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Old 22nd February 2019, 17:32   #1
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Default Nine days of Sri Lanka in a Honda Shuttle Hybrid

This travelogue has been more than a year in the making. Mainly since this was not a wild life travelogue but also because if you don't do it immediately, things have a way of being postponed and postponed and ... until it kind of takes a third row seat and basically gets forgotten about. A user here, superbad, recently posted his New Zealand travelogue two years after he travelled and that reminded me of this half-written one of mine. I thought this would a good time to revive it and finally hold it up proudly to the world (well, at least T-BHP, but hey, you know what I mean!). Better late than never, etc., etc. Note that some of the numbers were correct as on August 2017 and I haven't corrected them. Too lazy. So here goes.

Fair warning: This is going to be one long multiple post with nearly 200 photos, so I hope you won't get bored quickly. After all, the things we saw and did in nine days can't be compressed into one or two posts.

What struck me most about the beautiful country of Sri Lanka is that almost half the cars on the road are hybrid! Later, we came to know that most new cars sold are hybrids, unless it is a big SUV. Even some of the SUVs have some form of hybrid engine here. The non hybrids are mainly public transports and goods carriers, like buses and autos and trucks. The Toyota Prius dominates the medium car segment here. There are more Priuses (Priusii?) on the roads than any other hybrid car. Domination. Why oh why is this not prevalent in India? Why are the manufacturers not bringing hybrids to the market? While we are wrangling about BS V and BS VI, other countries have quietly moved to hybrid and even pure electric.

Another shocking fact is the 300% duty on any non-hybrid imported car (and believe me, all cars are imported here since there is no local manufacture, except for a SsangYong collaborator called Micro). There are many Altos, Zens and Nanos on the roads here. For example, a Maruti Alto 800 costs approximately 22 lakhs! Of course that is in LKR where 1 INR = 2.4 LKR approx as of date. So an Alto costing about 3,00,000/- here would straight away cost around 7,20,000/- LKR and then comes the duty, which raises the cost to around 21,60,000/- LKR. Wow! Here's a link with the launch announcement for the Alto 800 in Sri Lanka, back in 2016.(http://www.firstpost.com/auto/2016-s...s-2842416.html) The Tata Nano (which incidentally seems to be the only Tata car I could find on the roads) costs a whopping 8,50,000/-. Mummmeeee....! I didn't believe our driver when he quoted these figures at me, so I did some research and found most of his wild claims about pricing to be true.

Incidentally, the Honda Shuttle that we were driven around in costs around 58,00,000/- LKR and that is mainly because the import duty on hybrid cars is supposedly only 90%! Good move by the government to push people to buy hybrids. Hope the Indian government also does something like this. The Karnataka government seems to be taking an initiative by formulating an Electric Vehicle policy, as we speak. (https://inc42.com/buzz/karnataka-sta...ehicle-policy/)

OK, this is mostly a holiday travelogue and part car review. I'm not an expert reviewer, only an expert reader of reviews! I've tried to ensure that "all the information given herein below is true and correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of events mentioned", so if you do come across some erroneous information or inconsistencies, don't be too critical. Now for some background.

Scene 1: One Saturday evening, at a popular bar in South Bangalore
One: I think we should plan for a week long trip without families
Two: I need to get permission from Home Ministry
Three: So do we all
Four: When is this supposed to happen?
One: Third week of August, we can use the Independence Day holiday
Me: So where do you think we should go?
One: Greece? I want to swim in the Adriatic!
Four: France! Paris! Nice! TGV! Wine! ...
Three: Why not somewhere local?
One: I want to celebrate my birthday in a foreign land!
Me: Two, you and One are just one day apart on birthdays, do you want to be home for that?
Two: Too many already celebrated at home and with family, let's do it ourselves for once
Me:
Five (quiet so far, in a small voice): Can't make it guys, Shravana Maasa. (No non-veg month for religious types)
Six: I'll have to check with my boss, can't guarantee I'll get a long holiday

Silence for a while, mugs being raised quietly... then...

Two: I don't want to fly for more than 4 hours, bored of it.
One: So Europe is ruled out? Ayyooo...
Me: Why don't we all come up with options by next week?

I actually thought at that time that this is just another one of those "Let's just us boys go to Goa" kind of wishful thinking that usually crops up after a few mugs have begun to make their insidious effect felt. So I didn't give it much thought during the next week or the one after that. To my surprise One created a separate WhatsApp group with only the six of us who had shown interest and whose birthdays are within a few days of each other. I have to tell you here that our "gang" has enough people for two full cricket teams plus umpires and a match adjudicator, although getting them all together in one place is next to impossible. So this new group was full of chatter about destinations, activities, etc. That's when I knew this was going to happen and won't be a "Let's go to Goa" trip. Of which we've had many, like any other set of boys!

Scene 2: Sunday, two weeks later, at a different bar in West Bangalore
(we tend to hop all over the city, always in search of new places and new experiences)

After some heated discussions on such disparate places that includes dragon watching at Komodo (my idea obviously!), Vietnam and the Angkor Wat, etc. all within four or five hours flying time from Bangalore...

