Sigiriya – Where Lion Rocks – ALLOVERIST

The Lion Rock

Sigiriya sits on an extinct volcano. The magma that spewed from inside the volcano, built up on the rim of the volcano, over the years it cooled, and plugged the volcano. Life around the rock began to exist, so did tourism millions of years later.

History of Sigiriya

‘Hey look a giant rock’, said a Buddhist monk to another.

‘Yes, so cool. We can build caves and live there’, said another monk.

‘In the name of the great Lord, lets do that.’

‘Do we need permit for that?’

‘This is 3rd century BC. So, no.’

This rock became a shelter for Buddhist monks. Few centuries later Sigiriya became a royal retreat in Central Sri Lanka. In the year 480, King Kasyapa, the illegitimate son of King Dhatusena decided that he will be King, not his cousin Moggalina. So he put the King in a hole in the ground and buried him alive, intimidated, Moggalina fled from Sri Lanka.

First thing Kashyapa did after becoming King, he laid the foundation stone to his fortress palace for fear of being attacked. He dug giant moats around the rock, and then gained strategic advantage during an attack. The palace had a 360 degree view, and became a busy capital of the kingdom. Yes, he moved his capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya.

Halfway to the palace, a pair of extended claws and feet of a lion which intimidates you further. At the helm, the King constructed an upper palace on the top of the rock, and lower palaces down below. He also constructed gardens all over.

Today

Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is 200 meters tall. It takes up to one to three hours for climb, maybe more. Depends on how fit you are. It is definitely doable. It is a must do. The Lion Rock still has the Lion paws with extended claws, but the head which was carved into the rock is no more there. It fell off, and no one found it.

The mirror wall, has ancient graffiti and paintings on it. It was polished so much that the King could see his reflection on the wall. There is a huge garden to the left of the rock. The structures can still store water which it was designed for. There are two levels of moat around the rock. You use a bridge to enter the gardens, and to the stairway to the top.

Getting Here

I used the Monkey Camp as my base to travel here. At the advice of the staff there, I took an early morning bus, and reached Inamaluwa junction at 8:30 AM. I could have reached Sigiriya and started my climb at 9 AM. But there was a traffic hold up, because the town was gearing up for a visit from the President of Sri Lanka the next day. I reached the ticket counter by bus later at 10:30 AM.

The climb to the top is chargeable at LKR 50 for Sri Lankans, US$15 for Indians, and other tourists pay a painful US$30. There is an archaeological museum which most skip, or visit after the climb. Some head to the Pidurangala Rocks which offer nice view.

Where to Stay

The nearest nice small town is Habarana. Most tourists would stay at Cinnamon, or other places of accommodation. You could stay at the Monkey Camp at Polonnaruwa. This will help you visit Sigiriya in the morning, and the ancient city of Polonnaruwa in the evening.

Readying for President’s visit the next day

A moat

Workers from the Archaeology Department

The Gardens

The Climb

The difficulty of the climb depends on the stamina and the willpower. If you have a guide, or a friend he/she may push you, or pull you up. But if you are alone, you will take it one ‘step’ at a time. After walking through the gardens, came the stairway. The stairway too was designed for visitors to rest, take in the view before moving ahead.

Beware of wasp attacks said the caution boards. I read about wasps attacking tourists. I saw monkeys too. Waiting for tourists to show their food. So I pressed on. It was hot, and I immediately started sweating. People advice you to start the climb early in the day. But it was 11:30 already.

Rocky

Stairway

To the Mirror Wall

panoramic-photo-of-apsara-frescoes-on-mirror-wall-at-sigiriya-rock-fortress-unesco-world-heritage-site-sri-lanka

Ancient Wall Art

Spiral Staircase

Halfway Through

Lion’s Paws

‘My legs are shaking’, I heard a British tourist tell her friend.

I thought my legs would buckle. I reached the half way mark, and was relieved. But there was still to go. If you have made it this far, you can somehow make it to the top. Though this is not technically a halfway point, but there is a big area where tourists stop to rest. There is also a medical facility on the right. This is the shortest and also hardest part of the climb. You use this entrance to get to the palace ruins at the top.

When I reached this half I was exhausted, and wanted to climb down. The steep climb discouraged me. I thought I wasn’t conditioned to climb this.

‘The ancient Sri Lankans were certainly crazy to build a palace up there. I don’t think I can make it to the top’, I messaged Vatsala, my host at the Monkey Camp.

‘It looks bad, but the top gives a beautiful view. You can make it’ she messaged back.

I sat there for a while, half emptying my bottle of water. I made up my mind, I have to finish.

At The Top

The staircase was steep, I reached the top after fifteen minutes, all winded up. Imagine the palace, still good, waiting for you.

Finally, The Palace Ruins

Palace Ruins

The Palace Ruins

I spent the next twenty minutes here. The descent was scary. But offers equally good view. You exit through a row of souvenir shops, and some eateries. At Vatsala’s recommendation, I had a nice buffet lunch at the Sigiriya Village before taking a bus back to Polonnaruwa. She recommended Sigiriya Village because Sigiriya climbers might go there for lunch.

There are nice restaurants that are less expensive at Habarana. I took a bus to Inamaluwa, and then another bus to Polonnaruwa. I looked at the Sigiriya hill again, and made a mental note to come back here.

‘Hey, you were right, it is beautiful view from up here’, I messaged to my host from the top.

View of the Gardens From the Top

What Happened to King Kashyapa?

Legend has it that his cousin Moggalina built an army in South India, came to Sigiriya and battled his brother in a place not far from here. But, why did he not stay in his fortress palace? It was meant to withstand an attack after all. When Kashyapa’s army retreated, he felt defeated, and died by slashing his own throat. But no one is really sure if this story is correct. Until we find the right answer, we will stick with this story.

