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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Baobab trees of Savanur

While traveling to Gadag we were passing through a small town of Savanur. Interesting I had recently learnt that there were three Baobab trees in the town. That was surprising as I thought that these trees were seen only in Africa. Anyway, out of curiosity we took a detour to visit these trees in Savanur.

Boabab tree
Situated in a school complex, they were huge baobab trees!! Authorities realizing its importance had put a fence around it to protect from miscreants. The board erected at the place provided some information about the trees.



Looking at the size they must be about few hundreds or thousands years old. Not much information is available about its age. 



Baobab trees are not just present in Savanur but are also seen at few other locations in India. Genetically the trees are said to be very close to African counterparts and it is surprising how did they enter into India. At Savanur, mythology has easily solved this issue by telling that Lord Krishna bought it from Africa!!




Final note
Do not ask locals about baobab tree. Locally they are known as “Dodda hunase mara (Big tamarind tree) or kalpavrusksha. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Train journey experience in Sri Lanka

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The train journey between Kandy to Ella is said to be one of the most scenic routes in the world. Obviously, it entered into my itinerary when I planned the trip to Sri Lanka. But I found that the booking process was complicated. It was not possible to book tickets online if you are outside Sri Lanka. Few trains had private first class compartments added which could be booked online. But their web site always had issues and I had to drop my plans of train journey in Sri Lanka.

Nine arch bridge near Ella

In Sri Lanka, our driver suggested us to take the train journey between Nuwara Eliya and Ella. The journey was about 3 hours and was termed to be the most scenic route. He said considering the busy season, the first and second class tickets would not be available but we could buy third class tickets from the railway station just before the journey. While we take the train, we would come by car to Ella with luggage. That sounded like a nice idea.

Train entering into a tunnel
The nearest railway station near Nuwara Eliya was Nanu Oya, 9 km away. The train was supposed to start at 9:30 AM and hence we were at railway station at 9 AM. We got the train tickets without any issues and entered into the platform. For 60 Sri Lankan Rupee, it was very cheap.

A railway station in Sri Lanka
With people started pouring into the platform, we slowly realized that our journey would be a challenge as the train would be very crowded. Most of them were tourists and we could hardly see any locals.

Nanu Oya station
As the train slowly entered into the station, people got into tizzy and looked eager to enter into the train. Seeing the crowd, I started doubting whether we could even get into the train. But being an Indian and used to crowd handling, I was confident that I could barge in. I took Tanu with me and pushed ourselves into the train. Chaya was bit slow but she managed to get in.

Highest station in Sri Lanka

Since the train had come from Colombo, it was already full and no seats were available. The prospect of spending three hours standing on the train loomed large. We even thought about getting down the train and calling our driver back!! But having gone far into this journey, it was not good to turn back. Also, with the crowd getting down was not possible!! Many people were still on the platform and could not get into the train!!

At one of the stations

We managed to get Tanu a seat by requesting a local to adjust. Things started getting better as the train pulled out of the station. Taking photographs was difficult due to the crowd but I managed to take one the waterfall that appeared. Slowly, people started adjusting to the situation and very quickly we entered into conversations. It was interesting as there were people from many nationalities. It was too much for a Chinese kid to handle the crowded situation and she puked. But their parents managed it so well by putting vomit bag in her mouth to ensure cleanliness. I remembered an incident long ago where a lady puked on me carelessly in a bus!! 

Eglin waterfall
As the train reached Ambewela station (30 minutes from Nanu Oya), one person got down and I could manage to get the seat. Chaya and I sat on that seat alternatively. Another Chinese kid was tired of standing and I asked her to sit on my lap. Her mother seemed to be very happy with out gesture.

Tea estates
The train entered into Hortons plain national park where the scenery was at its best. Halfway through the journey at Haputale, people seating next to me got down and Chaya managed to get the seat.  

It took nearly 3.5 hours for the train to reach Ella station. Our driver was promptly waiting for us.

