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Old 1st November 2008, 08:38   #1
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Default Sri Lanka - Exotically Slow - Water, Elephants and a flying tiger

Sri Lanka means different things to different people. I used to think it was a place were everyone used to sing cheesy songs (impression from Radio Sri Lanka). To some, they were a rival tea producing nation, to others, it was a place in a mess with ethnic conflicts etc. It is also becoming a haven for the grey UK Pound. Old folks from the UK now prefer to live in SL during the winter.

Slow and easy reflects how the people seem to be. I had a Sri Lankan maths teacher who spoke so slowly that I fell asleep, until he thwacked me with two thick physics texts books. (Later I found that I become his nephew by marriage ..for a while!)

Anyway, back to the tiny island, so well placed and yet so vulnerable. Based on school and work holidays, I had 6 days to play around with. Original plan was to do Thailand but a quick estimate saw that it would cost us nearly Rs 2lakhs to do Krabi and Bangkok and not do justice within that time (tickets were Rs 35000 each). I looked at Sri Lanka and it was a steal. For well under a lakh, we could have quite an exotic time.

I had recently been reading about renown architect called Geoffery Bawa who designed various hotels, which incorporated various nuances of Sri Lankan culture as well as integrating designs into the landscape. So we wanted to camp out in his hotels where possible

Plan was as follows:

Thurs - Arrive late night. Transfer to the Beach Hotel, Negombo, which is 30 min away.
Friday - transfer to Galle – Lighthouse Hotel
Saturday – Galle
Sunday – drive to Colombo, visiting a couple of resorts en route
Monday- Visit the Pinawala Elephant orphanage
Tues – Visit Colombo
Weds – Depart

Gave this itinerary to my travel agent who sorted the whole thing out and ensured we had a proper car and driver etc.

Last edited by ajmat : 4th November 2008 at 15:35.
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Old 1st November 2008, 08:42   #2
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Default Thursday


Meru cab comes early - we leave at 5.45 and reach by 7.00pm. Traffic is murder. Check- in is seamless. BIAL is super efficient, I really do not know what all the noise was about. Only spoiler is the slightly urine tinged smell in the toilets. Other airports are fine.

Having been forewarned that drinks are expensive in the hotels. We pick up some duty free wine. My daughter wants a book. Costs Rs 325, we give Rs 500, the guy has no change and take 20 min to go and find change and return. Our flight is boarding.

We board the flight


It is like boarding a greener version of Indian Airlines – dowdy hostesses with automated greetings. Flight is half full. No comments on the flight except for a boring sandwich.

We hit Colombo during a rainstorm. Disembark and join a long immigration queue. They are slow. We pass through duty free which is pretty dowdy to recover our bags. A tour person is there to greet us. He takes outside and waits till our chauffer guide comes. Neil arrives and we put our bags in except that unsolicitied assistance to pop the bags comes along. I thought he was part of the company staff but I realized this was not the case. Gave him SRs 20.

We had a massive 12 seater Toyota. The drive to Negombo resembled driving in Kerala, taking the Kottayam – Tiruvila road without the suicidal buses and potholes.

We turn into the Beach Hotel. It looks very unassuming. Climb the steps and wow, it sure is funky. More later, but for now, reception was efficient. We decided to stay till check out time 12.00pm to enjoy the hotel to the max. Neil was not too happy!

The Beach overlooks an atrium pool with a further large pool outside. Our rooms overlook coconut trees nad the sea beckons but there is a wind storm. Enter the room and it is really exotics. The bathroom is all glass (with blinds), my daughter has plans for a looong bath tomorrow.

We sit out looking out on the windy beach and it is time to sleep. It was a bad week and I am dog tired.

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Last edited by ajmat : 4th November 2008 at 15:38.
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Old 1st November 2008, 08:47   #3
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We wake up. Girls go for a swim and the rainswept beach. I wake up hit the gym for the first and last time on the holiday. We have a really good slap up breakfast – hoppers et al. The staff is pretty friendly. Take a walk on the beach and then return for a shower, I run a bath for my daughter who then experiments in the fine art of bubble making.

It is a pity that we did not stay too long but the Beach is a great chill out place fora 2-3 days. Negombo is a fishing village and mainly catholic. It resembles Goa a lot –Portuguese influence.

I took some pics in the morning
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Indoor Pool
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Reception Area
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The Breakfast Area

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The Outside Pool
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Look who came for breakfast

At 11.55, Neil calls me on my mobile. I had a sri lankan SIM picked up at the airport (actually, a friend got it last month and I borrowed it). We check out and hit the road.

Apologies, there is a lot to write so more later over the weekend - i also need to drive to Chennai for a party and back!