Sweet as Kandy – ALLOVERIST

Ah! sweet. By the time Kandy was done with me, it was the night of my ninth day in Sri Lanka, which meant the day after tomorrow was the flight day, back home to Bangalore. I was attracted to Kandy for its stunning beauty. Getting out of my room, I went in search of a restaurant for my dinner, cool breeze on my face. I looked to my right, the giant Buddha overlooking Kandy, it protected Kandy the locals said. I had to leave early in the morning, and I missed Kandy already; and I wished I could take Kandy with me.

Wait. If you think I am talking about the city of Kandy, you are right. Kandy is a compact city, with most distractions, I mean attractions within few miles. When I got to Kandy, the bus station rolled into the bus station, is the first time I had a glimpse of the city surrounded by the hills. The Kandy bus station, and the train station is next to each other. Next to it is the Bogambara cricket stadium. The stadium had hills surrounding it. Despite the nice views, the locals complain that the cricket stadiums are unused, and no international cricket matches happen.

Rickshaw Fiasco

Then I met this tuk tuk driver who offered to take me where I wanted to go. He did not know where Clock Inn Kandy was. We asked several people for Hill Road, then he drove around the Kandy prison. Even the prison was scenic. It was built in 1876, offering prisoners scenic views of the hills above the walls, and had a calming effect on death row prisoners walking to the gallows. I am kidding, no jokes about death. The British built the prison to house the political prisoners, freedom fighters of Sri Lanka.

He asked for directions while I shouted directions at him looking at Google Maps. He drove me past the Temple of the Tooth, took a turn towards the Asgiriya cricket stadium.

‘Look, we have to turn back, and take the Hill View road. There is the Clock Inn’, I told him.

‘I cannot go any further. You have to find it yourself.’

I got off his tuk tuk, but I did not complain, the hostel was a few meters away by Google Map. The cricket stadium was nice, there were school kids playing a game of cricket. I wished I could go to watch the game, but it was already late in the afternoon. So I walked to the hostel for my room.

After lunch at a restaurant that is not on Google Maps, I came back to my hotel room briefly. The receptionist suggested the attendance at the Kandyan dance. I headed out for a walk towards the Kandyan Art Association to watch the Kandyan dance. After the dance, I had a King Coconut while taking in the view of the lake. The time was 6:30 PM, the Temple of the Tooth was all lit.

Kandy Train Station

Dear Beer

Kandy is the only place in Sri Lanka where you find historically and culturally important sites, has a cool weather, and a mixture of Portuguese, Dutch, English, and local culture. I went back to the hostel after visiting the temple. Two Irish travelers were at the reception desk who invited me to dinner and beer with them. After visiting places that was hot, beer was a welcome drink.

If you want to find some beer in Kandy, walk to Cargill’s food city, find the door at the side to go to the basement. You can find Lion beer on the cheap. We stocked up on the beer, packed some dinner at a restaurant I cannot find on Google Map, came back to the hostel.

I forgot the names of the Irish guys now, but one of them was interning as a doctor in Eastern coast of Sri Lanka, and his friend, a Skyscanner representative back in the UK came to visit him on a vacation. The intern doctors German friend had an interesting story. She learnt English in Sri Lanka where she lived for the past three years. She had a Sri Lankan accent which I thought was cool. Then there were the two Finnish-German travelers who were going to Ella the next day. Then there was travel blogger Sneha, who had quit her IT job and was traveling in Sri Lanka.

Day 9

I woke up early the next day, and took a trip to Nuwara Eliya where I stayed only for 90 minutes. Reaching Kandy at dinner time, I went back to the hostel briefly. The people I met the previous day had gone, and I had to find dinner by myself. Walking to the restaurant, I looked at the giant Buddha, maybe he would like to have beer with me. India was playing the West Indies in the 2016 T20 cricket World cup finals. I missed most of the action, but I caught the winning runs at a restaurant. The restaurant was about to close service, but I requested them to keep the service open for me. The patrons who came for dinner were glued to the television watching the cricket game.

The dinner was delicious, the captain of the West Indies gave a nice speech criticizing the West Indian cricket board for neglecting the team throughout. The bold speech of the captain would drop anyone’s jaw. When I came back to the hostel there was Sneha at work on her computer. She had planned to go try the home stays in the woods. ‘My next stop is Galle’, I informed her. ‘I suggest you book the Levitent. I was there. They are nice people’, Sneha said. Off course, about that I would find out. We wished each other luck. The next day I would travel to Galle.

Levitation, Unawatuna, and Lord Hanuman – ALLOVERIST

View of Rumassala with the Japanese pagoda from the Galle Fort

Unawatuna, a suburb of Galle. It has a nice beach, nice restaurants, hotels, atmosphere that attract beach lovers. It is located on the coastal line, accessible by the A2 highway. After visiting Galle Fort I collected my backpack from the restaurant, and took a bus to Unawatuna. After a twenty minute ride I was at the Unawatuna bus stop, I took a rickshaw and rode up the Rumassala.

The rickshaw driver remembering the instructions from my host zig zagged up the dark hills. It was already past seven, and there were no street lights, except for the dim lights from restaurants. The driver stopped at a end of the road, and there was my host waiting.’Rumassala villa’, said a direction board pointing to a narrow street. But that was not where I was going.

Unawatuna and Rumassala

Rumassala is located in Unawatuna suburb. It is a beautiful spot with lot of trees, a Japanese pagoda, and the Jungle Beach. This hill has a mention in the Ramayana. After Lord Rama defeated the Lanka king Ravana in an intense battle, even the gods looked down on two behemoths exchanging weapons of mass destruction on each other. Yes, why not?