At Ella station
Finally, was it worth? What can be done to make the journey better? Indeed, there is no question about scenery but it is similar to Nilgiris toy train journey or between Kukke Subramanya and Sakleshpur. But each route is different and I think that one should have an experience of Sri Lankan train. Here are few tips to make it better.
  • If you are concerned about crowd, try to book first class. Also, try booking via travel agent. I could have asked my driver to make booking earlier but it did not strike my head.
  • Trains from Kandy to Ella is crowded but the other way runs with less people. It is a good idea to plan the trip from Ella.
  • Avoid peak season if you do not like crowd.

Waterfall near Ella
During the train journey, keep the following things in mind.
  • I did not see any toilets in third class. (I may be wrong too). Keep this in mind and make use of restrooms at stations.
  • Try to travel light. It will be really hard with heavy luggages.
  • If you are prone to vomiting during journey, keep vomit bag. It will be handy.
  • I did not see anyone selling water or food stuff in the train between Nuwara Eliya and Ella. Better to carry some food items and water.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Waterfalls of Nuwara Eliya and Ella, Sri Lanka

Hilly regions of Sri Lanka has numerous waterfalls. When I started planning for Sri Lanka trip, I started gathering information about its waterfalls. It looked like I had to spend all my 8 days visiting waterfalls!! So, I had to bring down the number of falls in my itinerary. Most of these falls were situated in the area around Nuwara Eliya and Ella. In my previous posts, I described few falls between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. 

Diyaluma waterfalls in Sri Lanka

St. Clair’s falls
A very easy falls to view as it is situated next to A7 highway, about 34 kms from Nuwara Eliya. The scenic road passing through tea estates makes the journey joyful. The falls is visible from road itself and a viewing platform is constructed for the visitors to see the waterfalls. One can go down the steps to get a closer look. The upper kotmale hydro project has resulted in restricted amount of water to the waterfalls.



Devon waterfalls
Little further away from St. Clair’s falls is Devon falls. This can be viewed from the highway itself. The waterfall derives from the English planter “Devon”, whose plantation is also situated in the area. This is a huge waterfall but the view was also bit blocked by the canopy of trees. I heard that there is a way to get down but we did not try.



Lover’s leap waterfalls
This falls is situated on the outskirts of Nuwara Eliya, but to reach this place one has to either walk for 3-4 kms or take an auto rickshaw (known as Tuk Tuk locally). This journey is through tea estate and ends at the edge of the forest. From this point, it is about 10 minutes walk to the waterfall. It is a single step falls that looks spectacular. Getting into water is very difficult due to the slippery boulders. There should be a way to get to the top of the waterfall as I saw one person on the top!!



As you would have already guessed, the falls gets its name due to the couple who committed suicide at this place!!

Eglin waterfall
This is the waterfall seen on the train journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. The train journey itself demands a separate post. The waterfalls makes its appearance on the right side.



Ravana ella
A famous waterfall in Ella. It is said that Ravana who kidnapped Sita hidden her in the cave behind the waterfall!! This falls is situated next to the road making it easy for the people to view. 



Kithal Ella
This waterfall was seen from train just before reaching Ella. This makes its appearance on the right side while traveling from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. There must be a way to visit this waterfall on foot but due to lack of time, we did not try. 



Diyaluma falls

The most beautiful falls that we visited in Sri Lanka. While traveling from Ella to Galle, we saw the photo of this waterfall and suddenly decided to visit it. It needed a detour of about 15km from the main road but our driver obliged without any issue. It is a 628ft single step waterfall. Looks stunning from the road.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Waterfalls between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya

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For a person who has interest in visiting waterfalls, hilly regions of Sri Lanka provide ample opportunities. While few waterfalls require some amount of hiking, most of them are situated next to the road making to very easy to visit. Our first experience of Sri Lanka waterfalls was during our journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. Due to good rains in the previous weeks, most of the waterfalls were having decent amount of water.

