A Travellerspoint blog

Dubai

Route: Colombo - Dubai - London

sunny 26 °C

December 2019

As the plane approached Dubai the clouds parted to reveal a pristine desert below us. Then as we got closer the view began to change, the desert was now filled with small construction sites that finally turned into a sprawling concrete jungle.
Dubai airport is clean, smart and efficient so passing through it was easy and fast. With our bags collected and a taxi secured we left the airport and headed for the bright lights of downtown. It was evening now, all the roads and buildings were illuminated, so much so that the level of visibility wasn’t much different to the daylight hours.
Our apartment was on the 13th floor with the balcony looking across to the Dubai Mall. Once settled in, we spent some time out on the balcony admiring the massive skyscrapers all around us and being dazzled by the amount of artificial light on display together with the variety of colour.

View from our apartment balcony

View from our apartment balcony

View from our apartment balcony

View from our apartment balcony

View from our apartment balcony

View from our apartment balcony

Our apartment block, we are staying on the 13th floor

Our apartment block, we are staying on the 13th floor

Before arriving we had perused the attractions that Dubai had to offer. Many were family oriented (not of interest to us), many were silly money (out of our price range) and others offered something that we had been lucky enough to experience before and didn’t need to do again. However, we did find a few that interested us and managed to do all of them during our stay.

Our first visit was to the Dubai Mall, not because we wanted to shop, although we did need to go to the Waitrose supermarket that was there, but to experience the vastness of it and to see the shear number of outlets in it. It was also on our doorstep and had the novelty of visiting it without having to go outside. The Mall was connected to our apartment block by a number of elevated corridors all with conveyor walkways. No Poundshop or H&M in here, all the shops were high end and catering for the wealthy clientele that were circulating inside. It is very big, in fact the biggest mall in the world with 5.9 million square feet of internal floor area made up of 3.77 million of retail space and 2.13 for entertainment. It is also not very easy to find your way unless you download the app to help navigate you, conventional signage is a bit lacking. There are also buggies circulating for shoppers who can’t walk the vast floor space or just get tired.
Impressive as it was inside, the outside fountains stole the show. At a certain time in the evening an illuminated lake would become a spectacle of water jets that seemed to dance to the music that accompanied it. This was then followed by a light show on the outside of the Burj Khalifa, again accompanied by music and best viewed from the lake side.

The Fountain display, the show lasted 3 minutes and photo doesn't do it justice

The Fountain display, the show lasted 3 minutes and photo doesn't do it justice

Burj Khalifa at night

Burj Khalifa at night

Burj Khalifa light show

Burj Khalifa light show

Our second visit was to the Burj Khalifa, at 829.8meters the world tallest building. Not cheap, with the basic entrance at £50.00 per person, and that only gets you to the 125th floor viewing deck (there are 160 floors). An impressive structure and an interesting visit, especially the light show in the lift as you go up. The view from the deck was obviously amazing but still not worth £50.00.

View from the Burj Khalifa

View from the Burj Khalifa

View from Burj Khalifa

View from Burj Khalifa

View from the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa

View from the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

View from taxi on our way to stadium with light shining on Burj Khalifa

View from taxi on our way to stadium with light shining on Burj Khalifa

Next on the agenda was a day at the Dubai Rugby Sevens, this one had been planned for some time and tickets bought in advance. A full day of rugby was rather a lot to ask of Anne but she was great and agreed to join me. The day started with a 36km taxi ride out into the desert. A rather strange location for a venue that needs lots of water to maintain several rugby pitches to an international standard. What followed was an entertaining day of sevens rugby, enhanced by a cloudy sky filtering out the worst of the suns rays. We even had a bit of rain which seemed surreal considering we were in the desert. I also didn’t touch a drop of alcohol, not because of any local laws but for the fact that a small (33cl) can of Heineken cost £7.30.

Entrance to Rugby 7's tournament

Entrance to Rugby 7's tournament

Rugby 7's (England vs France)

Rugby 7's (England vs France)

Crowd at Rugby 7's

Crowd at Rugby 7's

Our last activity during our stay was to explore the coastal strip. This was partly done by taxi, aided by a very informative driver, and partly on foot. Our first stop was the supposed seven star hotel of Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. An impressive structure, but with a wow factor somewhat subdued due to all the other amazing buildings in the area.

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

Next it was a drive along the coast with insightful commentary from our taxi driver before we arrived at the start of the Dubai Marina Walk. This was listed as a highlight but let us some what underwhelmed. We started by walking along a pedestrianised zone lined with restaurants and gift shops, then finished on the sidewalk of an inland waterway filled with a few expensive boats. Even with the sea on one-side of us it felt claustrophobic from all the high rise hotels and apartments that we were required to negotiate. Even the architecture was uninspiring, resembling Disney-world more than cutting edge construction.

Marina Walk

Marina Walk

Marina walk street mural

Marina walk street mural

Marina walk street art

Marina walk street art

Marina Walk street mural

Marina Walk street mural

Dubai Marina, a very small portion of it

Dubai Marina, a very small portion of it

Dubai Ferris Wheel, the highest of it's kind at 210m

Dubai Ferris Wheel, the highest of it's kind at 210m



With that our time in Dubai had come to an end and the following day we flew back to the UK. In conclusion, we were pleased we had seen it, weren’t as impressed as expected and unlikely to return.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Dubai
Dubai is one of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates, the other six being: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Was Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain.
The United Arab Emirates, sometimes simply called the Emirates, is a country in Western Asia at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south and west, as well as sharing maritime borders with Qatar to the west and Iran to the north. It has a population of 9.2 million, of which 1.4 million are Emirati citizens and the other 7.8 million expatriates.
Dubai has risen from a small fishing port to a sprawling modern city funded by oil money. But with the demand for oil set to decline its economy is diversifying into finance and tourism. In fact it is now the fifth most popular tourist destination in the world.

UAE Flag (Red is for sovereignty, Black for courage and power, white for peace and green for goodness and agriculture)

UAE Flag (Red is for sovereignty, Black for courage and power, white for peace and green for goodness and agriculture)

The Dubai Experience
It wasn’t very long after our arrival that we realised that there was something very different about this city. With most of it built in the 21st century it doesn’t resemble anywhere else that we have visited. It felt more like a movie set, a Sci-fi town or you had joined Jim Carrey in the “Truman Show”.
Very few people venture out on the streets and that is not because of the heat, it is quite mild at this time of the year, they stay in the buildings or use vehicles and connector bridges to get around. That is except for one of the few pedestrian only areas, where you do see a good number of tourist and nannies entertaining the children in their care.
The streets are clean (which is commendable) and manicured but lifeless. This is definitely not a London, Paris or New York.

Downtown Dubai street, its only 19h00 on a Saturday.

Downtown Dubai street, its only 19h00 on a Saturday.

There are no old vehicles, even the cheapest looks as though they haven’t been long out of the show room. There is also a disproportionate number of luxury cars which emphasises the wealth of the city. There is not many places in the world where the front few rows at traffic lights will consist of a Rolls Royce convertible, a Ferrari, a Bentley, a couple of Lexus and a top of the range Land Rover. It was also interesting to see the car show room segregation as we drove down one of the main roads, on the left were Bentley, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Maserati and on the right Toyota, Hyundai and VW.
We came to the conclusion that the bird population of the city was three. As we only ever saw a group of three doves at any one time. Although a couple of sparrows did make an appearance on our last day. There are also no dogs or cats, unless they are confined in the apartment blocks.
With the exception of a few bushes, ornamental trees and small patches of manicured lawns, there is no greenery in Dubai (hence the lack of bird life). I am sure this statement could be challenged but I believe it gives the general picture. What there is, is a lot of concrete and more is arriving by the day. For every new glistening sky scrapper there is another one being built next to it and that is not to mention the ongoing construction of the World Island and Dubai Creek .
The city has unbelievable wealth from the few home grown mega rich to the very wealthy foreigners who now call Dubai home (well at least for part of the year). For those with very deep pockets anything is possible, we even heard of a hotel where every room has its own private swimming pool and I am not talking about a plunge pool.
But not everyone is rich in Dubai, in fact the majority of residents aren’t. They are the people that work in the construction and service industries and who are generally not Emirati. There is plenty of employment in Dubai for these sectors and we understand wages are quite good. But what we were never able to ascertain is where they live, eat and socialise.
There appears to be no homelessness, at least not in the areas that tourist frequent. The government does not release official data regarding any local poverty levels, but independent studies suggest that this effects 19.5% of the population. However, it should be stressed that the government have policies in place to start tackling the problem.
Now I am not a city person so the above commentary may come over as a bit negative and I won’t make it worse by questioning the city’s climatic impact.
This is rather a long script of observations so I will stop now.

