Beach

Sri Lanka

Sigiriya: The 8th Wonder Of The Ancient World


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So, it was Deepavali and we have 5D4N to think of an impromptu itinerary in Sri Lanka. We want to see it’s history, it’s ruins, herds of elephants, beach, grandeur ancient architecture. In a nutshell.

Typically, one would go on the net and be advised to do the Cultural Triangle trip (see pic below):  Kandy – Polonnaruwa – Wilpattu National Park.

cultural-triangle

But since we are not on tour, we have the flexibility to plan our own routes which includes ALL those that we’ve mentioned.

5D4N route

We have chosen Dambulla as our base to all the other places throughout our trip, pretty much because of its centralised location.

And for the solo travelers or those on a shoestring budget around Asia, I would definitely recommend staying at CLN Tourist Guesthouse. The location of this guesthouse is superb. You’ll get a clear view of Sigiriya Rock from the balcony which is also overlooking rice plains amidst the sunset/sunrise. You’ll get Food City across the road which is a supermarket, in case you need to buy snacks for day trips. You will also get a bus stop across the road which seems to be the main interchange point to all the other parts of the area, which includes routes to Sigiriya, Habarana and Polonnaruwa.

This is what there is/are in each location we went throughout our trip which is a MUST see for you:

1) Dambulla – Underground Cave Temples

Dambulla is definitely the perfect base for this whole trip. However, apart from it’s centralised location, Dambulla has a point of interest of its own. The undergound cave temples are really unique and definitely worth a visit if you’re into architecture. There are a total of 5 temples to see and will take you around 2 hours.

2) Polonnaruwa – Ancient City

We had a fantastic time in this massive ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Because this place is HUGE and while it seemed that everybody else rented a car/van to go around the whole ruins, we decided to rent bicycles and do a little bit of workout. And oh boy, it was the best decision ever. Renting bicycles allows us to stop wherever we want, along nooks and crannies, park our bikes and explore each area of the ruins. We must have spent around 3 hours (maybe more) just exploring this ancient city. Rental of bicycle for the whole day is LKR 600 (SGD 6/USD 4.70).

3) Habarana – Kaudulla National Park (Jeep safari on a 4WD on a rainy day is simply awesome!) Going to Habarana is an overnight decision but definitely worth the thought. Elephant safari? Sri Lanka? I mean, c’mon! This was one of THE BEST moments during this trip. What adds to this adventure is the rain. Being in that 4WD ramming through muds, trenches and potholes is just pure awesomeness. And no, we weren’t worried about getting a fever because this is a once in a blue moon experience.

This is a 249 square km reservoir which is built by King Mahasen , 15 centuries ago.

In the dry months from August to October, more than 300 wild elephants gather on the shores of the reservoir. This gathering is considered as one the largest in the wild anywhere in the world. It was October, and we were lucky indeed. Do check out our video for a summary of this trip.

Kaudulla National Park

Distance from hotel: 40 km or 55 km
Travelling time: 1 hr or 1 1/2 hrs
Open: 6am – 6.30pm

 

5) Sigiriya – The 8th Wonder Of The Ancient World.

Just look at it. How can it NOT be the 8th wonder? I remembered the first time I lay my eyes on an aerial photo of Sigiriya inside one of the glossy pages of a travelogue. The first thing that pops up in my mind is “Man, that looks like Machu Picchu. Only that, it’s nearer to Singapore!”

…and so, we took the public bus from Dambulla to Sigiriya. It’s easy to spot which bus to board because the destination will be clearly displayed infront of the bus. If all else fails, the helpful locals will be more than willing to help you out. I really love travelling around in public transports when I travel. It gives me a chance to talk to locals, understand their culture and transportation system.

I can happily say that I can now strike Sigirya off the No. 5 listing on my travel bucket list. I am contented and I am satisfied. Sigiriya definitely didn’t disappoint me.

