Like I said on previous blog post we were unable to get reserved seat train tickets for our journey from Nuwara Eliya so we had to take a taxi. Now you have to shop around when it comes to taxis as there prices vary wildly, as none of them appear to be metered. So I rang around and got a good price, but we all know cheap is not always the best. So when the car arrived it looked as it had just come from a banger race and it’s tyres had come straight off a Formula 1 car, they had no tread whatsoever. Oh well, like I said it was cheap. About an hour into the journey the driver stopped and said “I have problem”, it turned out to be a flat tyre. With no spare wheel and no jack, off he trotted. He appeared some 15 minutes later with a chap with a jack, who jacked the car up, took the wheel off and disappeared again, to return with the racing slick duly repaired. Thankfully we arrived in Kandy without further any problems, dumped our bags and took a walk around the lake which is one of Kandy’s attractions. The lake is man made and was built in 1807 and it’s circumference is of 3.1km. I have to say it is a very pleasant walk with lots of wildlife to see along the way, we saw monitor lizards, plenty of lovely birds and some extremely large fish basking in the shallows. The walk will also take you past the Temple of the Tooth, (which is what most people visit Kandy for). All in all a very pleasant stroll. So, like most people the next day it was our turn. Sri Dalada Maligawa to give the temple it’s official title. It is the location which houses the Relic of the tooth of Buddha. On further research I have discovered that there are in fact Tooth relics all over the world. Two in China one in Taiwan one in Japan one in Singapore and one in California. So it appears Buddha was well traveled and lost a lot of teeth along the way. The tooth ceremony is performed three times a day. One at 05:30 one at 09:30 and one at 18:30. The ceremony involves a lot of drumming, Buddhist monks praying, then culminating in the opening of the doors to where the tooth is kept so the worshipers can file past and give there offerings and take a glimpse of the gold casket in which it is housed. My advice if you want to visit is go to the 09:30 ceremony, or if your an early bird the 05:30. Because the 18:30 one is where most of the tour companies seem to go for. We witnessed coach and mini van loads turning up on our evening stroll around the lake. As right next door to the temple there is a theatre which has a Kandyan dance show every evening at 17:00 and after the show, all the masses of tour groups then head for the temple to see the evening ceremony. So if you want to avoid the crowds take my advise. Having said all of that we wished we had not gone to see the ceremony. Firstly we didn’t see the gold casket, as the door behind which is housed is only small and if your not positioned directly in front of it you have no chance. It was like being in the middle of a rugby scrum, everyone pushing and shoving to get a glimpse, it was staggering. Personally I think that the ceremony should only open to devotees. As I witnessed some poor little lady trying to push her way through the crowds of camera and camera phone wielding tourist to give her flower offering, it was quite upsetting. All that said don’t be put of going to the temple itself as there is much more to see than the ceremony alone. Entrance fee at time of writing is 1500 rupees, around £7. Now some blogs I have read have said Kandy is very busy and crowded, as it’s Sri Lanka’s second largest next to Colombo but it wasn’t that bad at all. There are some nice shops, a good market and a good eatery called Devon food court, where it appears all the locals go. It’s very cheap and serves some excellent food. Next stop Dambulla to visit Lion rock and the Dambula Cave Temple.
After our great few days in Ella it was time to move on. Next stop on our trip was Nuwara Eliya. Whilst we were in Ella we managed to get first class tickets for the journey, the cost of which was a 1000 lkr per person around £4.50 each. The journey takes around three hours and takes in some spectacular scenery along the way. The guide books and people we met who have done the journey say the best side to sit on, is the right side in the direction of travel for the best views, but this changes to the left side half way into the journey. Surprisingly as our first class carriage was relatively empty, we had the best of both worlds and could sit on the right and the left.
When we arrived, we immediately tried to get reserved seats for our onward journey to Kandy but surprisingly discovered there wasn’t any, in fact, the reserved seats were all booked for a whole month and we certainly wasn’t going to travel in the unreserved carriages, as we have seen how absolutely jammed packed they get. We later discovered that tour groups block book tickets. They take coach and mini bus loads to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy for a one night stay, then drop them at the rail station for the return journey back to Kandy in the morning.
