Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ayubowan from Sri Lanka: The Tale of Two Broke and Bored Girls

Me and my friend on our first adventure bus ride. Traversing from Colombo to Kandy, we were standing almost the entire
trip for three hours. The man behind us was kind enough to inform us of this bus going straight to Kandy. 
It all started with a postcard, when my friend, who was doing volunteer work in Sri Lanka last year til the end of March this year sent me a postcard. Three tea pickers smiled back at me with lush mountains covered with tea plants as their backdrop. Things my friend said in the letter like "for a relatively small country, there's a lot to see" got me excited. And a few months after that, I booked flights to Sri Lanka. My friend, Fara, who's traveling is a part of her MA thesis decided to go also. 

I must say, we found serendipity in Sri Lanka. In a lot of ways, we were serendipitous with the place, the people, the customs, and the general experiences we've had as our journey unfolded. Truly, it was a country with so many to offer for a lesser time. 

A bath with Rani. Pinnawala. Our mahout was communicating with Rani using signals with his stick that we didn't understand. The next thing
we knew, water was splashed at us to Rani's heart's content.

Evil masks for good. One of the performers at a traditional show in Kandy wearing an evil mask. Contrary to what you would think, this evil mask is used for driving out bad luck.

Poop power! Our guide, without any hesitation, scooped a block of elephant poop to demonstrate the difference between a dung coming from an adult elephant and from a baby elephant. Elephant dung is rich in fiber, hence, a good component for making recycled paper. He's holding the one from a baby elephant by the way. :)

World's End. Thousands of feet below, this is the first view deck of the mountain they call World's End. Trekking the grasslands and mountains of 5 kms to reach here was literally breathtaking.  
Tea farmer. Early morning in Laboukelle, Nuwara Eliya, a farmer picks tea leaves ready for the long process of making dried tea leaves. 

Where to? After the grueling bus ride from Colombo to Kandy, the Asians whom we met on the bus, gathered, us included, and invited each other for a late lunch. We were a group of two Filipinos, two Koreans, and one Malaysian. We mentioned aiming Burmese Rest temple as our place to stay, and the Koreans who didn't have any place to rest yet went with us. This is us asking for directions from the police.

Deer oh deer! On our way back to the main road after trekking World's End in Horton Plains, a wild deer which seemed fresh from its spring bath, walked leisurely on the road. Tourists went off their vehicles to take pictures of him, then our driver said we could feed him with the chips we had. I was mixed with hesitation and excitement to touch it because he was so big and the horns looked powerful. One tourist said they're tamed animals, so fighting off my fear, I reached my fingers with spicy cassava chips towards it and it licked the chips mildly and happily. It was bliss!

Field trip. Just like these kids, we were on a rainy but very educational trip in Polonnaruwa. One of the oldest cities in Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa boasts of ancient and some ruined structures of temples and Buddhas. Here is one of them, a white stupa surrounded with bricked containment, a few meters from each other, for Buddha statues. 

Change of plans. Paying a visit to a museum is always good. While in the Sigiriya museum, we passed by a shop with posters of
sights to see around Sri Lanka. One poster caught my attention, a picture of a Buddha statue so colossal in size with a person/viewer just about the height of the Buddha's feet. We asked this lady at the museum where it can be found, and it was in Polonnaruwa. We got excited and thought of changing our course from Annuradhapura to Polonnaruwa instead. Here, the lady was helping us to locate it in the map. 
Hello Colombo. Our last stop, we arrived by train at about 5 am.

Old is gold. A call was received that the next train (our train) is coming in a few minutes, while a man prepared to push a button to beacon for preparation. This train station in Polonnaruwa is a gem! the 1950's European utilities we thought were just for display actually still worked as this man suddenly hurried and used this equipment. The man on the phone then did a quick tour for us on their humble office and showed us how things work.

In trance. Wandering  the ruins of Polonnaruwa left us in trance, and in an amazing discovery that unfolded slowly. There were some things we didn't understand, and that was an essential part of it I guess as spectators. 

Don't eat our lunch! We brought bananas for lunch to Sigiriya and tied the plastic bag in my backpack. And as we were walking in the compound to the museum, I felt something heavy in my bag and a monkey suddenly pulled the plastic bag , broke it, and ran to the nearest tree with our bananas. It happened so fast that all I did was squeak and watch!

Serenity. Standing on a castle built at the top of a rock that's 200 meters above ground was worth the long walk and trek.  The sun became tolerable at the top as the wind was really fresh and you could see how vast their forest is.