Ramboda waterfalls
Here is the list of waterfalls we saw during our journey. 

Ramboda waterfall
Ramboda waterfall is a major waterfall on the route between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. It is a multiple stage falls but from the road a short step is visible. Most visitors will just look at this falls from the road and proceed further. Few of them play in the water near the small waterfall. But to view the real beauty, you have to walk a bit.



Ramboda upstream waterfall
From the bridge on the main road take the path that goes up. You have to climb up for about 20-30 minutes in the forest. The path is next to the stream and it is possible to get down to the stream at few places. There are many mini waterfalls on the way.



Though there were steps for most part of the route, I felt bit tired as I was hungry at that time. But the moment I reached the end of the trail, all my tiredness suddenly vanished. I was standing in front of a huge waterfall. The setting of this falls looked like a big amphitheater. An amazing place.



Ramboda downstream waterfall
The least visited waterfall of Ramboda. A deviation from main highway goes into Ramboda hotel. We had to enter into the hotel, pass through the corridors, get down 3-4 floors in the hotel and pass through the restaurant. We were pleasantly surprised to see the huge falls from the restaurant. We walked down for few hundred meters on well defined path to reach the base of the waterfall. 



The two step waterfall is huge and stunning. The water after the falls is diverted through small canal to generate hydro electricity. 



I was quite surprised that the posh hotel people allowed tourists to visit waterfalls. But “Not everyone is allowed” said driver. He said that while locals were discouraged from entering, foreigners were allowed. We were also not charged for the entry.

Puna waterfalls
I am not sure whether the name is correct but this beautiful falls makes it appearance from the roadside. Though this looked big, we did not go near this waterfalls. There might be a way to the base.



Unnamed falls 1
A roadside waterfall. This was the first one we saw on the highway. So, we were excited and stopped for a while to have a look at it and take a snap!!



Unnamed waterfall 2
Another waterfall next to the highway. Before Ramboda falls. It looked big with multiple stages. From the base, we could only see the bottom part.



We went bit back and got a view of the top portion of this waterfalls.




If you are traveling between Kandy and Newark Eliya during or just after rainy season, expect lot of pit stops to enjoy the waterfalls!!

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Travel to Sri Lanka

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For the last 7-8 years, I have been traveling during Christmas time. Our company has shutdown during year end and my daughter also has school holidays. Until now, all Christmas travel was within India but this year we decided to try somewhere outside. Sri Lanka which was in my backlog got priority!! Sri Lanka has lot of similarities with India. At many times you do not feel that you are outside India!! Though road conditions, driving, cleanliness and civic sense is not comparable with western countries but it is definitely better than India.

St. Clair's falls in Sri Lanks
Before writing posts about our experience in Sri Lanka, I thought I will summarize some of the important aspects of our trip. For a person looking at information, this would be the most important post!!

Itinerary 
We had 8 days in hand for Sri Lanka. Though it is a small island, I realized that the time we had was very less for the country. It had lot to offer in terms of beaches, history, cultural, religious, forest, wild life sanctuaries and hilly places. I chose to concentrate on west, central and southern part of the country considering the probability of good weather during December. The east and northern part of the country receives lot of rain in December.

My personal preference was hilly regions. But ignoring few historical and religious places in Sri Lanka did not look like a good plan. Hence I included them too. Chaya and Tanu refused to be part of the trip if beaches were not included!! So, the itinerary consisted of areas around Colombo, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Galle. 

Our Sri Lanka travel


Airlines
Currently Jet Airways and Sri Lankan airlines have direct connectivity between Bengaluru and Colombo. Indigo will be adding its services from January 2018. The standard return ticket would be between 12K to 15K INR. I had accumulated some Jet Airways miles and got it converted for award tickets. I ended up only paying the tax part. So, a significant amount was saved. I booked it in the month of February.