After the war, someone thought everybody who died should come back alive. How to bring back the fallen? The medicinal herbs that lives in the Sanjeevini hills in the Himalayas would do the trick. Lord Hanuman was up to the task, and he set off. When he got there, he could not tell the medicinal plants and normal innocent trees apart. So he lifted the mountain and brought it to Sri Lanka where the dead were awaiting their resurrection.

On the way, chunks of rocks broke off and ‘fell down’ where the place today is known as ‘Unawatuna’, local language for fell down.

Levitent

Levitent is where I was going to stay for the night, and my hosts Sala and Bludgy owned the place. I traveled there after Sneha who was their first guest recommended me the place. It can keep your butt off the ground and keep you suspended in the air while you sleep. After buying a home built on a piece of rock, with the rock acting as walls of the house, the couple set up the house to have a one big hall, a kitchen, and a washroom. They set up another washroom outside the house, a cloth screen acting as the door.

While the couple and their baby slept in the house, guests sleep in a tent that was suspended in the air between three trees. With their ‘No Plastic’ rule in their property, they take in guests who do not mind being suspended four feet up in the air, and creatures of the night crawling up to them. No creatures tough its only small bugs, and the tent is to be closed from the inside.

Sala and Bludgy are former advertising professionals who quit their jobs and are now trying to build their dream. Art is what they love, and design is what they do. After a nice shower, I was served chicken noodle for dinner, and the rest of the night we chatted about travel, jobs, and maybe probably many ways of building homes on a rock.

The Japanese Peace Pagoda

Sala told me that the waking up experience will be off the charts. It was. Before I left to Colombo later in the day, I would go check out the pagoda, and then the beach. This place used to be secluded, but now they have carved a path to the pagoda. The pagoda has a daily prayer service. I missed the way to the pagoda, and took the path in front of it. I left the pagoda behind but no complaints, I reached a cliff beach.

Cliff Beach

Pagoda

Somewhere over there is the Galle Fort

Japanese Peace Pagoda

This location was cool, I went back the same path, to find the pagoda. It is a beautiful shrine and impressive too. It is near the Jungle Beach. The Rumassala Villas is near this place. There are not many peace pagodas in the world, and this is one of them. The Japanese Nipponzan-Myōhōji order built it.

The Japanese Peace Pagoda

I was walking towards the Buddha statue, and out a burrow from inside a mound came a huge cobra snake. I had seen many in my city of Mangalore, so it was not nerve wracking at all. But it was quite a task for me to call out to the man in the red T-shirt to get out of its way.

Lord Hanuman

This place is definitely not neglected. A statue of Lord Hanuman overlooking the sea is carrying the Sanjeevini hills from where Unawatuna came from.

Jungle Beach

This is an isolated beach that is located near the peace pagoda. There are steps carved into the rocks, leading down from the top of the hill to the beach. Not many people come here, but tourists do find their way here. The Jungle Beach Party happens here, and when I got there people were cleaning up the trash from the last night’s party. It is a small but beautiful beach. Because it is small, it is easier to clean up.

After hanging out for a while, I went back to my accommodation to pack my bags. I had to board my flight in the evening. Beautiful place to end my Sri Lanka experience. They served me a delicious breakfast of parippu and noolputtu.

‘I saw a huge cobra at the Pagoda’, I said.

‘Yes people kept telling us that there was a huge cobra there. He doesn’t show himself too often. It means that’s a sign of something good things to come’, Sala to me.

‘Good, but to what end?’

‘You’ll see’, this from Bludgy.

A nature lovers that they are, I was to plant a mango tree in their yard. Every guest of theirs get to plant a tree. I love the idea because it resonated with my idea of planting a tree in every country I travel too. Thanks Sala and Bludgy. I was the second guest there, but the first to plant a tree. I planted on behalf of the first guest too. If you are the first guest and is reading now, please comment below.

Eliminating Stress Everyday – ALLOVERIST

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Millions of people lead a stress free life, and lot of people experience a high degree of stress. Stress free life isn’t possible but many times stress is not necessary. Working hard always is not always cool. It leads to less efficiency, and it hampers decision making abilities. It is also a silent killer as it may cause psychological and mental problems. Here are what people can do to eliminate stress after their day’s work:

Eliminating Stress by Music

Music is one of the best way to eliminate stress. Music is essential. It is a great stress buster and it soothes people’s mind. Learning to play a musical instrument is not only a stress buster, but also Watching TV is not a favorite stress buster of many, but watching infotainment channels will help.

Reading Books

Books are people’s best friend, perhaps next best thing to animals. Doing some reading is the best way to eliminate stress. Reading exercises the brain, keeping it strong and healthy. You will learn new information.

Meeting Friends

Meeting colleagues, friends are a good thing. Hear them out. Listening to their stories will relieve stress. Weather you are entering a new phase of life, or in a new city, you will need to connect with people. You will also have support systems. Friends will you stay in shape, find something new.

Avoiding Multitask

Multitasking does not help you in being efficient. It creates confusion, and slows you down. They take more time to complete things than otherwise as it is rightly said by this article, multitasking is the fastest way to mediocrity.

Leaving Work Behind

Some people have the habit of bringing work home which might add to stress. Even though we might be busy, we are missing our personal time. This time can be used to do lot of other creative stuff.

Organizing

Some people keep diaries to set goals for the day, or for the week in advance. They plan their day, and execute the plans. While planning you should keep in mind that you should be able to categorize the difference between urgency and emergency, where emergency ones should be attended to first.

Unburdening

Completing assignments one at a time that were assigned to you is wise. Do not over burden yourself with a lot of work. It is as bad as multitasking. Chances are that you will bring that work home. Delegating some work with a willing colleague will be a good move.