Posted by MAd4travel 09:12 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (1)

Sri Lanka

Route: Colombo - Wilpattu National Park - Dambulla - Kandy - Ella - Yala National Park - Mirissa - Colombo

sunny 30 °C

NOVEMBER 2019

Following our stop over in Bangkok, Thailand, we continued our Asian journey with a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. We were in Sri Lanka for a month and aimed to explore as much of it as possible. Our route went clockwise around the country, starting and finishing at Colombo airport.
Our arrival in Sri Lanka was very early in the morning (1am) and we're pleased at how quickly we were able to clear immigration and collect our bags. A short taxi ride got us to our accommodation for the rest of the night, a private hotel run by very friendly and helpful hosts.
After a good nights sleep, even if a bit short, and a hearty breakfast we were on our way to our first destination. What followed was a fascinating four hour drive, first through urban then rural Sri Lanka, to reach the Wilpattu Tree Houses, our accommodation for the next three days. As the name suggests our accommodation was best described as a cabin on stilts, about 10 meters off the ground and with great views of the lower tree canopy that was all around us. The level of comfort was actually a bit better than we might have expected. The one room cabin had its own bathroom, air-conditioning and a quite comfortable bed.

Our room is on the top floor

Our room is on the top floor

Our Tree House

Our Tree House

A monsoon shower had greeted our arrival at the Tree Houses, so sheltering from the rain was the first order of the day. The rain continued into the afternoon which meant we couldn’t do much other than organise our activities for the following day.

Fortunately by the next day the storm had cleared and the weather was good for our half day safari into the Wilpattu National Park. Soon after dawn we were in the park scouting for some of its iconic wildlife. It has a good population of Asian Elephant, Leopard and Sloth Bear, but unfortunately all eluded us, but on the plus side it's a beautiful park and saw lots of other wildlife. The next day was more of the same and equally enjoyable.

White throated kingfisher

White throated kingfisher

Water monitor lizard

Water monitor lizard

Asian Mongoose

Asian Mongoose

Toque Macaque

Toque Macaque

Mugger crocodile

Mugger crocodile

Bird of Prey

Bird of Prey

Crested Hawk-Eagle

Crested Hawk-Eagle

Samba Deer

Samba Deer

Peacock in a tree

Peacock in a tree

Croc

Croc

Jungle fowl, Sri Lanka National Bird

Jungle fowl, Sri Lanka National Bird

Land Monitor Lizard

Land Monitor Lizard

Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu National Park

Painted Stork

Painted Stork

Wilpattu Lake

Wilpattu Lake

The afternoons were hot and humid. We had an early start each day, so after the safari we generally relaxed in the tree house. Excursions out onto our elevated deck to watch the bird life, and some mad Palm Squirrels, together with a short walk to a nearby lake were our only other activities.

From Wilpattu we had a scenic taxi ride south east, through the central lowlands, to the town of Dambulla. Our hotel was modern and comfortable and we seemed to be the only guests. The reason for our visit to this part of the country was to see two of Sri Lanka’s famous ancient monument.

The first was the Cave Temples of Dambulla. Only a few kilometres from our hotel we decided to make our own way there. A short walk to the main road followed by a 5 minute Tuk-Tuk ride got us to the entrance of the temple complex. Easy so far, but that wasn’t the case when it came to finding the ticket office. There were no signs that we could see and the directions we were given by different people didn’t seem to help. Finally we came across a monk who was much more helpful and we eventually found the ticket office. By now we had been wondering around for about 30 minutes, up and down slopes and in and out of the complex. But this hadn’t dulled our determination and we climbed up even more steps to the top of as massive bolder where the temples were located. In the end it was well worth the effort, the temples were not only amazing they were quite unique. Built between the surface of the bolder and an enormous rock overhang they numbered five with each being a bit different. The floor, ceiling and some inner walls are all the natural rock of the bolder, with only the outer and some dividing walls manmade. Dating back over 2000 years they were originally the hiding place of the exiled King Vattagamini. Who, when he regained his throne, had the temples constructed as an act of gratitude for the shelter the rock had offered him. Hundreds of statues of Buddha and other important figures fill the temples together with detailed artwork on the walls and ceiling. Although a lot has been repaired and renovated over the years the core is original and quite spectacular to behold.

Snake encounter on the steps to the Cave Temples

Snake encounter on the steps to the Cave Temples

Cave Temples, Dambulla

Cave Temples, Dambulla

Painting on the rock of cave temple

Painting on the rock of cave temple

Cave temple of Dambulla

Cave temple of Dambulla

Cave temple of Dambulla

Cave temple of Dambulla

Golden Temple of Dambulla

Golden Temple of Dambulla

Our second visit was to Sigiriya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited attractions in Sri Lanka. We left our hotel early to avoid the heat and the crowds and the plan worked well.
Dating back to the 5th century and built by the kings Dhatusena and Kassapa, the citadel covers a vast site with its huge rock outcrop its focal point. You enter over a moat into a water garden and can immediately see how grand it must have been from the structures that remain. Following the central path we arrived at the rock crop and the start of a long steep climb to the city on the top, 200 meters above our heads. The stairs climb up the rock face past thrones and sacred caves until you arrive at the mirror wall. Here the rock face was once so polished it reflected the kings image as he passed by. Further up in a sheltered cave you arrive at the Sigiriya Damsels, Sri Lanka’s most famous frescoes. These busty beauties were also painted in the 5th century and once covered the whole 140 meter length of the cave but now only 21 remain, but very impressive even so. The climb then continues to the ruined city on the top where the foundations of palaces, bathes and other building can be clearly seen, the view is also incredible. One question that is constantly on your mind as you climb the rock, is why build your city up here. The answer to that question is that Kassapa was in constant fear that his brother would invade the kingdom to take his throne, so he reasoned that building up here would aid his defence.

Sigiriya and its moat

Sigiriya and its moat

Starting the climb up to the top, going through gate made of boulders

Starting the climb up to the top, going through gate made of boulders

The mirror wall of Sigiriya

The mirror wall of Sigiriya

Sigiriya Rock

Sigiriya Rock

Top of Sigiriya Rock

Top of Sigiriya Rock

We spent our last day in Dambulla doing a bit of travel admin and looking around the town. Sometimes the most enjoyable and memorable times during travelling are not the visits to the country’s major attractions, but getting immersed in the local life going on all around you. Our day Dambulla was one of those occasions. Our goal was to go to an ATM and the Post Office, but the enjoyment was watching people go about their daily business, and there was plenty to see. Dambulla is a busy little town with most of the action going on around the wholesale market. Here all modes of transport were arriving stacked with fruit and veg and an equal number leaving with their purchases. Unsurprisingly, a major traffic jam was the result outside the market gates.

Wholesale fruit & Vegetable market in Dambulla

Wholesale fruit & Vegetable market in Dambulla

Colourful truck

Colourful truck



From Dambulla we travelled into the country’s central highlands and to the town of Kandy. Our hotel in Dambulla had arranged our transport and as it was voting day for the country’s presidential election we departed quite early. However, as our driver had already voted by the time he picked us up, he suggested stopping at a few attractions on route. This sounded interesting so we agreed.
Our first stop was at the Nalanda Gedige Temple. Not on the usual tourist route so we had the site almost to ourselves. It’s a mixed religion temple, both Hindu and Buddhist, and dates from the 8th century. The approach path must have been quite grand at one time as there were the ruins of ornately carved pillars laying on either side. The temple is at the end of the path and sits on a piece of land protruding out in to a lake. Its a very peaceful spot and an ideal location for it. After more than 1000 years time has taken its toll, but you can still see some of the details in its stone work, buddha heads and hindu gods are still visible.

Centre of Sri Lanka

Centre of Sri Lanka

Gate to Gedige temple

Gate to Gedige temple

Gedige Temple

Gedige Temple

Continuing our surprise tour our next stop was a herb and spice garden. Here a guide showed us the plants and explained their medicinal use. Then came the surprise, at the end of the tour we were offered a massage (I say offered but there wasn’t really anyway we could decline) using the plant oils we had just been shown. To be honest the massage was quite pleasant even if it did take place in the garden on a wooden table. There was no fee for the whole experience just a donation. So once we had handed over a suitable sum and bought some of the herbs that were on sale, we were on our way again.

Herb & Spice garden

Herb & Spice garden

Green Pepper in herb garden

Green Pepper in herb garden

With the weather now turning against us we were only to make one more brief stop. This was at the Sri Muthumariamman Thevasthanam, one of Sri Lanka’s biggest Hindu temples. Very colourful and very ornate, we only had time for a quick photograph of the outside before the rain started and we continued our journey.

Hindu temple

Hindu temple

Hindu temple

Hindu temple

Finally we arrived at our accommodation in Kandy, a beautiful guesthouse run by a lovely family. It was located up in the hills above the town in a peaceful area with not much more than the sound of birds for company. We had a great room with a balcony and were very comfortable throughout our stay. We chilled out for the rest of the day, recovering from our busy morning activities.

