Tag Archives: Buddhism

Blue Turtle Hotel in Tissamaharama: Stylish and comfortable boutique hotel in lush surroundings

The ride from Dalawella to Tissamaharama was long. We left Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service before the noon, stopped briefly at Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka, did one more stop near Tangalle to check out a hotel and arrived in Tissamaharama just before the sunset. About 150 km of driving took us almost six hours. The road and traffic were ok, but things just take unusually long when traveling with a small child…

Anyway, we had shortlisted several hotels in Tissamaharama: Kithala Resort, Diyadahara Resort, The Rain Tree Hotel, Thaulle Resort, Chandrika Hotel and Blue Turtle Hotel. We chose Blue Turtle Hotel mainly for two reasons: it holds the Tripadvisor number one position, which usually means one cannot go too wrong, and they were very fast and professional in their communication (text messages).

We were more than pleased with our choice. The quality we got for approximately 50USD per night (including breakfast) was great. Rooms were very clean, simple yet stylish, came with a mosquito net and service was friendly. There was a wonderful pool we never got to use because we were the unlucky ones to get some rain (unlucky because apparently rain is not good for animal watching).  Blue Turtle opened in 2015 and everything is still very new.

Upon arrival we chatted with the Sri lankan owner who had  lived in Paris for thirty years. Being a former restaurant(s) owner means that he is serious about food, something that was proved to us at the dinner. The menu is limited (grilled meat and kottu roti), but the fact that most people only stay 1-2 nights in Tissamaharama explains it. Moreover, everything is so delicious that we didn’t mind eating the same thing twice! The only thing we regret is that breakfast was not Sri Lankan. Upon leaving I made a remark about this to the owner who explained that the reception should have asked whether we want European or local breakfast. Oh well, next time we know better!

We highly recommend staying at Blue Turtle. Most people arrive in Tissamaharama, sleep one night, go for a safari in Yala National Park in the morning and leave in the afternoon, but I would strongly suggest you stay two nights like we did and include a fascinating religious town called Kataragama in your itinerary. More about these two destinations in my next posts, so stay tuned.

PS There were surprisingly few mosquitoes wherever we visited in Sri Lanka, but most of them seem to be living in Tissamaharama, so do not forget your mosquito repellent.

Blue Turtle Hotel:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blueturtlehotel/
Website: http://www.blueturtlehotel.com
Cell.phone: +94 77 5486836 (Text messages are most likely answered by the owner’s son Oliver who will help you in whatever you may need. He speaks French as well.)

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka

Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka

Dodanduwa and Dalawella were perfect beach destinations to recover from jetlag and wind down, but after a few days we wanted to see more of Sri Lanka. As we had decided to completely skip the Cultural Triangle, it was all the more important for us to visit those few religious sites that exist along the southern coast and Kataluwa Purwarama Temple was one of them.IMG_4463.JPGWe had a bit of hard time finding the temple as our driver had never been there before. Upon arrival only silence greeted us. All the doors were closed and apart from some school children and birds, nobody was around. Eventually our driver found a monk  who he lives in a house (monastery) below, located sort of behind the pagoda. He kindly opened the door for us (pay attention to his massive golden key featured in the photo!) and we entered a very beautiful, peaceful shrine full of Kandyan-style murals dating from the 19th century. The monk spoke very good English and gave us a private tour. For a moment it was just the monk, his eighteen dogs, Buddha statues, some Hindu gods (Vishnu, Kataragama, etc) and us. A beautiful, spiritual moment, indeed a refreshing break from the beach life.

In addition to Buddhist tales, the paintings depict the 19th life and even Queen Victoria can be found in the wall paintings. Guide books (Routard, Lonely Planet and Rough Guide) and Internet do not seem to agree on the history of this temple that some say dates from the 13th century, so I am not going to go into this. All I can say is that the temple is definitely worth a visit! And while you are in the area, stop by at Ahangama to see the stilt fishermen.

PS Naturally there is no entrance fee but donations are appreciated. We left 500 Sri Lankan rupees for the monk and he seemed very pleased.

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

 

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

When Emirates sent out its winter offers last November, we didn’t think for a very long time before reserving the tickets: 1200€ for two adults and one child (less than two years), not bad! Hadn’t we chosen a Dubai stop-over, additional ticket flexibility and 30kg of baggage allowance per person (instead of 20kg) we could have gotten our Paris-Colombo return tickets for as low as 1000€. Flying an airline based in an oil-rich country has its advantages…

Sri Lanka had been on our travel list for a long time, and it felt like a safe yet fun option with a toddler. This was going to be our first long-distance trip with our daughter so naturally we had questions and hesitations in mind, but everyone we talked to was very reassuring. Comments like “It is not exactly Singapore, but Sri Lanka is VERY developed, clean and safe” and “Your daughter will love it; they love children over there” sealed our decision.