Last edited by ajmat : 1st November 2008 at 08:57.
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Old 1st November 2008, 08:58   #4
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Quickly post some more photos with your super writing.

You're not allowed to leave Bangalore before that.
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Old 1st November 2008, 09:01   #5
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Nice one Ajmat . Looking forward for more details.
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Old 1st November 2008, 09:02   #6
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Default Road to Galle

Road To Galle

Traffic was thick but moving at 40km/h. Passed through Negombo and approached Colombo. This along took 90 min. I kept waiting for the inner ring road or the highway but later realized this was the highway. Single laned roads similar to our state highways are their national highways. Only saving grace is the fact that people observe rules.

We need to pass through Colombo and take the Galle Road. This takes an hour. With the exception of Buddhist shrines, it looks like any other city. My daughter gets bored and I am bored of the normal games like 20 questions so I teach her to play battleships. My wife has snoozed off.

Out of Colombo, Neil picks up the pace to …60km/h whenever he can. Judging by the way the thing brakes, like our Omni’s, I would rather not be pushing it. We pass Bentota and various other towns and then we get to Kalutara

Neil points out a big temple. We all want to get out for a while so Neil drops us and we enter. We need to deposit our shoes and we climb a series of steps. It is very peaceful inside. Note a lot of young couples sitting there, holding hands in silence. There are four buddha’s surrounding the centre, each identical all reflecting serenity and peace.

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The walls have paintings depicting Buddha’s life. 70 of them, we walk around and take it in. Time to move on, pick up our shoes, the attendant slaps the counter in a knowing fashion. I slap Rs 20 in an unknowing fashion. I call Neil up and we wait on the bridge and look out on the backwaters.

We pass two resorts created by Geoffery Bawa which we want to see. Neil prefers that we reach while the weather is good. Wifey is a bit miffed!

90 min later, we pass through Hikkadawa, plenty of Europeans around there. A lot of them hang out here during the winters. There are coral boats and turtle hatcheries. The weather and sea is too rough to really make the most of it.

Today is a good day for weddings so lot of cars on the road. After Hikkadawa, we then see what a Tsunami can do (sorry, weather was appalling so no pics). Ruined buildings on either side of the road, interspersed with new/ rebuilt ones. A distorted train carriage abandoned on the side of the road. Pretty morbid.

A lot of aid was poured in here and the Japanese donated a Buddha. A lot of big posters warning against child abuse are prevalent. The area became an area for such predators but a lot of vigilance is around so I understand.
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Old 1st November 2008, 09:12   #7
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Default Arrive at the Lighthouse

1 km from Galle, we turn right into the hotel. A typical Bawa building, no drama on the outside. There is a small reception where billing etc is done and some ornate furniture. Keeps the outsiders out.

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A receptionist greets us and ushers us to the stairs. We were transformed in to another world.

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We climb up and met with this view (actually this is taken on a better day). We are stunned by the view and ambiance.

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The manager comes up and talks to us and suggests that we go to the fort in the afternoon tomorrow so that we can see the “Art Trail”. He guides us on the layout. There are two pools. One near the rooms and one near the spa adjacent to the sea.

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This is the rooftop where there is a "fine dining" restaurant and a pool bar

The beach bum that my daughter is! She is hopping for joy. We are offered drinks and the check in is completed. Another receptionist takes us to our room, it is about 500 meters away but felt like a mile. She walked so slowly and talked even slower.
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Old 1st November 2008, 09:18   #8
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Default A long slow walk to the room

Geoffrey has managed to integrate the rocks into the garden and the stairs even.

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Reach the room and the bellboy awaits us with our bags. We enter the room – shock and awe! The bathroom is awesome.
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My daughter is determined to try out the tub. She is hopping around

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We open the windows and the door to the balcony and take in the view and the sea breeze.

Madam want to jump into the pool, we throw her in, go for a walkabout, pull her out after an hour and go for dinner – a barbeque buffet!

Plenty of old Europeans, young ex-pat families and a few Russians around. We decide to enjoy the balmy breeze and sit outside. We our first round of food and then the second and suddenly, I hear a meow, there is a cat underneath. We are joined by a stray dog and then another. We chase them, the waiters chase them but they get back. The foreigners are feeding the tidbits while the maitre is apologizing.

We move inside and finish dinner. I had taken an anti-histamine which knocks me out.

Last edited by ajmat : 2nd November 2008 at 20:00.
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Old 1st November 2008, 09:27   #9
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Default Beach and a Wrap

The beach bum wakes up and opens the windows and jumps on us. The girls go to the beach and I groggily wake up and join them.

