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.
Our next stop on our journey is Kumarakom, a small town on the Kerala Backwaters situated around 16km from Kottayam. We headed for the train station quite early to buy our train tickets and to assess the situation, as this was to be our first train journey on our current trip. We had used India railways on our previous visit to India and as we discovered then, getting tickets finding the right platform is a bit of palaver to say the least. But with tickets purchased, we waited for our train. Our train was supposed to arrive at 1150, that’s normal time., but what time it would arrive in Indian time, who knows. The train eventually arrived at 1240 which wasn’t too bad in the scheme of things. Our journey to Kottayam, took around three hours. We had a nice chat with a couple of students “Neethu and Tresitta” who were studying engineering. So the journey went quite quick. We took a Tuk Tuk from the station to our Homestay “Tuk Tuk’s are getting quite upmarket these days, our one had enough space for the luggage behind the seats,” takin a Tuk Tuk is also a much cheaper option than a taxi.
Our accommodation for this leg of the trip is Mango Kerala Homes or the Indian name is Meenakshi River Villa. A really beautiful Homestay on the Keralan backwaters. If you ever visit Kumarakom you have to stay here. The owners are amazing the rooms are top class and it’s very good value for money £29 per night including breakfast.
There is not a great deal to do in the area, except relax, you could take a backwater Cruise, there are plenty of boats to choose from. We didn’t as we have done this on past trips to India. There is the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, which is worth a visit, although strangely we never saw one bird, quite bizarre. We did see some quite large monitor lizards, a water snake and some beautiful dragon flies. It costs 150 INR per person, and is worth a visit. We wanted to visit the driftwood museum, but unfortunately it was closed the days we were in Kumarakom
Restaurants We ate our evening meal in our homestay on two nights, but I can recommend Manani which was a short walk away, serving good food and good service.
ATM’s Cash Machines Some atm’s will dispense up to your banks withdrawing limit, but on occasions they will only dispense a maximum of 10000 INR, around £115. You can make multiple withdrawals up to your daily limit from the same ATM. Not all ATM machines tell you this on the screen, and rejects the transaction. So just reduce your amount to 10000 INR and you’ll be fine.
AccommodationWe stayed at Mango Kerala home, and like I said earlier I recommend staying here for it’s amazing owners, fantastic food, location and top class rooms.
After Addo elephant park it was time to move on to Plettenburg, which was about a four and half hour drive away. Some friends of ours recommend we stop off at Storm River as we were told it is worth seeing, so we gave it a look. I have to say it wasn’t as amazing as described. Firstly far too many people than we had been used to, quite the tourist trap in fact, and in my opinion have seen better in my native country of England, like the Jurassic coast of Devon and Cornwall, but at least I can tick it off the list. Arrived at our home for the next three days “Southern Cross Guest House“. Another really nice colonial property, situated on a hill, with a boardwalk right down to the beach. Plettenburg is a nice little town with plenty of shops and restaurants, and some stunning properties to boot, also the prices are so much cheaper than the UK.
The next day we decided to visit Monkey Land, not a very inspiring name, sounds almost like a theme park, but well worth the visit. It’s situated around 10 to 15km away from Plettenburg, and is a centre for the care and rehabilitation of a wide variety of monkey species. They have been rescued from laboratories, people that have kept them as pets also ones that have been injured in the bush. The guided tour lasts around one hour and is very informative indeed. Also watching the monkeys playing around and getting up to there antics is very amusing indeed.
Next we drove to Knysna which is about the same distance from Plettenburg but in the opposite direction. Another place where the guide-book recommends. It is situated on a large lagoon which is very nice, but with rows and rows of identical houses built on a man-made island, all a bit like the film the Truman Show. So you can tell we was not very impressed.
Our final day in Plettenburg was spent visiting Robberg Nature Reserve. Now I have to say it’s well worth the visit. Be warned though the map that they give you at the entrance only vaguely resembles the route you will take. There is no warning that the route can be quite treacherous in parts and very steep. So good walking shoes are a must and take plenty of water. We only did the short route which is around a 8km circuit which takes you to a place called the gap. Which consist of a very large sand dune leading to a wonderful beach. Word of warning, the return route is somewhat difficult to pick up and there are no real signs denoting where to go. All we knew that with the aid of the poor official map was follow the water’s edge to the rocks and you will then see the hundreds of footprints left by previous walkers. The return leg of the walk is a lot shorter but more difficult as you have to transverse along the water’s edge, with signs warning of high winds and freak waves. “No mention of that at the entrance” you can choose to take the longer walk to the end of the peninsula which is around 14km, but apparently this involves walking along a narrow ledge with just a rope to hang onto. but all that said it was well worth it.
Our next stop was the town of Swellendam, just overnight to break up the journey to Cape Town. You have a choice of two routes from Plettenburg to Cape Town, either the N2 which takes in the garden route. Or the R62 which goes through the Karoo, a very dry flat plain which receives little rain. Many years ago is was a very dry arid desert. Seems very strange as its surrounded by rolling mountains and green hills. The route then takes you through the amazing Tradouw pass, a very winding and picturesque road indeed.
Swellendam is a very nice little town with quaint shops and a few restaurants. From the guide-book there appears to be a few high-end restaurants dotted around, especially good if you are a foodie. Many were closed though as it was a bank holiday, but we found a nice one open called Vagabond serving good food at very reasonable prices, would highly recommend. Next stop Cape Town.
The flight to Port Elizabeth was a nice short hop, it took around 1hr 30 mins. It was quite strange to be on such a small plane only 56 seats. Luggage collected, rental car picked up and we were on our way. The journey took around one and three quarter hours to Camp Figtree as there was a fair few km off road (getting quite the expert at off road driving). Camp Figtree is high in the hills about some 10km from the park entrance and is just an amazing place. We had booked a game drive the next day into the park. We were picked up by our ranger Saul who was a very nice chap indeed. It was great as there was just four of us in a nine seater jeep so we had great views and plenty of space. Addo is the third largest game park in South Africa and covers an area of some 445,000 acres.It was started in 1931 with just 11 elephants. Now it boasts some 600 elephant, lion, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, a variety of antelope and zebra. Top Tip, you can opt to drive through the park in your own vehicle, maps are supplied at the entrance, or you take a guided safari like we did. Which I would recommend as the Rangers really know there stuff, not only about the wild life but the plants, birds and the Eco system of the park itself and most importantly know where to look for the wildlife, which after all that’s why you are there. It wasn’t long before we saw quite a large group of Wart Hogs, cute little things especially the baby’s. Felt quite guilty really, as earlier on in our trip I had a Wart Hog steak, it was tasty though. Next it was male Kudu. A very impressive creature, much larger than the female and with huge horns. We then saw a lion although it was away in the distance and only discernable with the the aid of my zoom lens. Quite how Saul our ranger spotted it just with his own eyes I will never know. Next up was what we were in the park to see, a large group of elephants at the water hole, I roughly counted around forty just amazing. Then Saul pointed out in the distance a long line of elephants, male, female and baby’s making there way to the water hole. We waited and watched, and slowly they came towards us, crossed the road and walked right past our jeep, so close you could touch them. Mission complete. A truly amazing day.
I would like to give a special mention to Mike, Camp Figtree’s General Manager. A really interesting guy from Zimbabwe. He is very passionate about conservation, he also told me he had set up various community projects in his native Zimbabwe to promote conservation of the native wildlife. Alongside running Camp Figtree he has his own company conducting game drives. A very informative and interesting man. So if you are visiting Addo give his company a look, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. ElephantDawnSafaris