Loyal to our habit, there we were, planned another self-organized trip, still resisting to book an all-inclusive holiday that comes with toddler activities and clubs…

We were going to have 15 full days in the Emerald Ile of Asia. The initial plan was to do like most tourists do: get one or two nights of rest either in Negombo (where the airport is located) or in Colombo (located south from Negombo) before continuing to explore the rest of the island. I soon abandoned this idea, for the following reasons.

  1. Negombo didn’t feel like a place we would like stay: the sea is too dirty and dangerous to swim in and hotels seemed expensive for the quality one gets.
  2. Colombo, on the hand, seemed interesting, but we were just too tired to do city sightseeing, especially in the beginning of our trip. Big cities can be really tiresome with small children and our Palermo experience (http://wp.me/p35gzD-IA) was fresh in mind.
  3. Since Colombo was at least one hour away from the airport, I started to wonder “if we are going to sit in the car anyway, why not to drive a bit further to a really lovely beach destination?” Our flight was to land early in the morning, so we could also benefit from quiet roads. I was pretty sure our daughter would sleep in the car, so two hours in a car instead of one hour would make no difference.
IMG_4961.JPG

The Negombo beach isn’t really as pretty as this photo lets you think… The beach is quite dirty, the sea is rather dangerous, beach boys follow you around and you can smell sewage. We did eventually spend 1.5 nights there in the end of our holidays but hope we will never have to return.

So, the plan B was born: I started looking into beach destinations that were not too far from the airport. The Kalpitiya Peninsula caught my eye and it was only 2 – 2.5 hours away from the airport. The idea was to rest here for few nights and recover from the jetlag prior to intensive visiting in the Cultural Triangle where the ancient Buddhist sites are. The Kalpitiya region has only recently opened up to tourism  and is famous for kitesurfing, dolphin and whale watching, as well as for some of Sri Lanka’s best eco lodges. Unfortunately, many of the nicer hotels were not in our budget. We started to worry a bit; nobody had told us you need to spend more than 200USD/night  in order to get something comfortable in Sri Lanka!

This is when the plan C kicked in. All along my husband had kept reminding me “do not make us do too much driving, the goal of this trip is to rest”. I took a closer look at the most common circuit, which usually heads first to the Cultural Triangle and tea plantations, followed by beach time  (or the same circuit but in a reverse order). Distances seemed important… Had it been just two of us, no problem, but having a toddler sit in a car for a half day or more, several times during a 15-day holiday, started to look like a bad idea. So, sadly , we decided to entirely skip the Cultural Triangle and said to ourselves that we will just have to return to Sri Lanka another time. We decided to spend most of our holiday by the sea on the southern coast and try to include a visit to Yala National Park and some (rare!) religious sites of the south.

I started looking for a hotel around Hikkaduwa, the world-famous surf town. I purchased a print version of the Rough Guide and finally started to get a feel for Sri Lanka (I hadn’t appreciated the French Routard guide book). Beaches looked more attractive while prices started to seem more reasonable too. This is when I stumbled across a small town called Dodanduwa, just few kilometers south of Hikkaduwa, and we ended up spending first few days of our trip in a lovely small beachfront guesthouse, but more about that in the next post!

PS Sri Lanka is such a hot tourism destination at the moment so I bet many of you readers have visited this wonderful island. Do you have a perfect itinerary to suggest? Were you traveling with or without children? If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka at this very moment, congratulations on your great choice and I hope my post helps you to plan. Meanwhile, the Rough Guide has very good maps including different itineraries, see https://www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/sri-lanka/itineraries/

 

 

Adventurous Arrival in Varanasi

If you read  you may remember that our departure from Delhi was a bit adventurous, to say the least. Instead of Khajuraho we decided to fly to Varanasi and this was decided two hours before the flight’s take off. We do regret skipping Khajuraho, the site of famous erotic temples, but will certainly do it next time.

Flying toward Varanasi, the holy Hindu city along the Ganger River made me a bit nervous. I tried to get a glimpse of the sacred river from the airplane, but it got dark too soon. Seeing the Ganges River would have in some strange way assured me (of what?).SpiceJet from Delhi to VaranasiUpon landing we got talking to a young Indian man, living in the US, who had brought his grandmother to Varanasi. He started making phone calls to different hotels (we all agreed that the point of staying in Varanasi is to be located by the river). We got two rooms at Scindia Guest House, recommended by Eyewitness India Guidebook, and jumped into a taxi. Varanasi, here we come!