The following day we hired a tuk-tuk and went exploring Kandy.
The first stop was the “Temple of the Tooth” which houses the “Buddha’s Tooth”. Legend has it that when Buddha died one of his teeth was saved and it eventually ended up in Sri Lanka. Because of the importance of the relic a whole temple was constructed within the grounds of Kandy Palace, just to house it. The temple was interesting enough but what made the visit special was that we were there for the “Puja”. The “Puja” is a ceremony to allow the public to see the tooth relic. It is preceded by a lot of drumming and flute playing, then a door is opened and everyone in turn can get a glimpse of the tooth. However, seeing the tooth is rather stretching the truth, what you see is an ornate casket that has multiple caskets inside the last of which contains the tooth. Still, an interesting experience all the same.

Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

Punja at Temple of the Tooth

Punja at Temple of the Tooth

A glimpse into the shrine holding the 7 caskets where the tooth is being kept

A glimpse into the shrine holding the 7 caskets where the tooth is being kept

Temple of the Tooth

Temple of the Tooth

Next stop was the botanical gardens and a much more impressive place than we had expected. Billed as one of the largest and finest in Asia the 150 acres is enclosed in a loop of the Mahaweli River. It is tastefully laid out and contains a large variety of local and foreign flora. There are also a number of greenhouses, although you question the need for them in this heat, including an orchid house and a fern house both of which we visited. We spent close to two hours in the the gardens, enjoying the displays, the quiet and the wildlife. There were lots of different birds amongst the foliage, fruit bats sleeping high up in the canopy, a Rat Snake searching for prey on the lawns and even some native cattle.

Botanical garden, Kandy

Botanical garden, Kandy

Kandy Botanical garden, ladders made of 6 or is it 7 seven ladders tied together

Kandy Botanical garden, ladders made of 6 or is it 7 seven ladders tied together

Orchid greenhouse

Orchid greenhouse

Canon ball tree

Canon ball tree

Fruit bats in botanical garden

Fruit bats in botanical garden

Rat Snake appearance

Rat Snake appearance

Rat Snake encounter

Rat Snake encounter

As we exited the gardens we felt the first signs of rain so looked for an inside attraction next. That was a woodcraft workshop that carved ornaments by hand from a variety of locally sourced woods. We were given a demonstration then invited to view the shop, finally leaving with a rather nice wooden mask.

Woodwork demonstration

Woodwork demonstration

All this exploring had made us hungry so it was time for a late lunch. During our time in Asia we have had some very nice local meals but every so often you feel the need for something your taste buds are more use to, so we sought out a recommended pizza place. Following a very tasty pizza we were ready to call an end to our exploring for the day and headed back to our accommodation.

Rested and revived after a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast we were ready to explore more of Kandy. Our main focus was to walk around the lake and to observe what went on around it. This included short conversations with locals and watching the surprisingly plentiful wildlife, in particular a large Monitor Lizard searching for buried eggs on the shoreline. With the lake circled it was time to find an ATM and check out the shops, then another late lunch and a chill out back at the room.

View of the Temple of the Tooth and Queen's temple

View of the Temple of the Tooth and Queen's temple

Kandy lake

Kandy lake

Confining our Kandy activities to an extended morning worked well as by mid afternoon the rain would arrive. This weather pattern had been with us for all of our time in northern and central Sri Lanka. Morning would dawn bright and sunny, then the clouds would build up and finally a heavy downpour would arrive by mid to late afternoon.

The next day it was time to leave our comfortable accommodation and to journey further into the central hills. The journey started at Kandy railway station were we caught the 11:10 bound for Ella. We arrived at the station in good time and while waiting were entertained by locals, who had left their arrival a bit late, running and jumping on the train as it was leaving the station. This reminded us of the old days in Europe before health and safety went mad.

Kandy train station

Kandy train station

Boarding the train at Kandy station

Boarding the train at Kandy station

Our journey to Ella took six and a half hours and once clear of the Kandy suburbs was through rolling hills dissected by rivers, past numerous waterfalls and what seemed like a never ending tea plantation. With a comfortable carriage, we had splashed out £5 each for 1st class with air conditioning and reclining seats, and beautiful scenery it was a pleasant way to travel. The train itself was pretty old rolling stock pulled by a diesel locomotive and rattled along at a stately pace. The slow speed aided in the taking of photographs which were best achieved through the opens doors between the carriages. That was when the space wasn’t blocked by other tourists hanging out taking selfies. You also had to hold on tight as the carriage would shake around constantly whilst the train negotiated the uneven track.

First class carriage

First class carriage

On our way to Ella

On our way to Ella

Tea plantation from the train

Tea plantation from the train

Train to Ella

Train to Ella

More tea plantation from the train

More tea plantation from the train

Train to Ella

Train to Ella

Once in Ella a short taxi ride up into the neighbouring hillside got us to our accommodation. First impressions weren’t good as it appeared that we had arrived at a building site, but once inside things improved greatly. The views from the dining area and our bedroom balcony were stunning and it reminded us why we had booked the place. In addition to the balcony view the room had a chaise longue, comfortable king size bed, en-suite and an unusual wall decoration. The wall was cleverly sculptured with three elephants protruding from it and with foliage both painted and planted on it to make the scene more realistic. Just beneath it there was a small shelf that was plastered to resemble the forest floor and acted as a secure surface for the plant life to grow from.

Bedroom decor

Bedroom decor

However, the only downside of the wall display and a forest buffing up against our balcony, was the insect life that wanted to share our room with us. To be honest it wasn’t to difficult accommodate them and it was a trade off for the beautiful location we were in.

We had two days to explore Ella and its surrounding countryside and needed to choose what we wanted to see. We could see “Little Rawana Falls” from our balcony so hiking closer wasn’t necessary and the town of Ella was full of restaurants and curio shops so wasn’t of interest to us. We settled on two excursions, one for each morning as rain was forecast for the afternoon.

View from our bedroom

View from our bedroom

View from our bedroom balcony

View from our bedroom balcony

Our first was to visit the Nine Arch Railway Bridge a few kilometres outside town. A tuk-tuk got us to the top of the valley and from there we walked down to the railway line. The track is not electrified so it is quite safe to walk along, provided you stay vigilant for any approaching train. A short walk got us to the bridge and quite a feat of engineering it is. Nine brick arches, of typical victorian design, carry the railway track across a deep ravine. Today it was also doing the same job for quite a few tourist all looking for a photo opportunity. We crossed the bridge, traversed a railway tunnel and started our walk back to town. Walking along the railway track was quite easy going which was handy as there was only thick bush either side. Although we were aware that this might be our only refuge should a train arrive unexpectedly. We had been told the times of the trains and had managed to reach a safe vantage point on another bridge when one passed. It was now just a short stretch of track before reached Ella station and the end of the day’s excursion.

Nine Arch Bridge

Nine Arch Bridge

On track

On track

Nine Arch Railway Bridge

Nine Arch Railway Bridge

The Train!

The Train!

Scarecrow to ward off Evil

Scarecrow to ward off Evil

Ella railway station

Ella railway station

The second excursion was to summit “Little Adams Peak”. Not as dramatic as it sounds more of a gentle walk up through a tea plantation then some steep steps at the end to reach the top. Well worth it though just for the view.

Little Adams Peaks

Little Adams Peaks

View from Little Adams Peak

View from Little Adams Peak

Tea picker

Tea picker

It was time to move on again so we left the hills and headed to the south eastern coast. Home for the next five nights would be a very comfortable room in the Laya Safari Resort. With a view of the Indian Ocean and the beach only a few steps away our room was quite idyllic.

Our room at Laya

Our room at Laya

Our room with a view

Our room with a view

The plan was to relax, continue our catch-up on travel planning and to visit the Yala National Park, which was only a few kilometres away. In fact our resort was located in the park’s buffer zone, something that became very obvious when on two occasions we had Elephants in the hotel complex. The guests were warned of their presence and we were safely able to observe them strolling past reception, onto the lawns and around the swimming pool. We were told that although there are electric fences around the park the Elephants have learned to place a tree branch on the wires so they can safely step over them.

Elephant entering the hotel complex

Elephant entering the hotel complex

Elephant sneaking in

Elephant sneaking in

Elephant attempting to enter reception

Elephant attempting to enter reception

Going for a dip at the swimming pool?

Going for a dip at the swimming pool?

Palm leafs feast

Palm leafs feast

Trimming the palm tree

Trimming the palm tree

What a view

What a view

Elephant by the pool

Elephant by the pool

There are fish in there but elephant only interested in the lotus flowers

There are fish in there but elephant only interested in the lotus flowers

Elephant leaving

Elephant leaving

Warning

Warning

(The Asian Elephant differs from its African cousin in many ways but the most notable are the tusks, ears and size. The Asian Elephant has much smaller ears, very few have tusks, weighs around 6 tons and has a shoulder height of around 3meters when fully grown. Where as the African Elephant almost always has tusks, can weigh up to 9 tons and have a shoulder height of 4 meters.)

