Sri Lanka: part 2

We’re back for Sri Lanka part two.  What is Sri Lanka famous for? Tea of course, so naturally couldn’t visit and not see the tea plantations.  After Kandy our next stop was Hutton and Dalhousie. So we took the early morning bus into the mountains. The views were spectacular! Green, clean and beautiful (something I don’t see on a regular basis). It was also refreshingly cold. Not cold as in Dunedin cold more of about 20C cold AHHH When we arrived in Hutton we found a tuk tuk driver to take us to Dalhousie (about an hour away).

On the way Salim the tuk tuk drive let us drive. Maybe a new career option?

Loreta was a hit with the locals

The reason we traveled to Dalhousie was to scale Adams Peak.  Adams Peak is a mountain that has a giant footprint like mark at the summit. Christians believe it was the first mark on earth made by Adam as he was throw out of the garden of Eden. Buddhists believe that it is the footprint of Buddha and Hindus believe it is the mark of Shiva. So what ever religion you to relate to it’s an important place. Adams peak is a 7km ascent up a steep set of steps.  We originally planned to begin at 2am so we could see the sunrise but due to poor weather conditions we started in the afternoon. Of course after we had a quick tea stop.

Ready for action in ALL BLACK!

We also engaged the services of a local guide. Adam a stray dog followed as all the way up and back.  He was good company and the only tip he wanted was the left over tuna and a belly rub. Note how Loreta’s socks match her flag. Very patriotic.

A Buddhist temple on the way up.

On the way I also managed to pick up an unwanted hitch hiker. LEECH!!!

I was always told that you should not try to remove the leech because when they are full they will drop off. After letting it fed on me for a while I got fed up and Loreta kindly cut it off with her pocket knife (which she managed to get through customs). I have since found out that a single fed will satisfy a leech for up to 3 months. The wound also bleed profusely because leeches secrete an anticoagulant into the wound to facilitate blood flow. Very sneaky. I now have to nice puncture wounds a lasting memory of my time in Sri Lanka.

After some hard vertical climbing we made it to the top. The view was clearly AMAZING.

We were met at the top by a security guard who knew three words in English: “Hello”, “tea” and of course “tip”. It was freezing on the top and we were required to remove our shoes because it was a holy place. In order to avoid frost bite we didn’t stay at the summit very long.

 

Getting down was a lot quicker than getting up but my legs didn’t forgive me for a couple of days where I generally had to avoid stairs if possible.

Our last stop in Sri Lanka was Hikkaduwa a small beach town.  Here is where I had my next animal encounter.

ROSIE THE GIANT SEA TURTLE!!!!

Check her out. We both got to feed her some fresh sea weed in the morning.

We tried to get as much sun time in as possible unfortunately it is rainy season so our plans got thwarted.

Overall I really enjoyed Sri Lanka it was a refreshing escape from Chennai. The people are a lot more relaxed and friendly.  They still stared but it’s a different kind of stare to what I’m used to in India. It was less conservative, cleaner and a lot less visible poverty. Sri Lanka was still at times tiring to travel in because everywhere people are trying to rip you off and we had to bargain for everything. Prices would be doubled or even tripled because we were tourists. For example we went to buy a bottle of water from a store.  On the bottle it said 30Rs, when we asked the shopkeeper she first said it was 50Rs and then changed her mind and said it was 100Rs. When questioned on this dramatic price rise she said it was because the bottle had been kept in the fridge.   It sounds minor but when you are facing this all the time it begins to get frustrating however we had sufficient experience in India to know how to deal with it.

So two big thank yous. First to Loreta for traveling with me. We had a lot of laughs and interesting experiences and I was lucky to have such a chilled out travel buddy. A thank you Sri Lanka for the amazing time. I honestly didn’t want to go back to Chennai. 

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Sri Lanka: escape from Chennai

Hello again it’s been a while. I think it is safe to conclude that I’m not good at the regular blogging thing. I’m not going to apologize though because it means that I’ve been out actually living in the real world, however I will strive to make more of an effort to keep in contact.

What has happen since we last talked? Quite a lot. I got fired from my first internship, lived in a peedam (like an ashram), taught nursery school,  climbed mountains, met some amazing people, undertook a second internship (which was successful), traveled around south India, got several bouts of food poisoning, chilled with some amazing wildlife and much more BUT the most exciting thing I have done recently is GOING TO SRI LANKA!