One: Sri Lanka? What will we do there for a week? Three days is enough, four at the most!
Two: Guru, it is a country, not one city like Singapore or Dubai. How can you see a whole country in four days?
Three: But what is there apart from beaches? We've seen enough of that!
Me: There is a national park there no? Where we can spot some leopards? (my wildlife interest rears its head)
One: You and your leopards! Go to Kabini if you want to see leopards.
Me: But these are foreign leopards! They will be different.
One: Oh just stop!
Two: This is the list of places we can see in SL
One: So much to see? Will one week be enough?
Two: Ha, I told you so!
Three: OK, OK, no need to rub it in.!
Me: Leopards?
Two: Go away, no leopards this trip.
Me: Oh OK, sacrifices!
Two: So it is decided then?
All: Sri Lanka, here we come!

Our wives were pretty understanding about the whole thing, although the kids thought we were deserting them and going off to enjoy all by ourselves. They wanted to accompany us too. This was actually the very first time we were going without them in tow. How do you tell them that we are actually more excited at that prospect than the actual trip itself? So we paid some lip service to how we would all miss them and we will definitely go somewehere else together later. Ah, the things we promise over which we have very little control! There will be some form of penalty at some stage for all of us, I'm sure, but for now we were good to go. We have a common travel agency who usually plans and books all our family holidays and they know our needs and tastes quite well by now. Informed them about the dates and their rep came up with a tentative schedule. After some fine tuning, inclusions, deletions and other such changes, the trip was booked.

Then started the wait. As always, the closer the departure date comes, the more hectic things get in the office. People started looking at me like "How can you leave at a time like this?" They didn't actually say it out loud but there were enough meaningful looks sent my way. There is always some crisis or the other that can be handled only by you and if you go away for such a long time, customers will desert en masse, team members will form a weed smoking cult and assorted suicides might result. But hey, this was planned well in advance, enough notice had been given in the office to everyone concerned, etc., etc., so those looks and unstated threats weren't too effective. The departure date arrived and the party started at the airport.

The mandatory groupfie at the start of the trip. That's me taking the groupfie, with Pradeep ("One" in the conversation above) on my left and Suresh ("Two" above) opposite. Of course, the other three who dropped out had also stayed up late and were consoling themselves by sending "Wish we were coming too" messages on the WhatsApp group. Surprisingly, there was no long queue at passport control, unlike most other days. We breezed through and boarded the flight. Slept all the way to Colombo, which was all of 80 minutes. Faster than going to Mumbai from Bangalore. We landed in Colombo at 4:45 AM.

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The Bandaranaike International Airport at Colombo is pretty much run of the mill, as international airports go. Nothing spectacular and no inconveniences either. The queue at Immigration was long, but was moving quite quickly. One advantage we had was that our visas were already with us, having gotten them online from the Sri Lankan Embassy website. Not having this will mean first you stand in queue for the visa on arrival and then get in another queue for immigration. Both of which were fairly long, with a quite a number of flights arriving within the same time frame.

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Passport stamped, luggage collected, we headed out to the arrival hall where there was a guy holding a placard with our names on it. Actually, all of us were too sleepy to spot him and we had to walk back down the line to see our names. Being partially visible behind an absolute forest of receivers frantically waving placards of all sizes didn't help much either. He introduced himself as Ishan, we headed out to the parking lot and he took us to the car. He proudly informed us that this was a brand new car with only about 1000 kms on the odo and we were the first group to driven around in it. I didn't notice that it was a hybrid until he started pulling out of the car park. There was absolutely no sound at all! That woke me up in a hurry. I looked at Ishan and he smiled and said "Hybrid!". I immediately thought that I should put up a mini review on T-BHP and told him I want a photoshoot of the car. He said there are much more scenic places on the way and we could stop there if I wanted (see Day Five below for the said scenic place and photoshoot). My companions were already asleep again in the back seat and I was feeling sleepy too, so I left it at that.

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Our itinerary specified that we travel from Colombo straight to Dambulla, a distance of about 170 kms. On the way, we stopped just outside Colombo on the highway at around 7:15 AM to have breakfast at a very nice place. I was so sleepy that I don't remember the name of the place, except that everything was white, the walls, the floor, the tables, the chairs, the napkins, the plates, the waiters' uniforms and even the pots in which there were plants. Big place too, with a giant car park under a lot of trees. There was an in-house musician too, playing very soulful morning raagas on his flute.

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If anyone can name this white place, let me know. We used the facilities, brushed, washed and ate a quick breakfast, all of us just wanted to get back in the car and sleep. After about 90 minutes of total oblivion, Ishan woke us up at our first stop.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Established back in 1975 by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation, this place is famous for the care and protection of the many orphaned or abandoned wild elephant babies found wandering in the forests. Some of them are even brought in from other countries. There are now more than 90 elephants here. It is based in a large 25 acre area on the road to Kandy from Colombo.

