Sunday, June 26, 2016

Last days in Sri Lanka

I have been very busy with the garden. Since I only have time on weekends, I have been spending most of the day outside trying to get everything under control. The garden got weed-choked with our 2 years in China. Last summer, I was able to clear and keep clear a number of beds but of course, what I didn't get under control still went to seed and re-seeded it self. Plus I was unable to keep things weeded through the summer due to my business travels so while it helped, it was not as good a job as it should have been.

This spring, we've managed to get most of it weeded and I plan to try and keep everything weeded through the fall to prevent another year of weed-choked beds.

So I haven't got much of anything done. I've been combing and spinning the Gotland fleece I got last Rhinebeck and it is almost done. But it is very boring. Just grey. I comb a batch and spin and then comb another batch. This way I don't over-tax my wrists and arms with combing.

And here, finally, is the last installment of the Sri Lanka trip. After this I will be back to my usual topics of spinning, knitting, etc.

Our next to last day in Sri Lanka began in Yala NP and ended in the port city of Galle. We drove along the southern coast and there were many beautiful views out over the Indian ocean as we drove along.
 We stopped here to see the stick fishermen. They came up with this way of fishing because they have to get clear of the rocks at the edge of the shore. These days, i wonder how much fish they catch and how much they are there for tourists because they are barely clear of the rocks.

 Our destination was Galle, a Portuguese fort at the south-western end of Sri Lanka. The fort has been preserved with all the buildings within it having historical landmark status. This is the interior wall of the fort - the one that faces the town.
 The fort has good views over the water, which is needed for defensive purposes. This is a view from the landward wall.

 The building inside the fort definitely have that colonial feel. It is quiet for now. As we were leaving, the schools let out and it was pretty crazy and noisy with the traffic.

 This is the seaward side.

 The Indian ocean is a gorgeous color.

 After we wandered through the fort, we went to our hotel which was right on the beach. I couldn't have picked a better spot to spend our last night.
It was built around an old lighthouse, I think.

 We spent most of the evening camped out on the lawn watching the sun set.

 The best colors are after the sun actually sets.
 The next morning, we set off for Colombo. It was our last day and we flew out in the evening. Now we were driving along the south-western coast of Sri Lanka, heading north. Surfing is very popular here. This is also where the tsunami hit at its worst. If you have seen the youtube video of the train being washed away, it was from around here. Our first stop was at the tsunami memorial.
We also drove by one of the more important Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka but we didn't stop. 

Our driver took us on a city tour of Colombo. It looks like any other city! But there were a few differences. There are Hindu temples.
 A Dutch hospital that is now turned into a restaurant complex. We stopped here to cool off and get some lunch.

There was a beautiful golden Buddha as we drove around.
I think this is the seat of the government.
 Then we drove to the Independence Square. It is a national monument surrounded by parks and other buildings. The monument is the Independence Memorial Hall.
 Inside are traditionally carved columns with scenes depicting Sri Lankan history.
 You can't really see the vignettes as they are on those plaques. The columns reminded me of the hall in the Temple of the Golden Tooth at Kandy.
 It is surrounded by parks on most sides. That building over there is a colonial building that is now a mall.
 We sat on the steps of the hall and watched a school sports day in a field across the street. There were heats and races.

And then we left for the airport and headed back to Chennai.

I'll try and get in a catch-up post on what I've been up to spinning and knitting-wise in the next day.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Animals, birds and plants, Oh my

As usual life got in the way of finishing this series on Sri Lanka. But I just finished renaming all the photos and organizing them so I feel that it will be easy to finish it as soon as I have a few minutes to write. The renaming and organization takes a lot of time and gets in the way of regular publishing.

I have so much to share that I better get on with this.

We only spent one night at the tea factory but I could have spent many days there. The hotel itself was fascinating. They had retained a lot of the original structure and machinery. Some interior shots of the hotel. This is the lobby.