After 4.30am start and some minor trouble with security involving my Swiss army knife I made into Sri Lanka with Loreta my cool Lithuanian friend.  Our first stop was Negombo a touristy beach town just out of Colombo.

After checking in we went to explore the main attraction of the town, Negombo fish market.

There was an impressive range of sea food from squid to tuna. There was also an impressive smell and many satisfied cats lounging around (as Loreta pointed out the animals in Sri Lanka are not vegetarians.)

We decided to skip this attraction….

After the fish market the only thing left to do was go to the beach.

we even wore bikini’s (gasp) and nobody stared (much).

Day two: we drove to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage which is approximately 2 hours inland from Colombo. I was a bit too excited. Pinnawala is a government-run park that is home to a large herd of elephants.  Entry ticket allows you to watch the elephants have their daily bath in the river and then see them roam around in a field like area. I took about 300 pictures of elephants so here are just a few…

ELEPHANTS WOOHOO!

 

There were a number of keepers (with large pointed sticks) that herded the elephants. Sometimes I felt the elephants were a little exploited because the keepers would bring the elephants up close and then would encourage the foreign tourists to come up and touch them (which we did, I had to stroke an elephant). This inevitably ended in “tip madam, please madam,tips”.

For an extra fee (2.50 dollars) you could “feed the baby elephant milk”. Of course I brought the ticket as I had visions of myself sitting with the tiny babies BUT reality was sadly disappointing. It was not a baby elephant but an adolescent which was chained to the opposite side of the fence. I was allowed to touch the bottle while the keeper held it up for the elephant to drink. The whole feeding lasted about 3 seconds…FAIL.

I LOVE elephants so just in case you haven’t seen enough pictures of them here are some more….

Pinnawala is a must see for anyone travelling in Sri Lanka! We also got talked into going to a spice garden which is a place of Ayurveda or traditional herbal medicine. It was interesting learning about the plants and their uses we even managed to get a full body massage however nothing is ever truly free and it predictably ended in the hard sell where they tried to convince us to buy everything from weight loss pills to hair removal cream at “local prices not tourist prices madam.”

Day three: We spent exploring Colombo the capital. Many blogs, websites and even the locals we asked weren’t complimentary about Colombo. Clearly these people have never been to Chennai. By comparison Colombo was clean and fresh. The traffic was still insane but drivers didn’t feel the need to honk their horns every 2 seconds. There were rubbish bins, trees and parks and men were not peeing on every street corner. People (especially women) were wearing what they wanted i.e. short skirts (by short I mean knee-length) and there were plenty of couples showing public displays of affection like holding hands (oh god not holding hands) and some were even kissing.  Colombo was a relaxing city and at times I felt that like I could be back home.  There was also not the same level of poverty you can see in Chennai on a regular basis.  The only reminder that Sri Lanka is recovering from a 20 year civil war is the military presence with armed personnel stationed around the city.  I didn’t feel that they we obtrusive in fact every time we passed they would usually smile and wave.

We also managed to find a beautiful Buddhist temple that was sitting out on a lake. NICE.

The next day we braved the public transport and took the bus to Kandy.  Kandy is a city situated in the middle of the hill country about 4 hours inland of Colombo. We met a friendly tok tok driver Tara who gave us a quality tour of the city.  We visited another Spice garden, brought some tea and experimented with the tropical fruits at a roadside stall. We ate red bananas (not pictured)

There was also the favorite Sri Lankan fruit  Rambutan. You peel off the spiky exterior and inside is a soft, white, slightly gummy ball. I wasn’t a huge fan.

On a better note was the Mangosteen.  Inside the purple rind is a sweet and tangy seed. YUM

As Loreta and I were on a tight budget we decided it was better to spend money on sights rather than food. As a result we lived on tuna, crackers and chocolate milk. Good combination and ideal for weight loss.

Also in Kandy is the sacred temple of the tooth. This place supposedly holds the tooth of Buddha and is a major pilgrimage site. We didn’t visit because: you don’t actually get to see the tooth, we’ve both seen a lot of temples and entry was to expensive for what you got to see. Instead we went to the giant white Buddha overlooking Kandy and then went to see the Kandian dancers.

White Buddha.

