A Travellerspoint blog

Sri Lanka - Kandy/Nogumbo

A beautiful train ride through the tea plantations.

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The slow train ride from Ella to Kandy was long and beautiful. The train snaked through hundreds of miles of tea plantations as far as the eye could see. Every now and again hardy looking men carrying baskets of questionable food would walk through the busy carriages.

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They would have small doughnuts (With chilli), little batter balls (With chilli), and various other small pastries (Also with chilli!) They would have this odd patter that they would say as they passed. It was in Sri-Lankan so not quite sure what they were saying but it sounded a bit like: “eeh- wantonbentonfentonlanton ,eeh- wantonbentonfentonlanton.” Very strange to hear but the locals seemed to know what was going on.

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The train was very busy and when we embarked there were no seats. Admittedly a third was filled with loud young backpackers singing 'Wonderwall' (We aren't fans.). A little embarrassing as we were one of them! (We were one of the quiet old ones.) Since our time in India we had gotten used to being off the backpacker’s trail (And quite happy to be.) and following the path of our own design.

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The train doors were wide open the entire trip. If a seat wasn’t available, then people would hustle to try and sit in the doorway with their legs dangling out of the train! This afforded them uninterrupted views of the landscape surrounding us as we passed by.
With no seats available we found ourselves a nice doorway perch and took a seat. (Really couldn’t see this being allowed in the UK!) As the train rushed through hillside and jungle we would have to pull our feet in quick for fear of losing a shoe to a bush. (Or a knee to a rocky outcrop!) But totally fun though! And the views were spectacular. We had read that it is one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, and we can see why!
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It was dark and the sun had set by the time we arrived at Kandy. As soon as we got off the carriage we were surrounded by rickshaw drivers vying for business. However, we had chosen to use a local app called ‘Pick Me’, similar to ‘Uber’ that showed a much cheaper price than the ones they were quoting.
A lonely young traveller from Sweden had spotted us and asked if we would share transport in to town. Of course we agreed and shared stories of our travels as we headed through the suburbs and in to town. Our hotel looked pleasant enough from the outside but the bathroom left a lot to be desired!

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The following day we went to go see the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Apparently this temple houses Buddha’s sacred tooth! As we are meandering around the beautiful but busy temple we found ourselves in a large room upstairs filled with people. We were ushered in to a queue of hundreds of people all waiting to give offerings of flowers or money around a barrier that soon prevented our escape from the line. Shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe we slowly shuffled around a cordoned off area full of flowers with a monk sat in the centre to a small alcove at the back. The devotees were verging on the aggressive in an attempt to get a glimpse of the relic and give their offering. Once we reached the alcove we could see a room full to the brim of golden trinkets, elephant tusks and a plethora of other explainable items. The worshippers would give their alms and be blessed by the monk stationed just inside.

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Honestly, it was a small relief to get out of there. Believer’s are a crazy bunch!
Now out of the complex we took a walk around the lake that sat beside the temple. Every now and again we could see huge monitor lizards draped over a branch or near the water basking in the hot sun.
We had now come to the end of our Sri Lankan trip. We found a pleasant hotel in Negumbo only a few miles away from Colombo airport. Here we relaxed and enjoyed the pool and sun for a couple of days before we jetted off to Thailand!

Link to our Kandy/Negumbo Gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 02:40 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged trains temple Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Ella

The land of breath-taking landscapes.

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The long drive to Ella was made more comfortable as we shared our mini bus with a young friendly couple. We shared stories, good and bad, of our travels so far. The terrain was flat up until about ten kilometres away from Ella when the roads started to wind considerably as it traversed the lofty hillsides. We would hold our breath and grabs the seat in front with white knuckles as we overtook the slower, larger traffic on the way up with only inches between us and the sheer drop below!

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We could see in the distance a magnificent waterfall as the minibus weaved in and out of the highland. As we neared, the scale became clear. Luckily, we drove right past the foot of the waterfall and the driver asked if we would like to stop to take a better look. Eagerly we jumped out and stood at the at the bottom and looked up. Easily over one hundred feet high with thousands of gallons of water flowing over the ridge the magnificence was breath-taking and was to set a precedence for what to expect from Ella. After a few shots we proceeded on to the town a few more kilometres further.
We had read the town centre was a bit of a backpacker haven and knew what this translated to. Youngsters being youngsters! So we booked a hotel a little out of town. (Read further up the mountainside.) On arrival we couldn’t believe our eyes.
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Our guest house had only two apartments. With a balcony that overlooked a huge and beautiful valley with yet another waterfall opposite, a picturesque railway snaked around the valley passing below our guesthouse. This has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We could feel our souls reinvigorating from our surroundings.

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The next day we ventured out to see what we could find. Ella is over a thousand feet above sea level so the air was cooler but the humidity was draining. We walked a couple of kilometres to a place called Little Adams Peak, a mountain top point with stunning views. Certainly not for the faint hearted, it was a very precarious path that required serious climbing skills with sheer drops either side. However, once we arrived we could see why the effort was worth it. Never have I witnessed such spectacular vastness. Really puts things into perspective.

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We walked down through a tea plantation to head for the famous Nine Arch Bridge. Stopping along the way at a café selling fruit smoothies to take aerial photos of the imminent train. Masses of people congregated along the bridge and we were worried for their well being until we saw the train and realised that there’s plenty of time to get to safety.
The trains that use the railway in Ella are slow and infrequent and will sound their presence to any unsuspecting track walkers. After our visit to the bridge we took a long and enchanting walk through the nearby tunnel and along the tracks back to our guest house.