From our floor - the second one.
Looking up at the ceiling from our floor.
Our first stop, as we left the nest morning, was to wander through the town of Nuwara Eliya. This is the post office. It has a distinctly European feel to it.
Nuwara Eliya is a place where Sri Lankans come on holiday. There is a lovely lake with boating facilities.
Our next stop was a Sita temple near by. Sri Lanka features prominently in the Hindu epic the Ramayana. In the story, the demon Ravana ruled Sri Lanka. He kidnapped Sita, the wife of Rama, and kept her captive in a place in Sri Lanka called Ashoka Vana or Ashoka Forest. This temple is built on the presumed location of Ashoka Vana. According to the story, the monkey-God Hanuman, when asked to bring a herb from the Himalayas to help heal a wound suffered by Rama's brother Lakshmana, brought an entire mountain and dropped it near-by.
This is the image of Sita in the temple and this, supposedly, is the mountain that was brought from the Himalayas and dropped here by Hanuman.
Our Sinhalese guide pointed to another mountain - an island in the Indian ocean - as the one dropped by Hanuman. That was many miles from here and I'll show you a picture of it when we get to that part of our trip.

After visiting the temple, we headed off to Yala National park to see wildlife. But on the way, we stopped by a waterfall.

We got to Yala in mid-afternoon. Our hotel was right on the water. This is the Indian ocean.
Sunset from our balcony. You can see the building next to ours. We were on the 2nd floor of a 2 room building. One hotel room was on the first floor and a second was on the second floor with a loft on the third floor.
Looking the other way...
That is the hotel pool and the dining and main lobby building. Looking yet another way - inland - you can see it is all mostly scrubby vegetation.
Our first stop the next morning was the temple complex at Kataragama. This is a place venerated by both Hindus and Buddhists and there are both Hindu and Buddhist temples in the same place. It is a huge compound with a lot of temples. We had to take off our shoes when we entered and walk barefoot through the complex. At 11 am, the sand was already quite hot and by the time we finished, my soles were sore and almost blistered from the heat and the friction from the sand.

We first went to see the big Buddhist temple, the Kiri Vihara. The Kiri Vihara has one of the saplings of the Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha gained enlightenment. One sapling was brought to Anuradhapura and this one is a sapling from that tree. After that we went to the Skanda temple - which is a Hindu one. Skanda is the son of Shiva, one of the Hindu trinity. The temple is very simple, unlike most Hindu temples. We were fortunate to be there for one of the worship services because otherwise, the temple is closed and you can't go inside.

On our way out, we saw a procession of worshippers headed to the Skanda temple

And a lovely little kingfisher.
The bright blue larger object in the middle of the picture is a plastic bag. Look above it on the branch and you can see the little bird. He's bright blue but small with a white face and black feathers to set off the blue.

The rest of this post is going to be all wildlife. After lunch we headed out to Yala for a safari tour. We'll start, as we did, with a drab peahen.
An eagle in a tree.
We were lucky enough to see a leopard close up but I wasn't fast enough to get a good shot of it. This is the best that I have and you can see the leopard's hindquarters and tail in the middle of the picture if you zoom in. He is right in the middle of the picture just past the tree that is in the center.
We waited around for a long time to see if he would reappear, but he didn't and I took a lot of shots of green bushes hoping to get a glimpse of him to no avail. I have a shot of his head in the shadows but no one believes me when I say it is his head because it is just a shape. And you can sort of see him here closer up but he blends in pretty well with the shadows.
That big dark patch in the center consists of his legs and tail. We moved on, disappointed and elated at the same time. We saw him - one of two jeeps that actually did - but we don't have great pictures.

A boar with some birds. Did I mention that Sri Lanka is a prime bird-watching location? And Yala is one of the places that people come to watch birds?
A little green bee-eater. One of two we saw.
After many peahens, we finally saw a peacock. The first of many.
A mountain that looks like an elephant.
Jungle fowl. The national bird of Sri Lanka.
Another peacock who strut for us but refused to display his tail. I guess we don't look like peahens.
A shore bird
Yala was one of the places hit by the tsunami in 2004. On our last day, we stopped at the tsunami memorial on the other side of the island which was very badly hit. But today we stopped at a bungalow that had been occupied by some tourists and the bungalow's caretakers. The tourists were in the park on a safari so they escaped but the caretakers were washed away along with the bungalow.
All that is left is the foundation.