It wasn’t just Elephants that visited the grounds, frequent sightings of Grey Langur Monkeys, Wild Boar and an array of different birds made you wonder whether a visit into the park would be necessary. But we did visit the park, on two occasions, with the main aim of seeing the two iconic animals that had so far eluded us during this Asian trip, the Asian Leopard and the Sloth Bear.

Samba and Spotted deer

Samba and Spotted deer

Whistling duck in a tree

Whistling duck in a tree

Oriential Pied Hornbill

Oriential Pied Hornbill

Rose Ringed Parakeet

Rose Ringed Parakeet

Chestnut Crowned Bee Eater

Chestnut Crowned Bee Eater

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

Little Heron

Little Heron


Male peacock in full display

Male peacock in full display

During those two visits we saw some beautiful wildlife but not a Leopard or Bear. Then just as we were giving up all hope of seeing either our guide got word of a sighting. That word soon spread and before we knew it we were amongst many other jeeps racing through the park to the location where a large male Leopard had been seen sleeping in a tree. We soon knew we were at the correct location when we got into a long queue of vehicles slowly filing past the felines resting place. This number of safari vehicles in one place was a first for us, but it was well managed by the guides and everyone was allowed two minutes to view and photographer the leopard before moving on. The Leopard seemed unconcerned by all the activity going on below him, which again surprised us. The answer we learned was that the park animals had been well protected for a long time and they have come very used to tourist vehicles. It is as though they know that the more tourist there are the lower the risk of poachers being present.

Jeep queue to view the Leopard at Yala National Park

Jeep queue to view the Leopard at Yala National Park

The star of the Show, male Leopard

The star of the Show, male Leopard

A beautiful leopard

A beautiful leopard

(The Sri Lankan Leopard is a recognised sub species of the Asian Leopard. Both Asian and African Leopards are around the same size, but a resident of Yala National Park weighed almost 100kg and is believed to be one of the biggest ever recorded.)

Although we were not able to see a Sloth Bear we left the park feeling very happy with our Leopard sighting. But before we left completely we visited a memorial site right on the beach. The memorial was to the people that lost their lives when the December 2004 Tsunami hit this part of Sri Lanka. The Tsunami took the lives of 35,000 Sri Lankans across the country, including the occupant (both local and foreigners) of three safari jeeps that happened to be at this spot when it struck. Ironically the death toll amongst the wildlife was much lower, as a mass movement away from the coast was observed just before the wave struck, an observation that has been replicated in other effected areas.

Our journey then continued along the south coast as far as the town of Mirissa. We had secured another lovely accommodation on the quieter side of town. Our room was in a period building with a balcony view of the pool, garden and forest beyond.

Our accommodation in Mirissa

Our accommodation in Mirissa

There was a secluded sandy beach just five minutes walk away where a dip in the Indian Ocean was a refreshing relief during the heat of the day.

Our local beach at Mirissa

Our local beach at Mirissa

The town itself was much more touristy than anywhere we had encountered so far which made a change for us. As well as the beach there was a fascinating fishing harbour, which made an interesting morning excursion, and from there we were able to climb a rocky headland to get a panoramic view all along the coast.

Harbour, Mirissa

Harbour, Mirissa

Mirissa Harbour

Mirissa Harbour

Mirissa traditional fishing boat fleet

Mirissa traditional fishing boat fleet

Traditional fishing boats

Traditional fishing boats

Sunset at Mirissa

Sunset at Mirissa

Although we were quite content hanging out in Mirissa we did have a day in the historic fortified city of Galle. The day started with a one hour Tuk-Tuk ride along the coast, stopping to see the traditional stilt fishing along the way.

Stilt fishing

Stilt fishing

Drying tuna

Drying tuna

Our arrival in Galle coincided with a torrential downpour so the first job was to find shelter, for which the National Museum came to the rescue. The rain was very heavy but didn’t last long and we were soon on our way. Next stop was the Post Office as we had a few more postcards to mail. Our guidebook said that it was still functioning and well worth a look around inside. However, although our guidebook was quite up to date things had changed a lot and what was once the post office is now just a derelict building.

Galle Post office (no longer operating)

Galle Post office (no longer operating)

Undeterred by our poor start we continued our exploration and spent several enjoyable hours discovering the historic buildings, narrow back streets and walking along the ramparts.

Galle from the ramparts

Galle from the ramparts

Our last location was Sri Lanka’s capital city Colombo. A drive up from the south coast along the western highway reminded us just how much forest still remains in Sri Lanka. Although suffering deforestation there are still trees covering half the island’s land mass.
Colombo is a sprawling and chaotic city with lots of traffic and lots of noise. Fortunately our accommodation was tucked away and felt like a little bit of calm, although this did mean it was a challenge for taxi’s to find it.
It was almost a one hour Tuk-Tuk ride to get into the city centre, not because of the distance but due to the traffic congestion. There it was equally manic but interesting to look around. However, we were pleased when we got back to the sanctuary of our apartment.

Government building in Colombo where is the president works from

Government building in Colombo where is the president works from

Street of Colombo

Street of Colombo

Downtown Colombo

Downtown Colombo

Sri Lanka was almost the end of our asian trip as we now headed back to the UK. I say almost because we had a five day stop over in Dubai on the way back.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in South Asia, located in the Indian Ocean to the southwest of the Bay of Bengal and to the southeast of the Arabian Sea. Its population of 22 million are mostly Sinhalese and the prominent religion is Buddhism. The official languages are Sinhala and Tamil although English is also widely spoken. It is the oldest democracy in Asia and has a free education system resulting in a literacy rate of over 90%.

Sri Lanka Flag

Sri Lanka Flag

Station Toilets
What surprised me at Kandy railway station was the toilets. Not that they were of unusual design or anything but they were restricted to foreign use only. The sign outside stated “For Foreigners Only”.

Temples
To visit a temple it is required that you remove your shoes. A perfectly reasonable request and one that we abided by on every occasion. However, for us soft westerners there is an unexpected side effect. On many occasions the temple complex is not all covered and there is a need to walk in open courtyards etc. In these areas, either the sun heats the floor to such an extent you feel like you are walking on hot coals or they are untended and you are walking on gravel. In both instances it’s not very comfortable and even leaving our socks on didn’t help much.
[Photo’s - Any shot showing shoe removal at temples?]

Sri Lanka Bomb & Impact on Tourism
On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, three churches in Sri Lanka and three luxury hotels in the commercial capital of Colombo were targeted in a series of coordinated terrorist suicide bombings. Later that day, there were smaller explosions at a housing complex in Dematagoda and a guest house in Dehiwala. The casualties were high, with 259 people being killed, including at least 45 foreign nationals and three police officers, and at least 500 were injured. Not only a terrible event but one that has had an adverse impact on Sri Lanka’s main industry, tourism. Where ever we went the tourist numbers were lower than would normally be expected and this is having an adverse effect on the livelihoods of ordinary Sri Lankans. Hopefully the tourist will soon return to this beautiful country.

Posted by MAd4travel 01:42 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (5)

Bangkok

Route: Bangkok

sunny 33 °C

NOVEMBER 2019

Between leaving Nepal and arriving in Sri Lanka we made a 10 day stop in Bangkok, Thailand. The main reason for the stop over was to do some travel admin. Our forward planning had got a bit behind and there was also work to be done on photo’s, blogs and other travel duties. We booked an apartment just outside the centre where we would be comfortable, had good WiFi and got to work.
Bangkok is an interesting city and one that we like, so it wasn’t all work. We went out every day to do something, but ensured that we didn’t forget the main reason for the stop over.
During the 10 days we managed to visit some of our favourite places and discovered a few new ones too. The last time we were in Bangkok was almost twenty years ago, so as you can imagine we could see quite a few changes. The most striking thing was how it had been modernised, the number of skyscrapers have multiplied out of all proportion. There seemed to be less Tuk-Tuks than before but more taxis and the quality of cars in general has improved. The traffic congestion remains though, even with the new Skytrain and Metro in full operation. Fortunately what hasn’t changed is the life and charm of the place, which still seems the same.

Guardian of the Grand Palace

Guardian of the Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Gold guardian, Grand Palace

Gold guardian, Grand Palace

One of many gold leaf fresco that surround the courtyard wall in the Grand Palace

One of many gold leaf fresco that surround the courtyard wall in the Grand Palace

Entrance to one of the Grand Palace building

Entrance to one of the Grand Palace building

Detail of a roof in Grand Palace

Detail of a roof in Grand Palace

Cobra heads, protector of Buddha

Cobra heads, protector of Buddha

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace view from the river Phraya

Grand Palace view from the river Phraya

Mural in Bangkok

Mural in Bangkok

Interesting elephant mural

Interesting elephant mural

Guardian at War Pho

Guardian at War Pho

Another Wat Pho guardian

Another Wat Pho guardian

Massive Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Massive Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Even the feet are on scale

Even the feet are on scale

Amulets on sale

Amulets on sale

Amulet street

Amulet street

Natural medicine on sale

Natural medicine on sale

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Tuk Tuk rank in Bangkok. Didn't use to be so posh!