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I will be posting the maps in two forms. A closeup view of the route and a zoomed out view, showing the route on the country map.

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The feeding of baby elephants attracts a large crowd, you can even pay and feed the babies yourself.

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Of course, there is the obligatory Curio shop where you can purchase trinkets.

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A notice at the reception warns tourists not to listen to "outsiders" who may want to direct them to other places. Nobody approached us, in any case.

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The daily schedule for the elephants are clearly listed, just in case the elephants have other ideas. They are expected to follow this strict schedule, without any cribbing or moaning about monotony.

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The event of great interest here is the bathing time, when the elephants are herded out of the orphanage and into the Maha Oya river across the highway. Traffic is stopped on the highway at this time and the elephants get right of way.

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In the river, they are given a shower from a giant pump and left to enjoy themselves in the river. Which they do, to their heart's content.

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As you can see, there is quite a crowd to see this event. If any of you noticed it, Virat Kohli had tweeted a photo from the hotel balcony you see on the top right. That was a few days after our visit. Somehow the Indian cricket team's schedule and ours didn't coincide at any place, although we were both in the country at the same time.

We moved on from there at about 9:30 AM and our destination was Sigiriya.

Sigiriya
Sigiriya (pronounced See-gi-ri-ya) is near the town of Dambulla, in the Central Province. It literally means Lion Rock, for reasons made clear below.

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Sigiriya is a rock left over from an ancient extinct volcano. It is famous for its rock frescoes, of which you can't take any photos now, but there are enough out there to give you an idea of what they look like. There is a ruined palace at the top, with a royal bedroom at the very top.

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The rock rises up suddenly from the plains, like a lone sentinel. There is nothing else around it, just plain land. We would be climbing to the top of this fellow next day.

We had a great lunch at a small almost nameless road side restaurant run by a lady and her son, just a few hundred metres from the resort we were heading for. The food was really good. In fact it was so good, that we returned there the next afternoon too, skipping lunch at the resort which was included in the package. Unfortunately, this small place didn't have any name that I can recollect and was just one among a line of such places along the road. Our driver, Ishan, took us there and said food is very good here, better than at the resort. Boy, was he right!

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A lot of people who have eaten here have left small messages of thanks and appreciation all over the walls. Reading thru them, I found mainly European messages in German, Dutch and French. Very few Indian ones, so we wrote one in Kannada our native toungue.

After the heavy and sumptuous lunch we checked in to the Fresco Water Villa resort, about 2 kms from the rock. Nice place to relax, so we went straight to sleep in the afternoon and woke up reasonably refreshed around 5 PM.

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The evening was spent looking around Dambulla and visiting a couple of bars to get an idea of the local nightlife. Nothing much. It is a sweet small sleepy little town, nothing like big bustling Colombo. It is here that I first noticed the predominance of hybrid cars. It is the case across the country, as we saw in Kandy, Galle, Mirissa and of course, Colombo.

Last edited by Aditya : 24th February 2019 at 07:54. Reason: Rule #11
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Old 22nd February 2019, 17:41   #2
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Day Two
Climbing Sigiriya
1300 steps going up and the same (duh!) coming down. I was actually dreading this climb, since I have never been much of a climber. I prefer to take the ropeway or chair lift or whatever is generally available. This place has none of them. It is either climb the stairs or stay down below. My two companions were eager to get going, so after a light breakfast and a quick five minute drive, we started.

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As we went higher and higher, the view started becoming more and more spectacular.

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About 30 minutes later, we made it to the base of the top. This is the lion's feet and we took a quick break to rest our already hurting knees. It is said that the lion's head was also originally sculpted, but collapsed later. That would have been a sight to behold. All that is left now are these feet.

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Oh look at that! Still so many steps to go! And steep too! At this time, the security staff there told us that there was a wasp attack at the top and we would have to wait until they clear out. Bliss! A legitimate reason to delay! About 30 minutes later, the climb started again.

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Finally, we made it to the top. I was pleasantly surprised that I was not too much out of breath, but we still took a few minutes breather before resuming our explorations. This is the remains of the Royal Bedroom at the very top I was talking about. What a view from here, what a location to enjoy romantic dalliances!

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We got our photo taken by an obliging co-tourist, me in the middle, Pradeep on the left, Suresh on the right. That small white thingy that you see in the background is itself a giant standing Buddha statue way down below. We planned to visit it on the way back to the resort, but somehow it didn't materialize.

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That last was taken by a pretty girl from New Zealand, in an exchange offer for taking her photo with her companion!

There was a little alcove next to the one with the railing, where I couldn't resist putting on a Yoga posture, to go with my T-shirt.

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One final panorama shot at the top and we were climbing down again.

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In case you are wondering, almost all photos above were taken with a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens mounted on my trusty Nikon D7200. That lens is really good at what it does, which is taking ultra wide photos. There is a bit of corner softness if you are pixel peeping. For example, in that photo taken by the New Zealand girl, I'm looking quite soft (my image I mean, not me myself!) which could also be because I was really close to the camera. The location was pretty cramped, there was hardly any space for the three of us to stand. See below, you can also see the girl and her companion.