We stayed in Nuwara Eliya for just two nights, which is enough in my opinion to see the main sights. The owner of the homestay we stayed at gave us a list of things to do in the area, and suggested we take a tour by Tuk Tuk. Fortunately for us we found a really nice Tuk Tuk driver at the station the day before. He asked us how long we were in town and what are our plans were, “well to be honest they all come out with the same line” but he seemed a real genuine guy so I took his number. Next day I gave the him a call, negotiated a price for the tour which was 3000 rupees which is around £13.50 for the five & half hour tour. On the way to our first stop, the Damro Tea plantation, our driver stopped at various viewpoints, explained how they harvest the tea leaves, how often they pick the leaves “once every 7 days”, basically all things to do with the tea growing business. I can assure you it was very interesting. One fact that he told us was about the tea pickers themselves. Firstly they are all woman, they work until the age of 55. Work an eight hour day and have to harvest between 18kg and 20kg of tea leaves per day to earn just 600 rupees which is £2.74. There is no company pension scheme, no worker benefits, just hard work, quite terrible really. He then pointed out the tea pickers homes which at first glance looked just like one average size bungalow in England. He then went on to tell us that this was not just one home in fact it was five, consisting of just one room with a family living in each. When we reached the Damro tea plantation we noticed that it was adorned with Chinese New Year banners, Chinese lanterns, and had coach loads of Chinese tourists arriving, even the Sri Lankan tea factory guides spoke Chinese. The factory itself was a very sterile experience. You really could not see much of the tea production except through perspex panels. It was in my opinion just a huge tourist attraction. Our Tuk Tuk driver told us that in fact it was a Chinese owned factory as Sri Lankan tea or Ceylon tea is very popular in China. He also told us that large Chinese companies are buying up some of the more profitable tea companies in Sri Lanka. Also they are investing heavily in the country’s infrastructure, roads, rail etc. We were having an in depth conversation with an owner of a homestay we were staying in, who was also a lawyer, she told us that the people are not really happy about the situation. I really do hope that the country doesn’t loose it its identity in years to come. Next stop was the much nicer Bluefield Tea Factory which is owned by two brothers and has been producing tea since the late eighteen hundreds. Touring the tea factory was a much nicer and personal experience, also much more informative. We then visited a couple of waterfalls which were quite spectacular and this was in the dry season. After our tour had finished we got the guy to drop us off at the Grand Hotel for afternoon tea “which one has to partake”. Afternoon tea at the Grand is mentioned in most of the guide books, so we thought why not. The Grand Hotel is one of the many colonial buildings in Nuwara Eliya, hence the name “Little England” Tea is served on a lovely terrace with, as you would expect, a three tiered cake stand with all the goodies that come with afternoon tea. The price for all this is 1300 rupees per person £5.97, considering how much you would have to pay in a high end hotel in the uk for this it’s an absolute bargain. Next stop was the Hill Club another throwback from the British Empire. It was originally a gentleman’s club, quite what that means exactly, but is now a lovely hotel. It costs 100 rupees to look around £0.46 but it’s well worth it. While you’re there have a nice cold beer in the really quaint bar. There are some other attractions, like the old post office and a golf course. Also there is Victoria Park, which we didn’t visit as it costs 300 rupees for foreigners and 30 for locals. It wasn’t the money it’s just that in Sri Lanka the prices for foreigners (tourists) are so over inflated, it was the principal. Besides I can visit much grander parks in the uk for free. Next Stop Kandy.
After our flight from Chennai we arrived in Sri Lanka. As we had arrived in the early hours of the morning, and the journey to our transit hotel where we were just going to to get a few hours sleep was very short. We did not get any indication of what Sri Lanka was going to be like, the only thing that I noticed immediately was how much calmer the driving was. I thought that this was due to the fact it was 02:30 am, and everyone was asleep.
On our journey to the bus station to get the bus to Bentota it was quite clear to the fact that Sri Lanka was going to be nothing like India. As on the way was immediately evident that it was going to be much calmer “driving wise”, the streets were so much cleaner, and everything seemed so much more sedate. Straight away we knew we were going to love Sri Lanka. Our journey from Negombo to Colombo took around an hour, “but not without its problems. See below”, the second leg of the journey was around two and a half hours for a distance of just 70 miles because of heavy traffic. Total journey price £6;30 Taxi would have cost upward of £30.
Bus scam beware
We were taken to the bus station by Shaun who was the manager of the Transit Inn where we stayed for our first night. He told us that the fare to Colombo would be 130 lkr £0.59. We had three seats, one for our luggage. So our total fare for the journey would be 330 lkr. On arriving at the bus station in Colombo the conductor of the bus wanted 800 lkr, two seats for us a seat for each of our bags “both bags were on one seat” and 400 lkr for the toll which was the toll fare for the whole bus. “We noticed the fee at the toll booth”. Needless to say even though he wasn’t happy we said no and just gave him the correct fare. The next leg of our journey to Bentota went much smoother the conductor was very helpful and he didn’t try to scam us.
I’m sure if you looked at Bentota in the glossy brochures you will find endless high end faceless hotels, so for some this may well put you off visiting, but if you cross the bridge heading south out of town and head for the beach you will find, what seemed to us like miles of unspoilt immaculately clean white sand beaches. Our choice of homestay was Villa Lalita, a really lovely home stay, great value and amazing hosts. Villa Lalita is in Pitaramba Road, which is turning on the right, over the bridge heading south. There are plenty of other home stays to choose from down this road. Our homestay was just a 5 minute walk to an amazing beach, that you will almost have all to yourself. We possibly counted fifty or so people in like I said what seemed like miles of beach. We didn’t do much else in Bentota except soak up the sun, as we needed a rest after our busy schedule in India.
