Tag Archives: Islam

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.)


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

Return to Delhi

Delhi is much cleaner than it was in 2008. Have not even seen any cows yet (monkeys yes). People are as friendly as I remembered.

Waiting for the 5 o’clock prayers to stop at Jama Masjid. Air is thick, feels like a sandstorm is approaching us. Prayers end, we walk in. The huge, orange sun sets, the rain begins. Tomorrow is an other day.Jama Masjid



Fort Pokaran: ideal oasis in the Thar Desert

If you are planning to travel from Bikaner to Jaisalmer by road, do not forget that it is a long way: 300km and many, many long hours sitting in the car. In addition, it will probably be rather hot –after all, it is the Thar Desert you will be crossing. India-Pakistan border will be less than 100km on your right side, parallel to the road. You will see more camels than people.Thar desertThis said, no worries, I have a solution for you and it is to organize a stop at Fort Pokaran like we did! Fort PokaranFort Pokaran is an enormous 14th century citadel, which is partially converted into a heritage hotel. Like many other luxury hotels everywhere in the world including Rajasthan, one cannot just walk in. The premises are reserved for paying guests (privacy comes with the package they pay for).

However, based on our observations in Rajasthan (at least in most cases) hotels let you in against a small entrance fee and/or if you agree to spend at the restaurant. And this is exactly what we did with Fort Pokaran: we called them in advance and asked if it was ok that we came to use their pool for 2-3 hours, while promising also to eat lunch at their restaurant. They said yes, so we got to freshen ourselves up, swim in the lovely pool and eat an absolutely delicious lunch, and they got some extra clients. A win-win situation!! Fort PokaranIn the end of our lunch we got talking to the lovely owner, who proudly showed us around the premises. The rooms were elegantly decorated using local textiles and antique objects.

Should we return to this part of Rajasthan, I would definitely arrange to sleep over at Fort Pokaran. An other stunning, Mughal-style palace from the 14th century… a giant pearl in the midlde of the Thar desert!

FORT POKARAN: http://www.fortpokaran.com


Note: This is the 17th post about our trip in Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Bombay in March-April 2008. Previous posts are:

Part 1. Arrival in Delhi: first impressions
Part 2. Eight cities of Delhi
Part 3. Road from Delhi to Agra
Part 4. Visiting Agra and Taj Mahal
Part 5. Fatehpur Sikri: what a pearl!
Part 6. Neemrana Fort-Palace: the magnificent 15th century palace
Part 7. Breathtaking Amber Fort
Part 8. Chaotic but charming Jaipur (part 1.)
Part 9. Chaotic but charming Jaipur (part 2.)
Part 10. Hotel Pearl Palace in Jaipur
Part 11. Samode Palace: live like a Maharaja
Part 12. Shekhawati: the Haveli Hub
Part 13. Enchanting Hotel Mandawa Haveli
Part 14. Karni Mata Temple (WARNING: includes images of rats)
Part 15. Subtle charm of Bikaner
Part 16. Bhairon Vilas: sleep like a Prime Minister

PS Have you already joined Pearlspotting?

Breathtaking Amber Fort

Amber Fort near Jaipur is another must thing to do while visiting Rajasthan. I know that I keep repeating myself, and I use many excessive adjectives, but this palace is a dream come true. It is spectacular. An architectural pearl and like no other palace.  Amber FortAmber Fort was built in the end of the 16th century on the ruins of an 11th century fort. Some parts were added a decade later. Style-wise it is a combination of Hindu and Mughal architecture, full of alluring ornaments, relief works, frescoes, carved doors and latticed windows. It seems that silver and marble were the favorite materials of Maharaja Man Singh, who ordered the construction of the citadel. Amber FortAmber FortAmber FortWe found Amber Fort rather calm. There were less people than in other touristic sites and they were mainly locals who were very friendly and curious. The security guards were very eager to practice English with us, and even gave us a private tour in one of the underground caves. What an adventure! It was definitely one of those moments when the rich history of India felt very vivid, allowing us to time travel to the era of Emperor Akbar. Indian tourists at Amber Fort

Some practical information: We left Neemrana Fort-Palace: the magnificent 15th century palace at 2 pm and it gave us plenty of time to arrive at Amber Fort by 4 pm. However, do check the opening times prior to your arrival!

