Tag Archives: Hinduism

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

 

Christmas preparations: cards

Phew, over fifty Christmas cards on their way to friends and family mainly in Finland, France, the US and India.

As I was searching our closets for cards and envelopes (I keep a stock) I stumbled upon these cards that I had bought in Calcutta during our last trip to India. I was going to choose some to be sent away but fascinated by their beauty, I then changed my mind. What exquisite tiny pieces of art they are! I want to keep them! I photographed them and took time to admire the handicraft while wondering who had made them and what the stories behind are. I felt that these cards are like carpets: their ornaments tell a story; a story the person who made them wants to tell. Happiness, sorrow, hope, dreams –what else?

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Flowers and the person behind the flowers. 

Maybe after all I will frame and hang them on the baby room’s wall.

I am not quite sure which one I prefer. Maybe the holy, lime-green hand of hamsa. What about you?

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Aren’t these cards absolutely splendid? Only in incredible India!

Note: Cards made and sold by Calcutta Rescue (www.calcuttarescue.org). If you are in Calcutta, do not miss them at the Fairlawn Hotel every Thursday between 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm. They take orders too!

 

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

 

Skull Decoration

Cleaning and arranging are not my most favorite past-time activities but I have to admit they bring benefits… like rediscovering things that you forgot existed and coming up with new decoration ideas with these newly-found objects!

We bought these four marble skulls in Varanasi, from the same man who sold us the Nandi (Home Sweet Home). Yesterday while cleaning I placed the skulls on this bowl (that I think comes from Zanzibar) because they were on my way, but once I took a second look I realized they actually look quite stylish. Especially with those red communist farmers in the background (an old Communist propaganda poster from Kyrgyzstan). skull decorationSkulls are very fashionable these days. My husband is dreaming of a tiny golden skull necklace. Skulls have a lot of symbolic values and not only among different religious groups. A skull is actually beautiful –even that black, burnt skull I saw at the burning ghat in Varanasi. Skulls fascinate and scare us.

What do you think? Would you have them at home as a decoration item? What do they symbolize to you?

 

Home Sweet Home

Six weeks of globetrotting is over and every place I saw during my travels was rewarding in its own way.

India was fantastic, as always, and so rich in everything: culture, history, people, food, religion, architecture etc. This was my fourth one-month-long trip to India and I enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed my previous trips. Definitely The Place to be in for me –I am very attached to India and miss my dear friends terribly. Will be writing a lot more about India in the weeks to come (hope everyone enjoy reading about India??)!

Unfortunately I was a bit sick in Dubai so I could not do as much as I had planned, but I did manage to squeeze in enough shopping and pool time. And super delicious Iranian kebabs, but more about that in another post.

My last destination was Finland, my country of origin. The country returned to winter last week and I saw snow, sleet and hail. All this felt almost pleasantly exotic after the tropics but unfortunately I was not prepared clothes-wise for this weather shock (from 38C in Dubai to barely 8C in Finland…). So, the weather directed me toward indoor activities and I took advantage of visiting museums and doing a food tour of Helsinki, but more about all this a bit later.

Now back to Paris. What is it like to return after six weeks? What did I do upon arriving at home?

First, I put fish in the freezer. My father is a keen fisherman so I usually bring “home-caugh” pike-perch and burbot to Paris, just like my parents do when they visit us in Paris (Bringing a little bit of Finnish Christmas to Paris).

Second, I checked upon flowers and plants on the balcony. Prior to travelling, we had spent a lot of time (and money) planting pansies and other plants so it was important to find them in a good health. And judging by the photos, I think everyone agrees that they were doing well! Parisian balcony in springParisian balcony with flowersParisian balcony with pansies

Third, I installed a little bit of India at home. The nine-kilo marble Nandi statue that we purchased in Varanasi found its place on the balcony. It is now part of our small Hindu temple where Nandi gets showered by flower petals and candles. We have been searching for a beautiful Nandi for a long time and are happy to have finally found this elegant piece. Furthermore, to ease Nandi’s homesickness, we placed it toward the East, India.Nandi statue in ParisAnother object we have been looking for a while is a brass bowl (urli). After a lot of exploration we finally found a lovely one in a rather touristic shop in Bombay. Urli is placed on our bathroom sink and looking very good. Moreover, this is a great way to have fresh flowers in the bathroom! urli in the bathroom in Paris

A lot of photos about flowers, but I guess it is a good sign: summer is almost here!!

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What are your thoughts on these Franco-Indian decoration ideas? Do you tend to bring design objects from your travels and does mixing styles always work? Would love to see links to your homes!! Until then, have a great week!

 

 

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.