Getting Physically Active

Being physically active is the best stress reliever, and the greatest way to relieve stress. Look for the sports room in your office. Cycling is one the best methods to not only eliminate stress, but also takes you places. Offices have introduced employees to Yoga which is a great way to get yourself to focus, and get active.

A Walk in the Galle Fort – ALLOVERIST

The Galle Fort, the Portuguese built fort, but later the Dutch took over from them, at the end the British decided it was their turn. There is a pretty little town inside it predominantly Dutch. Tuk tuk drivers offer to take you side for a hefty fee, but exploring by foot is the best activity.

The Galle cricket stadium is right outside the fort. This stadium has hosted a number of matches, but sadly does not anymore. But there are local matches played. During the Indian ocean tsunami in 2004, the stadium was covered with sea water. People took higher grounds, mostly in the upper portion of the bus station until rescue came. However, it did not effect the fort.

I spent the whole day journeying to Galle. The first thing you will see after exiting the Galle train station is the Galle International cricket stadium. After exiting the station, I had lunch at a cafe. I left my bags there, and went for a walk inside the fort.

Galle International Cricket Stadium

Inside this UNESCO World Heritage site is about 400 houses, churches, mosques, government buildings, narrow brick streets, Dutch and Portuguese architecture, a fort that can be explored by foot. It is the best preserved fort that people still live in that I visited.

Main Gate and the Fort Walls

Main Gate of the Dutch Fort

There is only one known entrance tourists use, you enter through the gate to a quaint little town inside the fort walls.  The sea surrounds the Galle Fort, and so it makes it a natural defense. The walls give scenic views.

Narrow Streets

Narrow Streets

Former Commander’s Bungalow

The narrow streets has many shops, cafes. The streets had Dutch names, but now it is changed to English names. Moorse Kramerstraat is named after Peddler Street after the Muslim moors, Zeeburgstraat for Lighthouse Street, Leyenbahnstraat for Leyn Baan Street.

Flag Rock

This is the most scenic point of the fort I must say. A small patch of beach, and all the different colors. Walk further on the fort walls, and you will find another place in the fort called the Flag Rock. You can see it in the below picture, where the people are crammed. Some daredevils do jump off the rock to the water below.

Point Utrecht Bastion and Lighthouse

This point is one of the nicest, it has the sea on one side, and the town on the other. It is in the South East walls. At the end of the bastion is the light house which is 59 feet tall. The authorities built it in 1938 It still signals ships in the high sees today.

Meeran Mosque

Meeran Mosque

Meeran mosque is the biggest mosque here, and is almost 300 years old. Though the fort is small, there is a big Muslim population. The mosque is white in color on the exterior, and the interior has many nice rooms with nice glass work, high ceilings, chandelier, and all.

Museums

Groote Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church)

Dutch Reformed Church

It is a Protestant church, and one of the oldest church in Sri Lanka. The Dutch built it in 1755. The glasswork has nice colors on it, and the floor is of some tombstones laid like bricks. After this church, you can also visit the All Saints Church. It is 146 years old, and has many artwork on it too.

National Maritime Archaeology Museum

This is a Dutch styled building that has really old things like maps, guns, artillery, old machines that could kill things back then. This is an old building too that the Dutch built in 1671. It has artifacts from the subcontinent, Sri Lanka, China, and Europe. The boat model is quite exciting to see. There are also lead bullets, patrol crafts, fake ancient people.

Galle Clocktower

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Galle Clocktower

The Dutch built the clocktower in 1883 in recognition of Dr. Anthonisz, a Dutch doctor. It is on the Moon Bastion, also visible from outside the gates. When I visited in March 2016, the clock tower they were repairing it. Nonetheless, it is four storey high and looks majestic.

Other Things At Galle Fort

There are many things you can watch out for here

Tea at Former Dutch Hospital

There are lot of tea cafes where you could buy pack of tea, or drink tea. The Dutch hospital is a nice place to unwind after a long walk. Both Sri Lankan and western food is available in the fort, plenty places for it.

Cliff Jumpers

Cliff jumpers jump off the walls of the fort into the warm water below. You can see them jump, but sometimes you may have to pay to see it. Many tourists cliff jump here too.

Bridal Photo Shoots

The Dutch Fort walls is pretty enough for bridal photo shoots. Many photo shoots happen here everyday. I got to see one too.

Bridal photoshoot, Galle Fort

Galle Literature Festival

I never attended this, but the annual literature festival at Galle attracts a lot of people. Check out the website to sign up.

Getting to Galle

The Colombo to Galle is one of the most popular. There are lot of buses and trains to Galle. Trains can get quite full, and you will have to wait a long time to find a seat. I was unable to find a direct train from Kandy, so I took a train from there to Colombo, and another one from Colombo to Galle.

So it is important to inform yourself before making a journey, or else you may spend a lot of time figuring out your journey than making it.

From here you can take a bus to Unawatuna, or continue your journey by train to Matara, another beach town.

More

My guide to Colombo, Jaffna, and Kandy

Journey Not The Destination – ALLOVERIST

I am not sure what time I slept last night. My computer is still running. I wake up, pack my bags, gobble down the breakfast the hostel gave me, and then leave to the Kandy station for the second time in two days. There is no direct bus to Galle, neither trains. I reach the train station with five minutes to spare. I take the ticket to a class 3 ticket to Colombo. There are lot of people waiting for the train. Perhaps some are going to Colombo to take their flight. While anxious travelers and kids wait impatiently for the already late train, I go take a walk around. The train rolls in to the station after a good ten minutes.

