Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Tag with Cherries on top!

Before I tell you guys about the final days at Sri Lanka, and to get my writing cells warmed up and running again, here's a tag by Insignia. A simple one really, so lazy me doesn't have to think too much about it :P Then again, I never do think much in the first place. So, here goes...
Oh, and along with it, there's also an award from her as well:


Thank you so much Insignia!
A good turn is one that's passed along. So I'll be giving this award to all those whom I tag 
*evil grin*

Now, what this tag is all about? I have to write 3 GOOD THINGS about me, me and ONLY ME!! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!

ahem.

Still, makes sense, since as Insignia said, there are three cakes, so three things ^_^

For the first cake....

I am a sucker for emotions. I feel for anyone who feels sad, dejected or low in any way whatsoever and tend to want to help them even if it means going out of my way.

Onto the second!

I can get along with almost everyone, meaning I'm a nice guy. Now I don't know whether that's really a good thing or not, coz quite a few times I've got stuck with those icky-sticky-nosy types that I couldn't bear to be rude to. But still, being nice is nice.

And now for the third and final helping of sweet sweet cake!

I'm not too picky about stuff. As long as it fulfils my basic requirement, I'm happy.

Well, the cakes tasted great, and I'm gonna share it with:


Pick up your award and tag guys!!

And show some love for Nikhil at Catastrophic Creativity. He's just started blogging and does it great!

Cheers!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ayubowan Sri Lanka - Day three and drawing to a close..

Post-breakfast Gerard took us to the insanely huge botanical gardens in Kandy..I mean really really insanely huge...146 acres! Try walking across that! We had about an hour and half to cover it all. Possible? Even Mastercard can't help us with this one!! We pretty much roamed ourself silly around the HUGE gardens filled with the most exquisite flowers and trees that you can find! Some were so small and delicate I felt like they'd just fall to pieces if I touch them while other plants(yes plants!) were so large, I could probably hide in one of them! And then there were the trees! The old stolid behemoths of the natural world, humongous in size, and ever growing, spreading their green wings, providing shade to the creatures beneath them. Benevolent beings, observing all but disturbing none. I was in awe of them. If this was what I felt in a botanical garden, just imagine what it must be like in the real rainforests! I'm gonna go to the Amazons for sure, if it's the last thing I do before the world destroys itself in 2012 :P
Well we barely covered one fourth of it in an hour and half, but in the bargain, saw some of the most beautiful flowers and plants in my life; especially the orchids! Oh my! Each orchid looks like a little being peeping out of it with it's hands joined. I have never seen anything so fascinating in my life! Oh and I finally saw a Pink Orchid too :D So Miss Rane, here's one to you! Creepers, climbers, mahogany, ebony, teak, rubber, vines, leaves!! Oh my! There was just so much to see and so little time....it's true for everything in life I guess...A long long walk and several oohs and aahs later, time was up and the Elephant orphanage beckoned.


Now this orphanage was started by rescuing some of the baby elephants that were abandoned or orphaned due to poachers(damn bastards should be shot at sight!) From the time it was started, it has grown into a great success with so many of the elephants thriving and living a healthy life here. When we reached there, the eli's were having a gala time down at the riverside taking a nice cool bath. After an hour of riverside frolicking they stomped their way across the busy streets into their home. Back at the shelter, the baby elephants were then fed milk through really big bottles that they gulped down in seconds and all of us were like Is he really full or was that just a snack? but then one bottle per baby elephant seemed to be it. I finally got to see the grandmaster of that entire orphanage, the first elephant to be rescued and brought to the centre - A massive ten or twelve foot tall blind tusker! It was so huge I had to crane my neck all the way up to look at it! It was awesome at the same time really sad to see such a magnificent creature so critically disabled that it had to be kept in chains to prevent it from hurting itself or other elephants at the orphanage.

One thing that I did remember to do was to buy poopaper :D Alisha Iyer over at The Eternal Chatter of a Capricious Mind had sent me a very interesting mail when she heard that I was going to Sri Lanka that said there was a shop that sold products made from Elephant dung! How awesome is that! :P So I just HAD to buy something from there. So I got a model elephant and a few notebooks made from elephant dung. And No, they don't stink. Elephants are veggies, so their poop doesn't stink when dry :D
Well, that was it for the day...we skipped an elephant ride since I think each of us has done that at least once before, and we had a long long journey of a few hours ahead to our next destination -

Bentota beach!! Yeehaw!
Sun, surf and sand! Here we come!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ayubowan Sri Lanka - Day two!

Good morning Lanka!!

Five-thirty was the time to leave and we were to go for a...


wait for it...


HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE! 

YAAAAAYYYY!!

