December 28, 2009

Treasured traditions

Almost all the ancestral houses in Kerala would undoubtedly have one thing in common…walls adorned with photos of most of the members. The common ones are portraits taken of newly wed couple and of the new additions. The babies are more often than not in a much loved pose..that is on their tummy, with a lovely smiles or drools. My grandmother has saved photos of me and all my cousins in this posture. My father in law has similar photos of B and all his grandchildren. We had got one such photo of Appu’s taken in her 4th month and the photo now adorns the shelf in the living room back home. So keep up with the tradition, we got the Aarush also to pose. Mind you … the photos have to be taken in studio to keep the spirit fully alive. So here the photographer has gone click…click…click…

We saw Santa

Appu had a nice time at the Kids' Christmas celebrations at Millenium Hotel. A group of children sang lovely Christmas carols. Santa gave gift hampers to the kids. Here is a photo of Appu at the event!

Appu, however, was not too conviced by Santa. Whiel returning form the event she asks:

Appu : Amma, do u think that was real Santa?
Me : Yes,that was real Santa.
Appu : No, he was speaking Arabic. Santa cant speak Arabic! And his moustache and beard was not real.
Me : Is that so? I didnt notice.
Appu : And Amma, I will tell you one more thing, Santa is not a real person. Big people tell stories to children about Santa bringing gifts so that they will be good children.

Well, I decided to keep my mouth shut about some gifts I had planned to leave under the Christmas tree with the same explanation. She is way ahead of me!

December 20, 2009

The 10th Dubai International Motor Show

Just returned from the Dubai Motor Show at Dubai World Trade Centre. It was a heady mix of glitz, glamour and pomp! Sure gave me a high to see the sleek Aston Martins, Maseratis, Maybachs, Rolls Royce etc assembled under one roof. Well worth the visit!

December 18, 2009

Day 5 & 6 - 02.12.2009 / 03.12.2009 - Nuwara Eliya / Colombo/Sharjah

The highlight of this day had nothing to do with our tour. Appu woke up with a vveeeerry wobbly tooth and she barely had to touch it before it was out in her hands!!! The tooth fairy has visited us finally and that too here in Sri Lanka!!! Appu was super excited about it and was thrilled that she managed to wringe out the tooth without any assistance. She was more happier about the fact that it was so painless unlike her expectation. The new tooth had already started to peek out!

Nuwara Eliya was quite boring. It could possibly be due to the fact that by this time we were extremely tired. But we did not do much there except buying some tea, visiting a tea factory (unfortunately since it was the day after full moon day, there was no production).

The drive back from Nuwara Eliya was via a very scenic road with lots of beautiful waterfalls. We spent the night at Cinnamon Grand in Colombo once again. The next afternoon we boarded the flight back toSharjah from Colombo winding up our first overseas trip!

Day 4 - 01.12.2009 - Kandy / Nuwara Eliya

Our plan for the day was a visit to the Temple of Tooth Relic. We could not manage to leave at the time scheduled as we had to visit a family in Kandy near the hotel. We got dealyed a lot by this visit and hence the visit to the temple was a hurried affair and not one that I enjoyed much. Moreover, I was feeling very low and gloomy as I barely managed to sleep the previous night thanks to a splitting headache! The visit to the temple was followed by our trip to a gem dealer abd we purchased a few moon stones and amethyst at a relatively good bargain.

We then began our oh so very long trip to the hill station Nuwara Eliya also called as Little England. The route was beautiful with hair pin curves, mist covered mountains and waterfalls. The trip was interspersed with light rains and this increased the beauty of the place.

We spent the night Grand Hotel, a colonial mansion almost a century old. But the trip was really long and we were too tired to enjoy the beauty of the place and to relish the rain. We all slept like logs as soon as we hit bed!

Day 3 - 30.11.2009 - Sigiriya / Kandy

We woke up to the early rays of the sun. There was an early visitor in our balcony - a small monkey and Appu had a great time watching his antics. The people in our adjacent room had given him a pack of biscuits and he was hoping for a similar treat to us as well. But the hotel had warned against feeding the monkeys as they tend to be a nuisance later and hence I strongly told Appu not to feed him. She was sad at this but nevertheless was happy to see his funny gestures.

As per the tour plan, we had to visit the Sigiriya Rock Fortress on this day. This is an ancient rock fortress and palace and was built during AD 495 or so. I had decided to say back in the hotel for many reasons. First, the climb of 1400 steps would leave me squashed. It would be too difficult for me to carry my girth all the way up. Second, the climb would be too difficult with the kids and none of us might enjoy in the end. It would also be too hot and sunny up the fortress for Aarush. Thordly, I wanted to stay back and enjoy the hotel. Mom and B set out in the morning to the Sigiriya after breakfast and as they left me and the little ones commenced our stroll around the hotel . Appu is such a nature lover. She was exhilarated at the sights and sounds. The hotel has three pools and Appu insisted that she has to have a swim. The infinity pool was so beautiful that it would be a crime not to jump into it without a second thought. I got Appu to change into her swimwear and while me and Aarush sat at the pool side Appu enjoyed her swim.
Mom and B enjoyed the trip to Sigiriya though B did not climb all the way up. The wonder woman that my mom is, she managed to climb all the way up. Even though the guides were trying to offer her support she rejected the offers and climbed up all on her own.

