Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nuwara Elliya, Sri Lanka

Indian restaurant in town.
Beggar appraising the day's haul.

The spicy fillings pack a knock-out punch.

Without doubt, the best thing about Nuwara Elliya is the cool temperate climate, and the rustic atmosphere outside town to which I could easily reach in a mere 15 minutes. Wandering aimlessly was a real delight in the crisp cool weather.

For those who live to eat, Nuwara Elliya will not disappoint. It has a number of nice restaurants, where the waiters are rather chatty, and Indian coffee shops.

However, I was disappointed to see quite a number of beggars in Nuwara Elliya. They grabbed my legs, imploring me to donate some of my rupees. They looked like "professional" beggars to me.

Honestly the nicer hotels and guesthouses are outside town but that entails a good 20- minute walk to town. Nuwara Elliya is not a pedestrian-friendly place. However, I noticed new sidewalks being built.
Staying right in town means easy access to the restaurants and transport services.The bus station is right in town.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Notice the fireplace in the lounge?
Entrance to St Andrew Hotel

Idyllic atmosphere.

Hotel has a beautiful and well-kept garden.

Flowers grow in abundance in the temperate climate.

One of the most beautiful hotels in Sri Lanka in my view is St Andrew Hotel, appropriately situated in the Hill Country or Little England on account of the temperate climate.

The colonial ambience is very much in evidence. Stepping inside the grounds and the interior of the hotel I could imagine what it was like in the colonial days.

In winter it can be very cold. The fireplace in your room is not for show but can be pressed into service to add some much needed warmth.
What cheered me was the presence of other bird life.The ubiquitous pesky crow is markedly absent in this part of Sri Lanka.

It's a 15 min walk from the town of Nuwara Elliya to the hotel which is on the outskirts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Crispy bread being delivered to the shops.

Hey, help me to carry and you get a free loaf.
As any traveller would tell you, food can make or break your trip.
If you like spicy and curried food, Sri Lankan food will have you frothing at the mouth. But if not, you are going to have a problem. In my two weeks tramping around the country I didn't see a single McDonald or KFC or even a local version.
Fortunately, bread in all sorts of variations is widely available, even in villages. Perhaps, this is a legacy from colonial days.
So there were days when I couldn't stand another day of spicy and curried food, bread came to the rescue. Plus the odd cake which Sri Lankan also love.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Victory celebrations over defeat of tamil tigers, Part 2, sri lanka

Delirious with joy.
Writer joins in the celebrations.

Free food for all.

Jostling to get the latest news about the last days of the war.

To do justice to such a momentous and historic moment, allow me to present a few more photos. Hopefully the reader might get a feel of the electrifying atmosphere. You had to be there really to see how happy the Sri Lankan people were.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Victory Celebrations over Defeat of Tamil Tigers in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

After the blasts of firecrackers.

Hanging dangerously from a three-wheeler.

Three-wheelers decked out in the national flag.

Riotous victory parade by ordinary folks.

Riotous celebrations.

When I arrived in Nuwara Eliya, popularly known as Little England on account of its temperate climate, was in the midst of the wildest celebrations ever to engulf the town: victory celebrations over the Tamil Tigers.

Everyone was so happy in this Tamil-majority town.

Convoys of vehicles and three-wheeler cabs blared their horns while their occupants waved the Sri Lanka flag in unrestrained joy, screaming their happiness as I snapped pictures of them.

Firecrackers were set off while police officers were out in full force to ensure that things did not get out of hand.

No one will ever forget the victory celebrations over the defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nuwara Eliya, Little England (Sri Lanka)

The historic 100-year old post office.
Flowers in abundance in the temperate climate.

St Andrew Hotel's gardens.

Nuwara Eliya

Heritage Hotel

Whenever I told Sri Lankans that I'd be going to Nuwara Eliya they'd give me a puzzled look.

"Where?" they asked.

"Nuwara Eliya," I stressed.

"Oh, Nuwara Eliya," they said, smiling broadly as they finally understood what I was saying. And we would burst out laughing.

The crux of the problem was in my pronunciation. "Eliya" needs to be pronounced with a marked roll of the tongue.

And then they enthused, "Oh, Little England. In Sri Lanka we call the place Little England because it's cold up there."

And cold it certainly was the three days I was there since it was raining, necessitating at least four layers of clothing. They are right in dubbing Nuwara Eliya "Little England".

When I arrived the whole town was in the midst of a victory celebration over the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. I joined them in their wild celebrations.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

Tea estates in the Hill Country.

Train chugs through tea estates.

Tea plants within touching distance.

On the way to Nuwara Eliya

One of the highlights of my trip to Sri Lanka was the train ride to Nuwara Eliya, dubbed Little England by the locals for its temperate climate.

The train snaked its way through numerous picturesque tea estates. Leaning from the doorway I could almost touch the tea plants. It was a memorable train ride.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Metal staircases hug the steep slopes of Sigiriya.

Sri Lankans climbing up to the summit.

The moat outside Sigiriya.

Sigiriya or the Lion's Rock

A small island like Sri Lanka is blessed with 7 UNESCO heritage sites. One of them is the city of Kandy on account of the sacred Buddha Tooth Temple (see preceding post).

Another is Sigiriya. Some say it's the eighth wonder of the world.
A solid granite rock 370m high that rises from a plain is bound to elicit a feeling of awe. Once a palace, fortress and a refuge for Buddhist clergy, it's now a big tourist attraction like Angkor Wat. In fact, the moat and entrance to Sigiriya reminded me of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

At first, I was undecided whether to visit Sigiriya as I wondered if I could walk up the steep flight of steps to the summit.