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The following day we caught the train to Haputale, Famous for its miles of tea plantations. From the station we took a rickshaw up through the mountainside, so high in fact we were above the clouds that had gathered over the fields of tea bushes.

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After nearly an hour of ascending and walking the last kilometre to the peak we finally arrived at Liptons Seat, a favourite look-outpoint for Sir Thomas Lipton. The godfather of tea. However, by the time we got to the summit the clouds had risen so much that we couldn’t see anything! Just a blanket of white everywhere! (We should have gone earlier!)
From here we decided that we would walk the four kilometres back down through the tea bushes to the bus stop to catch a bus back in to Haputale.

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The bus appeared to be built of holes held together by rust! A very exhilarating but scary ride back down the mountainside saw us back at the station to catch our train home.

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The following day we went to climb Ella Rock. we woke up before sunrise and was treated to a spectacular concert of colour. (After this we would often wake up early enough to catch a sunrise. A truly beautiful display and like nothing we have ever seen before!)
After breakfast we set off for our climb. It took over four very sweaty and exhausting hours to reach the peak. Many touts at the foot of the mountain would try and steer us the wrong way in an attempt to ply some trade. But we had done our homework and knew how to get there.
The views from the peak overlooking Ella were nothing short of astonishing and worth the sweat and tears to get there. There was even a Buddhist shrine. The Buddhists certainly like to make work for themselves!

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The would-be mountaineers and young Instagram'ers were vying to sit on the hazardous outcrop of rock and take the breath-taking photo overlooking the valley. Of course we did too!
Ella is without a shadow of doubt one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We will definitely come back one day.

Link to our Ella Gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 21:16 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged waterfalls mountains shrine Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Yala National Park

Today we go on safari!

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One of the things we were hoping to see much of while on our travels was wildlife. To see exotic animals not in cages but to witness them in their natural habitat.

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We had heard about a wildlife safari on the Yala National Park in the south east of the country. After some research we found a highly recommended safari guide who has spent a great deal of time and effort in the conservation of the wildlife at the park particularly the leopards in the area of which sightings were very rare.
The guide also ran the hotel so it was an all in one package.
It takes about an hour and a half to drive from the hotel to the park. We needed to be there for half past five to get to the front of the large queue when the gates opened. Wearily we dragged ourselves out of bed at four in the morning after only a few hours sleep and prepared ourselves for the day ahead.

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Along the cold and dark journey we were lucky enough to see a porcupine before it dashed back in to the trees. There was even an elephant poking out of the bush at the roadside that was nonchalantly eating, apparently not concerned with our presence. It was almost as if he (Or she.) was say hello!
Finally we arrived at the first gates where our guide purchased the tickets. We waited here for a while until the next gates were opened allowing us to grab a coffee at the roadside. Then our guide beckoned us and we jumped back in to the truck for the dash to the main gates to the park. It was good advice to get there super early as we were the first in the queue of easily over a hundred vehicles waiting to get in! Another tentative wait and as the sun rose we were finally through the official gates and into the park.

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Our guide knew exactly where to find the elusive leopards and raced for the location while the other trucks darted off in different directions. After one hour of driving the truck slowed down occasionally switching off the engine while he looked deeply in to the bush.

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Then without warning the driver stopped the engine and everyone went silent. It seemed like ages before we saw anything.
Then finally at last. What we had come here for. A sighting of a leopard!
The excitement in the truck was tangible.
The big cat casually appeared in front of us and sat on it's hind legs staring at the truck, then walked across the muddy track in front then disappeared back in to the bush as casually as it had appeared. We couldn't believe our luck! One of the very few leopards who live here at the park and we got to see it!
We continued on to search for more. Unfortunately that was the last leopard sighting we had, however after stopping to talk to other trucks that came the other way we soon realised that we were the lucky ones as the other trucks hadn’t seen any!

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While on the safari we also saw many crocodiles, buffalo, birds of all sizes, monitor lizards and many elephants. At one point near the end of the day we stopped at a lake and watched as a herd of around eight or nine elephants slowly walked down to the waters edge.

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Two who appeared to be adolescent jumped straight in and were clearly having fun as they jumped on top of each other. There was also a very young elephant who didn’t stray far from its parents also having a lot of fun splashing around in the water.
We have been playing animal bingo since we started travelling and today we have ticked off many.

Tired but wholly satisfied with what we had witnessed we drove back to our hotel.
Tomorrow we drive to Ella.

Link to the Yala National Park Gallery here.
(This has to be our favourite photo collection to date!)

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Posted by philosipha 22:05 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged elephant bird safari crocodile reptile leopard Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Unawatuna/Marissa

Discovering marine wildlife.

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Our next stop was Unawatuna. A town in southern Sri Lanka known for its coral reef and palm-lined beaches, like Unawatuna Beach. Nestled in nearby jungle, the Japanese Peace Pagoda has a large stupa (Buddhist monument.) with ocean views.
It also offered some great snorkeling, so we didn’t waste any time getting back to the beach to get our heads wet and find some underwater wildlife. We were not disappointed. We saw many Puffer/Porcupine fish, Moorish Idol fish, Blackfins, Pennant Bannerfish and loads more.

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Further along Sri Lanka south coast is a place called Marissa. Now we had come here for one reason only. Whale watching!
Hannah had extensively researched legitimate and reputable companies that provide this service. As much as we wanted to sea wildlife on our travels we have been extremely careful not support companies that are unscrupulous with their business practices. Like feeding the animals before the tourists arrive so they can guarantee sightings or scare the animals when approached by boats or trucks. We wanted to ensure that we observe them in their natural habitat with no human coercion.

