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Pictures of our Sri Lanka trip
[Part 1: Colombo - Negombo - Sigiriya - Dambulla - Colombo - Nuwara Eliya - Peradeniya (before Kandy)]
Part 2: Kandy - Anuradhapura - Polonnaruwa - Batticaloa - Arugam Bay - Ella
Part 3: Ella - Haputale - Tissamaharama - Tangalle - Galle - Colombo
Sri Lanka Map
    Map of South Asia
latest picture: April 30, 2011
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It is lunch time. We are sitting on the 4th floor of the historic ‘Grand Hotel Oriental’ in Colombo with a fine view over the port. In the days of sea travel, it was the inevitable first stop on arrival. We are sure that back in those days photographing was still allowed, today it is strictly forbidden to take pictures – the harbor of Colombo is top secret! We gaze to all the stockpiled containers. In one of them is also our dear LandCruiser waiting to be freed. It’s now more than four weeks since it was shipped in Subic Bay in the Philippines. Today is Thursday and we are almost certain that today we will be reunited. Last Monday, everything started so promising. On Tuesday customs was already done and our carnet stamped. Then it slowed down.
001  „Cargills“ is Colombo’s oldest
department store. The brown-red brick
facade of the building is a refreshing
contrast to the more modern architecture
002  In the days of sea travel the
“Grand Oriental Hotel” was the
inevitable first stop on arrival. From
the restaurant on the 4th floor, there
is a good view over the container
port, with “strictly no photos taken”!
003  The „Lankem Plantation House“
with its white-red candy-facade in the
Fort District belongs to a tea and
rubber plantation company
Day by day we were sitting for hours either on the chairs in the small broker’s office of Nilwala Freighters or on a wooden bench in front of whatsoever port authority offices. We were almost on the brink of despair because there was no progress at all. Always a new paper or a new stamp was needed. Then, the navy was asking for a special permit to enter the port although we entered already twice before. Only after we showed a more resolute attitude, Mr. Neville Aloysius, the manager, let the cat out of the bag: “Without bribing they won’t raise a finger anymore". But we are no longer in a mood to bribe all along the lines „not again“! Our experiences in Subic Bay reduced somewhat our “generous mood”. We are not able to pass on such “representation costs” to the consumer (as it happens doing business) or to a sponsor, but have to pay this out of our retirement pension.
004  On weekends, the sandy beach of
Mount Lavinia, 9 miles South of Colombo,
attracts many local families …..
005  ..... while the Mt. Lavinia Hotel
is a favorite spot for weddings and
the adjacent beach of its pictures …..
006  ..... the rocks near
the hotel are ideal for fishing
But this afternoon, it should work out without any pay-offs. The port manager, who we met in his office this morning, gave his word that we will get our car released within three hours – he would attend to it. In anticipation, we treat ourselves with a sumptuous buffet in this patriarchal city hotel. It cannot even upset us that we misinterpreted the announcement downstairs: “Buffet Rp. 480” (US$4.40) (is valid only for the fast food restaurant on the ground floor) and our bill ends up six times higher. Don’t we have every reason to celebrate though, we think .....
007  In front of a Buddhist temple at
Mt. Lavinia hangs the Buddhist flag with the
emblem of the “Wheel of Righteousness” …..
008  ….. its dome is shining
in an immaculate white …..
009  ..... in the interior of the temple
children are told the Teaching of Buddha
With full stomachs and highly motivated we are back in the broker’s office at 2pm. The manager would be at the port with our papers, we were told. When at 3pm there is no word from him, we call him and believe to misunderstand him. He tells us that the container has just been opened. What? Emil goes ballistic. Despite having insisted adamantly that we want to be present at the opening, and despite of having put an own personal lock on it that was simply cracked! We clarify immediately that any “change” inside the container wouldn’t be our responsibility; it happens again and again that there is theft, or that the container is filled up with other cargo, or even that it is misused for transporting drugs.
010  A street vendor is
lightening his kerosene stove
011  A sweet little girl
with a winning smile
012  A fancy ad on a local bus with a broad
grin that promotes a “Bayer” bug killer
Thereupon, his assistant fetches us and we follow him to our opened container. At the sight of our beloved “freedom machine”, our anger fades away a bit. Shouting would not make much sense anyway. Emil drives our car out of its 21st cage and then we need to get the signature of the “Luggage Department” – always something new! This office is probably a relict of the seafarer time in the first half of the last century. Unluckily, the responsible person has already left. This means that despite of all the promises, we will not get our car out of the port today, but at least the “ball is rolling”.