Sleeping Buddha. A one of a kind, our reason why we changed our plans and went here in Polonnaruwa.  Looking at this colossal statue with it's blissful face was contagious, a worthy effort to walk kilometers in rain and mud.
I will tell the details of each town we visited soon. :) 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ayubowan from Sri Lanka!

It all started with a postcard.

That surprisingly in good condition postcard all the way from Sri Lanka, that "for a relatively small country..." message, that picture of tea pluckers in a luscious mountain background, created in my mind the idea of heading to Sri Lanka as soon as I can. My friend perfectly knew how to convince me; not facebook statuses or photo albums on social media, but a basic postcard. Diane, my friend, they were right for putting you on that tourism related job. Hehe.

After more than a year of not going anywhere, I booked a flight to Colombo. Together with my friend, we prepared ourselves for this trip (or so we thought we were). The moment the all-smiling immigration officer winked at me when we arrived in Colombo, I knew this would be an interesting trip. And in less than an hour, we were in one hell of a bus ride with very interesting customs among locals :)

I couldn't wait to share them. :)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A different India: Tamed Kolkata

A year ago from 3rd week of September to October, I went on a solo travel to India for my birthday. Some say I was crazy. It was crazy! But unforgettable for sure. From Delhi, then last stop to Kolkata. First impression was that it was more modern and much more organized. Maybe it was because of the buildings, maybe drivers were following traffic lights. On my second day, I was asking myself, "Where are the cows?" I got so used to seeing them roaming anywhere, pooping anywhere. There were also lesser vendors on the streets, totally lesser touts, and lesser people, just some boys taking a bath on the sidewalks and brushing their teeth. Hehe. My Indian seatmate on the plane asked me "Do you like Kolkata?" I said yes. It's a good breather after visiting the normally chaotic cities, although I kinda missed the action of Delhi and Varanasi.

By its physical structures, Kolkata is oneA man looking for a passenger in front of the Gates of Victoria Memorial

A much more organized traffic, with interesting looking vehicles.
From Varanasi , you need to take a 21-hour train ride to Kolkata. I arrived late in the afternoon at the Bengal Buddhist Association where I stayed in their dormitory. It's a quiet place (of course), my room was quite large with AC, but my bed was terrible. It looked like the bedbugs would really bite!

A morning scene
Pigeons attack!

DAY 1 Mother Teresa's Motherhouse and Victoria Memorial
The Mother Teresa House continues to take in people who are in need. They have been moving around the city to perform charity works. Visitors are welcome to join them and volunteer. 

One of the rooms was turned into a humble museum dedicated to Mother Teresa. A division of the room showed her biography with numerous pictures of her social work, and the other dedicated to everyday objects she used like sandals, books, clothes, dinnerware. Parallel to that museum was the room where her tomb is. What struck me in the Motherhouse is her actual room where she worked and slept. They have kept it as it was before--a testimony of how humbly she lived, having so little necessities. Her room was small with only a single bed, a wooden desk and a chair, and a small bookshelf containing documents of the charities. It was not allowed to go inside, and take pictures of her room. 

Mother Teresa's Tomb
Some words of wisdom from the Mother
Victoria Memorial
It is currently the finest architectural structure and museum in Kolkata. A British named Lord Curzon was the one who developed this in memory of Queen Victoria. The British developed Kolkata into a city of commerce, flourishing on trade. Lord Curzon wanted him and his fellow British people who pioneered and helped in building Kolkata to be remembered, hence the memorial. It houses paintings, sculptures and photos of these important British and their cooperation with the Hindu, and a gallery of Kolkata's colonial-era history. It was not allowed to take photographs inside.

Victoria Memorial view from the vast pond.

Lord Curzon's Statue

 DAY TWO:  Howrah Bridge and New Market

Howrah Bridge
It is 702m long, built during WWII.
The Howrah bridge and Mr. Bean cabs--two of the popular British influence that are still evident in Kolkata. 

The Clock Tower
This red brick clock tower is located in the Hogg Market. 

...and just by walking around, I saw some amazing mural artworks!
This is one of their Metro stations. I love that they've turned a simple structure into something really special! Tile mosaic.
Bengal art is famous for their terracotta sculptures. This station was turned into terracotta relief sculpture inspired art.
Inside a cab. Notice that the driver didn't use the meter. All of them don't...

Overall, I can say if you want to prepare yourself for the "action" first, Kolkata is a good way to start your adventure :)