It took us about 2.5 hours to visit the citadel, and as you could notice from my photos, most of out time was devoted to taking pictures of and with local tourists. Indians LOVE to have a picture taken with you!

If you are driving directly from Delhi to Jaipur, it is totally feasible to leave the capital in the morning and visit the fort in the afternoon.

Alternatively, as many tourists do, make a morning or afternoon trip from Jaipur. After all, the distance is only 11 km and even a rickshaw can do this.

This is the seventh post about our trip in Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Bombay in March-April 2008. Previous posts are:
Part 1. Arrival in Delhi: first impressions
Part 2. Eight cities of Delhi
Part 3. Road from Delhi to Agra
Part 4. Visiting Agra and Taj Mahal
Part 5. Fatehpur Sikri: what a pearl!
Part 6. Neemrana Fort-Palace: the magnificent 15th century palace

PS Have you already joined Pearlspotting?

Fatehpur Sikri: what a pearl!

Fatehpur Sikri is located only 40 km from Agra and should be on everyone’s What To Visit list. Very different from the nearby Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri is considered to be one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture. One more time, I repeat myself; do not miss this fantastic, abandoned red sandstone town!Fatehpur SikriFatehpur Sikri was constructed by the order of Emperor Akbar in honor of the famous Sufi saint called Salim Chishti who predicted the birth of Akbar’s son Jahangir. The capital was moved from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri in 1571 and remained there for 14 years, until Akbar decided to move the capital to Lahore to be closer to Persian and Afghan armies. 

There weren’t many tourists during our visit, which was nice for a change. We loved admiring public and private parts of the capital, the ornaments, pools, court yards etc. It felt like a phantom town: red, haunted and mysterious. But above all, exquisite in its beauty. Fatehpur SikriFatehpur SikriFatehpur SikriWe spent around 2.5 hours visiting the imperial complex, completing the tour at 11.30 am. Even this early, the heat was almost intolerable (this was in the end of March), so as a tip, think of bringing something for your head. A hat or a scarf can become handy, especially because women and men need to cover their head while visiting Jami Masjid mosque where the tomb of Sufi saint Chishti is.Fatehpur SikriI would love to return to Fatehpur Sikri, and to me it is one of the most fascinating and beautiful sites to visit in India. I admit that I have a soft spot for the Mughal Empire period but I also think that Akbar was an extraordinary ruler whose presence can be felt in Fatehpur Sikri. Do make time to visit it if you are in Agra!


This is the fifth post about our trip in Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Bombay in March-April 2008. Previous posts are:
Part 1. Arrival in Delhi: first impressions
Part 2. Eight cities of Delhi
Part 3. Road from Delhi to Agra
Part 4. Visiting Agra and Taj Mahal

PS Have you already joined Pearlspotting?

Visiting Agra and Taj Mahal

We left Delhi at 8 a.m. in the morning and arrived in Agra eight hours later (see Road from Delhi to Agra). The closer we got to Agra, the more our excitement grew. Taj Mahal, here we come! Will it be as stunning as everyone claims? And yes, I confirm, it was very impressive to see this enormous white marble mausoleum in the horizon for the first time. Taj MahalAfter dropping our bags at Hotel Kamal, we rushed to Taj Mahal, but the entrance procedure did not go as smoothly as it could have. Our bag contained illegal objects: guide books (!?), a torch and cellular phones, and had to leave them at the entrance (check recent regulations at your hotel). entering Taj MahalAfter passing the security check, we arrived in the garden. Suddenly, there we were, with thousands of Indians, some tourists and cameras in every hand. Once in a lifetime experience.

