Sounds of the night Borobudur
Yesterday I attended the Thursday protest by the Mothers and the Grandmothers of the disappeared. It was a very moving experience that I will write more on when I return. This is an article from the New York Times about them.
We drove from Nuwira Eliya to Nanu-Oya and took the 2 1/2 hour scenic train ride to Ella. The train reminded us of the backpacker train we took from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Instead of a lovely valley by the river in Peru, the Sri Lankan scenery was hill side tea plantations with workers picking tea. Instead of switchbacks, thankfully, the train hugged the base of the hills and passed under tunnels. The ride was a nice one, but became repetitive after the first hour.
There are several classes of seats on the train. Tourist class is open seating. First and second class are assigned seating, with the difference being that first class is air conditioned and the windows can’t be opened. As a result, first class is no good if for people who want to take pictures. And, the elevation makes the heat manageable so the AC is not really needed.
Ella: 98 Acres Eco-Friendly Resort
We stayed 98 Acres, an eco-friendly boutique hotel just outside of town. The location is ideal for those who want to climb Little Adams Peak. The resort consisted of 12 bungalows each housing 2 suites. Our unit was the one that was located at the very end, next to the spa and very close to the climb up to Adams Peak. After 315 steps to the top of Admas Peak, we were rewarded with 360 degrees view of the countryside and of Ella Rock. There was a small altar with a Buddha at the top of Little Adams Peak. Devotees climb the peak to make offerings especially on Poya days.
From the balcony in our unit, we had an unobstructed view of Little Adams Peak and Ella Rock. 98 acres is a resort that sits on – you guess it, 98 acres of tea plantation that belongs to UVA Greenlands. The room was rustic, one of the walls was lined with old wood taken from old tea crates, the king-size bed was huge, the largest we slept on and ever so comfortable. Instead of air conditioning there is a large ceiling fan. Even in the summer, there is no real need for air conditioning at that elevation. For privacy, you can lower these blinds or leave them semi shuttered so you can be woken by the sunrise rising behind Little Adams Peak.
The large bathroom is wonderfully equipped with a rain shower separated from the sink and toilet area by a clear glass wall. Natural ayurvedic soaps, shampoos and conditioners are provided for your use.
The resort is not wheelchair accessible – there are hundreds of steps, to your rooms, to the pool, to the reception and most importantly, to the restaurant. The resort employs golf carts that would bring you and your luggage up and down the narrow paths lined with tea bushes.
Driving in Sri Lanka is an endless adventure not for the faint of heart.
Let’s start with the roads. Many roads are single lane and well paved. Outside the cities most of the side roads are dirt.
But size does matter.
Apparently any road large enough for 1 car is big enough for cars going in both directions. This presents some interesting logistical and geometric challenges when a car comes face to face with a truck traveling in the opposite direction.
Then there are your companions on the road. At any given moment, you might find cows, lizards, dogs, water buffalo and elephants sharing the road.
There are also bicycles, buses, trucks, tuk-tuks (or three wheelers as they are called here), motorcycles, people. And there are fruit and vegetable stands everywhere with lots of people stopping to buy.
Three-wheelers are like mosquitos. They buzz around and move into any empty space on the road. Zip. Zip. Zip.
Now, three-wheelers and trucks drive slower than cars. That means that it takes forever to get to your destination…unless you pass them. How to do that? On a real two lane road (one lane in each direction), beep twice and then pass. This can be tricky on curvy mountain roads. And sometimes, there are three or four slow moving vehicles in a row. Some drivers will pass them all in one shot. Others pass 1 at a time.
With all of this we saw very few accidents. Sri Lankans are very good drivers. Though we did almost have a heart attack a couple of times.
And one last thing, schools let out at 1:30 causing massive traffic jams. Try to stay off the road during that time.
Opening of the Stupa
Buddhists believe that a Tooth from the Buddha is being kept safe at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. It is one of the holiest places in Sri Lanka and every Singhalese Buddhist is expected to make at least one pilgrimage in their life to the Temple in Kandy. Last night we joined many people and pilgrims for the opening of the Stupa to catch a glimpse of the place the Tooth is kept. Below is the performance done right before the opening of the Stupa.
We spent the last two days visiting ancient temples and ruins in the northwestern part of Sri Lanka. Today we were in Anuradhapura at Jetavaranama–the first capital of Sri Lanka from 380 BC to 1200 AD–and then Minhitale Temple–one of the most sacred places for Buddhists in the country. The sites were very interesting and fun to see.
We’ve been to temples all over the world and today brought some unique experiences. First, it was prayer day. Once a month, usually after the full moon, the government announce Prayer Day and everyone goes to the temples to pray. Second, it was 31 degrees centrigrade. Third, the Sri Lankan temples have a million stairs. Even the hotels have a ton of stairs. Today we walked the equivalent of 40 flights of stairs. And finally, you cannot wear shoes in the temples. That means most of the 40 flights we walked barefoot on stones that were very, very hot. While we hobbled along with our hot feet feeling every hot stone, pebble and grain of sand, Sri Lankan’s of all ages easily walked and climbed and prayed.
The morale of the story–train your feet and quads before going to Sri Lanka.
More on the temples tomorrow.
Top 10 things I learned at the NYT travel show:
When booking flights:
- First step before booking check flights using aggregators (momondo, skyscanner, google flights – sign up for alerts when fare changes).
- Most of these are not booking engines but search the internet for lowest fares
- Aggregators do not include some low cost carriers like Southwest Airlines, EasyJet and Ryanair
- Also check consolidators like flyinternational.com, cheapoair to compare
- Don’t forget to check flyertalk for premium fare deals
- You can predict air fare hikes by downloading hopper (app), airfarewatchdog, airfarespot, google flights
- AARP members get 10% discounts on British Airways flights
- Best time for fare deals tend to be mid-day Tuesday (when airlines release deals after reviewing weekend bookings)
- Always clear your cache/cookies after each search, or use a different browser
- Fares appear to be higher for Mac vs Windows users