Tuk Tuk rank in Bangkok. Didn't use to be so posh!

Long boat on the Phraya River

Long boat on the Phraya River

Tug pulling barges on the river Phraya, a common sight

Tug pulling barges on the river Phraya, a common sight

Old custom building with the Lego skyscraper in the background

Old custom building with the Lego skyscraper in the background

State Tower, the gold dome on top is the Sky Bar, amazing view from there

State Tower, the gold dome on top is the Sky Bar, amazing view from there

Life on the canal

Life on the canal

Mixed of old and new Bangkok on one of many canals

Mixed of old and new Bangkok on one of many canals

Common resident of the Bangkok canals, water monitor lizard

Common resident of the Bangkok canals, water monitor lizard

Condoms & Cabbages restaurant, good food and worthy cause. Decorations are made out of condoms

Condoms & Cabbages restaurant, good food and worthy cause. Decorations are made out of condoms

Bangkok by night view from the Moon Bar

Bangkok by night view from the Moon Bar

Posted by MAd4travel 20:19 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Urban Nepal

Route: Kathmandu – Pokhara - Kathmandu

sunny 28 °C
View Western Népal on MAd4travel's travel map.

OCTOBER 2019

Our Nepal adventure covered three distinct environments, the rural and forest area of the west, the Himalayan Mountains in the north and Nepal’s two biggest cities.

Our arrival in Nepal was at its capital, Kathmandu. On this occasion we would only stay one day and two nights. A good night’s sleep aided the recovery from yesterday’s long flight and prepared us for a day of organising and sightseeing. With the organising completed in the morning, there was time for sightseeing in the afternoon.
A short walk from the hotel was the very impressive Great Boudha Stupa. This Buddhist monument has an amazing dome, 141 feet high and 100 feet in diameter. Records suggest that a stupa has stood on this site since 400AD, but has had many reconstructions since then. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the principal centre of Himalayan Buddhist worship in the Kathmandu valley. We joined many other tourists and worshipers admiring and exploring the whole site, which extends beyond the stupa itself.

Aerial view of the Great Stupa in Kathmandu

Aerial view of the Great Stupa in Kathmandu

The great Stupa, Kathmandu

The great Stupa, Kathmandu

The Great Stupa, Kathmandu

The Great Stupa, Kathmandu

Ten days later we were back in Kathmandu after an amazing visit to the west of the country, see blog “Western Nepal”. This time our good friends Glenn, Guylaine, Olivier and Carole were with us, having joined us during our stay in western Nepal. Our location was also different, this time we would spend two nights in the historic district of Patan.
Our accommodation was a beautifully restored 300-year-old historic Newari house called Hira Guest House. Access to the guesthouse was through a dark stooped entrance in to a courtyard, at which point could really appreciate the charm of the building. Inside the décor was a beautiful with carved wood everywhere, exposed wobbly roof beams, low ceilings that some would catch out even the shortest of people and elegantly decorated bedrooms. Two charming sisters who immediately made us very welcome run the place. We loved it so much we decided to stay again on our next Kathmandu visit.

Hira Guest House facade, our bedroom is the one with the elaborate window on the first floor

Hira Guest House facade, our bedroom is the one with the elaborate window on the first floor

Our bedroom at Hira Guest House

Our bedroom at Hira Guest House

For our one-day stay we decided to explore what the district of Patan had to offer. The town of Patan was very important in its own right before it became engulfed into greater Kathmandu. It’s been, and still is, a centre for craftsmanship, artisans and religious worship. In its centre is Durbar Square, which was the ideal place for us to start learning about its history. We hired the services of a local guide and then spent three fascinating hours visiting historic buildings and receiving a detailed explanation of the town’s 1400-year history. In addition to the amazing sites, we were also treated to various celebrations that were going on all around us, as it was the end of the Dasain Festival.

Durbar Square, Patan

Durbar Square, Patan

Palace in Durbar Square, Patan

Palace in Durbar Square, Patan

Durbar Square Palace, Guardian & Demon

Durbar Square Palace, Guardian & Demon

Courtyard in Palace of Durbar Square

Courtyard in Palace of Durbar Square

Queen's bath in Durbar Square Palace

Queen's bath in Durbar Square Palace

Dashain ceremonial dance in the courtyard of the Palace, Durbar Square

Dashain ceremonial dance in the courtyard of the Palace, Durbar Square


Golden Temple, Patan

Golden Temple, Patan

Golden Temple offering ceremony

Golden Temple offering ceremony

Exhausted and full of new Knowledge we escaped the heat and noise of Patan’s narrow streets to have a mid-afternoon siesta, before celebrating our last night all together. This would be the last time that the six of us would be in Nepal together and celebrated the occasion at a highly recommended Pizza restaurant called “Fire & Ice”, and it didn’t disappoint.

The following morning we said goodbye to Glenn and Guylaine. The remaining four of us headed for Kathmandu domestic airport for a flight to Pokhara, and the start of our mountain adventure, see blog “Northern Nepal”.

Flying from Kathmandu to Pokhara

Flying from Kathmandu to Pokhara

Himalaya mountains view from the plane

Himalaya mountains view from the plane

Terraces of farming view from the plane on our way to Pokhara

Terraces of farming view from the plane on our way to Pokhara

View of Pokhara from the air

View of Pokhara from the air

We had one night in Pokhara before our onward journey and made the most of it with a walk around its famous lake. Even though clouds had formed on the mountains in the distance restricting the view, there was plenty to see at lake level to keep us interested. One thing in particular was “Disneyland Pokhara”. Not much more than a fun fair really, but with ageing attractions that wouldn’t pass a health and safety check if in Europe. A bit of window shopping and a nice evening meal completed our first stay in Pokhara.

Pokhara Lake

Pokhara Lake

Disney Land Pokhara

Disney Land Pokhara

Disney Land Pokhara, not for the faint hearted

Disney Land Pokhara, not for the faint hearted



We returned to Pokhara at the end of our Upper Mustang adventure, see blog “Northern Nepal”, and had more time to explore on this occasion. However, this soon turned into a couple of relaxing days, enjoying the hotel comforts with Anne and Carole taking advantage of a reasonably priced half day spa treatment.

Electric work in Pokhara. The ladder looks dodgy too

Electric work in Pokhara. The ladder looks dodgy too

View from Pokhara Airport of the Himalaya

View from Pokhara Airport of the Himalaya

From Pokhara we flew back to Kathmandu and enjoyed some amazing views through the aircraft window. Olivier and Carole had left the day before but we were able to catch up with them again just before they flew back to Canada.

View of Kathmandu

View of Kathmandu

We were staying once again in the Patan district of Kathmandu and at our favourite accommodation, Hira Guest House. Our stay was longer this time, which gave us a chance to really explore all the narrow streets and hidden courtyards; it was a feast for the eyes.
Sometimes it’s very difficult to put into words the fascinating things you see in everyday life; the following photo’s will help, but I will try anyway.

The first thing that hit us when we emerged from the relative calm of the guesthouse courtyard was the traffic. On this occasion I refer to traffic as anything moving in the narrow streets that make up Patan. Namely cars, motorbikes, bicycles, carts, people, dogs and even cattle occasionally. All of which move slowly but purposely in what can be best described as organised chaos. Cars and motorbikes negotiate people, bicycles, dogs, street stalls and endless other obstacles with amazing skill and plenty of use of their horn. When you first encounter all of this you freeze and think, there are no pavements, how can I get anywhere, but very soon you join throngs of people and just walk. Providing you don’t stop and dither, the traffic will go round you, missing you by centimetres but missing you all the same.

It's not only for pedestrian but cars and motorbike also use the same street

It's not only for pedestrian but cars and motorbike also use the same street

Street of Patan

Street of Patan

Once you are on the move and comfortable in the traffic you begin to look around you and with every turn of your head something catches your eye. There is the incredible detail carved into the wood and stone that make up each building.

Patan Building

Patan Building

Eye opening design

Eye opening design

City reservoir

City reservoir

Ornate wood work

Ornate wood work

There is the abundance of colour everywhere, from the clothing worn, to the spices sold, together with the powders used during festival times.

Coloured powder ready for Diwali festival

Coloured powder ready for Diwali festival

Traders preparing for Diwali Festival with colour powder for sale

Traders preparing for Diwali Festival with colour powder for sale

Then there is the noise, car and motorbike horns announcing their presence, people shouting as part of their trade, bells ringing as part of the Hindu worship, dogs barking at anything they take a dislike to, and many more.
And if the streets weren’t narrow enough already, traders set up stalls outside shops and sell fruit and veg, and still the traffic seem to pass without too much fuss and annoyance.