As Internet and guidebooks are full of information about this extraordinary 17th century mausoleum, influenced by Hinduism and Islam, I am not going to go into architecture and history (for example, Eyewitness India guidebook excels in architectural and historical descriptions). So, I will stick to sharing some more photos: Taj MahalTaj Mahal at sunsetTaj Mahal gardenSunset in AgraImpressive, right?

In our opinion, it was definitely worth arriving before 5 p.m. and wandering around Taj Mahal until the sunset. Highly recommended! Moreover, as you know, the sun is so strong in India that even for photo shoots the evenings are much better. Alternatively, you could also arrive very early in the morning.

The next morning we woke up at the sunrise (5.30 a.m.) and climbed to the roof terrace of our hotel. The famous appearance of Taj Mahal was worth the early wake. In fact, I would recommend either staying at a hotel that has a great view, or finding a roof top you can easily access in the morning. Taj Mahal at sunriseAfter the morning photo shoot we walked around the Taj Ganj quarter (in the immediate proximity of Taj Mahal), which left us a pleasant impression. Quiet streets, old gates, rustic but charming houses, and friendly people. walking around AgraWe had breakfast at the roof terrace of Shanti Lodge near our hotel and decided not to visit the Agra Fort and the Agra city center (that surely are worth visiting!). Next we picked up our bags and paid a rickshaw to take us to meet our driver who was waiting for us outside the center. FYI: cars are not allowed too close to Taj Mahal, so your driver may ask you to take a rickshaw to reach your hotel.

It was 8 a.m. and our day was only starting. Fatehpur Sikri, here we come!

TAJ MAHAL TICKET AND ENTRANCE INFORMATION: To my understanding, tickets can be purchased until 5 p.m., allowing you to stay until the sunset. There are also night viewing tickets available around the full moon, but not on Fridays. However, please note this information is based on our travel memories from March 2008 and on Internet reading, so please check the latest information with your hotel prior to arrival in order to avoid disappointments! 

HOTEL KAMAL (http://www.hotelkamal.com/): The hotel was very simple, but we had big windows and hot water. Its location and roof top were big bonuses. However, my quick Tripadvisor browsing shows that recent reviews are not that great. It seems they redid the hotel since our visit and unfortunately there are no prices available on the hotel’s website. So, all I can say is that we were pleased with our stay, but we paid 400 INR ( 4.7€ or 6.5USD). A real bargain!!

EATING IN AGRA: We did not eat particularly well, so cannot recommend anything.


PS This is the fourth post about our trip in Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Bombay in March-April 2008. Previous posts are:
Part 1. Arrival in Delhi: first impressions
Part 2. Eight cities of Delhi
Part 3. Road from Delhi to Agra

Lastly, have you already joined Pearlspotting?

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

Eight cities of Delhi

Most tourists use Delhi only as an entry point to travel toward the Himalayas or Agra. Many say Delhi is a disgustingly dirty city with nothing to see, but this is not true. This may come as a surprise, but I believe everyone should spend at least two days exploring this historic city. Read more and see why!

We spent three nights in Delhi, and after our initial shock (see Arrival in Delhi: first impressions) it grew on us. We ate well, we visited well and the history of the world had never felt so fascinating. During our first day, which happened to be the Holi Festival, we had lunch at the historic Karim’s restaurant (ok food, nothing special) and visited the nearby 17th century Jama Masjid mosque. The view from the minaret was breathtaking.Jama Masjid, DelhiDuring our second day, we rented a car with a driver, and started the tour with the Red Fort, the fortified 17th century palace of the Mughal empire. Afterwards we visited the Jain temple across the street, which was our first-ever contact to Jainism, and Raj Ghat, the Gandhi memorial.