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We finally found a company who we were happy to go with. Slightly more expensive but we could enjoy the whales with a clear conscience.
Setting off at six in the morning we boarded the boat and were treated to breakfast and coffee. (Scott can’t operate without coffee!) and we sped off out to sea.

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We must have been travelling for at least three hours before we saw anything but we finally saw the whale watchers getting excited, this certainly woke us all up from our sleepless stupor! They were aware of sightings of a pod of fin whales in the area and they knew they were close by.
At last a break in the water’s surface, a noise as the whale exhaled and then the huge long body slowly curling as it swam back under water. We even managed to see this several times for nearly fifteen minutes before they disappeared.
And then we searched some more.

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We probably didn’t see anything for a very long hour after that moving from one patch of water to another.
Then someone spotted something else! This time it was Orcas!
The excitement in the boat was huge. Everybody clamoring for a good position to see them. We must have been blessed as we could spot numerous Killer Whales for the next half an hour or so. Truly wonderful!
Unfortunately I was only able to successfully snap a couple of whales as they were too quick for me. So I’ve cheekily included some of the shots that the whale watcher crew took in our gallery.
Link to the Unawatuna/Marissa gallery here
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Posted by philosipha 22:33 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged snorkelling whales Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Hikkaduwa/Galle

We swam with Sea Turtles!

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Thanks to a bit of inside local knowledge we took a train south to Galle from an earlier station than we first intended. This was to be an outstanding idea. We had arrived early to beat the crowds. We took a seat and ended up talking at great length with a young nun who taught at the local school about her life here.
She had warned us that it would be chaos once the train was pulling in to the station!

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She wasn't wrong. As the train's horn sounded it's arrival people were running, pushing and shoving for their spot. With Hannah racing ahead to find some seats and Scott behind carrying both heavy packs! Hannah was able to secure the elusive right-hand side window seat that would allow us great views of the coast on the journey.
It would have been impossible to get a seat at the next station with more people now standing than sitting!
The train ride was a magnificent four hours of beautiful coastline and an insight in to the lives of those who live beside the railway lines. Often having to move out of the way for the passing train.

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During our journey Hannah was doing more research for what to do in Sri Lanka. We then passed through a place called Hikkaduwa. Hannah mentioned that we could swim with wild Giant Sea Turtles here! We debated whether we should disembark now and change our plans to stay there instead. After looking at the map we realised we could do it as a day trip so continued onward to Galle.

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Galle is an interesting place seeped in Dutch colonial and naval history. All over the old garrisoned town were buildings left behind that had now been repurposed for tourism and hospitality. With idyllic side streets that would take you back to a time long gone.
So, back to the Giant Sea Turtles. We hired a driver and set off back up the road to Hikkaduwa. It didn’t take us long to find the stretch of beach where the turtles came in to feed. Plenty of vendors were trying to hire us snorkels and there were a few excited people in the sea! We chose our snorkels and dived in.

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Three turtles came in to the cove which was quite close to the beach. They didn’t appear fazed by all the people trying to feed them seaweed. In fact they appeared to be enjoying it, making no effort to try and get away.
There was indeed some fantastic coral reef and other wildlife around so often we would leave the turtles for a moment and go see what else we could find. There was a small section of coral that was in a horseshoe shape about twenty feet wide in about six feet deep water.

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While Hannah was exploring this section alone she felt the current push her a bit too close to the coral. When she turned around, to her surprise Hannah had come face to face with one of the turtles who had come to join her in her exploration of the horseshoe coral! She couldn't believe her luck.
This was a truly magical experience that we will both cherish for the rest of our lives.
The snorkel hire was only for three hours, so we reluctantly gave them back and returned to our hotel smiling from ear to ear.

Link to our gallery from Hikkaduwa/Galle here.

Posted by philosipha 03:47 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged trains sea_turtles Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Colombo

Lets begin country number two!

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We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we flew into Sri Lanka. The country is still in deep political turmoil from the last civil war. With some confusion over who is their current legitimate prime minister.
Excuse my ignorance (But that’s why we’re travelling!) but Sri Lanka was a lot more developed than we had imagined.

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We observed that China has been investing heavily in the infrastructure and business development, something we have seen a great deal of throughout Asia.
Our flight landed late in the afternoon. Another two hour coach ride in to Colombo city centre and then an extortionately overpriced rickshaw to the outskirts saw us finally arrive at our home-stay.

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The owner welcomed us and treated us with warm hospitality. When taking our usual rooftop recce he came and joined us and spoke at length about the troubles his country has been facing. It also gave us an opportunity to share with him the craziness currently happening in the UK.
The following day we took the local bus back in to the city centre. A busy and modern place that still retained remnants of its old Dutch colonial past next to high rise buildings of commerce and a huge lotus tower overlooking the city. As expected, there were still many temples and Wats to explore.

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The first temple we visited appeared to be more of a Buddhist museum than an actual temple. The main room was currently being repainted in magnificent colours. Garish and beautiful all at the same time!

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Passing through the main room to the small courtyard outside stood a sacred tree with what appeared to be wooden structure at its bass. While we looked on we saw many people make offerings of flowers or water and give silent prayer to their deity.
Taking taxidermy to the extreme the temple housed a stuffed elephant! Apparently the elephant lived in the temple and was loved by all who attended so when the elephant eventually passed away it was decided that it should be stuffed and put on display so future guests can enjoy it’s presence.