I was feeling very sad to leave the hotel and wished we had booked for one more night. But we had to proceed to Kandy in the afternoon. I left with a heavy heart and with a strong desire to return.

In Kandy, we visited a wood carving factory and a batik factory before proceeding to witness the Kandyan cultural dance and the fire walk. While I enjoyed the dance, the fire walk was a bit queasy for me to stomach. We then went ahead to Mahaweli Reach Hotel.

December 9, 2009

Day 2 – 29.11.2009 - Visit to Elephant Orphanage

This was the busiest day of the trip and the most enjoyable one! We set off in the morning after breakfast from Cinnamon Grand to the Elephant Orphanage, Pinnewala. On the sides of the roads we could see fruit vendors displaying their stock of fruits such as pineapples, mandarins etc. We passed some coconut groves and tapioca fields. Tapioca is one of the favorite foods of the Sri Lankans as well just like it is in Kerala. Again, the similarity of the lands and the lifestyle surprised us.

We then saw a property belonging to the Bandaranaike family housing the tombs of 5 dead family members. We reached a small village with huge fields of cashew trees. The village has many roadside shops selling cashews and other tidbits. The ladies selling the cashews were dressed in very colourful puffed sleeves blouses and sarongs. The entire street was made very colourful by these ladies. A beautiful lady with a very enchanting smile posed for us happily and in return she asked me to give her my bindi. I had a pack with me in the car which I handed over to her and this made her more than happy.

We were first taken by our guide to a spice garden. It was a small garden with a few herbs and plants. There was nothing new for us to see here as all the plants he showed us with great fervor have been in our back yards ever since we remember. They also sell magic products claiming to be very beneficial in curing diseases such as cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, migraines etc.

After the Spice Garden we went to the elephant orphanage. This was the trip Appu was looking forward to all along. The orphanage currently houses 84 elephants of varying ages. The elephants were seen together in herds grazing peacefully in the coconut plantation converted as the orphanage. A few elephant calves were seen suckling their mother’s breasts. We saw a huge tusker which had been blinded by the locals after killing 3-4 people and causing extensive damage to property. We also saw the three footed elephant which has become world famous after losing his foot to a landmine planted by the LTTE. The feeding of the young elephants was a pleasure to witness. The young ones are bottle fed with formula milk. At a go they take in almost 7 bottles of milk. The visitors are also allowed to feed the babies.
We then went to a small place known as the Pinnewalla Elephant Dung Paper Factory where a lot of products are made out of elephant poo. The products are varied such as papers, calendars, key chains, photo albums, photo frames, show pieces, paper cubes, book marks etc. It was here that Appu found just the right gift for her teacher. It was a red and yellow bookmark decorated with a Christmas tree. Since they are presently learning about conservation, recycling etc, this was an apt gift. I picked up a couple of souvenirs from here as well.

It was bathing time for the elephants. We saw the elephants coming out peacefully from the orphanage, crossing the road and proceeding towards the banks of the river Maha Oya where they would spend the next few hours bathing to their hearts’ desire. It was a beautiful sight. Some of the elephants were taking dips in the river in groups, some were more happy to remain on the banks and play in the mud, some wanted to bask in the sun, a few of the little ones kept following their mothers around. The picturesque location added to the beauty of the bathing elephants. A negative point here was the use of hooks by the mahouts which somehow did not go down too well with me.

The road from the orphanage to the river was lined with shops selling beautiful leather bags, straw hats and some other souvenirs. There was a guy by the side of the road having 2 snakes in crates, a python and a cobra. He coaxed us into holding one of his pets and B gathered all his guts and put the python around his neck. I was encouraged by this but could only manage to put the tail end around myself. The feel of the gigantic snake sliding over my shoulders still gives me the creeps!

After the elephant orphanage was a long drive to the Golden Temple, Dambulla to see the Rock Caves. I had been looking forward to this visit. But since the ticket counter closes at 6.00 p.m. we were unsure as to whether we would be able to make it in time. Thanks to Mr. Fernando, we managed to reach Dambulla just few minutes before the closure of the counter. The climb up to the temple was backbreaking. All we had was a feeble torch to guide us and on both side of the steps there was thick growth of trees and shrubs. But once we reached there, we realized that it was really worth the trouble.