After a very pleasant lunch break at Chicken Inn (very good food), we continued toward the older sites in the southern part of Delhi. As many of you probably know, Delhi has been the capital of seven empires. Today, the ruins of these empires can be easily visited and it would be difficult for me to highlight just one, because each one of them was interesting in its own way. Firozabad, DelhiSome remaining cities reminded me of the Silk Road architecture I had seen in Uzbekistan, whereas some were pure examples of Muslim architecture. Afghan architecture was strongly present, too. To our delight, a lot had remained in a very good shape. Gutb MinarHowever, if I must mention one city to visit outside the city center, I would definitely say explore Mehrauli, the first city of Delhi, where the famous 12th century Qutb Minar is located (the one in the photo). In the same site, you can see the mysterious Iron Pillar from the 3rd or 4th century (http://wikimapia.org/7381299/Iron-pillar-of-Chandragupta-II-Vikramaditya-375%E2%80%93414-CE). Such a lovely, interesting site. We spent a lot of time here, because many Indians stopped us to be photographed with them. How cute. We felt like Bollywood stars…Mehrauli city, DelhiWe had such a fascinating day and I think Delhi completely outdid our expectations. Should I return to Delhi, I would definitely reserve one full day to revisiting all of these cities, and the ones I did not have time to see. As a tip I would suggest (like we did) renting a car especially for the visits in the southern part of the city. It can be a long way… Moreover, before you rent the car, make sure that the driver knows these cities. Everyone has probably at least heard about the Qutb Minar tower, but your driver doesn’t necessarily know the location of the other, less known cities. Ours didn’t, and he even kept insisting they don’t exist or that they aren’t worth visiting…. and to some extent he was right. At some sites we were the only people, which brings me to the last point. Visiting these southern cities can also be a nice way to get away from the hectic city center full of cars and people. Think about it and I bet you won’t be disappointed.

More information on the eight cities: http://www.delhitourism.gov.in/delhitourism/aboutus/eight_cities_delhi.jsp

PS So far, I have made three one-month long visits to India. I felt quite overwhelmed as to where to start (see e.g. India: Top 10 places to visit) but I have now made my decision. I will start unfolding my India experiences from the beginning, by posting about our first visit, which included Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), Rajasthan and Bombay. So, what you are reading now is the second post about this trip, and the previous one can be found here: Arrival in Delhi: first impressions. Stay tuned for more!! And don’t forget to join Pearlspotting on Facebook.

24 hours in Kuala Lumpur

Our recent Southeast Asia trip begun in Kuala Lumpur and I wrote 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur about the time we spent in this exciting city. As often in life, it is important that the circle comes to an end, so here you go with “24 hours in Kuala Lumpur”, describing the last day of our trip before returning to Paris.

First of all, I have to say that I was so impressed with Malaysia in general. We had very few expectations and KL to us was supposed to be “just a hub”, but it totally charmed us. Now we are joking about retirement in Penang (if we don’t retire in our beloved India!). Malaysians, in my humble opinion, are very kind, educated and excellent in communication. There is something sort of “American” in them in a way that they have a very developed sense of service, they master the small talk and they like interacting with other people. (FYI: Malaysia’s tourism organization is not paying me for saying this, but should you read this and would like me to become your Ambassador, I am ready to become one!)

To prove my impressions right, I am proud to say that I have a new friend in KL and his name is Jamil Kucing. He has an animal shelter and he is well-known among locals. You can read the entire story in 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur and to find more about Jamil the Catman see his blog: http://jamilthecatman.blogspot.com.  We have exchanged emails since my return to Paris, agreeing to meet up the next time I am in KL. Jamil offered to lend me his spare scooter so that we can cruise around KL with monkeys in our back seats! How cool is that….

During this trip, we only visited KL and Langkawi, but I got an impression it was very clean everywhere. The food was diversified, representing the rich history of Malaysia, and delicious. What comes to architecture, I felt that the construction projects were realized in harmony with the nature. In fact what I saw in Malaysia reminded me of Costa Rica where I worked during five months: in Langkawi almost all tourism activities were related to either nature or animals and in Kuala Lumpur the city looked green and I could see and smell the nature. The photo below was taken from our hotel room. Notice how lush it is!