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Any other "normal" (i.e., not ultra wide angle) lens wouldn't even have covered all three of us at all. And the coverage is also lesser because my D7200 is a crop body camera. On a full frame body, the coverage at 11 mm would be even wider, in fact wide enough to distort the image quite a bit! But this lens is DX only, so on a FF camera it would show a big black circle around the frame. You can tell I'm deeply into photography, right?

After climbing down, we had lunch at that place we visited the previous day. The food was as good and the hospitality was something you will get at your favourite aunt's place.

Dambulla Cave Temple a.k.a. Golden Buddha Temple
After sleeping off the heavy lunch, we woke up refreshed in the evening and headed over to the Dambulla Cave Temple, which is also known as the Golden Buddha Temple. There was a climb of about two hundred steps and our first reaction was "Groannn!! Another climb? Not again!" but then we conferred and decied that having come this far, it would be stupid to go back after having a good look at only the parking lot. So we somehow managed it.

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This temple is carved into the big rock and houses a large sleeping gold coloured Buddha. Shorts or skirts ending above the knees are not allowed and you will have to purchase a lungi for around 250 LKR at the entrance. Fortunately all three of us were wearing bermudas so there was no problem. You can see several tourists wearing the lungis, even the ladies.

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Photography is not allowed inside the temple, which has a lot of statues and paintings. I didn't notice any sign saying so and was happily clicking away when a security guard came around and asked me to delete the photos from the camera. I apologized and deleted almost all of them. I asked him whether I could keep this one and he consented.

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On our way out from the temple and getting down to the parking lot, a beautiful scene presented itself and I don't need second invitations in such situations.

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We returned to the resort, our knees singing all kinds of songs.

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Old 22nd February 2019, 17:51   #3
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Day Three
Driving to Kandy

Our first program for the day was the drive down to Kandy from Dambulla.

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The distance isn't much, just under 90 kms, but the scenery along the way is simply awesome. We had a half hearted plan to visit Nuwara Eliya but decided to give it a miss, since we didn't have enough time and it wasn't in our itinerary anyway. It is supposed to be very beautiful and is in the heart of tea country. If and when we visit Sri Lanka again, this will be definite stop over.

The highways in Sri Lanka are mostly two lane affairs, except for one notable exception. Traffic for the most part is self regulated and pretty well behaved, with minimal honking, rash driving or rude behaviour. Being our next door neighbours and coming from the same basic stock, I'm pleasantly surprised at the traffic sense on display here. Why can't we be like this? It is not like they are a western country where honking and rudeness is frowned upon.

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On the way to Kandy, we stopped over at a Spice Garden of which there are several. I'm sure the drivers get tips to take their guests to one or the other of them and it is like a mandatory thing, since Ayurveda is big in Sri Lanka. Here we were shown the various processes of growing and extracting medicinal herbs for various ailments. At the end of it all, the mandatory visit to the shop where we purchased a few items that caught our eye.

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Moving on from there, we stopped at the Aluviharaya Rock Temple which is just off the highway. We took one look the climb, said "Thank you", satisfied with a view from my 300mm lens, refreshed ourselves with some tender cononuts opposite the temple and resumed our way.

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We reached Kandy by 2PM having started from Dambulla at a leisurely 10:30 AM after a late breakfast. We were booked into the Randholee Luxury Resort. https://www.randholeeresorts.com/ This is a small but lovely resort located way above Kandy town, with great views from the rooms.

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Ishan wanted me to take a nice portrait of him and I obliged. It was pretty overcast and the background was a dull grey, so I thought a high key look would be better and overexposed a bit.

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A look at Kandy
We went down to the town after lunch and were walking the streets, taking in the atmosphere as it were. Kandy is not very crowded, but some roads were full of traffic and shops. This part of the town looks like the business district and was densely populated with shops and vehicles. We could have been in any South Indian town. Except for the red coloured auto rickshaws and the registration plates, there is nothing much to give away that we are in Kandy.

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This building is full of lawyers and it looks like it might collapse any day!

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There is also a small lake in the middle of the town, with some hotels and apartments overlooking it.

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It was getting on towards dusk, so we walked back to the car, changed from shorts to jeans and headed over to the famed Temple of the Tooth.

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The Temple of the Tooth
The Sri Lankan name for this is Sri Dalada Maligawa and it is almost 500 years old. It is said that after Gautama Buddha attained nirvana, a tooth was smuggled to the island by a princess and enshrined in the city of Anuradhapura. It was later shifted to Kandy around 1600 AD. Surprisingly, there is no restriction on photography even inside the temple, except at the very centre where the tooth relic itself is kept. But I had assumed that cameras won't be allowed, so I had left mine at the resort. I had to make do with taking photos on my iPhone, which is quite good but not so much in low light conditions.

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These two are the main corridors leading to the tooth relic itself.