The ride to the guest house was long and polluted. It reminded me of Hyderabad –a fantastic city in many ways but oh so bad in pollution! We must have driven for more than an hour and the Ganges was still hiding from me. Suddenly the car stopped and the driver pointed “walk that way”. We were puzzled and asked which way exactly…. After some negotiation he agreed to show us the way, and we begun a 30-minute walk.Cows in VaranasiI don’t know how you say cow shit in a polite way, so excuse my language, but as we were walking and pulling our luggage, I did wonder if local laundry service would accept to clean our by-now-very-colorful-luggage. Don’t we all just love cows? But what would India be without them?

Eventually, after turning about 500 times left and right (we would have NEVER found the guest house alone) we arrived. Scindia Guest House stood there, right in front of the Ganges River, as Eyewitness had promised. It looked very run down, but we had no choice. It was very dark and very late. My husband and I got a river-side room and ordered two rice plates. Scindia Guest HouseWe were told to be careful when opening the balcony door because apparently “the monkeys like to come inside if you leave the door open”. Wow. Imagine waking up next to a monkey! Or two! I was still feeling a bit sick but the idea of monkeys excited me. Little I knew that upon our arrival the monkeys had already been watching me from all over.

After a well-rested night I visited the balcony but the monkeys were nowhere. All I could see was the majestic Ganges River. Varanasi, the Ganges RiverMeanwhile my husband went to the reception. This is when I started hearing screaming noises. Is someone being killed was my first thought. I opened the front door and I saw them: monkeys and more monkeys! There was a metal fence between me and them, which was good because they were big and did not look happy. Some of them were in the middle of their beauty treatments.Monkeys in VaranasiI joined my husband at the reception and had a chat with one of the hotel workers. I thought that his features were very different from other “Indian” features that I had seen before. Mentality wise he felt different, too, and somehow I felt closer to Calcutta. I was definitely visiting a new region, witnessing once again the diversity of India. Man in VaranasiThe moment I tried to go outside of the hotel, this elderly gentleman warned me “please be very careful of the monkeys”. Scared but curious I took a careful look outside and everywhere I looked (left, right, straight, down, above) there were monkeys. Not only entire monkeys but also monkey arms and legs hanging above the door etc.

For several reasons (monkeys, lack of a proper restaurant and customers, run-down building, etc.) we decided to move to another hotel. After negotiating a water taxi we said good bye to Scindia Guest House and moved to Alka Hotel, also located by the river. Later on we were told that Scindia Guest House had illegally built more rooms (and a terrace for the restaurant), and that the local authorities had torn a large part of the construction down. This explained the sad look. Scindia Guest HouseAfter a rough start we learned to love Varanasi. We spent a total of five nights there, exploring Hinduism and Buddhism. We loved the old town –one of the most charming old towns I have ever seen, and felt that Varanasi is indeed inhabited by many old souls.

In fact, Varanasi left such an impression on me that I will definitely write more about it. When the time is right.

Other posts about Varanasi:

Second part of the trip begins in Varanasi

 

Naked Men and Peacock Brushes

Sarnath to Buddhists is what Varanasi is to Hindus, but many people forget that Sarnath is also an important pilgrimage site to Jains. So important, that a careful observer can spot some very devoted Jains visiting the Sarnath complex. In fact so devoted that some of them are naked.

What? What do Sarnath, nudity and Jainisn have in common?? Continue reading to find out more.

I had just finished touring the Archaeological Museum of Sarnath (a really fantastic, small museum!) and was drinking water outside the museum entrance when my brain registered something “weird”. There they were, five fully-naked men, walking toward me. They were tanned, I noticed, and they wore absolutely nothing (I had to look twice to be sure). The only accessory each one of these men had was a beautiful, rather big brush made of peacock feather.

peacock-feather brush

It was one of those moments when my brain didn’t register very well everything happening around me. I looked at my husband, wondering if he had seen the same thing but I was also simultaneously asking myself if my water could have been drugged. My husband looked at me, and without hesitation we returned to the museum –partially fascinated by the most amazing appearance of nakedness, partially embarrassed of our brains that were sending signals of “strangeness”.

Indeed, why did we label nudity strange? Why were we astonished while the men seemed so content and at peace? Were our brains too narrow-minded and “western”? 

We followed the footsteps of these men during ten minutes and there was a lot to admire. Their courage to walk around naked. Their muscled bodies that had no tan lines. Their super elegant peacock brushes. Their deep concentration in front of the 2500-year-old statues. Their capacity to ignore people like us who could not take their eyes off them.

Eventually the men left the museum. They could have been transported away by flying peacocks and it would not have surprised me any more.

They left behind peace. We were smiling –no longer at the nakedness but at the beauty of this world and the diversity of India.

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Note: Obviously I did not ask these men to pose for a photograph, so instead of naked men you will have to look at my legs!
The peacock fan in the photo is not identical to the one these Jain men had.

Road from Delhi to Agra

To travel from Delhi to Agra by car, train or plane, that is the question of many visitors heading to see Taj Mahal!