Patan bakery

Patan bakery

bicycle trader with fruits, veg and scales to weight them

bicycle trader with fruits, veg and scales to weight them

Open market

Open market

Cushion Trader on the move

Cushion Trader on the move

Vegetable street trader

Vegetable street trader

Patan is renowned for its metal craftsmanship

Patan is renowned for its metal craftsmanship



With Hinduism and Buddhism being the predominant religions of Nepal it isn’t surprising to find temples, stupas, shrines and other religious monuments amongst the streets and buildings. But what is surprising is how numerous they are, I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said there was some sort of structure every 100 meters.

One of many street little temple in Patan

One of many street little temple in Patan

Another surprise was the number of public bathing areas. These varied in size from a single spout in a small chamber in the ground to lavish bathing pools with multiple ornately designed spouts. With home plumbing becoming more the norm, public baths are being used less so many are falling into decay. However, a lot are considered historic monuments and are now being restored, a case in point is the 600 year old bath in Patan’s Durbar Square.

Public bath

Public bath

Public bath

Public bath

Patan public bath

Patan public bath

At night Patan was different again. Street lights and night markets added a different colour to the area and locals were now free to be out and about socialising. We enjoyed our evening walks, watching all that went on around us, and feeling very safe in this friendly environment, even when we got ourselves a bit lost down tiny back alleys.

Patan by night during Diwali Festival

Patan by night during Diwali Festival

Patan, Durbar Square at night

Patan, Durbar Square at night

Diwali festival dance

Diwali festival dance

Patan by night during the Diwali Festival, fight of light over darkness

Patan by night during the Diwali Festival, fight of light over darkness

During our stay it was the time of the Diwali Festival, one of Nepals most important, so this added to the activity and colour on the Streets. Diwali activities means lots of firecrackers, marigold garlands (even on dogs during one the days), painted trails and beautiful coloured emblems on the ground, usually outside a house or shop.

Diwali festival showing the way for good to enter and chase away evil

Diwali festival showing the way for good to enter and chase away evil

Day 3 of Diwali is dedicated to the Dogs, guardians of the house and are being blessed with garlands

Day 3 of Diwali is dedicated to the Dogs, guardians of the house and are being blessed with garlands

Diwali decoration

Diwali decoration

Diwali Decoration

Diwali Decoration

A decoration in front of a house during Diwali Festival

A decoration in front of a house during Diwali Festival

Even though we loved everything Patan had to offer we did venture away for a day trip to Bhaktapur. Similar to Patan, Bhaktapur was also an important town in years gone by and with a rich history. We spent time exploring its historical monuments, many of which are still showing the damage inflicted by the 2015 earthquake, together with its busy narrow streets.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Bhaktapur is famous for it's potery

Bhaktapur is famous for it's potery

5 Story pagoda in Bhaktapur

5 Story pagoda in Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Nyatapola temple a 5 story pagoda

Bhaktapur Nyatapola temple a 5 story pagoda

Palace woodwork, Bhaktapur

Palace woodwork, Bhaktapur

Clay pot storage

Clay pot storage

Street scenery

Street scenery

For our last few days before we left Nepal we decided to escape the noise, dust and fumes of downtown Kathmandu and head for the hills. Just 30 minutes drive from Patan and still part of greater Kathmandu is the town of Budhanilkantha. Our accommodation here was at the Chandra Ban Eco Retreat, in an apartment perched on the hillside with great views over Kathmandu nestled in the valley below. We didn’t venture far from our very comfortable lodging and its great restaurant, except to visit the “Sleeping Vishnu” in the nearby town.

Sweet trader in Budhanilkantha

Sweet trader in Budhanilkantha

Budhanilkantha Temple sleeping Vishnu

Budhanilkantha Temple sleeping Vishnu

Marigold garland on sale for the offering to the Sleeping Lord Vishnu at Budhanilkantha

Marigold garland on sale for the offering to the Sleeping Lord Vishnu at Budhanilkantha

Religious man in Budhanilkantha temple

Religious man in Budhanilkantha temple

And that was Nepal, a country we liked more and more the longer we stayed and one to revisit sometime in the future. An afternoon flight then whisked us off for new adventures, next stop Bangkok, Thailand.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Nepal
Nepal is a landlocked asian country with China to its north and India to its west, south and east. It has a population of around 29 million, most of which live in the more low lying south. To the north are the Himalayan Mountains and some of the highest peaks in the world, including Mount Everest. It is also famous for having the worlds only triangular flag.

Nepal flag, the only triangular one in the world

Nepal flag, the only triangular one in the world

Earthquake
On 25th April 2015 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, toppling multi-story buildings in Kathmandu, the capital, and creating landslides and avalanches in the Himalaya Mountains. Nearly 9,000 people died and more than 22,000 suffered injuries. Still today, a lot of buildings and infrastructure are in need of repair. Wooden supports hold up many buildings whilst funds are awaited for the work to begin.

One of the many buildings damaged by the 2015 Earthquake

One of the many buildings damaged by the 2015 Earthquake

A Postcard from Nepal
In this modern technological age the sending of postcards is becoming a more rare occurrence. But because our family and friends express a great deal of pleasure when they receive them, we continue to send them. We tend to send around 20 or 30 from most countries we visit, depending on the length of our stay and the cost involved.
The cost of sending a postcard from Nepal is possible the lowest we have encountered any where, about 10 rupees (£0.07) for the card and 35 rupees (£0.25) for the stamp, so we took the opportunity to send a lot.
To send a postcard you first have to buy it and write it, which is the same all over the world. What is different in Nepal is the posting process, as we found out when we visited the district Post Office in Patan, Kathmandu.
Firstly you are greeted by the counter assistants, who check that you have attached the correct value of stamps to each postcard depending on their destination. Then they will advise you what additional stamps you need. Some of our postcards had stamps, some needed extra and some were without stamps, so a stamp purchase was required.
To purchase stamps you need the assistance of the cashier at a different counter. Fortunately, she had just arrived when we were there and able to help us. From the floor of her compartment she produced a small, but heavy, safe and placed it on her side of the counter. She then unlocked the safe, produced the stamps we required and we paid her.
The next task was for us to stick the stamps on the postcards. Having been caught out on other occasions we had left sufficient room this time for them to be attached.
It was now time for the third phase of the postage process. An older guy appeared and produced a wooded date stamp and ink-pad. He then aggressively stamped a date seal over our postage cards. Aggression was required as he had little ink left in his pad.
Then came the final phase. Our postcards were taken from us and thrown in a plastic bin underneath a table in the Post Office foyer. The bin did have “Postal Services” written on it, which did give us some optimism that they may reach their final destination, only time will tell.

Posted by MAd4travel 00:47 Archived in Nepal Comments (3)

Nepal - The Kingdom of Lo

Route: Kathmandu - Pokhara – Jomsom – Chele – Charang – Lo Manthang – Kagbeni – Muktinath – Jomson - Pokhara - Kathmandu

semi-overcast 15 °C
View Western Népal on MAd4travel's travel map.

OCTOBER 2019

After two nights in Patan, Kathmandu, we said goodbye to Glenn and Guylaine. Now just four of us, we headed for Kathmandu domestic airport and our flight to Pokhara. As we were flying north towards the Himalayan Mountains we weren’t surprised to be delayed by two hours due to bad weather in Pokhara. However, by the time we arrived the weather was clear, warm and sunny. This was just an overnight stop as the real adventure started the next day.

The following day was an early start, our guide CP, who we had met the night before, collected us from the hotel at 6:00 am and we all proceeded to Pokhara Airport. Our flight to Jomsom was due to depart at 7:10 am, but again bad weather delayed us, this time by a couple hours. The plane was a small propelled Twin Otter and the flight was incredible, we didn’t go over the mountains, we went through them. Sheer cliff faces appeared to be only a matter of meters from the wing tips, glacial rivers flowed beneath us, hillside tree tops were barely cleared and 8000m peaks rose ahead of us, it was a great start to our next adventure.

Leaving Pokhara for Jomsom

Leaving Pokhara for Jomsom

Inside the twin otter

Inside the twin otter

Flight to Jomsom

Flight to Jomsom

Flight to Jomsom

Flight to Jomsom

View from plane arriving in Jomsom

View from plane arriving in Jomsom


Welcome to Jomsom

Welcome to Jomsom

Once in Jomsom we were ready to start our expedition into the Upper Mustang (see below), an area only recently accessible to tourist and with permits restricted to 1000 a year. The Upper Mustang is in the Annapurna Range of the Himalayan Mountains, and from its base at 2700m in Jomsom, it stretches’ all the way to the Chinese Tibet border in the north with passes at well over 4000m in between.
Once CP (our guide) had secured our transport for the day, a Mahindra Scorpio 4x4 Jeep with driver, we headed off up a glacial valley to our first overnight stop in a hamlet called Chele. It wasn’t long before we realised what the journey had in store for us. The roads were in a terrible state, massive rocks to drive over, jeep swallowing holes and tracks shared with rivers. These kept the speed of our progress down to a sedate pace, which gave us the opportunity to soak up the scenery whilst being rattled around all over the place inside the jeep. A few photo stops along the route allowed us to stretch our legs and really see the environment we were now entering. Then by mid-day we were at our hotel for the night.