Seriously, I was so excited! It would be my first time in one of those! I've always imagined floating across jungles and mountains and the sea in one of those! I think my wish was answered this time!
As we reached the take-off location, we could see the behemoth raise it's head, undulating it's innumerable coils, waiting to strike.. *shudder*...

Ahem...sorry, got carried away...

Actually it was a magnificent sight, the balloon taking shape as air and helium was slowly pumped into it. Finally, after about ten minutes, it was ready and we climbed in and the balloon took off. With us, there were a local Sri Lankan family of three and two Israeli sisters Sowanda and Akheili. Our pilot Justin was great, been flying for five seasons in Lanka and really good at it.


As we went higher and higher, the view slowly unfolded before us...crops, fields, forest and hills. To our right, there was the sun, just peeking out of the horizon and growing larger in size, drenching everything it touched in a golden hue. The hills were covered with mists that had just started to clear up and drift slowly with the wind. We went higher than the lowest misty clouds, higher than the hills and the trees grew smaller and smaller. The view, coupled with the amazing weather from last night's thunderstorm was just the perfect blend for flying. Below us, the lake spread out and it was so clear we could actually see a few large fish even from such a great height! It was getting quite hot though each time Justin fired the gas to make us rise higher. The tricky part of ballooning is not the flying but the landing. You've to find the right spot close to a road to land and if you miss it, you're in for a hell of a walk! Luckily, Justin managed to land us in a clump of seven feet tall grass, plants and weed and we had to half climb, half crawl out of the basket to get onto the road. Once all of us were out, Justin handed us glasses of champagne and we celebrated the successful flight. A little friendly banter and we headed back to our hotel. In the car, the Israeli sisters told us they'd been to Himachal, Kerala, Maharashtra and so many other places and that they loved it here in India. All I thought was that they'd been to more places in India than I'd been. Which is a bit sad but true in so many cases. We are great tourists in other countries but barely travel our own.

Anyway, we came back to our hotel and chilled in our room for an hour or so. Watched Death Race just for the heck of it. After checking out, we headed to a buddhist temple of Buddha. It was a magnificent golden statue rising about a hundred feet above our heads. It had a row of statues of monks holding offerings leading to Buddha, and from afar, they looked so real I stared at them for minutes, wondering why they weren't moving ahead!

Dambolla caves were another marvel of Buddhist architecture. They are a series of natural caves in the mountain that the buddhist monks used as their prayer grounds and meditation halls. One cave had 56 buddha statues surrounding the main floor where the monks would sit chanting the Holy Name. The atmosphere there, even with the tourists and small halogen lights, was so serene that it was easy to imagine a hundred monks chant in unison, their voices merged as one omnipresent sound of God. The same cave had a curious and supposedly divine phenomenon - water which usually drips towards the ground, seeped against gravity up one side of the wall and dripped down onto the middle of the cave from it's highest point. Call it reverse osmosis or plain divinity, it was a phenomenon to behold! Me and others carrying cameras were informed not to take photos with any Buddha statues since that would be disrespectful to Him. All around the caves and even that mountain grew lotus and water lilies, the native flowers of that area and the symbol of Buddha. I'd wanted to sit there and meditate for sometime, but time pressed upon me. It was a 2 and 1/2 hr drive to Kandy where we went to check out the Temple of the Tooth, so called because it has the actual tooth of Gautama Buddha. Upon arrival, we found a lot of security and armed forces there because of LTTE bombing of that temple in 1998. A curious thing that left me wondering was that when the bombing happened, all of the temple was damaged except the chamber where the tooth was kept. Divine protection? I'd like to believe so.


Inside the temple was a gallery with Buddha's life story as well as how the tooth came to be here. I was told that the temple of the Tooth was rebuilt and expanded three times by three different Kings. Here, prayers are held 3 times a day - 5:30am, 9:30am and 6:30pm - that is the only time when people are allowed to go near the golden casket where the tooth is kept. The casket is opened once in 4-5 years and amidst a mega-scaled celebration of traditional dance, music and prayer, the tooth is shown to the public. It happened last year, so sadly we missed it by a year. Dammit! :P

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ayubowan Sri Lanka!

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Colombo airport. Outside temperature is 25 degrees. Please ensure you take care of all your belongings when you leave the plane. On behalf of the crew of Air India, this is your captain wishing you a pleasant stay. Thank you."

Lanka.