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Across the small complex was a store for all the weird and wonderful things followers had donated to the temple. It looked more like a bric-a-brac store except some of the items were clearly priceless. It even boasted to have Buddha’s footprint and the smallest Buddha statue. (In town? In Sri Lanka? In the world? Who knows, it didn’t say!)

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Later we stopped for a cup of tea. (We are in Sri Lanka after all!) It was clear that the café was serious about their tea when the tea was served with a sand timer to time the brew to get the exact strength required!
After two days in Colombo we set off to begin our tour of Sri Lanka.

Link to our Colombo Gallery here

Posted by philosipha 21:49 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged city capital Comments (0)

India - Alleppey/Kochi

Sadly, we're coming to the end of our India trip.

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We travelled to Alleppey by a very hot and definitely not air conditioned train.
Alappuzha (or Alleppey) is famous for its house boats and sprawling backwaters. A huge network of waterways that connect some of the remotest parts of the region.
We were keen to stay on a houseboat but decided that the cost was a little too much for us budget travellers.

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So alternatively we took a ferry boat from Alleppey to Kottayam about 15 km away. The trip was a wonderful peek in to local life, but after three hours we were starting to get quite uncomfortable on the hard wooden seats!
The ferry was much like our own bus services at home with many stops.
We were unsure of which jetty to get off from. (We knew none of the stops were near the town, we would have to get a rickshaw the rest of the way.) Thankfully there was a very young Indian couple who appeared to be on a date that could speak a little English.

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Being in a bit of a helpless position we asked for help hoping we were not disrupting their day too much.
Turns out they had the same plan as us! So when we disembarked from the ferry the four of us shared a extremely cosy rickshaw in to Kottayam town.
The young lady, Angel, knew of a restaurant so we trekked across town to find it. After about thirty minutes we found the place and took our seats. It felt like we had found a real locals café, the place was bustling with people coming and going and the volume of general conversation quite high.
After our delicious Thali (We have quite enjoyed these, even if they have blown our heads off!) our friend Angel suggested we get a local bus back to Aleppey.

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A short walk later we found the bus station and waited for the announcement for our bus.
While sat in the very hot waiting room Scott struck up a conversation with an older local gentleman who spoke a little English. After explaining that he had learned to speak English in the UK Scott asked him about the English colonialism of India and if it was a good or a bad thing. Surprisingly he suggested that it was a good thing and said that India had pretty much gone to waste after the English left. He praised our necessity for bureaucracy and how it keeps things working and the machine well oiled. And regarded the introduction of the railways, postal service and local government has helped the country hugely.

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When our bus was announced finally (Thanks to Angel who heard the tannoy. We would have missed it as it came over in Indian!), we raced to find seats only to discover that they were all occupied. As the elderly and women had priority Scott had to stand the entire 2.5 hour hair raising journey as the driver raced from town to town through the Indian countryside.
We now know why it is custom for locals to hold on to the seat in front…

Indian bus drivers are prone, without warning, to slamming on the brakes!
After a few days we headed for Kochi. We had heard that it is a little more pleasant to stay around Fort Kochi rather than in the built up city so we hired a rickshaw to take us across the island bridges to our destination. Kochi (also known as Cochin) is a city in southwest India's coastal Kerala state.

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It has been a port since 1341, when a flood carved out its harbor and opened it to Arab, Chinese and European merchants. Sites reflecting those influences include Fort Kochi, a settlement with tiled colonial bungalows and diverse houses of worship.
Cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, typical of Kochi, have been in use here for centuries.

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On our final evening in Kochi (And indeed in India!) we bought tickets to a local Kathakali theatre show with wonderous costumes and face decoration that took so long to apply that the theatre opened 2 hours earlier so audiences could watch the performers get ready.
The actors put tender seeds of sollanum pubescence into their eyes to make their iris’s look black which gave the performers a strange comic like quality on top of the makeup.
To make things a little easier for the audience of mostly Europeans and Americans we were treated to a short demonstration of the explicit eye and hand gestures that would convey the emotion of the actor. This was particularly helpful as the performance was entirely without spoken word with only a drum accompaniment.
Tomorrow we set off for Sri Lanka!

Link to the Alleppey/ Kochi gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 07:49 Archived in India Tagged house_boat colonial kathakali Comments (0)

India - Kollam

An unexpected Carnival.

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Kollam is a quiet and sleepy town which seems to be Hindu and Christian in equal measure. Our hotel looked out across a stunning lake offering a beautiful views out across the water when we woke up in the morning.
On the day after we arrived we joined the other guests for a visit to Munroe Island. Munroe Island or Mundrothuruthu is an inland island located where the Ashtamudi Lake and the Kallada River join.

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We took an early Rickshaw across town and over a ferry bridge to the island. Our driver was very proud as being the best rickshaw in town according to the various newspaper clippings he had kept. (In fairness he knew a lot about the locality and was very happy and friendly.) He even asked us to write a comment in his guest book!

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The trip consisted of a beautiful and highly interesting backwater canal trail around the villages and shrimp farms. A fascinating insight in to the lives of the local people. We saw lots of wildlife along the way including black and blue kingfishers, water snakes and buffalo.

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About an hour in we stopped off for some coconut beer, a local speciality, it was disgusting but we didn’t have the heart to tell the brewer! Further along our ride we stopped off where some women were making rope from coconut fur. A surprisingly strong material for such uses.
After about four hours it was time to get back to the hotel.