The distance between Delhi and Agra is just over 230 km, but driving along the old National Highway can easily take 5 hours. When we drove to Agra in 2008 it took us eight hours with some stops… And this is with a driver who knows the road! However, thanks to the recently built Yamuna Expressway the travel time is close to three hours now. Definitely worth the toll.

We met our driver in front of our hotel and begun the journey at the dawn. Navigating out of Delhi was not as painful as I had expected, and we soon found ourselves surrounded by agricultural and industrial countryside, colorfully dressed people and some interesting monuments. road from Delhi to Agra Our first stop on the route was Mathura. This lively, religious small town used to be Buddhist until Hinduism took over in the 8th century. Today, it is known among devoted Hindus as the birthplace of Krishna. Precisely, it is in the temple of Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi were he was born, it is said. No cameras were allowed inside.Sikandra, Akbar's tombFrom Mathura we moved to Sikandra, where the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great is buried (1555-1605). His mausoleum is a 17th century architectural masterpiece, which Akbar according to a Tartary belief started constructing during his lifetime. It is said to be a forerunner of Taj Mahal and I found it very beautiful. Sikandra, Akbar's mausoleum

I know many travelers catch a plane or a train to Agra, mainly to save time, but now that there is this new road, traveling by car becomes as interesting I reckon. Both Mathura and Sikandra are worth the stop, Mathura for religious reasons, Sikandra for architecture. Both are along the national highway, making it very convenient to visit them if you are on the highway. However, if you are traveling on the Expressway, it probably makes sense to use the fast road until Mathura, and from there until Agra use the highway. But ask your driver…

Whatever you decide, buy some water and enjoy the ride!

PS This is the third post about our trip in Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Bombay. Previous posts are: Part 1. Arrival in Delhi: first impressions and Part 2. Eight cities of Delhi

India: Top 10 places to visit

This is not your usual guide to India, which directs you to Taj Mahal, the Golden Triangle and Goa. I am not saying these places are not worth visiting -they are- but my goal is to show the richness of India by introducing diversified, less obvious places to visit. Namaste! Taj Mahal

My Top Ten of India (in alphabetical order):

1. Badami (Karnataka). Why? The capital of the Chalukya Kings during the 6th-7th centuries. Stunning cave temples dedicated to Hinduism and Jainism. Badami is also a small, pleasant and rather green town.

2. Chettinad (Tamil Nadu). Why? Chettinad is a region and its capital is Karaikudi. It is the home to Nagarathars, people renowned for their financial and banking skills, who migrated to South and Southeast Asia in the 19th and 20th century. With the money they made abroad, many splendid mansions were built in Chettinad, making the region an architectural pearl. Moreover, Chettinad is famous for its distinctive, delicious cuisine.Chettinad

3. Ellora (Maharashtra). Why? A group of rock-cut temples devoted to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. A UNESCO World Heritage site. The most famous temple Kailasanatha, built in the 8th century, was carved from one rock, hence a true architectural masterpiece.

4. Hampi (Karnataka). Why? Another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The capital of the Vijayanagara empire in the 14th-17th century. Impressive Hindu temples scattered around a huge terrain. Do not miss the Elephant stables!

5. Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh). Why? A crazy, noisy and polluted city. Closest I have been to Pakistan (what I imagine Pakistan to be like). At the same time, Hyderabad is amazing and fascinating!! The world’s Biryani capital. Excellent Biryanis.Hyderabad

6. Kannur (Kerala). Why? Not many people have heard of Kannur, but if you want to see the famous Theyyam performance-ritual, this is the town where you will be based. Theyyam is more than 2000 years old and a definite must see. (Note: I had hard time choosing between Kochi and Kannur, but chose Kannur because Theyyams are less known than Kochi)

7. Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu). Why? Built in the 7th century by a Pallava King, Mamallapuram is an other fantastic UNESCO World Heritage site. Elements of Dravidianism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Stunning monolithic rock carvings and sculpted reliefs. For elephant lovers. Mamallapuram

8. Shekhawati (Rajasthan). Why? Located on an old trade route, Shekhawati region is another architectural pearl, full of spectacular merchants’ and industrialists’ houses. These houses are real storyboards and their frescoes tell a story of the late 19th century industrialization. Read more: Shekhawati: the Haveli Hub

9. Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh). Why? Tirupati is your base for visiting the Shri Venkateshvara Temple located in the Tirumala Hills. One of the most important Hindu pilgrimage site in India. In the league of Vatican and Mecca in the global context. Talking about the power of religion.

Udaipur10. Udaipur (Rajasthan). Why? The Venice of the East. Probably the most romantic city of India. Sleep in an old palace and you will see why.

What is your favorite place in India and for what reason? And if you haven’t yet been to India, then what would be your top three places to go to?

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