The Kandian dancers were worth the money. The show lasted an hour and consisted of ten different dance performances including a peacock dance, a mask dance (still used as a psychiatric treatment, bet they don’t teach that in clinical) , a cobra dance and walking on hot coals.  The show was long enough to enjoy but short enough not to get boring.

We also managed to make a new friend at the guest house (with the help of Loreta’s tuna)

This post is already massive and I’m only half way through, so Sri Lanka will now be divided into 2 parts. Stay tuned for the tea plantations, turtles and leeches. xx

Mamallapuram

Temple, Check

Everyone needs to escape the city, especially Chennai.  So a couple of weeks ago we travelled to Mamallapuram for a weekend of sun, sea and archaeology. Mallalapuram or Mahabalapuram (called Mahabs by tourists) is a two hour bus ride from Chennai.  The bus ride costs 18Rs which is 50 cents NZ. Cheap definitely but public transport in India is an experience in itself (more on that later) what you don’t pay in money you pay in sweat, personal space and sometimes dignity.

We made it to Mahabs relatively unscathed and after some aimless wandering and coconut juice we made it to the beach.

Coconut juice please!

I had my first swim in the Indian ocean. BLISS! The beach is not really paradise; there are piles of rubbish in varying states of decomposition with varying smells associated.  Men also “subtly” roam the beach hoping to catch a glimpse of some exposed western flesh but it’s all worth it when you’re in the ocean

Mahabs is renowned for its fresh seafood, sadly we didn’t get to experience it, but we hear it’s good.  Emma and I had a serious case of food envy when we got dry fish that had clearly been suffocated in garlic and nothing else.

Garlic with a little fish

The most important decision of the day

Marsala Prawns, a better option

Marsala Prawns, a better option

Fresh calamari with noodles (belonging to Ammie and Shu)

The second ancient capital of the Pallava Kings has a lot more to offer than sun and sea.  There are some ancient archaeological wonders that gave me an introductory taste of India’s rich history.

The Shore Temple

A World Heritage site, the shore temple is a beautiful temple sitting overlooking the sea.  It was built in the 7th century and is a shrine to Shiva (the destroyer).  When I first saw the carving I was a little underwhelmed until I remembered how old it actually was, then you appreciate how well preserved it is. The temple is also positioned in a perfect place because it gets a delicious sea breeze that offers some relief from the heat.

Some photos in and around the shore temple featuring Ammie, Shu and Emma.

When we were roaming…

Lotus’s!

A lotus pond with a water guardian in the middle. It also doubles as a laundry

Holy COW!

Some of the locals..

Arjuna’s Penance- This is a beautiful relief carving etched into the cliff face.  It’s alive with Hindu mythology but very hard to take it in at one time.

Penance in Hinduism doesn’t mean suffering to erase your sins; in fact it’s the opposite it’s suffering to gain a wish from the gods. You can see Arjuna (skinny guy in the tree pose) performing self-mortification to gain Shiva’s (I think he is the regal looking guy with his palm extended and the trident like thing) most powerful weapon, the god slaying pasupata.

A herd of elephants marching under an army of angels

Nagas (snakes beings) that are descending in a crevice which water once flowed down. There is also the cobra which represents the holy mother.

I’m not sure if this is comic relief but it’s a cat performing penance to some appreciative mice.

While picking our way through the ruins we found a fortune teller.  It was impressive how my four years of scientific training in rational thought could be overcome by a physic parrot.

For 50Rs the small green parrot is released from his cage and he sorts through a pile of cards until he finds your fortune.  Every one of us got a “verrrry verrry goods fortunes missus”.

 

Negatives of Mahabs- I got absolutely molested by mosquitoes; my exotic blood really gets them going. My skin also reacts in an interesting way to the bites.  The bites form large red welts that get exponentially itchier as time goes on.  After a day the bites turn purple and it looks like I have a weird skin disease (because I’m not unattractive enough with my sweat drenched, pink skin).  I am not exaggerating when I say that my foot swell to twice its size The insane heat also means that sightseeing is difficult because there is only so much you can physically stand before you have to retreat to the beach.

Mahabs is a perfect escape from Chennai and a must see place if you are in Tamil Nadu.  So much happens in a week in India it is exciting but hard to keep pace with blogging wise.  Fortunately I got fired (over text) last Thursday so I have a bit of free time that I might use to get up to date.  Thanks to everyone for the lovely comments, as you can see I still haven’t mastered the photo/text positioning and my writing is leaving a lot to be desired but I’m getting better.  Once again leave me comments about anything you want to see (Ali, I’m working on an animals in India post).  Until next time. xx

 

Hello world!