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The incense burning stand says "Made in China"! Those guys and their products are simply everywhere.

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We also lit a diya at the mantap. This seems to be very popular, there were many locals and tourists lining up for a chance to light one here.

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We returned to the resort and a surprise awaited us!
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Old 22nd February 2019, 17:53   #4
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Birthday celebrations in Sri Lanka

It seems Anthoney, our travel co-ordinator in Bangalore, had informed the Randholee resort people of the reason for our trip and they cooked up a small pastry for us. We walked in to dinner and were greeted by a set of three musicians singing "Happy birthday to you..."! We were really surprised, but of course very happy!

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I won't go so far as to say it was the best birthday I've ever had, but it was certainly right up there in the rankings. Especially when all the other guests in the dining room (mostly Europeans, one other Indian family) stood up and sang along with the musicians! Thank you, Randholee, thank you, co-tourists and thank you, Anthoney.
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Old 22nd February 2019, 18:15   #5
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Day Four
Peradeniya Botanical Gardens

We woke up still glowing from last evening's surprise party. Nothing like a fresh cup of coffee (or tea if you prefer, I'm a coffee person myself) to wake you up in the morning, no matter what your excesses during the night before. And with a view like this from where to savour the cuppa, what more can you ask for?

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Today our schedule was for us to visit the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya. For those from Bangalore, the Peradeniya (147 acres) is quite a bit smaller than our own Lal Bagh (240 acres). But it is way older, having originally laid out back in 1371. As usual, the British desttoyed it during an invasion and then another Britisher resurrected it back in 1821. It is very famous for its Orchids garden. It is also very clean unlike Lal Bagh and charges a bomb for entry (LKR 1500 per person per day - about INR 650, free at Lal Bagh).

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They have electric carts here, for the elderly and the lazy, to go from one point of interest to the other. Hop on hop off service at no extra charge.

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I liked the rest room facilities here. Very well maintained.

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Some more photos from the place.

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They have a very large open lawn area. It is so big that even at 11mm I wasn't able to capture it in its entirety.

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An interesting event occurred when we were walking around. All of a sudden, there were a lot of squeaking noises and hundreds of bats took to the air. We couldn't find any reason why they should be doing this, since being bats, they are not active during the day. After a minute or so, we heard a very loud crack not far away from us and a huge rushing noise. We went closer to the sound and we found a very large tree falling down! It was fenced off by the park authorities, so I think they knew this was going to happen. But how did the bats know before the event? Maybe there were tremors that we couldn't see or feel. Who knows? Such is nature.

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We went to a cultural show in the evening, with nothing else to do. This cultural show is part of the usual tourist trap of taking you to a large jewellery or antique shop, where you are free to roam around and buy (or not) whatever you feel like. The cultural show was free and we had time to kill, so we went. It was reasonably good, although we couldn't relate to the stories the dancers were enacting. Good visual spectacle though.

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After this, we returned to the resort and turned in.
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Old 22nd February 2019, 19:46   #6
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Default Nine days of Sri Lanka in a Honda Shuttle Hybrid

Day Five
A goodbye and the drive to Beruwala

One of us, Suresh, was returning to India today as he couldn't get an additional three days leave. So we had to drop him off at the Bandaranaike International Airport and then our schedule took us to the southern resort town of Beruwala.

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The drive from Kandy to Colombo is very beautiful, coming down from the mountains. We took the opportunity to visit a tea factory and purchase some Sri Lankan tea. I'm not a tea drinker at all (as I think I said above), but both my friends are. So the stop was considered mandatory. I have been to tea factories before and this one was pretty much the same.

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After our purchases, we resume the drive to the airport. On the way, I found this very nice mini tunnel retaining the natural rock formation. Good that they didn't blow the rock up completely for the road. It looks small, but is quite large enough for a bus.

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Some distance later, the view was very good so we stopped for some photos.

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I also found this curious fellow, who (to me) resembles the current American President very much. No offence to anyone, but that hairdo is very very same same.

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I also took the opportunity to do a photo shoot our Honda Shuttle car. In fact, Ishan wanted me to take some good pictures of the car so that he could show it off to his friends and relatives. I obliged.

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I later sent these images to Ishan via WhatsApp and he replied "Funtatics!" (his spelling, not mine) The car is very comfortable for four people and luggage space is quite large. We had one medium suitcase each (boys travel light don't they?) plus assorted back packs and all were comfortably accommodated. Being a hybrid, it is very quiet inside, especially with the windows rolled up cutting off almost all street noises. I did take some interior photos, which is well appointed and quite spacious, but for some reason they seem to have been deleted from my camera. I guess while cleaning up photos during the tour, I must have accidentally deleted some of them. So I had to retake them on my iPhone at a different location at a later date, when I had noticed that the photos on the camera were missing.

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I have no idea why the display is showing Japanese characters, I asked Ishan but he didn't know too. He said the car is too new and the language setting hasn't been changed. Maybe he didn't know where to change it!

