A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter 3 - Sri Lanka

Tiring transit...

rain 22 °C

23rd December 2010

The alarm went off at 4:30am this morning as we had a taxi booked for 5:30am to take us to Delhi International Airport for our flight to Sri Lanka. Stew lay in bed while Jen jumped into the shower, cursing and muttering about no hot water. All of a sudden there was an almighty WHOOSH as jets of water flew into the bedroom from the bathroom. Jen had decided to play with the water system to try and coax the hot water into the shower and had unscrewed the cold water feed stopcock ....until it came off in her hand! The jet was so powerful it flew through the bedroom and onto the bed where Stew was laying! Stew dived into the bathroom and stuck his hand over the hole to stop it! Unfortunately there was nothing for it but to try and get the tap back in, so we had to let the cold water fly out again while we forced the tap back in! A freezing cold shower woke us up in no time!
After waking our taxi driver up, who had fallen asleep outside the hotel, and having to force our backpacks onto the front and back seats with us because the boot was full, we were finally on our way! Arriving at Delhi airport, we found our flight to Chennai on time, where we would be catching another flight for the onward journey to Colombo.
The flight was quite pleasant and quite uneventful and after just over 2 hours we were walking into the airport at Chennai, and looking for the transit area. Our hand luggage was extremely thoroughly checked through security, and we had to remove every single electrical item which took ages! Amusing though, when the security guard kept pulling out items that he had no idea what they were for – like Jen’s hair straighteners and the hair dryer! By the time we had got through security, our plane was already boarding and a final call was put out! We hastily made our way to the departure gate – and boarded the exact same plane we had just got off! We even had the same seats! As we took off and watched the coast of India slowly disappearing below us, we chatted about how we both saw India. Our views were similar – India amused, annoyed, embraced, repelled, charmed, horrified, humbled and lifted us in equal measure, but the overriding feeling we both had from this incredible country was one of absolute fascination!
After another short trip of an hour and twenty minutes we were landing in Colombo – and we were seeing rain for the first time since we left the UK!
After going to a number of different taxi firms to get the best price for the journey to our hotel, we decided to get them to take us to Colombo Fort Railway Station first, so that we could find out when the train to Bentota would be the following morning, and to see if we could buy the tickets in advance. Unfortunately we were told to come back the following morning as the train would be leaving at 8:35am and, unless they were First Class tickets, they could only be purchased on the day. There was no First Class service on the train we needed, so we had no option but to get back early the next morning.
After stopping to ask for directions a couple of times (!) our taxi driver finally dropped us off at our hotel for the night and we wearily trudged up to our room, ordered some food from room service and passed out in our beds as we were absolutely shattered!

Posted by StewnJen 14:35 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

Our Indian summer ends today.

Last day in Delhi and India.

sunny 26 °C

22nd December 2010

We got up a little later this morning after recuperating from the many miles we’d walked yesterday, and had a fairly late breakfast in this quite strange hotel restaurant where nothing is laid out on the tables and there is only cornflakes, omelettes, toast and curry for breakfast! Oh, and lukewarm coffee too! Having our fill of such sumptuousness, we hopped on to the Metro once again to go see some more of the fabulous sights we still had to see. First up was Akshardham Temple, which was only completed and opened in 2005. Nothing prepared us for this spectacular sight! It was quite a rigmarole just to get in, and we had to take everything, including video and both still cameras, mobile phones, laptop, and iPods out of our bag so the security cameras could capture our possessions, put them all back in and hand the lot over to them as not a single electrical item is allowed in. After waiting ages for this procedure to complete, we then had to be frisked and go through metal detectors. We thought we were entering a temple, not Fort Knox! But once we had walked through, all that was forgotten as this incredible, amazing building came into view. We were absolutely gutted that we were not allowed a camera as this place was, quite simply, the most dazzling structure we have ever laid eyes upon! From a distance it was an impressive sight, but the closer we got the more it seemed to come to life. Every single piece of the red sandstone and marble was carved in some way or another, with the entire lower level being dedicated to hundreds of huge elephants, all hand carved and each one sculpted from a single 20 tonne block of stone! The upper level had long plates of brass running the entire length of the walls, on which were sculpted scenes from the life of Baghwan Swaminarayan, an 18th century holy man to whom the temple is dedicated. After removing our shoes once again, we entered the enormous building, walking through the most incredible doors we’ve ever walked through – enormous teak doors with every single inch carved in some way, and dripping in solid gold – including 2 gold footprints representing the deity’s feet. In the centre was a jaw-dropping scene with a huge gilded figure of a seated Baghwan with legs crossed and three gilded figures worshipping him. The walls, ceiling and floor around them were studded with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, topaz and other precious stones. There were 3 openings to this display with 2 guards posted at each one! It really was quite an unbelievable spectacle. As we unfortunately cannot post any photos of the inside of this quite amazing temple, go to www.akshardham.com to get a taste of this place for yourself!