As soon as the train stops, people rush in to take their seats. This train is old, probably built during the independence era, so there are few seats. Most of the travelers including me stand during the entire journey. I put my rucksack, and my backpack on the luggage storage above. It takes almost four hours for the train to reach Colombo. I am no mood for conversation, and other travelers too are not. They are tired of traveling for now, and simply want to find the familiar room in their city.

Journey – Kandy to Colombo

Bored of standing, I sit at the door, sharing the foot board with a local. He says he is working as a mechanic to look after his family, and also saving up for a trip to India. He wants to travel in India. I tell him about my trip in Sri Lanka. The train is too crowded for me to pull out my camera. It is raining outside, and there is cool breeze blowing. As the train approaches Colombo, the air turns humid, and I start to sweat. I wish I could turn back to Kandy.

The train is getting empty, and I get off the door to try and find a seat. There are none, but I find tourists who are also traveling to Galle. A Spanish tourist, and I decide that we will find the train to Galle together. After a few minutes the train pull into the Colombo station. I check the train time table, there is a train to Galle in few minutes. Missing that train is not a choice because the next train is in the evening.

To Galle

As soon as the train stops, we rush out of the train, and race towards the ticket counter. The policeman point to a train and tells me that the train to Galle is on the platform already. We find the ticket counter, buy a ticket, class 3rd again. As soon as we board the train the train pulls out of the station.

Journey – Colombo to Galle

This train is newer and faster. I look to the right, there is the majestic Indian Ocean. The Colombo to Matara line is scenic this way. The Indian Ocean on one side, villages and coconut trees on the other. Even though there is lot of breeze, the air is humid and I do not stop sweating. Sitting next to me is a lawyer that I had been in conversation with for sometime. She informs me that she works in the Pettah area in Colombo, and she travels from her village in Balapitiya to Colombo and back. A total of four hours of journey everyday. She is still in her black coat, she loves her job she says.

There are many in villages near Colombo who earn their bread in Colombo. The Colombo – Matara line is their lifeline. Her station arrives, and she gets off the train. I take her place next to the window, it is evening and the sun light warms me up, I am sweating. Many get off at the Hikkaduwa station. Galle is nearing Google Map tells me. After few minutes,, the train pulls into the Galle station, and I alight from the train. I exit the station and message my host informing him that I am at Galle. He tells me to take a bus in the bus station next to the train station and come to Unawatuna. Sure I say, but I first got to visit the Galle Fort.

From Russia With Beer – ALLOVERIST

Taipalsaari, Finland

Alcohol is expensive in Europe, but cheaper in Russia. Parking the vehicle outside the store, he and his friend walk into the store. They cannot speak Russian. But they can understand some. They are in the store on the outskirts of Luzhayka, a border town to stock up on some alcohol. The men do not buy beer in Finland because it is expensive, but beer in Russia is not. They are not particularly worried about attracting the attention of the authorities. They have friends who they can negotiate with.

However they are strictly warned that they cannot spend much time in Russia. Russia does not have free movement policy with Finland, but they have cheap beer. So they make a 70 odd kilometer trip from Taipalsaari in Finland to Luzhayka in Russia that takes less than two hours. The itinerary for the day? Drive to the Russian border check post. Tell the border patrolman that they are going to the store, they have to stock up on beer.

Promise the policeman some beer. The patrolman usually accepts the offer. So they make a short trip further to a store outside Luzhayka, stock up on beer, and come back the same way. They reward the border policeman with beer. After giving the beer to the policemen, they open the gate for the two men to drive to Taipalsaari. A day well spent, and a nice cross border drive.

Finland and Russia too has border disputes like almost all the countries in the world. So he would be stepping into places that has changed hands numerous times. From Finland to Russia, Sweden, and then to Russia. Finland is hesitant to ask for the land back, diplomatic problems he says. But the border patrol is friendly towards the Finnish people but within reason.

Taipalsaari is a small city in Finland that has many lakes, swamps. People build houses by the lake. It has a temperature ranging between -11 degrees C to 11 degrees C. But still the beer does not help us warm up he says.

Narrated to me by Kaln (name changed) a Finnish person I met in Colombo. He lives in Finland, in a city dominated by lakes and swamps. He won a boat in an auction, and came to know about it while we were chatting about Finland.

90 Minutes in Nuwara Eliya – ALLOVERIST

Lake Gregory, Nuwara Eliya

When I got to Nuwara Eliya did I realize that I could have stayed here for couple more days. Exactly 90 minutes is the time I got to be here out of my ten days in Sri Lanka. I was not exactly sure at first. This city does not have heritage sites, besides people take a train straight to Ella, a resort town up in the mountains. I did make a note of Nuwara Eliya before I left for Sri Lanka, but I wanted to visit there only when I had time. It was when I stayed at Clock Inn at Kandy, I met backpackers who said they just came back from Ella, or are going there in the morning.

Train to Nuwara Eliya

I can compare it to Coorg, but N. Eliya may be cooler than this town. It is just 80 KM from Kandy accessible by a slow train, the best way to get there. The previous night two German tourists invited me to join them to their journey to Ella. ‘I’ll think about it’, I said. The journey to Ella is six hours. But Nuwara Eliya is shorter. In the morning I thought I should go to Nuwara Eliya instead of taking up the offer to go to Ella.

‘Guys, I am going to Nuwara Eliya. I will not come with you.’

‘Are you sure. Nuwara Eliya is on the way. You can come in the same train as us.’

‘No go ahead. I’ll take the 11 AM train.’

I went back to sleep, woke up at 10, readied to get to the 11 AM train. Getting to the train station at Kandy, I paid LKR 160, the price for the 3rd class unreserved coach. The train got crowded after it pulled into the station, but I got a seat at the front near a cafeteria. Most people were tourists, some going to the hills at Ella, some to Nuwara Eliya.