Restaurants in Bentota . Pier 88, which is in Bentota town itself, they served good food. Good location on the river. Happy Fish “although if you chose a fish dish the fish would not be too happy”. Located just across the bridge heading into town, another one with river views. Finally the Golden Grill which I can also recommend. “Just don’t order a bottle of Sri Lankan wine, it’s appalling”.
Über and Ola Cabs appear not to be available in Sri Lanka, but another useful app I found was PickMe which does work, but not in all areas.
Next stop Galle Fort.
Well it’s almost a year since we were in South Africa, so I am finally getting around to finishing my blog on our visit, before we head off on my 60th birthday trip. More on that later
After leaving Swellendam we headed for our next stop, Cape Town, with a stop on route in Stellenbosch. A very pretty town not only famous for its wine but also its Ostrich farms. After a stroll around the town and some lunch, it was time to move on to Cape Town.
As we approached Cape Town things got busier as you would expect, the wide open spaces that we were used to in the east became less and less also things got somewhat bizarre. You see some friends of ours who have been to South Africa a few times told us a story about when they stopped at some traffic lights, they saw a woman in the middle of the road trying to sell a wardrobe of all things. Just the sort of thing that you need whilst out for a quite drive. Well it appears that the entrepreneurship of the South Africans doesn’t just stop at furniture. We stopped at some traffic lights (probably the same ones) and saw a guy waving the biggest fish you can imagine, around trying to sell it to passing motorists. Quite how many days he had been waving around in the South African sunshine I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess. Before we checked into our guest house, we decided to stop off and have a look around the V&A waterfront area of Cape Town. The V&A consists of many chain type restaurants and high end shops, all very nice but a bit too commercial and polished for my liking, but worth a visit all the same.
On our first full day in Cape Town we visited Table Mountain. We had pre booked our tickets back in the UK having read about the vast numbers of people visiting, as you can imagine, as Table Mountain along with Robben Island are Cape Town’s biggest tourist draws. On reflection we needn’t have bothered as the queue for the cable cars for people with pre booked tickets was just as long as the queue for people without, Oh well we tried. Our next stop and in my opinion a must see is the District 6 museum. District 6 was an area of Cape Town which was a thriving township community, consisting of blacks, coloureds, “South African’s term for mixed race” and Malay people. The district was demolished because the white South Africans decided they wanted the area for themselves to build nice big fancy buildings and high end houses. The entrance to the museum (which incidentally is housed in an old church, the only building left standing from the district) is free to enter, but once inside I would wholeheartedly recommend taking a tour with one of the guides. The guides are all former residents of District 6. Our guide Ruth who was brought up in the district was so informative, and her story was so moving, she was in tears telling us, even though she must have told it a thousand times, very moving indeed. I cannot get my head around how one person can treat another so badly just because of the colour of their skin. We ended our day with a good few cold beers in a bar/restaurant called “Bombay Bicycle Club”.
Our next day in Cape Town was a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for the best part of his 30 year sentence. Robben Island is definitely one I would recommend booking in advance. If you are staying in Cape Town for a few days I would recommend making your booking to the island early on during your stay, because if the ferries to island are cancelled due to bad weather you can use your pre-booked ticket for another day.
A must visit if you are in Cape Town for a few days is Boulder Beach, which if famous for its population of penguins, it was just amazing to see them in there natural habitat. Could have watched them for hours going about their daily business.
Now the 26th of March is my birthday, so we asked the owner of the accommodation that we were staying at Acorn House which incidentally I would thoroughly recommend. If she could recommend a nice restaurant for the occasion. She told us about a high end restaurant called La Mouette, at Sea point which a short drive from Cape Town. She said she would try to book a table, but could not promise as it gets booked well in advance, but luckily for us we managed get a table. We decided to go for the six course taster menu, which also comes with a glass a wine with each course. The food and the wine was amazing. If this restaurant was in London the cost of the meal would be astronomical, I’m sure well out of our price range, but the meal was just £60 for the both of us
We have now left Dubai and have arrived in Mumbai. Immediately I felt a sense of relief to be back somewhere I was familiar with and did not feel like Disney World. It was great to be back, it has been two years since we were last here but it seemed like only yesterday that we had left. Our taxi journey took about an hour from the airport to the hotel, and I noticed many new additions to the city, first of which was the very swish new airport. On our journey it was good to see some old familiar favourites too like Chowpatty beach, Marine Drive, driving through Dada district we also passed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Mumbai’s magnificent railway station, somehow it felt like we had arrived home, and our holiday was just beginning. So with bags duly dropped at hotel it was off for a nice cold glass of Kingfisher at a fraction of the cost of the one in Dubai.