We reached the airport and Suresh took leave with a slightly envious look on his face. We said goodbye to him and resumed our journey to Beruwala after a brief stopover for a light lunch. There is a bypass for Colombo, so we didn't enter the city at all. We then entered the E01 Southern Expressway, from the airport to Matara town way down south.

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The signage on this road is international quality, very legible, very clear and in three languages (Sinhalese, Tamil and English). There are also intermediate distance markers between one KM post and another at every hundred meters. This helps emergency vehicles reach the spot very accurately.

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We see the said "Service Area" and take the turn off for a cup of tea (coffee for me).

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The service area was pretty empty, it being around 3:30 PM.

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By around 5:30 PM, we checked in to The Palms resort outside Beruwala town. This resort is right on the beach and has excellent facilities for the comfort conscious traveller. I can highly recommend this one.

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Thus ended Day Five. Of course, we had dinner before ending the day.

Last edited by Aditya : 24th February 2019 at 07:52. Reason: Rule #11
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Old 22nd February 2019, 19:51   #7
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Default Re: Nine days of Sri Lanka in a Honda Shuttle Hybrid

Day Six
A lake, turtles and the beach

There is a lake called Maduganaga, near a town called Balapitiya which is a short drive from the resort. The drive itself is almost parallel to the beach with very nice views all along the way.

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We went on a boat trip on the lake, which is very beautiful and almost mirror flat. We also visited a temple on an island in the middle of the lake, the Madhuwa Maha Viharya Temple, no photos though.

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There was a tender coconut shop on the water, where we stopped and had some very refreshing tender coconuts. The sun was up high and it was quite hot, especially in those safety jackets.

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Some more from the lake.

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We then visited a Fish Spa and had a brilliant time being nibbled by hundreds of small fishes. You just have to put your feet into the water and they will swarm all around. It feels like tiny kisses and tickles a lot. I had never been to one in all my travels, so this was a fun experience.

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On the way back, we went into a turtle hatchery run by some passionate and highly knowledgeable locals. These dedicated people rescue turtles caught in fishing nets and other junk thrown in to the sea. They also rear baby turtles and then release them into the sea once they are old enough to fend for themselves. They have no source of income apart from the entrance fee paid by the tourists, which isn't much, about 250 LKR per person (about 100 INR). And there are quite a few of these hatcheries along this stretch of road.

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These turtles are heavy! I could barely hold one up for long enough to get the photo. By the looks of it, Pradeep was struggling too!

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We returned to the resort and the spent the rest of the day roaming the beach.

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It started getting very gloomy towards evening and rained quite heavily for a long time, so we were confined indoors.
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Old 22nd February 2019, 20:05   #8
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Default Nine days of Sri Lanka in a Honda Shuttle Hybrid

Day Seven
Mirissa, whale watching and Galle

We were going whale watching today! For me, this was the highlight of the whole trip. I was looking forward to this ever since Anthoney said there is a whale watching point at the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Of course, I told him to ensure it was worked into the itinerary at any cost. This happens in the sea town of Mirissa, which is more a large village than town. It is about 100 kms from Beruwala, so we took the E01 Southern Expressway again to get there faster.

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We started early at around 5:00 AM and reached Mirissa by 6:15 AM. The Honda Shuttle has a decent turn of speed on the highway. While it is not going to win any accelaration contests, I found its highway performance quite good. It had no problems reaching and maintaining a speed of about 120 kmph. However, instant accelaration is an issue and one has to be careful while planning overtaking maneouvres.

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Mirissa harbour is a very crowded place, with almost all boats engaged in the whale watching business. Ishan told us that this is the season and the whales have come off shore. Otherwise the harbour is usually populated with fishing boats.

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By around 6:30 AM we were shown to our boat and we boarded it in anticipation. Here I came across a serious discrimination issue. The boat has two tiers and obviously the upper tier is the better one for sighting. For whatever reason, the best seats in the boat were exlusively allotted to Europeans and Americans (basically whites). Even the other Asians like Chinese and Japanese were not allowed there! There were a lot of empty seats in the boat and there were no seat numbers on our tickets, so when we climbed up sat on a couple of seats with a good view, along came a lungi clad bugger and asked us to get up and sit in the lower tier. When we asked why, he said it was pre-booked. So we asked him to show proof of this and obviously, there wasn't any. While all this was happening, some Europeans (Germans going by what they were speaking) boarded and were shown to seats. I asked them outright if they had pre-booked the seats and they said no. We had a loud argument with the lungi guy, but to no avail. We were asked to sit in the lower tier or get off the boat. We decided to get off and go find another boat. We did get another one but by the time we boarded all the upper tier seats were taken and only middle row seats were left in the lower tier. This was the only time I felt bad during the whole Sri Lanka holiday and it kind of spoilt the entire whale watching trip for me.

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At around 6:50 AM we set sail.

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Just a few kms into the sea and we came across this weather front. In a scene almost directly lifted from a Hollywood special effects thriller, the rain struck.