Journey

The British put this train from Colombo to Kandy, and to Ella through Nanuoya. Nanuoya is the stop to N. Eliya. It is a slow train that runs on the Main Line of the Sri Lanka Railways. The British built this line to transport tea to the market. I guess the Brits did not have to hurry at all. Many go so far as to say this is the world’s most beautiful train trip.

Train station, Kandy

View from inside a stationary locomotive

Cafeteria inside a Class 3 coach

The Trains

The Chinese built Blue Train departs from Kandy to Ella several times a day. There are 1st class air conditioned coaches that are the most comfortable. But they are in use only few times. Few trains have only the open window 3rd class coaches, something a photographers would like to travel in.

There is a train with full service option, with observation decks. You can check out Exporail. You can book a ticket online, and buying a ticket in advance using the help of your hotel is also a good idea. On their website, you can do a 360 view of the coaches you will sit in. They also have a television set in the train if you are bored of looking outside.

The Chinese built Blue Train

There are views on both the sides of the train. At times vendors come with snacks and drinks. It seems like Milo is a favorite beverage of Sri Lankans. I mostly see them drinking Milo on trains, and buses. The short eats that vendors sell are usually spicy, shrimp vada, which is fritters with shrimps embedded on the top.

View of little towns at every bend

A Hindu temple

Nanuoya

As the train approached the Nanuoya town the weather became cooler. By this time I got the window seat, as the man sitting next to me, a policeman vacated the seat to resume his policeman duty. Tea pickers were hard at work on the tea plantations, children waved at the foreign faces they saw through the window.

3:15 PM, the time when the train reached the station. Thanks to eager tourists who came to see Nuwara Eliya, the Nanuoya station emptied half of the train. At the exit of the station, the taxi and rickshaws waited to pick up travelers. I was famished. I walked up the steep road in search of a restaurant while dodging rickshaw drivers.

There were shacks that served lunch, and buses waiting for commuters to the N. Eloya town. If I had eaten lunch, I would not have bothered to walk up the road. I had lunch for LKR 120 in a cafeteria that isn’t even on Google maps. After lunch I boarded a bus to the town. There were only few people, so the bus waited for it to fill up while I sat there listening to Tamil songs that played in the bus.

Yes, Nuwara Eliya is a tea producing town. The Brits brought Tamil people from South India to work on the tea fields here. After independence, these people stayed and continued picking leaves. The Tamil song became fainter when the bus roared to life and drove on the narrow road by the tea plantations.

Tea hills

Tea pickers

A waterfall

Train approaching Nanuoya

It was 5 PM when the bus reached the bus station. I checked Google, there was a train back to Kandy at 11 in the night. There was a bus back to Kandy at 6:30. I’ll take the 6:30 PM bus I decided. 90 minutes is all I had.

5PM – Walk

I walked out of the bus station, hoping to glimpse the colonial bungalows I saw while on the bus. People wore woolen sweaters to keep away from the cold. The cool weather was a great respite from the searing hot weather of Colombo and Jaffna. The post office, and other offices was attractive giving you an impression of walking in a 19th century English town.

5:30 PM – Windsor Hotel

By 5:30 I walked till the attractive Windsor Hotel. There was an underground bar, but it was not well lit. So I went up the hotel to find the restaurant. The restaurant was nice and had a balcony where there were already some tourists. I took a table, ordered Ceylon tea.

Windsor Hotel

Nuwara Eliya city center

Check out the city and the Windsor Hotel on Google Map.

6 PM – Rickshaw Tour

After paying my bill, I exited the hotel, I was looking around and deciding where to go next. Just then a rickshaw stopped beside me.

‘You Indian?’

‘Yes’

‘I will take you to Sita temple.’

‘Yes, I want to go there. How far is it from here?’

‘Half an hour journey, we go to temple, and come back within two hours.’

‘Then we cannot go. Just drive me, show me some nice places, and then drop me off at the bus station at 6:30. I have to go back to Kandy.’

‘No problem’, he said.

Gregory Lake

We drove few kilometers from the center of the town to the Gregory Lake. A clean and beautiful lake with walkways, peddle boats, play area for children, horse rides, and food stalls. There were people taking rides on horses, in the boats.

Back then a British bloke named Gregory turned the swamp area into a beautiful lakes with a little dam, and lots of fish which invited trout fishing. Today this is a tourist trap which otherwise is a quaint little town with little noise and traffic.

Lake Gregory

After Gregory lakes, the rickshaw driver took me around the market area, the golf course, stopping at places to take pictures. Then I decided it was time to go to the bus station.

Places to See if You Stay Longer

The rickshaw driver told me earlier that he could take me to Sita temple. This interested me. Besides, my aunt who had traveled to Sri Lanka a year before told me that she traveled to the place where Sita was held captive. She, my uncle, and few other people took a taxi to get there. When they got to the place, and found the spot where Sita sat, there was a sudden drop in temperature. So I googled for it, and found the place to be Hakgala garden in Sita Eliya near Nuwara Eliya.

So here are few places to see if you are staying for a long time:

Sita Amman Temple

This temple is located in Sita Eliya. When she was held in the Hakgala garden, she came to pray here.

Hakgala Botanical Garden

This garden is built to built in 1861 to cultivate Cinchona, a commercial crop at that time. By 1884 it became a garden it is now. The Ashok Vatika, that Sita was held in is supposedly here.

Pedro Tea Estate

There are whole of tea estates here. The Pedro tea estate has a factory, and a homestay. You get a tour of the factory if you homestay with them. It is on the way from Nanuoya to Nuwara Eliya. There is a bus stop there.

