It didn't save us much because a lunch at the restaurant in the parc was quite expensive, you'll pay about 200 R$ that's is about 2.5 $.
After lunch we continued our trip at the garden and had some amazing views of bats and an orchid farm.
bats and orchids
This was also the day that we both got serious stomach-problems, something that is almost inevitable in Asia for most people.
Next we left for Nuwara Eliya, the highest city on Sri Lanka at an altitude of 1900 mtr in the middle of tea-plantations. While getting there we stopped at a field where some women were picking tea-leaves in order to take some photos. The women here also asked for money in order to take a picture. Problem was that about 10 of them wanted to be on a picture. I gave 50 R$ to the one I took a picture of and my travel companion did the same for another woman.
I understand that it is not pleasant to smile for tourist the whole day and that this is a nice addition to their low wages. On the other hand you're supposed to pay for about everything but you don't count on it when you're doing a trip where almost everything is taken care for and then you sometimes get upset when you don't have small money to give.
A little while further on the mountain we stopped at the tea factory of Glenloch. The process of making tea was very interesting to see. Unfortunately now I was really out of small money so I took some pictures without tipping. Also the guy which showed us around was expecting a tip and was disappointed that he didn't get one. Of course there was a shop where you could buy some tea.
A kilogram of tea is made from about 20 kg. of leaves. After drying, heating, sorting and formenting the kilo is separated in different kind of tea based on quality. The best quality can be bought for about 400 R$ (2.5$) per kilo and of course this one is almost exported only
Tea factory of Glenloch
The last part of that day went further up the mountains, At a certain moment we saw a boy standing on the road waving at us with some flowers. After the next turn he was there again and it became clear that he wanted to sell those flowers. He then tried it again for 2 times further up the mountain and we saw him running up that hill in order to catch us each time. Unfortunately we didn't stop but I do admire people who make so much effort in selling something but as a tourist you cannot buy everything. On the contrary you see quite some people begging now and then and our driver was quite agitated and ashamed about this sometime.
In Nuwara Elliya we first stopped at the St. Andrews hotel. This beatiful hotel is still in colonial style. We were immediately offered a juice as refreshment when we entered but after a few minutes it became clear that there was no reservation made here and that we had to go to the Gallway Forest Lodge. This hotel is situated on the other site of the village and is quite the opposite, modern but very neat and clean. The people here were also very friendly because they immediately offered us tea when we entered. The food was also very good and of course I couldn't resist some things so my stomach problems got worse.
June 22 Nuwara Elliya - Galle
This night we had rain and storm for the first time. The next day was beautiful again. We drove down the mountain in a long ride to the south. This day we had the longest distance to cover. I had serious stomach problems now and had trouble controling my stomach. Just outside the mountains we stopped at a honey factory. Of course we had the money problem again in order to give people some money for taking pictures because nobody had any small money left. The solution was that one of us paid enough to cover everyone and looked as everybody was happy with that solution.
The honey was made from sugar-canes. A day later the guide / driver told us that the honey serves as a half-fabric because eventually somewhere deep in the jungle the honey serves as an ingredient for alcohol.
When you finally reach the south, the road makes a turn near the sea and you ride north again along the coast. A little while further we made our lunch-stop and then we stopped again at Kuddawella to see the "blowhole". This strange phenonoma consists of a hole in the rocks at the coast where the sea floods through and fills another hole. When the current retracts the water is blown in the air just like a geyser. It isn't very spectacular but still nice to see.
Just outside Matahara and before Galle we stopped to see the famous stealth-fishing. The local fishermen sit on pole made from bamboo in the middle of the waves and are actually fishing for small fish with a fishing-rod. A local guy invited me to come along on a kind of breakwater because there you could come closer. Through some bushes where a group of people was sitting (I was quite suprised and a bit scared) we reached the breakwater. I had a great view of the fishermen. After I took my photgraphs I had the problem whether to tipp the guy that brought me there or not. The fishermen were far away in the water and he didn't ask for anything. We were talking a bit and I asked him if he expected something. He didn't answer clearly so he confused me. I gave him 50R$ and up till now I still don't know whether that was appropriate or not at all. May be it was better not to give him anything?
The fact was that Louise was very angry at me because I walked away with a stranger (I always had problems understanding my mother when she said something similar.).
Around 18.30 PM we reached Galle where we glanced at the remains of the Dutch fortress built in 1640. The fortress is quite ruinous but some walls were fine and impressive. I learned in the meanwhile that this fortress in on the list of world heritage. I don't know what consequences this might have. In the whole I found it a bit disappointing.
Around 20.00 PM we reached the hotel Corel Garden in Hikkaduwa. The food was again delicious but here also the waiters had their contest in cleaning up your table and presenting tickets for the drinks to sign immediately.
June 23 Hikkaduwa - Colombo
After we left at 9.00 AM our first stop that day was at a mask museum. These masks are used in traditional dancing. It was very hot in the cellar of the shop where the museum is situated. The masks are very pretty but not that spectacular. Of course there was a shop where you can buy all kinds of masks but we restrained ourselves because a pretty mask has a nice price and you must ask yourself whether you'll still like it when you're at home. We did make a small donation to the museum.