013  Life at a canal in Negombo, a
lively beach resort 4 miles North
of the Airport of Colombo …..
014  ….. a cluster of fishing boats
on a sand bank in Negombo …..
015  ..... “you have to start young” if you
want to be a master! Two boys playing
Cricket at Negombo Beach. The Sri
Lankan are passionate Cricket players
Next morning, we sit already at 9am on our uncomfortable “waiting chairs” in the broker’s office. We know: Being a Friday, either it works out today or then it goes on to the second week – a new record? Aloysius is not present. He is busy in the port with our papers. Around 10am, we are called to meet the boss of the “Luggage Department” and – what a wonder – within minutes, we get the required signature. It is one of the roughly fifteen needed to get the car cleared. Then once more Aloysius disappears behind different doors and the waiting continues.
016  On our way North we stop
between Kununegela and Dambulla
at one of the Buddha statues along
the road for refreshment
017  Driving towards the ”Lion's Rock”
in Sigiriya, we come along this impressive
Buddha with its many disciples
018  The Sigiriya Fortress, also called
“Lion’s Rock” reflects in the calm pond
at dusk. On the summit of the 650ft. high
rock was once a Buddhist monastery,
and not a prominent kingdom
In the meantime it is lunchtime. Aloysius invites us for a quick meal in a harbor eatery. Finally, at 3pm, we move one step further. The port fees have been evaluated and we can pay them at a booth: Rp. 13’000 (US$118). But there is one more thing left: To have our car content checked by the “Luggage Department”. As it has happened many times before: From the moment they see the adventurous look of our LandCruiser with the long list of visited countries, it is not an issue anymore. After five long days and US$588 less in our pocket, our LandCruiser finally makes it into its 169th country.
019  Devotees visit the Golden Temple
respectively the Rock Cave Temples in
Dambulla. There are 153 Buddha statues.
It is – like the “Lion’s Rock” – a
UNESCO World Heritage site …..
020  ..... the golden Stupa at
the entrance of the
Golden Temple in Dambulla .....
021  ..... the Rock Cave Temples in
Dambulla are 525ft. high-up. In front
of the entrance of the main cave are
Emil and sitting on the stair Markus,
our guest
After more than two decades of civil war, tourism is flourishing again in Sri Lanka. Despite of it, we have not seen one single white face neither in the train nor in the bus while commuting one week between our hostel in Mt. Lavinia and the port in Colombo during the paperwork of our car’s release. We always were the only Westerners amidst the locals – the ladies in their bright sari and the men in their fresh long-sleeve shirts, ironed trousers and shiny polished shoes. Without exception, all are neatly dressed going to work.
022  Oil lamps burn in front of the
Rock Cave Temple in Dambulla
023  At the Rock Cave Temple in
Dambulla, a devotee lights
an incense stick
024  Pilgrims flock to the Rock Cave
Temples in Dambulla to pray and make
floral or fruit offerings. Devout Buddhists
are dressed in white. Poya days, i.e. at
full moon, are important to pilgrimage
Such a train ride is a little adventure. Often it is swaying in such a manner that I am afraid that we are thrown out of the track. The doors are always open to allow fresh air to circulate in the crowded compartments. At rush hours men are even hanging out of the doors – though they don’t settle down on the roofs like in India, probably because the road undercrossings are too low. Along the railway tracks slums have developed miles for miles. People live in shacks between piles of garbage. Sometimes laundry is laid out to dry between the tracks, weight down with a stone. What does a train ticket or a bus ticket cost? The train costs US$0.18 per person, and the bus about the double for about 10 miles!
In the interior of the five Rock Cave Temples in Dambulla:
025  A line-up of standing and sitting Buddha
statues in the “Cave of the Great Kings”
026  A reclining Buddha in the
“Cave of the Divine King”
027  A row of Buddha statues in lotus
position in the “Cave of the Divine King”
How will the numerous check points react when they see our LandCruiser with the foreign license plate? We are allowed to drive around with our own registration. This crosses our mind when after 15 car-free days we are driving through never ending urban areas to the Northerly lying Negombo Beach on the West coast. Much to our surprise, nobody stops us. We only earn astonishing glances. Negombo beach is very touristy. Hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops line the main road – actually it is not “our” place. But here we will meet Markus, a German journalist, who will travel with us for a couple of days.