Bus from N. Eliya to Kandy

I decided it was time to go. I already started missing Nuwara Eliya. The rickshaw driver dropped me off at the bus station at 6:30PM, all this for LKR 200.

‘Kandy?, I asked an official.

‘Antima bus (last bus)’, he said pointing at a mini bus which was about to pull out of the station.

Luxury is the word advertised for this bus. Why? It was air conditioned, and costed LKR 220 for the ride, a little more than normal buses. It was a small bus, crammed. I got a last seat by the window. I could not even move my hands. But I felt it was quicker than trains because I did not have to travel to the next town to catch my train. The bus drove through the scenic route but it was getting darker. I don’t know when I slept, but I woke up when the bus almost reached Kandy. I was glad I took this journey, and made a mental note to come back and stay here longer.

10 Things You Can Learn in Your Free Time – ALLOVERIST

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Along with work, we need hobbies, look at things that can keep us occupied. Most hobbies are not expensive, and also helps you relax. It is up to the individual how to use the free time, but here are the ten things you can learn at your free time.

1. Read Books

This is obvious and the easiest thing to do in your free time. There is an endless supply of books you can pick up in a library, a bookstore, or at your neighbor’s. Go look in your closet. You may find a book you kept there months back but did not remember to pick it up. Reading books not only passes time but also gives you knowledge and improves vocabulary. Books can and will become your favorite companion.

2. Learn to Cook

Cooking can be fun, and it is also useful. Packaged, canned, and food delivered from restaurants is expensive. I love to get in the kitchen once in a while. Start with coffee, tea, omelets, rice. Just in case you may have to live alone or you may have to make something delicious for others. You can create some art with food with a little love and good intention.

3. Take Classes

So are you interested in music, dance? Consider joining guitar classes, learn drums, piano. Or absolutely anything that interests you. Guitar is said to be easier to learn than most musical instruments. Justin Guitar gives you free guitar lessons.

4. Learn a Hobby

Take up new hobbies like pottery, craft making, painting. There are online instructions, books that teach you pottery, crafts. With enough practice, you can pursue your hobby.

5. Learn to Drive

Learn how to drive a two-wheeler, a car, or ride a bicycle. It’s always good to learn anything early. However, it is never too late to learn later in life also. While driving is a nice thing, a bicycle is environment-friendly and fun.

6. Learn to use Computers

If you have not learned to use computers and the internet, you may miss out on latest updates from around the world. It will help you get in touch with those friends who have not been touch with you or been away from them for a long time. You can learn something interesting, discover things you may not have known that existed.

7. Learn Write Lists

Writing is beneficial, it helps you bring out your thoughts and ideas. Blogging will help you get your thoughts out to thousand of people. If writing about yourself is not your idea then write about someone else, or something else. learn to write a list like this. Or you can write fact or fiction. You can also make things up like the Fake IPL Player.

8. Learn to Make Juices

Eat a lot of mangoes, or any fruit available at that time. Most fruits have low fat and calories. It also helps you maintain blood pressure. Mango is my favorite fruit, known as the king of fruits. Have it any way you want to. Slice it and eat it, or squeeze it, juice it. Making juice is simple. Cut the fruit to pieces, blend it, and then drink the juice.

9. Learn Accounting

Calculate what you have earned, and what your expenses are. It could help you determine how much you will need to earn the next year, it will also help you save to travel, buy a house, or start a business.

10. Learn About a New Place

Travel a lot. Not really to another country, or the next city. Take a bus to the next town next to the hills, or a lake. You might even decide to be a bird or tree expert while you are there. Be on the move. You will also learn about people who live there, and their way of life. More places the better.

Kandy – Pearl of Sri Lanka – ALLOVERIST

Sri Dalada Maligawa

After Polonnaruwa, I decided that Kandy will be my last stop of the Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. The city could have been a sugary treat made in a secret chocolate factory, but instead it is an important city left behind by the Kingdom of Kandy. This city is important for Sri Lanka because of the sacred temple, the Kandyan literature, culture, food, and the people. It is sitting at the lower altitudes to the hill countries of Ella and Nuwara Eliya, so it is a pit stop for those who head to the mountains or getting back from there.

I booked Clock Inn, Kandy and left Polonnaruwa to Kandy by bus. The bus journeyed for more than four hours. Anxious to reach Kandy, I kept checking Google for the location of the bus to Kandy. While nearing Kandy, you can feel the cooling of the weather, and then you figure out why this a sought out destination.

Kandy is the second biggest city of Sri Lanka, and the capital of Central Province. Slow moving traffic in the outskirts of the city is the only way to say that there are lot of people here, which otherwise, do not look like a major city. Another thing you notice here is the Chinese made vehicles people drive here.

The marker next to the lake

Facts About Kandy

1. During the Second World War, the Allied forces set up office of the South East Asia Command in Kandy. Cooler than most of Ceylon, far from Japan’s reach. Nice move.

2. Kandy did not submit to the threats of western colonialists until one day.

Yes, everyone including the British, the Dutch, and the Portuguese wanted Kandy in their bucket list. The last king of Kandy, Vikrama Rajasinha was of the South Indian descent. So the chiefs of the Kandyan Ministry thought he was too foreign to rule the land. It made sense because the king often abused the local population, often subjecting them to forced labor. They sought the help of the British to overthrow the South Indian alien in the year 1815.

The deal? Sign up with the British crown. Which they did. In a coup, they arrested Rajasinha, ended the Kandyan rule and give Kandy to the Brits. But what followed this is abuse, discrimination, reducing local Kandyans to extreme poverty and all. After 32 years of abuse, the peasants divorced the monarchy, revolted and retook Kandy.