This is the ocean that was so destructive that day. Just steps from the bungalow is a beautiful beach.
The memorial to those who were lost. It is supposed to represent the wall of water.
We continued on from the tsunami memorial. A boar family with babies.
A hornbill in the middle of the tree.
This time I was lucky as he took flight. I followed him from this tree to another one and got some lovely photos.

This is a red bee-eater. Much harder to see than the green one.
Another peacock.
Two more green bee-eaters.
A little below center is a snake eagle. Very hard to see due to how effectively he/she blends with the tree. The body is brown but smooth, compared to the tree bark. Shooting down at the animals works better than shooting up into a dark tree against a bright sky!
And then a lone elephant decided he wanted to cross our path, but balked a few times. This gave me ample opportunity to get some fabulous photos of him.
He finally crossed and we followed him visually on the other side of the road till he vanished.
Another shore bird.
A closer picture, but not a great angle.
And with that, we left the park and headed back to the hotel. Our last glimpse of wildlife was a snake crossing the road.
We caught the sunset as we drove home.
There are many, many more pictures and movies of the wildlife in the album. I think if you click on one of the photos, you should be able to go back and forth to see the other photos if you are interested. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Driving through Sri Lanka

We left on the morning of the fourth day to drive to Kandy - the last capital of the Singhala empire and where the relic of the Buddha's tooth is currently located. One thing we've learned about guided tours is that they always route you through sponsored shopping. This one was no exception.

We went to a spice garden. It was very nice seeing how various spices grow. Some I was familiar with like cinnamon and turmeric. Others like cardamom were a complete surprise. Apparently I did not take any photos because I can't find any. We also had to listen to a talk on the uses of spices but did get a nice cup of tea.

Then we got to visit a batik factory. I used to do batik in my youth so it was nice to see how professionals do it. Batik is a lot of work and the finished products were very nice but nothing that we wanted.

However, the third stop did get us interested. It was a wood-carving business and there were a number of really beautiful pieces. We ended up acquiring a piece which we had to lug around for the rest of the trip and also hand carry onto the plane back to Chennai. You know what they say about the best laid plans? We had plenty of carry-on luggage space as we had packed light. But the piece, when packed in bubble wrap and tape was just a tad too long to fit into the carry-on suitcase! So it lived in our hotel room or the trunk of the car and then fortunately fit into the overhead bin on the plane. Since it was wood, there were no issues with security and we didn't have to unwrap it till we got home. From India to the US, it went in one of our checked-in bags, mummified in bubble wrap as it was.
The process of negotiating and then packing the item ended up delaying us so we got stuck in the after-school traffic at Kandy. It was also very hot so we changed our plans to go to the Temple of the Buddha's Tooth Relic that afternoon. The itinerary called for us to go the temple, then to a cultural show and then to the hotel for dinner. The following morning was a visit to the botanical garden and then off to the next stop. But the traffic would have been worse near the temple so we put it off till the next morning. That also enabled us to see one of the worship services when the relic was actually visible to the public.

We debated going to the botanical garden but the heat convinced us to skip it. So we went to the hotel and did our laundry and were able to dry it on the balcony without fear of monkeys. There were no trees near-by! That evening we went to a cultural program of music and dance and fire-eating. I was primed with insect repellant for the mosquitoes so it was rather pleasant in the hall. Kandyan dance is quite a long-standing cultural tradition.

Our next morning started with breakfast with gorgeous views again.
A view of the city and the lake from the terrace above.
After breakfast, we left for the temple. On the way we drove around the lake.
The entrance to the temple
The relic is behind the red decorated door. Later, we were able to line up upstairs and file past it but I was not quick enough to capture a photo. The line had to move fast in order to let the worshippers all have a chance to see the relic and it is only made visible for a short while each day. Note the gorgeous elephant tusks.  It is no longer legal to buy/sell or trade in elephant ivory but these are old tusks that have been in the temple for decades if not centuries.
The temple was being renovated so there was a lot of scaffolding around. But we could see the gold lotus carvings on the roof.
There is an adjacent hall where people can sit and meditate and maybe it is also used for lectures and talks. There is a gold Buddha statue in there.
We walked through there to the audience hall - remember that this relic is what conferred divine right to the kings - so there was always a royal presence here till the kingdom was overthrown. The audience hall has ancient, carved pillars and roof. It is open on the four sides, though.