From Jomsom to Chele

From Jomsom to Chele

Road cut through the hillside

Road cut through the hillside

The Himalaya

The Himalaya

Local crop of apples in Chele

Local crop of apples in Chele


View from Chele towards Jomson

View from Chele towards Jomson

View along the river

View along the river

Our accommodation in Chele was basic and rustic, but very welcoming and traditional for the region. Our rooms consisted of twin beds with mattress and pillow, and we would sleep inside our sleeping bags. There was a shared bathroom with a hole in the floor toilet and a shower dispensing only cold water. Once you got the knack the toilet was perfectly usable but we passed on the cold shower, especially with daytime temperatures barely getting in the teens Celsius and dropping below zero at night. Food was taken in an attractive but small dining area and the options on offer were surprisingly varied and of good quality.
With most of the afternoon to spare we went for a short walk around Chele and the surrounding area, watching locals go about their business and generally being in awe of where we were.

View from our hotel terrace in Chele

View from our hotel terrace in Chele

Kitchen sink in Chele

Kitchen sink in Chele

Chele bedroom

Chele bedroom

Chele Dining room

Chele Dining room

The following day we awoke stiff from the hard beds, to clear blue skies and snow capped mountains all around us. Today we would have a longer drive ahead of us, together with a different vehicle and driver (another Mahindra Scorpio 4x4 Jeep though). The destination was the slightly larger but even more remote town of Charang. What followed was three and a half hours of challenging driving, along mountain roads barely wide enough for one vehicle and with a sheer drop to the side, across shallow but fast flowing rivers and along roads that were even worse than the day before. We even encountered herds of goats being driven to market along the same roads we were driving, careful negotiating them to ensure none were knocked over the cliff edge. The route took us through the mountains, past tiny communities surviving on the crops they grow and livestock they raised. Every so often we would pass a giant stupa’s or a temple in the middle of nowhere, positioned to provide safe passage for travellers, and all the time surrounded by magnificent scenery. Finally we arrived at Charang, shaken but not stirred and in time for lunch.

The road in the Upper Mustang

The road in the Upper Mustang

Cliff Road

Cliff Road

Changra or Pahsmina goat

Changra or Pahsmina goat

Hikers and local transport

Hikers and local transport

Mountain pass

Mountain pass

The red in the rock is fossilised coral formed many millions years ago

The red in the rock is fossilised coral formed many millions years ago

Isolated shorten or stupa

Isolated shorten or stupa

Road cut between the mountain side

Road cut between the mountain side

Colourful rock strata

Colourful rock strata

Stupa lucky totem for travelers

Stupa lucky totem for travelers

local wildlife

local wildlife

Crop terrace

Crop terrace

More changra (goats) on the road

More changra (goats) on the road

Changra, the softest and most expensive pashmina is made from the hair under the chin of the goat

Changra, the softest and most expensive pashmina is made from the hair under the chin of the goat

Stupa

Stupa

Our accommodation in Charang was similar to that of Chele, or maybe a bit more upmarket as western toilets were available and the dining area was beautifully decorated with period furniture and traditional carpets.

View from the loo in Charang

View from the loo in Charang

Bedroom in Charang

Bedroom in Charang

Hotel in Charang

Hotel in Charang

Corridor where you wash your hand in Charang

Corridor where you wash your hand in Charang

Our afternoon activity was very memorable, not only for what we saw but also for the monk that showed us around. In Charang there are two imposing buildings, both sitting on top of a small hill at the edge of town. The oldest is a 14th century palace and next to it a slightly more recent monastery. Both are under the custodianship of the monastery monks, so it is to them that we looked for our guided tour. Our guide was a monk barely out of his teens and with lots of energy to spare, even at this altitude. We first visited the palace, a pretty much ruined shell with a few artefacts in a couple of the rooms. However, the young monk’s enthusiasm brought the whole place to life. He would use the ancient, and possibly priceless, artefacts to demonstrate how the king and queen would dress and how the royalty would defend their realm, often throwing in a Michael Jackson dance to inject some energy to the tour. He also found our hats, my ponytail and belly a source of amusement.

The palace in Charang

The palace in Charang

With the palace tour complete we moved across the hill to the monastery, but not in a sedate stroll that is usual at this altitude, the young monk insisted on a conga dance for at least part of the way. Once at the temple (Buddhist) he had to become more dignified, this tour was equally interesting but far less fun.

Stairs to the monastery in Charang

Stairs to the monastery in Charang

Charang monastery

Charang monastery

The monastery in Charang

The monastery in Charang

By the time the tours were finished the light was fading and the temperature dropping towards zero degrees, it was time to go back to our accommodation and warm up before dinner.

Before we could continue our journey the next day and after a short stroll around town, our hostess insisted we look around her shop. This was not any ordinary shop, but one packed with old every day items and some exquisite local jewellery. Off course we couldn’t leave without buying something, so Anne purchased some nice earring and a bracelet and I bought a wooden tea-caddy that caught my eye.

Dzo is an hybrid between a yak and domestic cattle

Dzo is an hybrid between a yak and domestic cattle

It was a shorter drive today, with another different driver and vehicle (Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4), but with no improvement in the road conditions. Our destination this time was the capital town of the Upper Mustang region, Lo Manthang. We passed stunning scenery as usual before stopping on a hill just before the town to get an aerial view of the place that would be home for the next two nights.

Prayer flags at the pass before arriving at Lo Manthang

Prayer flags at the pass before arriving at Lo Manthang

View of Lo Manthang from the pass

View of Lo Manthang from the pass

Accommodation in Lo Manthang was at the Lotus Holiday Inn, a little more upmarket than the previous accommodation, especially when we finally got the rooms that had been reserved. We now both had en-suite room with western toilets, although there was still no reliable hot water for a shower. A short rest before lunch, then a look around town in the afternoon provided some very memorable images.
The first of those images was some rudimental dentistry being performed in the hotel lobby, it looked pretty painful but the patient seemed very pleased with the outcome.

Dining room in our hotel in Lo Manthang

Dining room in our hotel in Lo Manthang

Bedroom in Lo Manthang

Bedroom in Lo Manthang


Mobile dentist

Mobile dentist

The next was some household activities going on at the hotel entrance. In front of the hotel was a narrow canal where glacial water rushed through on its way back to the river. The speed of the flow provided an acceptable level of cleanliness, so this was where the hotel staff washed the dishes, cutlery, pots and pans. Rather disconcerting to begin with, but as all the utensils appeared sparkly clean afterwards; our fears were put to rest. However, we were less confident about the cloth washing being undertaken further down stream.

Washing cloths in the canal

Washing cloths in the canal

Further from the hotel there were more unusual sights to behold. Tucked away in the old walled quarter a small herd of cattle formed a road bloke and refused to move until their owner started to take a tougher approach. There was the elderly gentleman inviting people to see the view over the town from his roof top, no health and safety in force here, then guiding them into his shop on the way down. Cattle munched on cardboard in the street when they couldn’t find any food to steal. There was something unusual around every corner. Then once more as the sun went down and the temperature dropped we retreated to the warmth of the hotel for dinner and to reminisce about what we had seen on our tour of the town.

View from the roof over Lo Manthang

View from the roof over Lo Manthang

Street of Lo Manthang

Street of Lo Manthang

Prayer wheels in Lo Manthang

Prayer wheels in Lo Manthang

Lo Manthang

Lo Manthang

Spinning Changra wool in Lo Manthang

Spinning Changra wool in Lo Manthang

Spinning

Spinning

Street view in Lo Manthang

Street view in Lo Manthang

Windows of the palace in Lo Manthang, visits are note allowed until earthquake damage is repaired

Windows of the palace in Lo Manthang, visits are note allowed until earthquake damage is repaired

Tourist information building in Lo Manthang

Tourist information building in Lo Manthang

Street in Lo Manthang

Street in Lo Manthang

Lady in Lo Manthang

Lady in Lo Manthang

Hungry cow

Hungry cow

Lo Manthang street with cows

Lo Manthang street with cows

Prayer wheels

Prayer wheels

Tourist bus

Tourist bus

Lo Manthang street

Lo Manthang street

Delivery truck

Delivery truck

The following day we visited the near by town of Chhoser. The first stop was its famous cave dwellings. Although no longer in use these mountain homes once housed many families, keeping them warm and safe. Our visit required climbing wooden ladders to get from room to room and almost bending double to allow for the low ceilings. Cooking and storage areas were still visible as were sleeping platforms in some rooms.

Cave Dwellings

Cave Dwellings

Cave dwellings

Cave dwellings

Inside the cave dwelling

Inside the cave dwelling

Inside the cave dwelling

Inside the cave dwelling

Inside the cave dwelling

Inside the cave dwelling

Inside the cave dwelling

Inside the cave dwelling

Road in Chhoser

Road in Chhoser

From the caves we walked into town and visited a tiny monastery where a monk was reciting mantras. We listened and watched for while then left to visit a local home.