I took an early morning bus for the 4 hours' ride to Sigiriya. I still remember the bus conductor for he failed to return me my change! But he made it up by telling me where to get off. I had to walk about 1 km along a dusty unpaved road to the entranceof Sigiriya! However, it was a nice quiet walk and I had the rare opportunity of hearing a bird singing. Rare because the mighty crow is the king of the skies in Sri Lanka!
The passengers in every bus and car that passed by looked at me as if in pity to see me trudging in the hot sun. So to avoid them I purposely walked along the moat! A huge monitor lizard relaxing under a huge tree startled me. I thought it was a snake! When I recovered from the shock, I had a good laugh.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Buddha Tooth Temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Students making their way to the temple.
Devotees in the temple.

Devotees on pilgrimage.

Buddha Tooth Temple in Kandy

Though the town of Kandy is unimpressive, my disappointment was more than made up by the star attaction of Kandy - the magnificent Buddha Tooth Temple.

Being there on a weekend was unwise as I had to contend with the thousands of Buddhist Sri Lankans on pilgrimage. The temple is considered sacred so I had to trod about in my bare feet.

Many devotees came clutching flowers and money as donation to the temple. Though packed to the brim, everyone was well-behaved as this is a holy site.

Unlike the Botanic Gardens and Elephant Park which are some distance from Kandy, the Buddha Tooth Temple is right in the town itself by Kandy Lake.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy Lake
Kandy Lake

Kandy still retains many old colonial buildings. The balcony of this hotel is the best in Kandy.

The bustling town of Kandy.

Kandy turned out to be quite a disappointment. I'd expected it to be cool and filled with tea estates but it was hot and as for the latter, they were far away in the Hill Country.

Kandy town was uninspiring. Kandy Lake was unimpressive unless the presence of hundreds of crows can be considered remarkable.

The crows certainly make their presence felt in more ways than one. If you're unfortunate enough, you could be the recipient when they defecate en mass.

A visitor from Slovakia said,"It was like rain."

With all other birds out muscled and bullied, the crow is the undisputed king of the skies in Sri Lanka.

In many countries crows numbering in their thousands would be cause for alarm but in Sir Lanka they are tolerated.

Maybe my rant against the crows has something to do with my breakfast being snatched away by them! I had left my sandwich unattended for a minute in a coffee shop, and in a flash a crow had converted it to ITS breakfast.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bandaranaike Airport to Kandy

Fort Railway Station: an inside look.
Villages like this line the railway track.

Fort Railway Station: this area is the transport hub for trains and buses.

From Bandaranaike Airport I took a bus to Colombo railway station at Colombo Fort. There was no problem getting a train ticket to Kandy (only 2nd class available).

Being the only Chinese for miles around, naturally I attracted curious looks. Most asked, "Japan? China?"

But there were others with an ulterior motive. One man proved over friendly as though I had known him all my life. My suspicion was proven correct when he came on board just as my train was about to depart and shoved a piece of crumpled A4 which had a written appeal for donations. He claimed he was a mute.

Then there was this 80- year-old man.

"I came to see my priest but he not in. He help me a lot, " he said.

I waited for the coin to drop.

"I got no money to eat," he continued.

I gave him some bread which he wolfed down hungrily.

Suddenly a well-dressed man approached me and said, "Kandy train, you wait over there."

How did he know I was going to Kandy? Obviously word had spread. I had been chatting with Sri Lankans in the station's cafe and on the platforms. He claimed to own a guesthouse in Kandy, and urged me to stay there.

With such a cast of characters there was never a dull moment.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Train and bus travel in Sri Lanka

A quaint village railway station.
You'll never go hungry on the bus or train.

A break in my 6-hour bus journey in southern Sri Lanka.

Travelling by bus and train in Sri Lanka I discovered was hot and uncomfortable as rightly pointed out by travel guides. Buses everywhere were packed to the rafters, and their drivers are constantly under the illusion they are F1 drivers!

Despite the discomfort on buses and trains there was never a dull moment.

A procession of sellers of all sorts of strange foods and drinks trooped on board. You can never accuse the Sri Lankans of subjecting you to a famine of sorts, that's for sure.

There were others who made an outright appeal for donations. A woman with a sleeping child in her arms launched into a sad tale. An old man with a crutch recounted a similar tale. Perhaps, a son killed in the war against the Tamil tigers? Or a family wiped out in the tsunami?

Then you have the entertainers. A young man sang lustily for a good 15 minutes accompanied by his trusty tambourine.
All were rewarded a few rupees here and there.

Yes, give me the train and bus anytime. Rough travelling but I've always been under the illusion I'm tough.

Of course you can travel in an air-conditioned car or van but you'll miss all the fun.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sri Lanka trains

One of the many tunnels in the hill country.
A train ride in the hill country is an unforgetable experience.

Lovers of old steam- engine trains will swoon over this beauty.

A steam -engine train in Sri Lanka
I love riding in trains. There's something romantic about travelling in a train as it whizzes past little huts in the countryside, monkeys lazying in tress, farmers bent over their fields and people hurrying home.
In Sri Lanka the steam-engine trains may be old but their engines are still powerful enough to haul their carriages up into the hill country.
It was slow travel and hot in the carriage but the unfolding lush greenery in the country took my breath away. It was exciting leaning out of the train with the trees almost within touching distance.
The bus may be faster but give me the train anytime.