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The Beach Bum has endorsed the Hotel
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We then have a morning swim. This is the Spa pool
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I sign up for a session in the spa. I am going for a seaweed herbal wrap for my skin allergies at noon.

We then attack the buffet and madam is back in the pool. This time the one near the room.
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I have to keep chucking a coin and she dives for it. Tiring!

Before noon, I go to the spa for the massage. I am first asked to fill in a form about my skin condition etc.

My Massuer, Chimana awaits, he takes me into a room and I get into a robe. I then use the steam room. Sit for 10 min, get out and jump into a plunge pool, yikes, it is icy and in Finland, they roll around in snow. I repeat and then go back in.

Chimana asks me to put on a pair of paper underwears and lie face up. Pretty challenging, it rolls up when you put in on. Spend 10 min challenging its tensile properties. I then lie on the table. The table is covered with a plastic silver foil

Chimna comes in and in his soothing voice, says “are you ready?” I say, “go ahead!”

Normally, you expect a pair of hands to start kneading your muscles. But here, it begins with a ..scraaatch! Look from the corner of my eye and see that he is using what looks like a grooming brush on me. I figure that my dead Labrador is taking revenge on me! No, must be something else - when in doubt, refer to the Old Man, second in wisdom to Lord Buddha. Old Man advocates in his scriptures that I am being rubbed down prior to a polish. Hmmmm. Well, I am as old as his amby

Am flipped over and more of the same. And then, I am oiled up, Chimana then disappears and is back with a tub of freshly made sea weed goo. He then applies it all over, I turn over and more of the goo. He then folds the foil over me and binds it. I am bound, I cant scratch, adjust, nothing. He the tells me to relax and wait for 20min. He props towels etc to ensure I am comfortable. In seconds, I nod off but keep waking as my snoring wakes me up. This, plus the trance music lulls me in a catatonic state.

Chimana is back and unwraps me and escorts me to a shower in the garden (also a private tub). I look at myself, I've turned green and am stiff all over. Grrowl, I look like the Incredible Hulk about to take on the Yeti! Turn on the shower and the gunk will not come off. I need to use my fingernails to scrape the stuff off. After 10 min, the stuff is saturated and rolls off. The shower pan looks like a building site!

The paper underwear disintegrated on the way down! Chimana has provided another pair. I rolled it up except that on a wet body, it is a bigger challenge. I somehow ensure adequate cover is provided and back on the table for the massage. It ends with another silver wrap. The only difference is that he then moves onto a head massage which is awesome. Steam towels on the face, then menthol soaked towels to inhale.

After the head massage, it is over. Sign off and give Chimana a good tip and back to the room
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Last edited by ajmat : 2nd November 2008 at 20:04.
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Old 1st November 2008, 20:16   #10
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Great piece of a travelogue!
Very easy, calm but entertaining too. Well done Ajit!

I think you'll finish it before heading to Chennai. Or do we have to wait. Not a problem if you're going to serve us more of those amazing pics and beautiful writing.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful trip with us.
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Old 1st November 2008, 23:35   #11
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Nice laidback style of writing, Ajit! Keep it coming.

When it comes to levels of energy, it appears your daughter and you are like opposite poles of a magnet.
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Old 2nd November 2008, 18:10   #12
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Default Galle Fort

(back from Chennai)
The breakfast pig-out means lunch is un-necessary. It is 2.30 and Neil is due in an hour to take us to the fort. Bump into another manager who was in the Heathrow Marriot but decided to return to Sri Lanka. I tell him about the stray dog problem and he tels me that Presidential orders forbid the killing/ ill treatment of the animals and their hands are tied.

At 3.30, Neil arrives, we hop in and get to the fort which is 2 km down the road. Galle is a very small town - resembles something like Tumkur. The Fort sits on the waters edge. It is connected by a neck of land which houses the cricket stadium.

The fort was built first by the Portuguese, then modified by the Dutch during the 17th century. fort was built in the 17th century by the Dutch and covers 35 hectares. It survived unscathed during the Tsunami.

We enter through the Law square Gate. It bears the original Dutch Coat of Arms. The square has a bazaar going on. We decide to drive around and return for the "art trail" . The art trail has various works of art housed in different shops/ hotels or restaraunts.We enter into Law Square and go to the Ramparts. One portion have people who dive into the water for a fee. Exactly at the spot where we stand!

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The Fort Lighthouse
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Another part over looks the cricket stadium.
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This place was wiped out during the Tsunami due to waves on both sides. It is restored now! Plenty of day trippers and canoodling couples within the ramparts.(well they just sit and hold hands!).We want to hit the Art Trial but cannot find info although we see shops marked. Decide to return to Law Square.