There are 5 separate caves under an overhanging rock with 153 statues of Buddha some of them dating back to 1st century BC.. The cave paintings were astonishing for the quality and detail. There was a mystic feel to it and the cool breeze outside the caves made me want to just sit there and gaze at the stars. The climb down was equally terrifying. However, this time we were accompanied by the temple staff who were kind enough to guide us down. Thanks to God, the little boy was very well behaved through all this.

After the temple visit we proceeded for our overnight stay at Heritance Kandalamma. This again was a long drive and since this is an eco friendly hotel there was only a dirt road leading to the hotel. Mr. Fernando told us that if we were lucky we would be able to see wild boars, monkeys, or even elephants. We were not too unlucky as we atleast managed to see a wild rabbit sitting and munching on something in the middle of the road. The hotel experience was beyond words. I was impressed by the great pains taken to protect and safeguard the ecological harmony. The hotel is over 1 km long and 7 floors high. The stay at this hotel was a wonderful experience and if I ever get the visit Sri Lanka again, this is one place I want to revisit. Our room had an excellent view of the jungle, the lake and the mountains beyond. The view at night was simply breathtaking. Once the lights were switched off, the room had the silver aura of the moonlight being reflected from the lake. We felt as though we were sleeping in the open. I felt lucky being able to drift to sleep looking at the lake, the mountains, the sky and the stars.

December 4, 2009

Day 1 - 28th November 2009 - Colombo

We checked into Cinnamon Grand Hotel. After freshening up, all that we could think of was to curl up on the inviting beds and sleep the rest of the day. However, we all could manage a few hours of sleep only and were up by 8'O clock just in time for breakfast. After breakfast, we took a stroll around the hotel. The lobby was decked up tastefully for Christmas. The lush green in the surroundings was refreshing against the city backdrop. Appu had a little bit of fun in the play area and watching the fishes in the ponds around.

We set out at lunch time for a tour of the city. We had lunch from an Indian restaurant and proceeded to visit a local Buddhist temple. The temple called Asokaramaya had huge statues of Buddha in varying poses. The entrance to the temple is decorated with colourful designs of many buddhict mythcial creatures, white elephants, dieties etc. The status of Buddha were in many poses such as meditating, preaching, sleeping, etc. The walls were also adorned with paintings explaining the various philosopies of Buddhism, many of the legends etc. It was all very beautiful.

After the temple visit, we drove along the tree lined streets of Colombo which resembled Bangalore streets at various places. We saw soem major landmarks such as the Victoria Park, Museum, municpal building, the century old clock tower, various other colonnial buildings as well. There were many street vendors seliing their wares under colourful umbrellas. At the end of the city tour we came to a beach side where some rickshaws selling prawn and crab vadas. It was a repulsive sight for me but as per our guide these crabs and praws stuck on vadas are a favourite delicay and sell like hot cakes.

We had to wind up the trip a bit earlier than planned as Appu was running a fever and I thought it is best that she gets some proper rest to prepare her for the rest of the tour. Appu slept for a record 14 hours at a stretch until 6'O clock the next morning and she was as fresh as a lark!

Our Trip to Sri Lanka

Spurred by the comments of some Sri Lankan colleagues and friends about the beauty and cultural richness of their country we decided to spend the Eid Holidays this year in Sri Lanka – the pearl of the Indian Ocean. Now that the 30 year civil war that raged throughout the country has ended, we did not have much to worry about the safety aspect. Yes, the inconvenience of travelling with a 4 month old was a big concern, but at the end we decided to take the leap after thorough planning. We also told ourselves that if we were able to stick to the schedule by atleast 70% we could consider the trip a success. We decided to be flexible and to be led by Appu and Aarush.

We boarded our Air Arabia flight from Sharjah at 9.45 pm on 27th November. The weather conditions were very turbulent apparently and the flight was not smooth for half the trip. However, Appu slept within minutes and Aarush was very easily manageable. We landed at Bandaranaike International Airport in the wee hours of 28th November. The airport was a small sleepy one with a lot of hoardings of the telecom provider Dialog, People’s Bank etc. We were met at the airport by Mr. Gamini Fernando, our guide and chauffeur for the tour. Upon coming out of the airport, we were awe struck by the striking resemblance with Kerala. The humid atmosphere, the smells of the petrol / diesel engines, the morning noises of the early birds chirping, the tall and the not so tall coconut trees around, the people especially men with dark skins and thick moustaches – everything reminded us of home and for a moment we were all filled with a strong wave of longing to be in Kerala. Mr. Fernando got his 9 seater Nissan Caravan out from the parking and drove us out of the airport premises. The airport was about 36 kms far from the hotel that we would be staying at while in Colombo – Cinnamon Grand Hotel.

Sri Lanka – here we come!!