Akshardham Temple - from a long way away!!!

Akshardham Temple - from a long way away!!!

We had a quick bite to eat in one of the food courts there, and then decided to tear ourselves away (we could have stayed there all day!) to go to the next stop, which was the Lotus Temple. As the name suggests, it is a huge Temple built in the shape of a Lotus flower – and is not unlike the Sydney Opera house in some respects. Unfortunately for this place, after having seen the Akshardham Temple first, it didn’t come close to impressing us in the same way! Again we had to take our shoes off, and found a long queue of people waiting to get in, so we went around a side entrance and just looked through the glass doors instead. The inside was very plain indeed so we thought it wasn’t worth queuing for and headed back to the Metro to go in search of Gandhi’s house where he spent the last days of his life.

The beautiful Lotus Temple

The beautiful Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple as the sun goes down

The Lotus Temple as the sun goes down

We got off the Metro but had no idea where the place would be, so hailed a Tuk-Tuk, bartered a fare with him, and he took us the very short ride to it! It is now a beautifully kept museum. We didn’t get there til late and basically had 10 minutes to look around! They had a modern multimedia exhibition running and we wasted time looking at that because it wasn’t that interesting. With only a few minutes left before they kicked us out, we finally found the great man’s room, and they had made a path from there showing his last footsteps (which Jen decided to walk on before being politely asked to get off!) which only went a short distance from his room before turning left, up a small rise and stopping where there is now a column marking the exact spot where he was assassinated. It really was quite a poignant moment.

Ghandi_Room_1.jpgGandhi's Room where he spent the last days of his life

Gandhi's Room where he spent the last days of his life

Gandhi's final footsteps...

Gandhi's final footsteps...

Column marking the exact spot where Gandhi was shot

Column marking the exact spot where Gandhi was shot

As it was now getting quite late, we had no option but to end our sightseeing in Delhi, and bring our Indian adventure to a close, so hailed and bartered with another Tuk Tuk driver to take us back to the station and, after grabbing another coffee on the way, went back to the hotel to ready ourselves for our last supper in Delhi! Back in our room we started packing our nice clean clothes after using the laundry service in the hotel, and decided on the venue for our last meal in India. We had picked the Crossroads Restaurant once again because we knew the food would be good, and ended up in...... McDonalds! On the way we had decided to change the venue because we were so tired and just couldn’t be bothered getting changed!
Filled to bust, we strolled the short distance back to our room and set the alarm for 4:30am as we had booked a cab for half five to take us to the airport where we would be saying goodbye to India, and flying to our next destination – Sri Lanka.

Posted by StewnJen 14:24 Archived in India Comments (0)

Just the two of us...

We can make it if we try....