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Our wonderful rickshaw driver who had brought us here was waiting patiently for our return. While on the road he told us about a street celebration that was going on nearby. We decided we would take him up on his offer to take us and bring us back to the hotel. We are so glad we did. It was wonderful!
As soon as we arrived we could see a elephants up ahead. We jumped out of the rickshaw and briskly walked up our lane to the noise up ahead.

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Finally there we could see the procession, elephants painted and dressed in gold and bright colours. In a state of awe and wearing huge smiles we walked alongside the elephants. Further along the procession we realised that this was a carnival, with spectacularly decorated floats and drum troupes banging out rhythms. Every now and again there was a truck carrying a massive sound-system followed by groups of ecstatic kids throwing shapes. It seemed everyone was getting in on the carnival spirit.
A fabulous end to a wonderful day.
Tomorrow we set off for Allepey.

Link to our Kollam gallery here

Posted by philosipha 03:37 Archived in India Tagged carnival backwater Comments (0)

India - Kovalam/Varkala

A first venture in to Kerela

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Kerala is still reeling from the floods in recent years. It appears that things have been mostly rebuilt since but the area relies on tourism and it has simply not returned fully since the terrible news became public. This was very apparent by the constant touts and vendors forcefully (But nicely.) trying to sell you things. Even suggesting that they will come back in an hour in-case you have changed your mind. Mildly annoying but completely understandable given the personal circumstances of the locals.

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Kovalem was a bit underwhelming to be honest although we were treated to one of the most beautiful and epic thunderstorms we have ever witnessed, which continued to rage on above the ocean long after the rain had passed over head. The sea view restaurant we decided to eat at that evening offered spectacular views of the storm over the water.

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We also visited the local aquarium, which was a bit heartbreaking as some of the animals didn't seem to be looked after all that well. (We were followed in by a class of school children who seemed to have been hurried through by the teachers. A sorely missed learning and discovery opportunity.)
After three nights in Kovalam we decided that it would be time for us to go somewhere new. Now a dab hand at the Indian trains (Ok so we’ve taken one so far!) we booked a day train to take us to our next destination.

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The platform was in chaos. The carriages were poorly marked and the platform was littered with parcels and various other obstructions! This made it very difficult for us to find the correct carriage for our tickets. We just went for broke and hopped on the one we thought was correct hoping not to get kicked off if we were found out!
The two hour journey to Varkala was very enjoyable. Taking in the Keralan sights along the way.
That evening we had dinner in a restaurant with clifftop views over the beach and sea. As the sun set over the horizon the sky became a magnificent purple, something I have never seen before. And to top it off we had huge flying foxes flying over our heads! These animals had wingspans way over four feet! Exceptional!

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While in Varkala we had the opportunity to witness a genuine tabla band, a first since being here in India. A truly magical experience! (Link to video here.)
There’s a lot more to do and visit in Varkala compared to Kovalam. We hired a bike for a couple of days and visited the various beaches up and down the coast from where we were staying.
Unfortunately our bike's fuel gauge was broken so it was guesswork as to how much fuel we had. At one point we knew that we didn't have much fuel left and headed for a gas station. However we run out before we got there. As testament to the kindness of the Indian people a couple of younger lads worked out we were having issues and offered to take Scott the rest of the way to the gas station. Thankfully it was only about five hundred yards up the road. (So we nearly made it!) Scott hopped on to the back of the young Indian guys moped to get more fuel while the other stayed with Hannah practising his English!. We have nothing but high regard for the kindness of the Indian people which we found throughout our trip.

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We also visited Golden Island Temple that could only be accessed by a small ferry. (Read “gondola or pieces of wood held together with hope and optimism”.)
It took us a while to find the ferry man who was deep in the village. A young boy who spotted that we were looking a bit lost offered to guide us to the ferry man. (Turns out it was the ferry man’s son!) We followed him through what appeared to be villagers property but the locals were nice and waved as we passed through.

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Golden Island where the temple was built was filled with wildlife and is considered a sanctuary and no onebody lives there. There was only us and the island warden. The warden walked us through the complex of buildings blessing us at each shrine. At the end of the tour the warden allowed us some time to be alone and reflect on our experience of the temple island in private.
On the return boat ride we were blessed with a congress of dozens of eagles flying overhead. We have never seen so may eagles in one place before! Truly mesmerising!

Link to the Kovalem gallery here.
Link to the Varkala gallery here.

Posted by philosipha 20:12 Archived in India Tagged beaches temples Comments (0)

India - Hampi

This place is so prehistoric we expected a dinosaur to come plodding around the corner!

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While in Goa we had heard great things about a place called Hampi. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to thousands of temples so we decided we would visit there as we headed south through India. After the last night bus we thought it would be a good idea to get another. Unfortunately this wasn’t such a great plan.
The bus itself was late by three and a half hours. Once it arrived the bunks we had booked were already filled by other people so we were relegated to the bunk at the back of the bus.

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Turns out this was the roughest ride in the vehicle as every bump the back wheels hit was amplified by our position! Sleeper bus my arse. There was no sleep to be had here! At times it felt like a fairground ride, often being thrown in the air. And there was no way of turning off the AC and we were dressed for 40+ degrees not -5!
Furthermore, after roadworks and more traffic accidents where we should have arrived at 7.30 in the morning we finally arrived at 1.30 in the afternoon!

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The bus station in Hampi was beautiful. Set in an ancient market place surrounded by stonework and rock and with a huge temple at one end. But we were so tired, hungry and broken we didn’t even realise this until we came back a few days later. We wearily grabbed the first rickshaw and headed to our hotel ten minutes ride away.