028  An elephants enjoys a refreshing
bath in the river at Sigiriya. It seems to like
the scrubbing of its “Mahout” (master)
029  Eateries are lining the road
near Kununegala, where mainly
truckers stop for a rest
030  The milk of the young coconuts
is a lovely thirst quencher
“What kind of a guy is Markus?” It is the same question we asked ourselves in 2004 when Thomas Gerber from the Swiss TV joined us for one week from Guadeloupe to Dominica in the Caribbean to film our life on the road for the Swiss series “La Strada”. Luck strikes again: Markus is a nice guy too! Thus, I do not mind so much to share with him the limited space we have on the front seats for three days during our little discovery tour. He is staying at the Perl Beach Hotel at the sandy Negombo Beach, while we sleep on the other side of the road at the cheaper, but for us still expensive Silva’s Beach Hotel for Rp. 4’000 (US$36). However, at his place we are allowed to use wi-fi, and in the evenings it is a lovely place to enjoy a sundowner when the sun sets into the Indian Ocean that puts the skies ablaze.
031  What are Emil and Markus laughing
about? It is its content of the tea pots –
Beer! Being a “Poya Day”, an official
Buddhist holiday (takes place at each
full moon) selling alcohol is prohibited.
Tourists and addicts can still get discretely
032  At a beach near Negombo a
father with his children pays us a visit
033  Emil and Markus at the
Pearl Hotel at Negombo Beach
with a “Sundowner”
Next morning, it is sunny and already hot when the three of us leave towards the interior. The further North we drive, the less populated it is. Harvested rice paddies, dotted with tiny palm groves, spread from both sides of the road. Evening already approaches, when after 90 miles the 650ft high brownish “Lion’s Rock”, the “Sigiriya Rock Fortress”, emerges from the plain, glistening beautifully in the setting sun. Legend tells that once there was a prominent kingdom on its summit. But newest researches say it was a Buddhist monastery. Whatever it was, today it is a famous and expensive tourist attraction.
034  April 13, 2011 (= “New Year's Eve”):
The Sinhalese and Tamil people are
celebrating New Year for three days.
Madu and Nawaz from the Tropic Inn
in Mount Lavinia offer us a plate
of traditional New Year’s confection
035  Drums are an integral part of
announcing the New Year. The change
of the year is based on astrology
036  The sun is setting with a red
fireball in the Laccadive Sea
The foreigner pays Rp. 3500 (US$32) entry fee while the local ticket costs only Rp. 50 (US$0.45) – to our opinion a difference that is too big! The steep climb takes about 1 hours. Being 5pm, it is too late and tomorrow’s time is getting too tight as Markus needs to be back in Negombo in the evening and we still want to visit the rock caves in Dambulla on our way back. In addition, the timing is not good for Emil. He is suffering from acute knee problems and needs to slow down. Obviously he was climbing five weeks ago too enthusiastically on the Yemeni island of Socotra while our LandCruiser was sailing from the Philippines to Sri Lanka.
037  On weekends it gets busy at Mt.
Lavinia Beach. In the background sits the
rather expensive, 200 years old Mt. Lavinia
Hotel from the British colonial time
038  A vendor pushes his handcart
along the Mt. Lavinia beach
039  Families enjoy themselves at
sunset at the beach of Mt. Lavinia
Clusters of people are chatting at the roadside waiting for the first morning bus. A mahout – an elephant attendant – is coming along with his elephant. This is the scene we encounter when at first daylight we stroll from our Nilmini Lodge to the lake. The lake is as smooth as glass and the birds are chirping cheerfully. When the sun is rising and the beams catch the “Lion’s Rock”, it is a beautiful sight. What a wonderful start of a new day! With happy hearts we return to our lodge and have breakfast together with Markus. Then, it is time to start our way back. We hardly drive some yards, when at a small bridge we spot the elephant again. “He” is standing in the river and is given a good scrub. Obviously “he” enjoys it. Please more! Eagerly “he” lifts one leg after the other towards his attendant.
040  Dagobas, also called stupas, were built
to protect the holiest relicts of Buddha. Here
the ‘Sri Bhodhirajaramaya Panagoda’
Stupa in Homagama, about 20 miles East
of Mount Lavinia/Colombo …..
041  ….. Its monumental
structure and shiny white color
are eye-catching from far
042  Teacher and school children are
waiting for the bus at a street corner
After 11 miles, the gigantic 100ft. tall Golden Buddha in Dambulla is greeting us. We climb the nearby steep stone steps up to the 525ft. high Rock Cave Temples with its 153 Buddha statues – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today it is a special pilgrimage day – a “Poya” or full moon day – which in Sri Lanka is regarded as a Buddhist public holiday. Devotees flock to the temples to pray and make floral or fruit offerings. They are dressed in spotless white. The biggest of the five Cave Temples, the Cave of the Great Kings, is 165ft. long, 82ft. wide and 22ft. high. It has some skillfully painted murals and sitting, standing and meditating statues. In the Temple of the Divine King we admire the 46ft. reclining Buddha, carved from a single rock. It is our first temple we visit in Sri Lanka. It puts us in the right mood for more discoveries!