26 °C

21st December 2010

We woke up to what seems to be a popular hobby here – the slamming of doors in the early hours – at around 5am and lay awake for ages before getting up, sorting out some laundry to be cleaned, and heading down for a breakfast of cold coffee, cold toast and lukewarm omelettes! After a couple of days chilling out and resting, while catching up with emails and the blog, today we had decided to hit the Metro and see what other sights Delhi had to delight us with!. We sat and planned our route, worked out which lines to use and got ourselves a Metro day pass – for the princely sum of 100 Rupees (about £1.40) each !! London Underground please take note!! Our first stop was a Sikh Temple – the Gurudwara Sisganj Sahib – where we had decided to go inside whilst everyone was praying . But to do that, we had to don head scarves and take our shoes and socks off before we were allowed to enter the inner sanctum. We were helped by a number of kind people, as we had absolutely no idea of what to do or where to go!! We did receive a lot of stares, but most were of intrigue rather than contempt! Some even seemed quite impressed that we were there! It was quite fascinating but, unfortunately, totally the wrong Temple I had down for us to go and see! The problem here is that, once out of the correct station, you don’t really have a clue where anything is unless you’re right on top of it as there are no signs pointing the way!
Our next port of call was to be the Red Fort and so we decided to save some time and aggravation and take one of the many rickshaws that were in the area. As we had already visited a Fort in Agra, we decided not to go inside, but took some photos of the front as it was still an impressive place.

Red_Fort_1.jpg
The Red Fort in New Delhi

The Red Fort in New Delhi

Another temple, the Jama Masjid or Friday Mosque, a Muslim place of worship, was to be our next visit and we could see it looming large in the distance, so decided to walk there. To get there we had to walk past and through a large market, having to navigate round men relieving themselves in the street and the resulting mess! In some places it just smelled like an open air toilet and we really had to hold our breath while walking through! Making it to the end of the cotton market and bazaar, we climbed the red sandstone steps to enter the gate. Once again we were to take our shoes off, but this time they were not guarded and would be left at their owner’s risk, so Jen waited outside with Stew’s shoes while he went in to take some photos.

Jama_Masjid.jpg
Jama_Masjid_1.jpgThe Jama Masjid Temple, or Friday Mosque

The Jama Masjid Temple, or Friday Mosque

Next on the list was the Raj Ghat – the place of Ghandi’s cremation where an eternal flame burns atop a marble platform on the exact spot that Ghandi’s funeral pyre was lit in 1948. It sits in a large park with some beautifully kept gardens dedicated to the great man and was quite beautiful and simple. A little way up the road was the Ghandi National Museum, so we went there straight after, and studied the photo exhibition depicting the life of Ghandi from a small boy up to his assassination in 1948 and his subsequent cremation. Also in the museum were the bloodstained cloths he was wearing when he was shot, along with one of the three bullets that killed him.

Raj_Ghat_1.jpg
Raj Ghat - Gandhi's cremation site

Raj Ghat - Gandhi's cremation site

The National Gandhi Museum

The National Gandhi Museum

Outside the National Gandhi Museum

Outside the National Gandhi Museum

By now our bellies were rumbling so we headed back to Connaught Place on the Metro and found one of the many local eateries selling locally cooked food – a KFC! With hunger and thirst both satisfied, we wandered around the shops looking for replacement t-shirts for Jen but ended up buying a book, called Shantaram, that had been recommended to us. Apparently hailed as one of the best reads ever, we decided we’d give it a go. After all, we have a whole year in which to finish it!
Time had simply overtaken us and we decided enough was enough for the day and hopped back onto the Metro to our hotel, stopping off at Cafe Coffee Day for a Latte and a big slice of delicious Chocolate cake! Feeling full (and a little sick too!) we decided to skip dinner and rest our weary limbs by having an early night.

Posted by StewnJen 13:41 Archived in India Comments (0)

The last, final, definite Goodbye....

Maybe....!

sunny 26 °C

19th December 2010

A little lie in this morning, and we were then down to breakfast with the guys at around 8:30 where we said our goodbyes once again to those that were heading home, and the rest of us decided we would go out again that night for a final last supper!
We checked out of our hotel at midday, and walked for 2 whole minutes before arriving at our final Indian home – the Rockwell Plaza. We had no idea what to expect as we had actually booked this place ourselves, and it turned out to be a strange but not too bad a place to stay! We spent the rest of the day chilling out and recuperating from all the early starts and the hectic pace of the last 15 days, and joined the remaining guys from our group at 7pm. Patrick and Yannick were heading off with Abi to the best Indian restaurant in the world! They somehow managed to get a table for 3 at 9:30pm, which was no mean feat because, apparently, this restaurant gets booked up months in advance! Abi must know some people in high places! The rest of us headed back to Crossroads for yet another yummy feast! Once we were full of tasty food, alcohol and cheer we left the restaurant and this time it really was time to say goodbye as the others were all flying off to different places early the next morning. We, however, would be starting the next phase of our Global Adventure on our own. Thanks to Abi, Audrey, Chelsea, Jacinta, Matt, Patrick, Tony and Yannick – we couldn’t have picked a nicer bunch of people to tour with!