Looking out over the adjacent lawn and garden.
We also visited the library associated with the temple. There are palm leaf books with the teachings of the Buddha inscribed on them.

The stupa in the center of the library.
After this we went back to the temple to see the beginning of the worship service and line up to see the relic. The service opened with a procession carrying offerings preceded by drummers who played all the way through the service.
The curtain has been drawn back the reveal the carved doors behind it. All the worshippers have gone up to see the relic. We headed up there too. It was all very orderly and organized. After we viewed the relic, we left and headed out of Kandy on the way to Nuwara Eliya.

Nuwara Eliya is the center of the tea plantations and is up in the mountains. As we left the lowlands, the air became cooler and more pleasant. The road was winding with new vistas opening up at each curve.
Initially it was regular agriculture but as we climbed, we started to see rows upon orderly rows of tea.

We stopped at a tea factory to see how the tea is processed and had a cup of tea in a building with lovely views.

Along the way, we stopped at a hotel near a waterfall for lunch.
It was evening when we got to Nuwara Eliya. Our hotel was not in the town but outside, in an old tea factory. We started off by resting for a bit and then wandering through the gardens and tea plantation that surrounded the hotel. This was also a spectacular location.

The staff at the hotel were wonderful. The head gardener gave us a tour of his domain, pointing out flower varieties with pride. January is not the best time for the flowers so our opportunity to admire was limited. But there were a few.

The gardener was an innovative recycler. This raised bed is made from empty wine bottles from the hotel.
They also had a mini recycling station with compost heaps and other sustainable practices. We generally found Sri Lankans very environmentally conscious. I think they realize that they have a pristine beauty to care for and that tourism is a key part of their economy and they don't want to spoil it. It was refreshing to see this when so many other places are only focused on development.
There is also a mini tea factory in the hotel grounds. This was easier to view and understand compared to the production machines we had seen earlier. We weren't allowed to get close to those. But the lady in charge of this one was more than happy to take us around and show us how it is done. She was also of Tamil origin which made all of us happy. We conversed in a mixture of English and Tamil. The British imported Tamil workers from India to work the tea plantations and their descendants still live here. In the north of Sri Lanka, there are Tamils who crossed the small strait between India and Sri Lanka centuries ago. These Tamils are different. They are newer - only going back a couple of centuries.

The plantation around the hotel is small and only produces tea for the hotel's use. Tea leaves are picked daily and first dried to remove most of the water. This takes anywhere from a few hours to overnight. There are fans blowing air through the leaves to dry them.
Then they are chopped up. This is why they need to be dried - if they had all their moisture the result would be a big wet mass instead of chopped up leaves. This machine was not working because the leaves were still drying.
Then they are sorted by size.
Followed by fermentation for black tea.
Then another drying to get them to the state in which we would recognize them.
And finally another sorting by size to separate the leaves into the various grades for quality.
That is the lovely lady who showed us around and educated us on the finer points of tea.
There were still pickers out picking tea in the late afternoon.
There was a maze in the hotel. Not big enough to get lost in.
Tea pickers started trickling in with their loads going to the tea factory to drop them off. As I said earlier, the pickers are almost all Tamil women. That is my big fat finger in the corner.

I wandered off by myself for a walk. I was feeling restless after a day cooped up in the car.  First I saw more recycled wine bottles.
This was the hill I headed down.

This is what those neat rows look like from the underside. The top 2-3 leaves at the end of each branch are picked each day to make tea.
Close-up of the plants.
Houses of the plantation and hotel workers.
I walked down this path to get down the hill. This is how the workers come and go each day. Our hotel is at the top.
Vegetables are grown in the valleys. These are leeks but I saw cabbages and other cool weather crops growing. Most of these are produced in the mountains and we saw a lot of them planted next to houses and in open lots in the area. They are transported to other areas where such crops cannot grow due to the heat. The government has a distribution system for collecting the crops, moving them to centralized markets, where they are bought and sold and then transported to where they are consumed.
This is the path I followed down around the hill and the rows of tea plants.
And that is the hotel from the path.
After I retraced my way back, we had dinner and went to bed.

This was a long post but the story seemed to flow better to include both these two days into one post.