043  Exuberantly growing nature,
not yet touched by humans,
can still be found in Sri Lanka
044  A train that has had its days,
stops at a railway station near
Avissawella where the
famous “Hills” begin
045  We are in the tea area of the Nuwara
Eliya District, where the famous Ceylon tea is
growing – here in Watawala before Hatton. In 2010 Sri Lanka exported 330’000 metric tons
Monkeys are sitting beside the stone steps watching the procession of people when we leave this holy place to continue our return journey. At a shady roadside spot, we stop for refreshment. Cows are strolling around in the bushes munching unhurriedly. On the other side of the road, a mama is selling young coconuts for quenching the thirst and some stalls are offering snacks, tea and soft drinks. Father, mother and three children are sitting in a heavily loaded red tuktuk (three wheeler), eating rice with chili sauce from a fresh banana leaf. They are on their way to visit relatives. We take out our chairs and in no time Emil comes up with an ice cold beer from our car fridge.
046  The Devon Fall is one of the
waterfalls in the Nuwara Eliya region
that can be seen from the roadside
047  From every hill along the potholed
road from Hatton to Nuwara Eliya the one
yard tall tea bushes are shining in their
lush green, arranged in different patterns
048  A tea picker gets a daily wage
of about US$3. She must harvest
a daily quota of 44 lbs
When we are ready to continue and want to pull out into traffic, Markus steps quickly out of the car to signal us a traffic free moment. Few minutes later he realizes that his camera is missing. It must have fallen down when he left the car. Immediately, we drive back. It is only about a mile. But it is already too late! Apparently a motorbiker picked it up and drove away with full speed. This is what the resting truckers are telling us who had the presence of mind to take note of the license plate of his motorbike. For whatever reason, he also left behind or lost his business card in one of the stalls. That helps too.
049  A beautiful sight: The St. Clair
waterfall between Hatton and Nuwara
Eliya rumbles through a tea field. It’s
the broadest waterfall in Sri Lanka
050  Is there anything to
grab in the blue LandCruiser?
051  What a lovely combination
of colors at the St. Clair waterfall
The boys want to show to us foreigners that the Sri Lankans are good and honest people. They phone around and involve also the police – without accepting any recognition. “Call at the next police station in Kurunegala. There you might get the camera back” they encourage us. One hour later, the guy with the motorbike really shows up with the camera. The bitter pill is: The display is broken. At least the pictures can be recovered. In the meantime it is 4pm. Not having had any time for lunch, we feel really hungry. The first thing we need now is some food. Our time to return to Negombo would take at least another three hours due to our slow driving and the partly bad roads. We definitely would end up in the dark, and driving at night we do only in an emergency.
052  Our LandCruiser is thirsty.
One liter of gasoline costs Rp 125
(= US$ 4.30/gallon) /
[Diesel Rp 75 = US$ 2.58/gallon]
053  The castle style ‘Hill Club’ in
Nuwara Eliya was built in 1885 by
a homesick British coffee baron.
Today it’s a luxury resort
054  The likwise luxury ‘Grand Hotel’
in Nuwara Eliya sits in a beautifully
manicured garden. Nuwara Eliya is often
also referred to as “Little England”
Spontaneously, we decide to spend the night in the town of Kurunegala at the Diya Dahara Hotel with its open air restaurant at the lake shore. We are craving for a cold beer. And we get it, but it is served in a white tea pot. No, it is not a joke. On a “Poya day" besides meat also alcohol is not allowed to be sold. But apparently tourists can discretely get it. We recall a similar situation right at the start of our epic journey in the US. We were camping at an Indian Reservation when a ranger caught us with a bottle of beer on the table. Kindly smiling he meant: “We can drink beer also from a coffee cup, can’t we?”
055  In the countryside outside of
Nuwara Eliya a Buddhist temple
nestles in a tea plantation
056  We are leaving Nuwara Eliya
with its tea covered hills
057  Along the road from Nuwara
Eliya to Kandy, a Hindu Temple adorns
the countryside near Labookellie
At noon next day we are back in Negombo. The following day, we say good bye to Markus who returns to Germany and we head to Mount Lavinia ten miles South of Colombo. We have to take care of two problems: Emil’s acute knee troubles and our hardly two years old Lenovo Laptop that crashed a couple of days ago. Emil’s X-rays show that in the first place it is arthritis, presumably combined with meniscus. We hope that the knee guards and medicine will bring soon some relief. Regarding our laptop we have to clean the whole hard disk and reinstall all the content and programs. Our last backup was a month ago! With the Thinkpad own rescue program (safe mode) we luckily manage to recover everything and reload afterwards the programs from the internet. Yes, and do not all “good” things come in threes? Emil gets the dengue fever – the second one after Tahiti in 1974, 10 years before our car journey. It knocks him down for one week completely.