Incredible India! It’s been just over a month and I have no idea where to begin. Hopefully that will make this blog somewhat of a metaphor for India; a chaotic mess that somehow still manages to work (Everything I do has a deeper meaning, it’s not because I’m disorganized at all).

Every day I see something that makes me laugh, something that makes me want to cry and something that makes me want to vomit. India is a bamboozling paradox of extremes with rich and poor, the beautiful and the disgusting. Oh and did I mention it’s hot, really hot.

As most of you know I’m living in Chennai (Madras) which is in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.  The population of Chennai is 4.7 million basically in case you hadn’t realised India has a lot of people. Tamil Nadu is touted as one of the most conservative and traditional states of all of India, I would generally tend to agree but as I haven’t been to the North yet it’s a biased statement. Check out

this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chennai.

Chennai and scorching heat are synonymous.  When I first arrived here I thought I was going to  die either by sweating out every ounce of water in my body or spontaneous combustion.  Sunrise  is usually around 32C and it can reach the mid 40’s at noon. My albino skin is not designed for  these conditions, needless to say I am supporting the Indian economy with mass purchases of  sunscreen, deodorant and body wash.

So where do I live at the moment? A good question, one I realised I couldn’t answer on my first  day in Chennai when I took an auto to buy food and then tried to get home again (rookie  mistake). I live in the area of Egmore, in an apartment block called Halls Towers on the eighth  floor with some other really cool AIESEC interns. When giving directions we just say “Baby Hospital” and people usually know were to go. The living conditions aren’t fantastic (although better than what the majority of Indians experience) but it is the people who make it an awesome place to live. You might also have heard mention of Hyderabad, I lived there briefly for 2 weeks had some awesome experiences. I’ll make a special post about the cool people I met and what I did there.

But first some photos

The first view I had of Chennai in the morning from my apartment building

The living arrangements in the apartment are pretty fluid and people are always coming and going.  At the moment I’m lucky to be sharing a room with a super cool Dutch girl called Emma (more on Em’s later). We share a double bed so really we work together, sleep together and chill together.  I would take and post some photos of our room but Emma is sleeping at the moment and it could be a little creepy.

A smoggy sunrise. Early morning in Chennai

In the interest of posting photos because that’s what everyone (i.e. Mum and Grandma) really want to see, I’ll put up some of a trip to Marina beach. Marina beach is a massive beach that’s close to where we live.

Beach or desert? Some how this makes it look like the beach is sparsely populated.

It is really more like a gigantic extended fair ground and doesn’t really fit what New Zealanders think of when we say beach (except for the fact that there is sand and sea).  Everywhere there are people selling things, from mangoes to jewellery. There are also boys galloping around on horses offering rides, merry-go-rounds that are powered by men not machines, kites, candy floss everything BUT women in bikinis or togs.  The star attraction at the beach however is us (westerners).  We are constantly approached for photos by families, children and even teenagers. I have also had people come up a stroke my skin and stare at my eyes.  It’s usually harmless and fun but sometimes it can get a little tiring. It is also why I now have thousands of photos of random Indian families and children on my camera.

See there are people!

One of our photo shoots with an Indian family. No we don't know their names

India Love

Nawww

Beach bonding!

One of the stalls at the beach. There are mangoes on the right and corn on the left.

Rachael, Shu, Mindy and I are just so excited to be in India that we can't contain it any more

My photo’s are not really showcasing India as I see it but I promise I’ll try and upload some more (and better) photos. ASAP.

Now I’ve started writing there is so much I want to share with everyone and I’m having trouble working out what is actually important and what is really interesting for me alone. I’m going to try and catch up on everything I did and keep you informed.  PLEASE leave me comments about things you want to hear about so my blog doesn’t become too boring. I also spend as much time as I can out experiencing India so I don’t always have time to updates (sorry Mum) plus the internet is temperamental.

India hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Most of my problems have steamed from my employer and AIESEC and I could probably write a soap opera about what has happened, it’s hilarious in a very depressing way.  Next blog I’ll try to include Hyderabad, Mahabs trip, my work and how I’m now a Tamil movie star.

Aroha Nui. xx