Posted by StewnJen 12:58 Archived in India Comments (3)

New day, New Delhi!

President's Residence!

sunny 26 °C

18th December 2010

That annoying alarm sound woke us from our slumber at 5am, and we jumped into a hot shower, dressed and met our group in the foyer of this magical hotel and boarded our Tuk-Tuks for the short, bumpy ride to the station. It was still dark, but the hotel still looked elegant and it was a hard thing to say goodbye to it as we left the gates and into the already smokey streets towards our train. It wasn’t too long before we were standing on the grimy platform watching mozzies circle our bags and heads in an ever increasing army, and prayed for our train to be on time so that we didn’t get bitten to death. Thankfully it rolled in slightly early, but we were at the wrong end of the platform so had a long trudge to our carriage and boarded without too much hassle. The entire group was in one cabin and it wasn’t long before the iPods were out and the zeds were in!
5 hours later we were pulling into Delhi station, and we could not believe what we were seeing from our train windows. There was tons and tons of rubbish strewn absolutely everywhere, and amidst these mountains of rubbish were people living in shacks that looked as though they would collapse under the weight of a single raindrop. Most of them seemed to be constructed from tree branches with scraps of dirty sheeting, plastic or cardboard thrown over the protruding twigs. It was one of those sights that makes you feel sick with shame for what you have. It just didn’t seem right that on one side of the road were big, plush hotels and literally across that same road people were dwelling in filthy hovels that barely even stood up.
We were early, which was another first for Abi’s tour with us, and so we had to wait a few minutes for the transport to our hotel to arrive. Once again Tuk-Tuks arrived and this time our backpacks were tossed onto the roof into a rack and tied down. As we were in the rickshaw in front of the one carrying our luggage, we kept a very close eye on it as we hit some very thick traffic and came to a complete standstill. It was mental! Buses came from everywhere, thrown into the mix with motorcycles, cars, cycle rickshaws and Tuk-Tuks,each and every vehicle trying to steal a march on the one in front, by the side and behind! The horn noise was constant and ear piercing!
Half an hour or so later and we were climbing the steps of our penultimate home in India – Hotel Swati which turned out to be a very pleasant place to stay and actually had a working WiFi Internet service in the rooms. Well, almost working! Once again it was very hit and miss, but we managed to connect a couple of times!
After being given an hour to get settled in, we were on the Metro and were taken to India Gate and the President’s House. Unfortunately, due to something going on, we were unable to get very close to either building and had to admire them from afar! The photos aren’t too impressive! The President’s House was a magnificent structure it must be said, and its vastness even outdid its magnificence. But after seeing some of the slums around the town, it seemed ridiculously vulgar.

Presidents_House_1.jpgThe Presidents House

The Presidents House

India Gate through the smog!

India Gate through the smog!

We were then back on the Metro and got off at Connaught Place, a huge shopping area full of well known shops, restaurants and bars. We walked around for 20 minutes just to get our bearings on the place, and then piled back into the jammed train back to our hotel. This was to be our last night together as a group, and the last supper was booked for 7pm. Abi took us to a very popular restaurant called Crossroads where lots of tour groups start and end their adventures and even the name seemed apt! The meal was excellent and seemed a fitting way to end our fantastic trip. We were very lucky to have had such lovely people in our group, and it was topped off with an excellent tour guide in Abi.
Bellies full and feeling a little sad, we trooped back to the hotel and all agreed we’d have a last breakfast together too, before everyone went their own ways.

Posted by StewnJen 14:54 Archived in India Comments (2)

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