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I call this photo "We are going in". Like some pre-disaster announcement made by a movie hero to his land based control center. The above photo was taken with my iPhone 7. By comparison, the photo below was taken with my Nikon D7200. Both were post processed in Photoshop CC.

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As you can see, there is a lot more detail in the DSLR photo which is to be expected. However, the iPhone is no slouch! In fact I prefer the iPhone photo since there is some element of extra drama to it.

We also came across this gigantic container ship ploughing its way serenely in very choppy seas. This giant ship was also being literally thrown up and down. I wonder how the containers stay in place in the face of such storms.

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The rain slacked off after a while, but by that time we were thoroughly drenched. In fact so much that I thought my DSLR was a goner. I couldn't take it out for any kind of photography at all.

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Needless to say, there were people vomiting all over the place. I'm somehow not affected by this at all. It is not the first time I've been tossed about on a boat like this, but it hasn't affected me so far. Touch wood. As suddenly as the rains came, they disappeared leaving a reasonably calm sea behind.

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We did have some good whale sightings, once with a mother and calf blowing air. But since my camera was bundled up in my bag, there are no photos of them. This Google Map marker shows how far into the sea we had gone. Looks like about 10-12 kms off shore.

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Surprisingly I had good connectivity on my iPhone even that far out into the sea, as can be seen from the signal strength indicator. I even had 3G connectivity.

We returned to the pier by around 9:30 AM and started driving back to the resort. Ishan asked if we were OK with him taking a different route, hugging the coast line all the way back and even visiting his home along the way. We were fine with that as we had nothing else planned for the day.

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There is a spot between Mirissa and Galle city where there is an airport on the right, a railway line between the road and the airport and the sea on the left of the road. Ishan says this is the only place in the world where one can see such a sight. I'm not sure if that is true, but it was certainly unique. However, it started raining heavily again when we reached that spot and this photo sums it up.

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Once you get off the main road, it becomes really narrow. Strictly one vehicle width, with some deft maneouvres required to let vehicles pass each other.

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We made a quick visit to Unawatuna beach on the way. The rain had stopped by that time, but the beach was still fairly empty although it was around 11:15 AM.

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There is something slightly wrong with this map, since it doesn't match with the Google Maps version at all. The places have shifted somewhat to the right.

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I also found this curiously named place near Unawatuna beach. Looks like the owner couldn't think of a proper name and decided it would be called "No Name"!

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We then arrived at Galle city and visited the famous Fort there. This fort was built by the Portuguese in late 16th century and even today looks very solid and strongly built.

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From the Fort, one can see the Galle cricket stadium. In fact, the spot at which I was standing is where there is usually a broadcaster's camera to show a long view. As I mentioned earlier, the Indian cricket team was in Sri Lanka at the same time, but their schedule was different from ours.

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It was threatening to rain again, so we left the place around lunch time.

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From Galle, Ishan took us to his house deep in the countryside. Access to his house is not easy and I was surprised at the way the car handled the steep roads and sharp turns. There is no road to speak of at all.

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His parents welcomed us with some wonderful tea and biscuits. They asked if we had had lunch and we said Yes. It would have been good to eat with such humble and genuinely friendly people. I told Ishan he should have taken us for lunch at his home, he said he was not sure whether we would like eating there, so he didn't want to suggest it. We said we would have been honoured to eat at their house and promised to do that if and when there is a next time.

After talking about various things, including the on-going cricket series with his dad who was envious about the talented players in the Indian team, we took our leave from these wonderful people. Such people are the heart and soul of any country. Salt of the Earth, so to speak. My salutations to them and may they live long.

We returned to the resort around 4:00 PM and stayed there for the evening, enjoying the beach and some long walks.

Last edited by navin : 23rd February 2019 at 11:06. Reason: typo
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Old 22nd February 2019, 20:13   #9
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Default Nine days of Sri Lanka in a Honda Shuttle Hybrid

Day Eight
Colombo

We checked out early, by around 5:00 AM and started the drive back to Colombo. The plan was to check in to our hotel and then leave for some city sightseeing.

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Guess what? It was raining again!

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Sights such as this are pretty common in Sri Lanka. I mean the looming Stupa in the background, not the car in the foreground.

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On the outskirts of Colombo, I spotted a Swift RS. This variant of the car is not available in India at all, so this must be a direct import from Suzuki Japan. The one and only such I found during our nine days.

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Our hotel, The Ocean Edge, is located on Marine Drive in Colombo. It is visible in the distance in this photo, the second farthest building. It is more an upscale service apartment with a restaurant attached.

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We checked in and got a sea facing suite. This is the view we had from the room.

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We had a light brunch and headed out to see Colombo. It is a very clean city and the traffic is highly organized. No crossing of double lines, no unnecessary honking, signals are sacrosanct, etc. We have a lot to learn from our neighbours.

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We first visited the Gangaramaya Viharaya. This is a huge Buddha temple in the heart of Colombo, built in the 19th Century. There is a centre for Buddhist studies inside, as well as a large collection of antiques of all types like old watches, cameras, music players, etc. It is more like a museum than a temple. Surprisingly, photography is allowed inside.