The main museum is shut and we pass an elegant house – Amangalla – It is an exclusive hotels whose rates are : “if you must ask, you cannot afford” It is opened to the public today.

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We then walk into an Old Dutch Reformed Church next door.

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Last edited by ajmat : 2nd November 2008 at 20:07.
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Old 2nd November 2008, 18:26   #13
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We go back to the square and tell Neil to park. We find a Dutch lady with details of the Art Trail and get going. We find it is more of an ex-pat – UN heritage initiative. The locals’ aren’t bothered. You walk into the shops. The paintings, which are part of the trail, are in the back. They are trying to flog stuff. All over-priced, no hard sell, nothing! How do they survive? This place reminds me of Jew town in Cochin except Jew Town has no more genuine stuff left.
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Some places are labeled as museum’s – i.e. places with relics on display which do have a price and a gem shop attached. Prices are higher than India but craftmanship is pretty good.
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One shop, I make friends with the owner, Hassan, we get talking about cricket and Penang where he also operates.

We then get back to the hotel. I open the balcony door. An awesome breeze and a beautiful sight.
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Time to open the Duty Free! We open a bottle of wine and drink it.

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We go to dinner but we cannot face the buffet so we go a la carte! It takes time and the little girl sleeps off at the table. They cancel the order with no problem.

Last edited by ajmat : 2nd November 2008 at 20:05.
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Old 2nd November 2008, 18:38   #14
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Default Sunday - Onto Colombo via a few resorts

After a good night’s sleep, we wake up and get into the pool and then breakfast. We want to enjoy this pace to the full and check out at 12.00. Most of the Johnny foreigners come in later afternoon, have the buffet, spend the night, loll around the pool then check out, visit the Fort and go on to Colombo.

It is a sunny day and there is no traffic. Neil takes back to Colombo but we first stop at the Heritance Arunhalla to see the resort. It is impressive if crowded – pleaty of folks from Colombo come for the day, enjoy the pool and buffet. The pool is gorgeous.

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We drive on and hit the Blue Water and decide to stay for Lunch. It is crowded as a couple of conferences are happening but they ensure we get a table. I like the attitude, they try unlike in India where they would not be bothered
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Lunch over, we drive onto Colombo. On the outskirts, reality sets in, the army stop us. They check Neil’s documents and look at us. We drive on and are stopped again. We are staying at the Cinnamon Grand which is next door to the Prime Minster’s house.

After a quiet Galle, this place is bustling, people in and out. Check-in is slow but friendly. Wife is checking out the shpping areas with the concierge. We pop the bags in the room and have a coffee and then she says” “Lets go shopping”

We hail a rick who charges SRs 300. (Rs 100 to you and me for a distance worth Rs 35). We hit ODEL’s - The top shop in Colombo. Some good stuff there but you need to be lucky. No woman is ever unlucky! We return and are stopped and checked a couple of times. The police merely check and do not harass too much. We reach the hotel and hit the adjoining food court for dinner. The food is awesome as also the qunatitiy but the price is high. Rs 130 for a plate of fried rice. A trawl in a supermarket reveals that food prices are high. My daughter starts flagging and we have a 6.00 am start and so to bed!
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Old 2nd November 2008, 19:00   #15
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Default Monday - Visit the Orphans and the Destitute

5.00 Am – Phone beeps. Heck! I am on holiday, my trainer is miles away

Ermm,, no, you got a 6.00 am start to visit some orphans. We get ready and Neil is waiting. Into the bus and three security checks later, we are on the road to Kandy. We are going to visit the elephant orphanage in Pinawala. 30km from Kandy.

We were thinking of cancelling this since we have Durbare and the weather was dodgy but what the hell, we have time to waste! Road fauna is similar to the Cochin Munnar drive up. We pass a village where all they sell is pineapples and then past cashew plantations. I have having fun doing a “Karlosdeville” and spotting a lot of old cars on the road.

Being a bank holiday, the road is fairly clear and we reach in 2 hours. The orphaniage is home to around 60 + elephants. Some abandonded as babies, some wounded. Entrance for us foreigners is SRS 1000, the local gets in for a quarter of this. It opens at 8.30am We have half an hour to kill so we peek into some of the shops. Whole village is centred around the elephant!

Neil gets the tickets and we walk in to a mud patch.

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Look who comes to greet us!

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A magnificent old Tusker – blinded by a villagers shot gun.

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This one lost a leg due to a land mine

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We “mingle” with them under-supervision and then they are herded down for a feed.
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The feeding truck gets stuck. No 4X4 or a samurai to help, but there is the odd elephant

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We are used to seeing elephants in Bandipur but this was an amazing site. All these guys are one happy commune all looking out for another. Let the pics do the talking!
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