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We had no plans to do anything except hang out on the rooftop café monkey watching and catch up with ourselves that day. (We also discovered that when it was time to sleep we had also found the hardest bed in India! Ouch!)
The following morning we hired a rickshaw driver to take us around the more notable temples. A very interesting day out and our driver was very knowledgeable about the history of each temple we visited. We took some amazing photography here.
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The final trip of the days excursion was to climb sunset mountain. As mentioned before safety is simply a concept and so decided that we would only go so far up, conscious that after sunset we would be descending into darkness. It was scary enough on the way up! However, at the highest point we were brave enough to climb we had a beautiful view across the town of Hampi with its main temple at the other end and a setting sun over the mountains in the distance. A truly stunning experience.

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While at the hotel we struck up a friendship with a Belgian chap called Tony who joined us to visit another local temple which was filled with macaques and heartbreakingly an elephant.

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India’s record for animal welfare leaves a lot to be desired, but it appeared that the elephant was looked after well. (But sadly not free.)
Later that day we all shared another rickshaw to the Anjana Matha temple. About 40 mins ride and 600 steps up!
Once near the top a very naughty macaque stole Hannah’s drink right out of her hand and then proceeded to open the lid and down the lot! Cheeky monkey!
The 360 views from the top were simply breathtaking. Looking down over the town of Hampi made it look akin to a model village.
After five days we had seen enough and it was now time for us to journey further south. This time we were going to take our first Indian train ride. This was a sleeper train to Bangalore then a flight to Kovalam to start the Kerala leg of our trip.

Link to our Hampi Gallery here

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Posted by philosipha 05:05 Archived in India Tagged temples stairs macaques Comments (0)

India - Goa

Time to kick back for a while.

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large_IMG_20181101_115728.jpgBy the time we arrived at our hotel it was only 4.30 in the morning. We had been travelling non stop for 15 hours and we were pooped. Unfortunately there was no-one at the hotel to receive us, we walked a little in the darkened and quiet street to the beach. Not so far away we could hear the beautiful sound of the waves crashing on the shore.

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We sat and watched our first Goan sunrise as we waited for the beach side hotel to open. After our long night Scott craved a cigarette but airport security had taken our only lighter. A kind gentleman who was having an early morning stroll passed us and struck up a conversation asking where we were from and what did we like about India. He even walked the 20 minutes back to his car to give us his lighter after we asked if he had one. Already we knew were going to like it here.
Goa is a comparatively small region of India. Popular with expats, particularly in Patnem where we were staying. Many of the bars and restaurants were owned by British people.
After a few days of resting and enjoying the beautiful beach we hired a moped and set out to venture further afield exploring some of the other untouched beaches up and down the coast. We found Butterfly Beach which was extremely difficult to get to as it was mostly dirt track or stony pass, our poor little moped wasn’t designed for off roading but the plucky little thing got us there in one piece. Once we found it we had a stunning ¼ mile cove of golden sands and clear water all to ourselves. (Save for the very friendly dog, who was so happy to see us and who followed us most of the way back!)

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Our friend Alecz who lives near Patnem looked after us. Showing us all the cool sights and bars to check out. We rode with Alecz to her preferred fish market in a town about thirty miles away in a town called Margoa to choose some fish that she cooked to perfection the next day. Thanks Alecz!
One of the highlights of Goa for Scott was the dolphin watching. Having never seen a dolphin in the flesh before seeing them in the wild was beyond exhilarating. A memory he will cherish forever.

After a few more days of resting on the beach we ventured inland to visit the Tanshikar Spice Farm. A very interesting and stimulating day out.

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The proprietor who was very knowledgeable took us around his spice farm explaining in detail the different spices, their history and historic and modern uses. He was even keeping bees to assist with the pollination on the farm. He then showed us around his home that had been passed down through the generations. (As was the farm.) He explained how the house kept cool and clean. (Once a year the top layer of the floor was scraped off and replaced with a mixture of clay and manure, apparently this had anti-bacterial properties!) When the tour was complete we were treated to a home made curry with spices fresh from the farm. Delicious!

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Suitably fed and watered we left to find a famous waterfall nearby in the Netravali Nature Reserve. After riding through jungle and up the side of the mountains to find the entrance we parked up and set off for the long hike. (Down a very long and precarious set of steps!) We finally made it to the bottom after 45 minutes of walking and were greeted with the breathtaking sight of the waterfall.

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The security guards present told us there had even been sightings of panthers recently here too!
Admittedly there was one day where we had had our fill of curry and discovered a bar in Patnem that was serving Sunday Roast! As much as we have tried to eat local we broke at the sight of roasted beef and potatoes!
We were sad to leave Goa. We had made some wonderful friendships with the people we met and will stay in touch with all of them.
But we are travellers so we must continue on.

Link to our Goa Gallery here

Posted by philosipha 03:50 Archived in India Tagged spice nature_reserve Comments (0)

India - Varanasi

Varanasi is hectic, far more hectic than Delhi.

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Ok, it's starting to feel like we have jumped from the frying pan in to the fire! And we thought Delhi was bonkers.
I’m not sure it is possible to squeeze any more people on to the streets! The police here have a monumental task of directing the many crossroads of chaos. With vendors waiting at every opportunity to sell you goods or apparent randoms wanting to guide you through the many back alleys and routes, (For a small fee of course!) Varanasi is definitely not for the faint of heart or easily offended!