Land of Singhal where the shaker-of-the-three-realms, Ravana grew his empire, and also the place where Rama defeated the rakshasa king and enforced the power of dharma over adharma. And now, we were there - my sister Sanghamitra, her husband Manu and me. One Mr.Gerard, our tour guide greeted us with a warm handshake at the airport. Over the course of the next few days, he would take us around the island country, showing us the sights and sounds to be seen. And as I found out, we couldn't have got a better guide. I shall be posting his details up at the end of my post so that any of you guys who wanna go there for a short vacation can get in touch with him directly. Anyway, back to the story...we handed him a crate of Heineken beer that he'd asked for from the duty free shops inside the airport. It turns out that his daughter is a flight attendant with Sri Lanka airlines and getting a bottle of scotch is not an issue for her since it's just one bottle of liquor, but not and entire crate of beer. Anyway, a big toyota SUV as our ride found me dozing off to sleep in minutes, exhausted from waking up so early to take the flight. (Why do international flights require us to reach the airport at such unearthly hours I could never figure out) When I woke up, I found us pulling into a bright outdoorsy restaurant named Saruketha. A friendly attendant greeted us at the entrance with folded palms and a soft "Ayubowan" which means "long life". It was such a nice refreshing and traditional welcome. We called for some glasses of juice and for main course came a sea-food platter filled with cuttlefish, crab, fish and prawns...and what gravy! Exquisite! I think I had twice my own capacity with that food!



Sangha went trigger happy and got overexcited with the entire bamboo-palm tree setup and ran away with my DSLR....then realized she couldn't operate it and then me and Manu were all LOL over her. Our meal ended just in time as a sudden shower of rains that we'd seen in the horizon earlier caught up with us and we had to scramble to safety and dry land under thatched roofs.


Travelling through Lankan roads is almost like travelling thru Shillong. You're always passing through forests with bright green leaved trees bending over from both sides of the road in a dense wild canopy that allows the occasional ray of light to shine through onto the dark pitch roads. Led by the sunkissed path, we headed to Sigiria - the great hilltop fortress of a diabolical king who built this great castle after killing his owm father and fleeing his state. And this fort! What a marvel of medieval archtecture! Built in the fifth century A.D., it was equipped with natural rainwater fountains, sentry posts at  progressive heights, naturally cooled seating areas and even different types of swimming pools for his 500 concubines(yes! 500! Wonder what he did with all of them...what stamina man! :P ) 1250 steps to the top left me drenched in rainwater, sweat and a feeling of elation and achievement. Natural degradation has broken the clay walls of the fort and left a 360 degree view of more than three acres of jungles in any direction and the blue mountains beyond. Talk about wanting to spread my wings and fly!



It was a long and scary climb down the other side of the fort, and the stone steps of that age were pretty small and almost half the size of my foot. So for all the 1250 steps down, I had to step sideways. Pain in the ass I tell you! But on the upside, it was an amazing drive back to the hotel with lightning illuminating the road for us in flashes that lit up the sky. The rooms in our hotel Ameya Lake have a peculiar quality. Each room is named after a different species of tree or animal. Our room no.90 was named after White-browed Fantail Flycatcher.. Really nice room with a HUGE bathroom and loads of space. It's funny...each hotel room makes me want to redesign my house like that. Anyway, the climb left me with an aching desire to jump into a swimming pool and cool off. So I took the next best option - a nice and hot bath. Soon I found myself sighing in relief in the tub with some great music playing, as I typed my experiences of the day into my phone.


Alright, for those of you who want to visit Lanka, contact Mr. Gerard - 0722 850540 / 077 1123446
He is one of the best guides I've come across in my trips over the years. Really nice sophisticated guy with loads of contacts, he's been doing this for the past 17 years.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Be careful in your hotel!

Guys, I'm almost back from a short trip I made to Sri Lanka, which is why I haven't posted in so long. I'm currently in Chennai at my sister's, chilling with pizza and drinks :D
Anyway, I just wanted to send a short message to all you guys from an email I got sometime back. This is quite important to all of you who travel a lot, or even very little, and since it is so relevant to me coz I've been travelling a lot these past few months, I wanted you to know about it too. So read on and pass it on:

You arrive at your hotel and check in at the front desk. When checking in, you give the front desk your credit card (for all the charges for your room). You get to your room and settle in. Someone calls the front desk and asked for; example Room 620 (which happens to be your room). Your phone rings in your room. You answer and the person on the other end says the following, 'This is the front desk. When checking in, we came cross a slight problem with your charge card information. Please re-read me your credit card number and verify the last 3 digits numbers at the reverse side of your charge card.'

Not thinking anything you might give this person your information, since the call seems to come from the front desk. But actually, itis a scam of someone calling from outside the hotel/front desk. They ask for a random room number. Then, ask you for credit card information and address information. Sounding so professional that
you do think you are talking to the front desk.

If you ever encounter this problem on your vacation, tell the caller that you will be down at the front desk to clear up any problems... Then, go to the front desk and ask if there was a problem. If there was none, inform the manager of the hotel that someone called to scam you of your credit card information acting like a front desk
employee.

This was sent by someone who has been duped........and is still clearing up the mess....

P.S. Please everyone, help spread the word by forwarding this email to everyone you know.. Who knows, you might just help someone avoid a nasty experience.