3. Kandy is one of the stops of the Ramayana tours which is popular among the travelers who follow the Hindu religion from around the world.

Why? It is because Ravana, an ancient demon king of Sri Lanka kidnaps Sita, a warrior princess from Ayodhya, and flies her to Sri Lanka, puts her in a garden somewhere near Nuwara Eliya, beefs up security to prevent her from escaping.

So Ravana just sits in his luxurious palace until Sita’s husband, Mr. Ramachandra befriends an army of monkeys, bears, and eagles, builds a bridge from the tip of India to Sri Lanka, arrives at Sri Lanka to demand Sita’s release. When Ravana refuses, he beheads him (all of his ten heads) using an arrow (probably laced with ancient nuclear poison).

Today there are lot of relics in this region that are remnants of Ramayana, like the Sita Amman temple in Nuwara Eliya, and some caves.

Reasons to go to Kandy

The cool weather was a welcome comparing the scorching hot Colombo, Jaffna, and the ancient sites I visited. There are lot of things to do in Kandy, but I decided that I will stick around the center of the town. The receptionist at the Clock Inn gave me a brochure and suggested me to go to watch the Kandyan dance, and visit the temple after that.

Half an hour, and a hot shower later, I walked towards the auditorium. I did not see swanky offices, neither businessmen and women, very surprising considering that this is the second biggest city in Sri Lanka. I reached the lake, and asked for directions to the auditorium. Out from nowhere came a tout.

‘You are from India?’

‘Yes’

‘Come later, I show you girls. They give you good massage.’

‘Cool, now I need to get to this show.’

‘You feel nice man. Girls so good’.

‘I’m sure, thanks. See you later.’

I got to the auditorium belonging to the Kandyan Art Association, and the auditorium was almost filled with foreign faces. Looks like they do not advertise this to local Sri Lankans.

1. Kandyan Culture

Kandyan Dance

The Kandyan dance is the central part of Kandyan culture. This is performed in many festivals in the region. Elaborately decked men and women with jewelry perform slow movements to beats of the drums. At the end all the people in the auditorium went to the back of the hall to witness a fire walk.

Fire walk

Temple of the Tooth Relic

70% of the Sri Lankans are Buddhists, and Kandy, the seat of the last independent kingdom in Sri Lanka is also the ‘Cultural Capital’. One such important site in the Sri Lankan society is the temple that houses Buddha’s tooth. When the followers of the Buddha was cremating him, someone pulled out the tooth. The tooth traveled to a lot of places. It finally came to Kandy where they placed in a gold casket which you be lucky to see.

The people believe that whoever owns the tooth relic holds the right to govern Sri Lanka. So, this temple is not only spiritually important, but politically too. Sri Lankans consider it holy to visit at least once in their lifetime, while the ritual that happens everyday is fascinating to foreign tourists. This is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cloud walls around the temple

There is a store room for keeping your footwear outside the cloud walls. You enter the temple after paying US $5. Local people pay less, and tourists not from SAARC countries pay US $10.

The most beautiful hallway

The Buddha

Although there is a huge line at this hall, the actual tooth is not visible to the public. The casket lies inside a small shrine, with huge elephant tusks on either side of the door. The temple is beautiful, it has paintings at the ceilings, and walls. The wooden pillars are beautifully carved. The tooth is that important.

The line towards the tooth relic

Ancient texts

Every day at 6.30 PM, priests clad in white conduct rituals, with drummers at the door playing music.

Evening ritual at the sanctum

The Big Buddha Statue

There is a big Buddha statue that is visible from anywhere in Kandy. It is on a top of a hillock overlooking the city of Kandy in a temple complex on the top. I did not go to the temple to see the statue but is fascinating.

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The Buddha protects Kandy                                       Source: Weltrekodreise

2. Beauty

Kandy is a natural beauty. There is a hillock in the middle of the city where people live. There are few hotels up there as well which I am sure will give you a birds eye view of Kandy.

Bogambara Lake

Right next to the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth Relic) is the Bogambara Lake. It is clean, and a beautiful lake surrounded by the hillock. It is peasant to walk around anytime of the day. Little crowded in the evening. This lake is also called Kiri Mahuda or the Sea of Milk. The last king of Kandy got the lake dug which was a paddy field before. A white wakalulu wall runs around the lake. Wakalulu means cloud. There are also touts around this lake that love to sell stuff you do not need.

3. Gateway to the Hills

Kandy is at the foot of the hill country of Nuwara Eliya, Ella. This place attracts hikers, mountain lovers. Nuwara Eliya is a four hour slow train ride from Kandy. This is one of the best ways to experience Sri Lanka. Travelers like to stay in numerous home stays and tea estates here, or go to the hills in Ella. While in this region, Horton Plains is a must visit where you can sit at the ‘World’s End’.

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Ella Hills                                                                      Source: Misty Hills Ella

Traveling to Kandy

1. Traveling to Kandy is easy. Trains run throughout the day. There is Intercity Express from Colombo to Kandy which is the fastest. Train tickets sell out fast, so it is best to let your hotel book it for you.

2. Intercity Express runs from Colombo at 7 AM and 3.30 PM everyday. You may have to pay upto US$15 for the trip one way. This train route is the most scenic.

3. If the trains are full, try the buses. There are plentiful that take you to Kandy in one piece with your sanity intact. If comfort is what you want, then there are tour companies that operate taxi service.

4. Cinnamon Air will take you from Colombo to Kandy within an hour for US$ 170.

Where to Stay?

Kandy is one of the most traveled city in Sri Lanka which means people book hotels way ahead. There are many options of accommodation for all budget.

I stayed at Clock Inn located at Hill Street. You may try this because they have tube you can sleep in. Another recommended place is Hotel Travellers Nest.