Visa
We had to obtain an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) through their website prior to travel. The process was very simple. Just enter the passport details and pay the amount through credit card. ETA will be sent within 24 hours to the registered email address. The cost was 20 USD for SAARC countries and it was free for children. In our case, we received ETA within minutes.

As per the requirements, one need to show return ticket and proof of funds for stay at immigration in Sri Lanka. But we were not asked any question!! It is also not necessary to carry ETA as it is already in their system. But it is better to have either soft/hard copy as we were asked by Indian immigration to show return ticket and ETA!!

Travel
Though not very convenient, Sri Lanka has good public transport comprising of buses and trains. But since I was traveling with family and with luggages and considering the short time we had in the country, we chose to hire taxi. A month before the trip, I sent mails to few of the leading taxi companies like Malkey, Casons and others. I did get response from all of them but few did not had cars at that time and quotes by others was very high. Additional journey (> 80/100 km), additional hours (>8 hours) costed extra on top of basic charge per day. Apart from that driver’s food and accommodation was also extra. There was also tax component on top of everything. It was turning out to be very expensive.

Chaya’s friend had gone to Sri Lanka before and had hired driver directly there. They had good feedback about him and shared his number. I contacted him on WhatsApp and shared the itinerary. His quote for 8 days based on my itinerary was significantly less than other well known agencies. The car offered was also superior ( Nissan tiida - Sedan with A/C and airbags). It was indeed a good deal. 

Our car in Sri Lanka

But there was a problem. He wanted us to transfer some advance to his account. It was the first time I was trying international bank account transfer. I am now used to something called as “click of a button” but realized that was not possible. Visit to branch was necessary and I asked Chaya to do that as she was working in MG Road where many banks were located. She came back with 5 different forms that needed to be filled for transfer!! It was really complex. I hated it. Chaya took control of the situation and called up the person and convinced him not to take advance amount. In order to build confidence, I also sent him the ticket copy.

The driver was promptly waiting for us at the airport when we came out at 4 in the morning. He was really good and was not very rigid about the plan and was open to changes.

Monitor lizard crossing - a common sight in Sri Lanka
Currency
Sri Lankan currency is called as Sri Lankan Rupee. 1 INR = 2.4 SLR. Currency could be exchanged at airport or at various banks or private shops. Indian currency is also accepted for exchange. Credit cards are accepted at few places but still cash is king in many parts of Sri Lanka. In Addition to currency exchange, I also used ATM’s to withdraw cash. That looked more convenient.

“Foreigners” charge
Most of the tourist locations in Sri Lanka have different rates for foreigners, though at some places there is some discount for tourists from SAARC countries. The price difference between locals and foreigners could be anywhere between 10X to 50X. That makes many attractions in Sri Lanka super expensive for Indians. So much so that it leads to frustration at many places. I cannot comment a lot about this as India as does the same to its foreign guests.

But I did not experience any ill-treatment towards Indians anywhere in Sri Lanka. 

Food
Though we are strict vegetarians, we did not find any problem with the food. Veg options were always available. At some places like Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Galle, we even managed to find South Indian restaurants. Cost also varied between restaurants but in general, it was reasonable. 

Accommodation
At all places, I booked home stays using AirBnb or Booking.com. It turned out to be very cost effective when compared with standard hotels or resorts. All places were decent and hosts were very hospitable. Though I did booking in the month of June, I feel that there is no need to book so early. When checked, rooms were available even on the last day for decent prices. It looks like Sri Lanka had lot of accommodation options.

Language
Sinhalese is the official language of Sri Lanka. The accent is very similar to Malayalam!! We could manage with English without any issue. Tamil is also understood by few people, especially Tamil people settled in Sri Lanka.  

Connectivity

I purchased Mobitel pre paid SIM at the airport. It served the need for local calls and data. The speed was generally good. Hotels also offered Wi-Fi but the connection was spotty. There are other providers like Dialog and Airtel.