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The holy city of Varanasi sits along a stretch of the Ganges river known locally as the Ganga with many Ghats (Worship areas) lining the river bank.
Winding through the impossible maze of backstreets with the buildings looming over us, past the millions of market stalls and food sellers, we managed to find our hotel despite poor GPS.
We discovered on arrival that our hotel was very near one of the Ghats and that there was a roof terrace that overlooked the Ganges. This became a welcome reprieve from the crazy bustle of Varanasi during our stay. It was also a great place to share stories with other travellers. (And count the dead cows floating by!)

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Across the river from our homely and friendly hotel we could see a vast dessert with a few tents and camels dotted here and there. We were told by locals that the Ganges spills over and covers the entire area in wet season.
Along our side of the river were hundreds of people bathing and praying as far as the eye could see.

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One of the memorable experiences of Varanasi was one of the burning Ghats. There are two burning Ghats in the city, one is comparable to our own crematoriums and is used by those who are poorer. The other which we visited burned the deceased on pyres next to the river bank. There were numerous processions that passed us through the back streets. Members of the lower caste would carry the dead on their shoulders with the families of the deceased following close behind. We were asked not to take pictures here so we willingly obliged.
An interesting fact about the burning Ghats was that children, holy men or those who had died from a snake bite were not burned on a pyre. The pyres are used to cleanse the soul of the dead but if you were one of the above your soul does not require saving so often your corpse is simply thrown in the river!

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We were invited to take a look around the burning Ghat by a gentleman who volunteered at the hospice nearby, he explained that his work was motivated by good karma for the afterlife.
He walked us through the burning pyres, which was weird, (And really hot!) and we felt like we were imposing on what should be a personal occasion for the mourners, but he assured us that it was ok.
While looking around we observed a man in the water just below the burning bodies. Our guide explained that he was sifting through the detritus looking for gold that had rolled down from the expired pyres. This was apparently very normal and above board!

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He walked us up to the next tier. Depending on which caste you were from dictated whether your corpse was burned at the lowest tier (lower caste.) or further up to the higher tiers. The heat was unbearable.
It was also noted that there were no women around. Our guide explained that it was because women get too emotional, on one occasion one woman was so overcome with grief that she threw herself on to her husbands burning pyre. From then on women were banned from the burning Ghat.
Varanasi is a busy hive of spirituality and business, although often if a little cash can be made then spirituality comes second when catching unsuspecting tourists off their guard.
One evening we ventured along the Ghats where there was a massive Hindu celebration occurring. Thousands of Hindus (And quite a few tourists!) had turned up to watch the spectacle.
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We also chartered a boat so that we could get a better view of the the Hindu celebration from the water. Hundreds of boats tightly knit together contained the audience of tourists. we were lucky as we shared our rather large boat with only one other gentleman. A lovely American chap from our hotel called Tom who we had struck up a friendship with.

While in Varanasi we couldn’t miss a visit to the famous Blue Lassi Bar.

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Lassi is a very popular in India. It is a churned curd which can be sweet or savoury and is made from a yogurt or buttermilk base with water and often has added fruits, nuts or other tasty treats mixed in, you can watch from the street as it’s made fresh for you. I can recommend the mixed fruit lassi, it was delicious!

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Five days in Varanasi was enough for us. Although the city is holy and highly regarded by the Hindus it’s streets are treated poorly and very dirty, and we were quite aware of what was in the air we were breathing! We are glad we visited Varanasi and we had learned a lot from our stay but not so sure we will return.

From here we fly south to Goa via Delhi.

Varanasi Gallery click here.

Posted by philosipha 00:38 Archived in India Tagged ganges ghats hindu Comments (0)

India - Agra

An epic end to our Rajasthan tour.

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After checking in to our hotel we asked our driver to take us to the spectacular 16th-century Mughal monument known as the Red Fort of Agra. The fort itself is comprised of a rich red stone and delicate carvings throughout.
The fort even has stunning views of the Taj Mahal from its ramparts which made us very excited!

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This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses within its 2.5-km-long enclosure walls the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. It comprises of many fairy-tale palaces, such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal built by Shah Jahan, audience halls, such as the Diwan-i-Khas, and two very picturesque mosques.
This is a beautiful building that is easy to get lost in with its myriad of tunnels and corridors that lead to secret chambers and rooms.
The eastern side of the complex would afford views of the Taj Mahal in the distance majestically overlooking the river.
The sun was high and the weather was scorching so we drove (Air con for just a while!) to the Mehtab Bagh Gardens for an opportunity for some spectacular sunset shots of the Taj from across the river.
At one point Hannah was grabbed for a photo opportunity by three ladies who were working in the gardens. They insisted that Hannah try to balance the huge basket on her head! Watching Hannah try and fail was hilarious. Then they charged us for the pleasure!
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As we were only sticking around for one night and wanted to catch the Taj up close at sunrise we settled in by a treating ourselves to a very dusty roadside dinner and an early night.
Having set the alarm for 5am we wearily got dressed and headed for the shuttle bus that would take us to the famous landmark and after a very short queue and a quick bag search we were within the grounds.

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Words cannot describe the stunning beauty of the Taj Mahal itself. As we entered the hazy view through the archway of the guard building leading up to the main garden was like something from a dream. Once past the arch and into the garden people were pushing and shoving to get the famous shot of the dazzling Taj reflected in the ponds. With a little bit of morning fog and the rising sun the structure looked mythical and romantic, the essence straight from an ancient middle eastern novel.

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Although the interior was beautifully ornate, inside was a little disappointing. Not much to see except the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan in the main chamber. (The real sarcophagi are housed in a tomb deep in the building and is not open to the public.). We were corralled around the sarcophagi and then out the back of the building. However, outside and from any angle the photos were spectacular.
Once we had taken as many photos as we could (There’s only so many shots you can get of the same object!) we set off for another lesser known landmark, the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah or Baby Taj.