Chhoser monastery

Chhoser monastery

Monk reciting mantra

Monk reciting mantra

Monastery in Chhoser

Monastery in Chhoser

We felt extremely privileged to be invited into the home of a local lady and her daughter. Their house was quiet new as the previous one had been badly damaged during the 2015 earthquake. It was adobe with wooded supports, and had a large kitchen area, a dining room, storage room and two bedrooms. A wooden ladder led up to the roof, but we didn’t go up there. When we arrived the lady was making yogurt by pummelling a milky liquid in a tall bamboo tube. We were each allowed to have a go but unsurprising made more mess than yogurt. We were then invited to take tea and biscuits in the dining room. A simple room with nicely decorated tables and chairs, and a wood burner in the middle. Whilst chatting with the lady, via our guide’s interpretation, we drank many cups of milk tea, receiving a constant top-up until the thermos flask was empty. We then thanked her for her hospitality and continued our walk through the town.

Making yogurt

Making yogurt

Preparing tea

Preparing tea

Preparing tea in the kitchen

Preparing tea in the kitchen

Entrance of the temple

Entrance of the temple

A quick look in at a small temple completed our visit to Chhoser. It was then back to Lo Manthang and our hotel for lunch. An afternoon stroll around town with some local jewellery purchases completed our day and our stay in Lo Manthang.

Chhoser delivery from China

Chhoser delivery from China

Chhoser street

Chhoser street

Coming back from Chhoser toward Lo Manthang

Coming back from Chhoser toward Lo Manthang

Day five was the longest drive yet as our journey was from Lo Manthang all the way back, almost to where we started. Today we were back with the driver and vehicle we had the day before last. When were last with him, his Mitsubishi Pajero wasn’t in the best of heath, we guessed it was a battery problem. However, off we went, initially with no problem, but when he tried to change the 4x4 into high the car stalled. He turned the ignition key a few times but the battery was almost dead, then just when we thought about a bump start or calling for help the engine fired up, it must have been down to the sacred Stupa we passed, as they are supposed to provide travellers with a safe passage. The rest of the journey went smoothly, through the magnificent scenery, along cliff edge roads, across rivers and circumnavigating goat herds, until we reached our destination for the day, Kagbeni.

Leaving Lo Manthang after yesterday snow fall on the mountains

Leaving Lo Manthang after yesterday snow fall on the mountains


Gate to Lo Manthang

Gate to Lo Manthang

Road scenery

Road scenery

Goats on the road, view from the car windscreen

Goats on the road, view from the car windscreen

Goats herd on cliff road

Goats herd on cliff road

Our unpredictable Mitsubishi vehicle

Our unpredictable Mitsubishi vehicle

Road side cafe between Lo Manthang and Kagbeni

Road side cafe between Lo Manthang and Kagbeni

Our accommodation in Kagbeni went by the name of Hotel Yak Donald’s and it served the best burgers in Nepal, obviously a play of words directed at the famous US fast food establishment. This was the best accommodation of the whole trip and the food was very good too. Needless to say I managed to have two Yak Burgers during our short stay and they were delicious, McDonalds eat your heart out. Anne, Carole and Olivier all managed one Yak Burger and confirmed my assessment.

Yac Donalds

Yac Donalds

Yac Donalds Hotel

Yac Donalds Hotel

Although it was quite late when we arrived at Kagbeni, Anne, Carole and Olivier managed a quick look around town and visited the local monastery, whilst I took a shower and digested my first Yak Burger.

Very old monastery in Kagbeni

Very old monastery in Kagbeni

Kagbeni

Kagbeni

That brought us to our last day in the Upper Mustang, and another amazing one to boot. The plan was to visit the sacred Hindu Temple at Muktinath in the morning then travel to Jomsom, our final destination, in the afternoon. However, things didn’t quite go to plan as, surprise surprise, the battery was flat on the Mitsubishi. This caused a couple of hours delay whilst a new one was fitted and then we were off.
Muktinath wasn’t far from Kagbeni, but the unusual thing was the road surface, this was the only bit of paved road in the Upper Mustang. To reach the temple you have to start walking from the car park just outside Muktinath town. Walk through the town, then up some steep steps to reach the temple gate and finally more steps to the temple itself. Some people, who didn’t fancy or couldn’t manage the walk, were able to rent a horse at the car park and be carried up the gate.

Muktinath

Muktinath

Gate to the entrance of Muktinath temple

Gate to the entrance of Muktinath temple

Holly man

Holly man

The temple complex wasn’t very big, but was a hive of activity. Worshipers seemed to have to complete a three part activity, which, not being Hindu’s, we weren’t allowed to do.
The first, once suitably dressed, was to walk or run underneath multiple spouts delivering glacial cold water from the mountains.

Muktinath temple, holly water spouts

Muktinath temple, holly water spouts

The second, now already wet, was to wade through two pools of the same glacial water. Submerging yourself in the process to collect a lucky coin, of which there were many amongst the muck on the bottom of the pool. It appeared that men and women had to enter and exit the pools separately, which was probably a good idea as one guy had a wardrobe malfunction whilst climbing out, providing onlookers with a moony.

Muktinath temple, holly dipping pool

Muktinath temple, holly dipping pool

Finally, and after a bit of drying off, the worshiper was able to enter the main temple building. What went on in there we do not know, as rightly, we weren’t allowed in.

Temple at Muktinath

Temple at Muktinath

It was all an amazing sight to witness and again we felt very privileged to be there. We also observed two other interesting things, one we were the only westerners there and two not everyone in the complex took part in the full worshiping process.
From the temple we crossed a hillside covered in prayer flags to visit a giant Buddha and get a great view of Muktinath town below us.

Hill of prayer flags

Hill of prayer flags

Muktinath Buddha on a hill

Muktinath Buddha on a hill

Lunch in town then followed, washed down with my favourite Nepalese beer, Sherpa Red, then back to the Jeep for the drive to Jomsom. The drive however wasn’t direct; we stopped at Muktinath’s “Selfie Park”. Perched on top of a hill a platform had been constructed to allow people to take a selfie with the town of Kagbeni below them and the Himalayan Mountains in the background. There was also a strange concrete structure that you weren’t allowed to step on; we think it was supposed to be a fossil.

favourite beer in Nepal

favourite beer in Nepal

Gate to the selfie park with instruction of entry

Gate to the selfie park with instruction of entry

Selfie park, warning to photographers

Selfie park, warning to photographers

By the time we reached Jomsom the light was fading, but it was still clear enough to have a nice view out of our bedroom window. After the relative luxury of Hotel Yak Donald’s, our Jomsom accommodation was a bit basic, and with a party going on upstairs, we decided to explore the Jomsom nightlife after dinner. As you would expect nightlife is a bit thin on the ground in such a remote place, but we did find some. A bar called “Cravend” caught our attention so we went in. A local band was playing, and they were quite good, and a comprehensive drinks menu wetted our appetite. However, although the band continued to perform well, we soon found out that most items on the menu weren’t available. So we ordered some local Whisky and Brandy and settled down to an enjoyable evening, listening to the music, watching cows pass by the window and feeling part of the local crowd. We felt even more at home when a local guy invited us to try some of his homemade maize wine, it was a bit rough for our liking but we drank it to be sociable.

Jomsom shop

Jomsom shop

View from our bedroom window early morning Jomsom

View from our bedroom window early morning Jomsom


Band in Jomsom

Band in Jomsom

That was our last night in the Upper Mustang as we flew back to Pokhara the following day. We were sad to leave this incredible environment, but pleased in the knowledge that our creature comforts awaited us in the next hotel.

Flight arriving into Jomsom airport

Flight arriving into Jomsom airport

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Upper Mustang
Mustang, formerly the Kingdom of Lo, is a remote and isolated region of the Nepalese Himalayas. The Upper Mustang was a restricted demilitarised area until 1992, which makes it one of the most preserved regions in the world. The majority of the population still speak a traditional Tibetan language, as this area was once part of Tibet. The people also appear to be more closely related to their Tibetan neighbours than the Nepalese they are part of now. In fact this is a little bit of Tibet without the Chinese cultural, political and economic influences that exist across the border.
The area is sandwiched among some of the Himalaya’s highest mountains and forms part of the Annapurna Conservation area. To the north is the border with Chinese Tibet and to the south the more lower lying Lower Mustang. Through the middle flows the Gandaki River as it cuts a path between the mountains that surround it.
Life is tough in this part of Nepal, with mostly only subsistence farming being practiced. However, with the slow arrival of tourism life is beginning to change for some. The provision of accommodation and food for the tourist, together with some artisan crafts for sell means that household incomes are improving. But it is still a very poor region and makes you feel you are stepping back in time.

Map of our route in the Upper Mustang

Map of our route in the Upper Mustang

Lo Manthang

Lo Manthang

Posted by MAd4travel 21:44 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

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