Kuala Lumpur city view

HOTEL: During our first stay in Kuala Lumpur we stayed at Capitol Hotel (http://www.hotelcapitol-kualalumpur.com/‎). This time, as our Air Asia flight from Langkawi landed in quite late, we decided to stay closer to Sentral and reserved IMG_2170at Le Meridien (http://www.lemeridienkualalumpur.com/). Le Meridien is very conveniently located right next to Sentral which is KL’s transportation hub (that in the end we did not use). We were given an upgrade upon arrival, went straight to sleep and started the next day with a coffee by the lovely pool. We paid MYR 220 (72USD) at Hotel Capitol and MYR 348 (114USD) at Le Meridien. I agree that Le Meridien is very conveniently located for short visits and business trips, but for tourism reasons I think I prefer the location of Hotel Capitol. Both have a swimming pool and certainly Le Meridien pool is better, Brickfieldsbut the pool Hotel Capitol offers is not bad either (it is located at a nearby hotel and access is free). Worth mentioning is that you probably find food at any hour near Capitol Hotel but near Le Meridien, at best, you may just have McDonalds at Sentral. Well, I am happy I tried both hotels as it allowed me to see different parts of KL.

SIGHTS NEAR LE MERIDIEN HOTEL: After the pool session weThean Hou Temple wedding started sightseeing. It was not yet too hot so we walked toward Jalan Tun Sambanthan (a major road near the hotel, see the photo above). The area is called Brickfields and it is a home to many Tamils from India and Sri Lankans. Indian music was loud, spices in the air, Thean Hou Templeand this quick change in atmosphere was fascinating!

We got slightly lost but finally reached Thean Hou Temple, named after the Heavenly Mother. It is a modern-times temple, built in the 1980’s and open since 1989. It is dedicated to Buddhism and worth the climb. Architecturally it is a mixture of different styles: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. At the time of our visit there was a wedding of a lovely couple and we wished them well in their new life. I thought the bride was very stylish! Thean Hou Temple ceiling

Thean Hou Temple

ISLAMIC ARTS MUSEUM MALAYSIA: Another reason why we chose Le Meridien was that it has a relatively easy access to Islamic Arts Museum (http://www.iamm.org.my/). From the temple we took a taxi to this museum (it was getting too hot to walk!). The building is very new (1998), spacious and spotlesminiature Koransly clean. We had a quick snack at the Museum Restaurant before starting the exploration. I could go on and on about how fantastic this museum is, but let me begin by saying that it should be on everyone’s What To Do in Kuala Lumpur -list. Objects are beautiful (I adored the miniature Korans!!) and the display is very clear and welcoming. It is a very Islamic architecture mapeducative museum and there are many excellent well-done and clear maps, like the one about the Islamic architecture in the world, with a special focus in the Malay Archipelago (see the photo).

I will definitely go back the next time when I am in KL because there is so much to learn about the Islamic influence, architecture, art, calligraphy, Koran, etc. Geographically the museum focuses equally in each region of the world, and for example after having done some extensive traveling in India, I found it useful to see maps and chronological explanations about the great Mughal Empire in India (1526-1858).  Please go and see this museum: it is fascinating!!

DINNER: After some Jalan Alor restaurantretail therapy it was time to eat dinner. We were really eager to re-taste seafood that we had had during our previous stay, so we returned to our usual Sai Woo Restaurant, located at 55 Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang. The street is full of restaurants that offer different local specialties and most restaurants have menus that come with pictures to help those unfamiliar with the variety of food Malaysia offers. Sai Woo Restaurant

We ordered far too much food, but as it was our last dinner in Asia, we were anticipating the return to Europe…. Double Variety Kai Lan, Lotus Roots with Macadamia Nuts, Spicy “Kam Heong” Bamboo Shell, and many more dishes with names I cannot remember including duck, chicken satay and razor shells…. (I am getting hungry as writing this!). We did not ask, but I wonder if we could have taken a doggy bag to the airport…?

After the dinner we returned for a foot massage in a place around the corner from the restaurant (see 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur), had a quick shower at the hotel and caught a taxi to the airport to catch an Emirates A380 back to Paris.

Malaysia Truly Asia (http://www.tourism.gov.my/‎), you chose an appropriate slogan and I will be back very soon inch’allah!