058  In the cooler climate of the
Nuwara Eliya hills not only tea is growing,
but also plenty of vegetables …..
059  ..... it is sold at many road
stalls, beautifully displayed
in an array of colors
060  Tea plantations are the main
attractions of the hill country
During this time, we lodge In the Tropic Inn, a quiet guesthouse with ten rooms in Mount Lavinia. We are also still there when the last games of the Cricket World Cup 2011 are played in Colombo. Despite of having no clue of this sport, we are involved as feverishly as the Sri Lankans when their team plays against New Zealand in the semi finals. Sri Lankans love this peculiar British game with immense passion. Two days later we are once more trapped until late in front of the TV. Their team competes in Bombay in the finals against India. Until the very last moment we are convinced that Sri Lanka can keep its lead. But they lose, even though by a very small margin. What a bitter disappointment – also for us!
At Ramboda – along the road from Nawara Eliya to Kandy – different waterfalls interrupt the tea plantations
061  Devathura Ella Falls
062  Poona Oya Ella Falls
063  Ramboda Ella Falls
Climatically it is time to change from the West to the East coast, to say good-bye to the cute squirrels, which dash around on trees and roofs. We often observe them from our room window. It is amusing to watch them balancing on the wires like acrobats and regulating their equilibration with their long, bushy tail to arrive at the next tree. We will miss them! We head inland towards the rolling hills, to the wide spread tea plantations, where the aromatic and famous Ceylon tea is growing, started by the British and Scottish settlers. Sri Lanka produces over 300’000 tons a year. This does not surprise us. During our 100 miles of scenic drive with its many hairpin bends into the heart of the tea region of Nuwara Eliya, huge tea estates with English names greet everywhere. From every hill, from every valley and from the steepest of slopes the three feet high tea bushes arranged in different patterns are shining in their lush green, just interrupted now and then by the rumbling of impressive waterfalls along the road.
064  Just a beautiful sight: blooming
trees and lush tea bushes
065  Three tea picker show us the
harvested delicate tea leaves
– a hard work for little money
066  Here work never ends: Tea
pickers are working on an
endless seaming tea field
There are three sortings of quality: The most aromatic tea, but also the slowest in growth, is harvested above an altitude of 4’000ft. Below 2’000ft. tea is growing the fastest, but its class is inferior. Then there is the elevation and the grade in between. Each bush has to be plucked at least once a week, at certain times twice. The pickers are exclusively women, mostly from Tamil Nadu in India. They work for around US$3 a day; the daily quota they are ordered to pick is 44 pounds. We have seen already huge tea plantations 1993 in Malaysia and smaller ones also in Mauritius.
067  Colorful Buddhist temple celebration
at the Botanical Garden in Peradeniya
at the Western outskirts of Kandy …..
068  ….. oil lamps are
lit by the devotees …..
069  ..... people in contemplation
of the religious rituals
With each mile we climb, the air gets fresher. At 6’200ft. in Nuwara Eliya we already wear our woolen sweaters and at night when we crawl under the thin cover at the Grosvenor Hotel, we also need our own woolen Kashmir rugs we bought in India to keep us warm. Nuwara Eliya has a distinctive British character and is therefore also often referred to as “Little England”. Standing in front of the luxury Grand Hotel with its beautifully manicured garden and the Hill Club, built 1885 in the style of a castle by a homesick British coffee baron, it is easy to imagine the British Empire’s glory days. However, besides the sights of these luxury hotels and the fresh air, there is little else we find attractive at this place which on weekends and holidays draws crowds from the Sri Lankan coast who escape the heat. Thus, mid-morning we are already driving the 50miles to Kandy, the second largest City of Sri Lanka.

More websites from Sri Lanka:

  • Part 2: Kandy - Anuradhapura - Polonnaruwa - Batticaloa - Arugam Bay - Ella
  • Part 3: Ella - Haputale - Tissamaharama - Tangalle - Galle - Colombo
Articles in newspapers about us in Sri Lanka:
Article"Record breaking cruise", Daily Newspaper "Daily News" - April 22, 2011
Article"Around the world on a steady truck", Weekly Newspaper "Sunday Observer" - April 24, 2011