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This is the Old Parliament Building. It housed the Sri Lankan parliament until 1983, when the new one was built. It is now the President's office. Obviously, we were not allowed inside for security reasons.

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This is the Colombo Municipal Council building, a beautiful white structure surrounded by wide lawns.

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The Independence Memorial Hall, built to commemorate the independence of Sri Lanka from British rule in 1948.

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I have forgotten the name of this large public auditorium. There was an exhibition of the life and times of the then Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremasinghe, going on inside with displays of photos and videos of the President. Self-aggrandisement, basically.

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We went shopping in the local flea market. Bargains galore to be had here and one should be prepared to bargain like crazy. If the shopkeeper says 500, offer him 100. Like that. Even though it is very crowded, it is still a very clean place. I seem to be repeating myself, clean clean. But Colombo is like that and I'm continually surprised.

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We roamed some more, visited a mall (no different from those back home), tasted some local food (Veg) and returned to our hotel late in the evening. Ishan took us out for dinner (his treat) at a place which can only be described as a roadside cafe-cum-bar. The food was awesome, even if there was very little choice of veg dishes. Trust the locals to find the best places to eat.
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Old 22nd February 2019, 20:19   #10
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Default Nine days of Sri Lanka in a Honda Shuttle Hybrid

Day Nine
Return to Bangalore

Eight days had flown by very very quickly. We had nothing to do on the last day, except ensure our expense accounts were tallying. Pradeep was diligently working on it every night, so there wasn't much to do.

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After this, we went out for a long walk on the Marine Drive. I was waiting for a train to pass by so that I could get some good photos with the sea in the background.

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After some time, I handed over my camera to Pradeep who was walking ahead. Along comes a slow train and what is Pradeep doing? Walking with his head down, listening to music on his headphones! I was some distance behind, yelling at him to take photos, but he just didn't hear me. So I had to make do with my trusty iPhone and I got this.

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Finally, after the engine has passed me, Pradeep noticed and took a photo of me taking photo of the train!

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We spotted a stretch Hummer during our walk.

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It was a Sunday, so the streets were quite empty.

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Back at the hotel, we spotted a Hummer in the parking lot too. The normal sized one, that is.

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I even spotted a BMW 7 Series with Active Hybrid in the parking lot!

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After a leisurely lunch and a long afternoon nap, we packed our bags and were dropped off at the airport by Ishan.

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We said our goodbyes, became Facebook friends and took leave of him and his lovely little country.

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It was a great trip and I'm sure I'll be back someday with my family. There are still lots more to see, we didn't go to the east coast at all and skipped the north entirely. But we definitely had a wonderful time by ourselves without wives and kids and the logistic issues they bring along with them. This is one "Boys only Goa trip" that really happened!
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Old 22nd February 2019, 20:32   #11
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Default Nine days of Sri Lanka in a Honda Shuttle Hybrid

A note on the planning and costs

Since we had a travel agent do the booking for us for everything including the flight tickets, there was nothing we had to book or plan for ourselves. It was all taken care of and we just had to transfer the amount to the agent. The total cost of the trip was approximately INR 70,000/- per person including airfare. We might have spent about an additional INR 5,000/- each on various things like lunch, snacks and some minor shopping. When the ladies are not around, shopping is at the bottom of the list! We also handed over Ishan INR 8,000/- as a token of our appreciation and for being such a wonderful driver and companion. So all put together, it was about INR 83,000/- per person. Of course, Suresh had a smaller expense as he wasn't with us for the last three days. We stayed at 4 star resorts everywhere, as we are all used to the creature comforts and wouldn't like to be without them for long. This works out to about INR 9,000/- per person per day, which I feel is a reasonable amount to spend on an international holiday with friends.

This travelogue has been about 18 months in the making, but it is finally up here. Obviously, I didn't type this all up in one sitting. That would have been impossible. It was compiled over the course of several months in bits and pieces, with inputs from both Suresh and Pradeep. Sometimes, the sequence of things we did gets muddled up in the memory especially after a long time has passed and you have to rely on the photo numbering and other co-travelers.

Hope you enjoyed the travelogue and the photos, as much as we enjoyed the place. Until next time then, bye and drive safe.

Last edited by Aditya : 24th February 2019 at 07:52. Reason: Rule #11
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Old 23rd February 2019, 07:04   #12
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 23rd February 2019, 08:03   #13
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Beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Totally loved your "We are going in" pic!

Some older, ex-colleagues who are from Srilanka have invited us to their home and country. Hopefully someday...
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Old 23rd February 2019, 08:50   #14
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Thank you for sharing your experiences and those lovely photos. It must have required a lot of effort to put up a long travelouge like this. Sri Lanka is a neat & clean country relative to us despite a similar per capita and culture. I think a un-Swachh Bharat is in our blood.
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Old 23rd February 2019, 10:32   #15
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Beautiful thread with excellent pics. Thanks for sharing your holiday experiences.
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