The second stop was a little while further at Balupitaya where we made a trip on the river Madu Ganga. This trip was not planned and was very nice because now we could finally see something of the nature of the island. We asked before to go to one of the reserves on the island but this was not possible because of the time of the year and the plan of our trip. Close to the sea there are mangrove forests along the river and on one of the lakes we saw a pair of fish-eagles. The local fishermen block almost the complete river with their nets and catch most of the fish that passes. You can see the fish jumping outof water in order to pass the nets. The fisherman have a small cabin on poles where they can watch the nets.
Fishermen on the river
In the middle of the lake there was an island where we stopped. This was a so-called cinammon island because it was full with cinnamon bushes. On the island the tenant gave us a demonstration of how to make cinnamon sticks. In fact he peeled the skin of the branches and cut these into sticks. He was a friendly old man so we were quite fast convinced into buying two bags of cinnamon sticks for 200 R$ (2.5$). This was definitely one of the best moments of the complete tour. The old man did not say anything but had a very friendly appearance. The boat trip itself costed 500 R$ each and was definitely worth it.
Cinnamon - island
A little bit further on the road was our next stop, a sea turtle farm. For protection the egges are dug up and then buried again but sheltered for birds and people. After the eggs break the little turtles stay for 3 days in a separate basin so their belly can close. Fishermen also come to the farm with eggs they found and they buy them for 3R$ each. The farm runs on donations and the selling of souvenirs.
After another 3 days the turtles are returned to the beach where the eggs came from because they probably remember this so they can come back one day to lay their own eggs. A small percentage of the turtles makes it through the waves but they think it is higher because they can start after a rest of 6 days in contrary to the ones born in the wild. There was also a big albino turtle that can never be released because without the natural color the turtle has no protectionand cannot survive. Sea turtles cannot withdraw themself into their shell like turtles on land can. The story was quite convincing but a few kilometers further we saw another turtle farm so then I doubted a bit and I'm thinking this might be another tourist attraction but then you expect more souvenirs based on turtles. We bought a small souvenir and gave them a small donation of 50R$.
After the turtles we lunched a few kilometres further on the road at a restaurant next to small lake that was connected to the sea. The food was good but more excitement was from the ice-bird that came close and a small cyclone that arised and disappeared quicky into the forest.
When we reached Colombo we wanted to cash some money from the ATM at the ABN-Amro bank but unfortunately only local passes were accepted. This is a Dutch bank so we were quite disappointed not being able to withdraw money there and this might be due to the cutbacks that are currently implemented here in Holland. We took a look at the harbor via the famous roof-top restaurant of the Grand Oriental hotel. This was a bit disappointing because there is not much to see.
Next we drove through the bazaar to go to the reformed church called Wolfendal founed in 1750 by Dutch people. The Dutch origin is quite clear by several tomb-stones of Dutch people. The church is still used by an English church and looks neglected. Because of the history you can imagine here it is definitely worth a visit. I'm curious how this church will look like in 10 years. Unfortunately we onl;y think about monuments here in Holland and not abroad.
Wolfendal church (1750)
We ended our trip by taking a quick look at the boulevard in Colombo where there are still some canons left over by the Dutch. I saved Louise a fraud by someone who was approaching her and our female companion with a sad story and asked to donate some money for a good cause.
We then continued to Negombo and on our way there we finally had time to get some groceries. I forgot my toothbrush so we shared one during the trip and because of the busy schedule we hardly had any time left. When we reached Negombo first thing to do was to call home because now we could easily go out the hotel. Calling from a phone shop was not that expensive because we had to pay about 1.40 $ for 2 minutes.
June 24 Colombo - Male
This day was dedicated to travel to the Maldives. Because this is another kind of trip I meant to spare you the details here and write about this on another page. We were glad to go because we were exhausted after a week like this. I must say this was a great week in which we have seen a lot of things, learned a lot about the country, people and culture and it was definitely worth doing. Just like my other holidays this one will be remembered also as remarkable. For people wanting to go on honeymoon and doing and seeing also I can recommand this.
A few weeks after we returned I heard on the news that the airport was attacked by Tamils. The advise here in Holland was not to go to Sri Lanka anymore. I regretted this when I heard this. Sri Lanka is a very beautiful country with lots of different faces, a very rich culture and very friendly people who work very hard to make a living and the people deserve the visit of other people so that everybody can try to make a living and we tourist can make our own opinion about the country. Besides security at the airport and the temple of the tooth of Buddha I didn't notice anything dangerous and by now it must be safe enough just like before the attack to go there so go !
Last thing to mention is that our driver Siripala is absolutely terrific and learned us very much about the island, people, history and culture of Sri Lanka. He works for a local agent in Negombo and you can ask for him there (If I remember correctly it was Golden Globe tours) or maybe through the agent in Holland where we booked our trip and those you can find at http://www.globas.nl
Last changed: 08-02-2002
© 2002: Jeroen
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