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Along the way our driver insisted that we visit a shop that housed a Baby Taj. I think he may have been a little confused when we asked to go see the Baby Taj. Despite us trying to explain and pointing out on the map this wasn’t exactly what we meant he was persistent. Confused we agreed to go along. When we arrived all became clear. The shop was an establishment that sold object d’art and furniture made from marble.

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There was a room just off to the side where there was a gentleman who was making the inlays to a marble table and a scale model of the Taj Mahal. (A baby Taj if you will!) We laughed, he laughed. Then he ushered us into the shop.
We then realised that he was obviously friends with the owners and they were hoping we would buy something! In fairness, the tables inlaid with colourful stones were stunning and we did wish we could take one. But we didn’t fancy lugging a half ton piece of stone around with us for the rest of the trip!
Despite the shopkeepers best efforts we left empty handed and headed for the real Baby Taj.

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The Baby Taj is a magnificent but much smaller building than the Taj Mahal and is home to the tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah.
Much fewer tourists were interested in seeing the building often described as the ‘Jewel Box’.

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But the day was hot and we had the place mostly to ourselves so we relaxed in it’s beautiful and charming garden and imagined to ourselves what is must have been like when it had been built... well until Hannah stepped in pigeon poo!
After about an hour of basking in its history we jumped back in to our car (Air con!) and headed back to Delhi.

Posted by philosipha 04:04 Archived in India Tagged taj_mahal baby_taj Comments (0)

India - Jaipur

There's hundreds of monkeys everywhere!

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Jaipur is full of sights to see in it’s bustling city. First on our list was a visit to the Jaipur observatory. Here are a number of huge instruments scattered around a picturesque garden. Built and curated by Sawali Jai Singh and completed in 1734.

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It features the world's largest stone sundial and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The instruments allow the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye. The monument expresses architectural innovations, as well as the coming together of ideas from different religious and social beliefs in 18th-century India. The observatory is an example of the Ptolemaic positional astronomy which was shared by many civilizations.

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We then visited the Hawa Mahal Which means "Palace of Winds" or "Palace of the Breeze. A stunning five storey building built in 1799 by Maharaja Pratap Singh. It’s magnificent frontage sporting a vast array of colourful windows looking down on the busy market street below. Its unique five-story exterior is akin to the honeycomb of a beehive with its 953 small windows called jharokhas decorated with intricate latticework.

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After we drove north to the Amer (Amber) Fort. Yet another formidable structure that gave us the chance of some fantastic photography from within its walls.
After a spot of lunch we drove back across the city to visit the Monkey Temple or Galtaji Temple. On arrival we hired a guide (A young boy who appeared to be about 13) and bought a packet of peanuts to feed the monkeys.

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A long hike up followed by a long hike down in to the valley we could see the Temple buildings sprawled out in front of us. As we neared the bottom a small macaque appeared on the cliff side beside us. The young guide showed us how to feed them properly. He explained which ones we could and feed and which ones to steer clear of! Once down in the temple we were surrounded by these beautiful creatures. Many climbing over us to get at the delicious food we were offering. Quite the experience!
When we had finally ran out of food we took another trek high up on the huge hill overlooking the city that was home to the Sun Temple to watch the sun set of the city. Staying here for a while we reflected on the day’s events.

Jaipur Gallery click here.

Posted by philosipha 17:16 Archived in India Tagged monkeys palace forts observatory Comments (0)

India - Udaipur

It feels like we're in a ancient Indian novel.

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Udaipur is a very busy city. So busy in fact that our driver couldn’t get near our hotel! He dropped us off as close as he could but the rest was up to us. Using our map app (maps.me, best map app that uses GPS and doesn’t require an internet connection.) we could see that our hotel was about a 20 minute walk. So instead we opted for a tuk tuk to take us straight to our destination. Backpacks and busy narrow streets don’t mix well!
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Udaipur, formerly the capital of the Mewar Kingdom, is a city in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. Founded by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1559, it’s set around a series of artificial lakes and is known for its lavish royal residences.

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After we checked in and the bags thrown in our room we headed for the rooftop terrace. The view of the surrounding mountains from across Lake Pichola and the setting sun just behind in the distance was sheer Indian enchantment.

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The following day we ventured in to the sweltering city to visit the City Palace. The City Palace in Udaipur is an extravagant building filled with opulence and history. Built in a flamboyant style and is considered the largest of its type in the state of Rajasthan.

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It was built atop a hill, in a fusion of the Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles, providing a panoramic view of the city and its surroundings. It was built over a period of nearly 400 years, with contributions from several rulers of the Mewar dynasty.
Overlooking the lake, several historic monuments like the Lake Palace, Jag Mandir, Jagdish Temple, Monsoon Palace, and Neemach Mata temple, are all in the vicinity of the palace complex. Apparently filming of the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy took place here.

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Later we took a beautiful boat trip around the lake and to a hotel and garden complex built in the centre. Udaipur is a little more ‘touristy’ than we had experienced so far. But it was a little comforting to know that here we were not the only people that stood out.
In the evening we treated ourselves to a romantic rooftop dinner. A beautiful end to a very interesting (and ruddy hot) day as we watched the sun set over the Udaipur mountains.
Directly behind our hotel stood a magnificent temple which appeared to host a constant celebration every day and into the night! Not so great for sleeping!

Udaipur Gallery click here

Posted by philosipha 20:57 Archived in India Tagged temple palace lake Comments (0)

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