 

6) Negombo – Beautiful beach. We chose Negombo particularly because it is near to the airport and chilling by the beach is a must in our itinerary. Negombo has a range of hotels and guesthouses ranging from budgets to super villas. We stayed at Sunset Beach Hotel, which is needless to say right at the beach. I really enjoyed hearing the sound of waves at night as I sleep.

Negombo Fish Market

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India

Gokarna – The Secret Paradise


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Gokarna. A small South Indian village lies at the coast of the Arabian Sea. Sharing God’s creation with the Middle East – Yemen and Somalia. We stood on a cliff infront of Sri Rama Temple. What we saw was breath-taking. Sea hawks and butterflies decorate the skies and sounds of crashing waves brought peace to the ears.

Gokarna is located an hour south of the Goa and it’s around 450 kilometers (280 miles) from Bangalore, the state capital.
Getting to Gokarna
The nearest airport is Dabolim, in Goa. From there it’s a four hour drive to Gorkana. Alternatively, trains on the Konkan railway stop at Gokarna Road station, 15 minutes from town, as well as Kumta and Ankola stations, both around 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Gokarna. Gokarna is also well connected by bus from major cities such as Madgaon in Goa, and Mangalore and Bangalore in Karnataka.
gokarna cliff

 

It’s 4am and fishermen were getting their nets and boats ready for the day’s catch. Thoughts circle about on what I want to do today. Trekking the four ghats (Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats, they run parallel to the coast on either side of the Deccan plateau and meet at the southern tip of India) or just sitting still inhaling the salted air. Gokarna is a town unified yet, divided by 4 ghats. We are now at Gokarna Beach. Beyond this beach lies a beautiful green plateau leading to Kudle Beach. At Kudle, you can see a little bit more foreigners. Shacks and Chai shops occupy the whole stretch of Kudle. However, the sound of “OM” resonates in everything and everyone with an invisble melody, calling out to sunseekers who dare trek through it’s unchartered, rocky domains. This is where the party begins. Western and Indian foreigners flock to OM Beach, basking in it’s glory. There’ll be bonfires at night and hippies playing guitar under the moonlight.

The plateau leading to Kudle Beach

Beach No. 1:  Kudle Beach

Sunrise at Kudle Beach

Villagers gawking at fishermen’s catch of the day

Beach No.2:  OM Beach

But wait. There’s more to Gokarna than just this. Enlightenment can be found everywhere if you look hard enough, or ironically, not at all. Curiosity besiege us to discover what lies beyond OM. Prettier beaches? A more magnificent landscape? or just the journey itself. Only the bold will dare to cross the thick forest leading to Half-Moon Beach. One have to pass through the thick forest, barbed wire and cliffs. At Half-Moon, we hardly see any other foreigners. It’s just us. For now. There were some shacks, more black, sharp rocks and bigger crashing waves. I feel like I’m in the movie, The Beach.

Beach No. 3:  Half-Moon Beach

A tired Linda after trekking through the jungles to reach the isolated Half-Moon

To get to every beach, one must be able to cross mountains, forests, cliffs and plateau. The terrains get harder each time. However, the ability to reach our destination and see the magnificent sights, makes it all worthwhile.

Just one more mission to achieve: To reach Paradise. Paradise Beach. The best out of all the beaches, was so they claim. Located at the far end of Gokarna. The fourth and final beach, where sands are barely untouched and white as snow, water as blue as Lake Camiguin in Philippines. To reach Paradise, one must learn to stay calm and trust his/her own instinct and follow the signs.

Now, we need a “Thumbs Up”.

Thumbs Up

Journey to Paradise Beach

We have finally reached the much raved about beach in Gokarna called Paradise. Instead of trekking the dangeorus terrain, we were offered a ride in an antique Fiat Padmini, the last of it’s kind of that model in 1996. While going out for breakfast, we were invited by a Sadhu called Swami Giridhara whom we met at a temple on a cliff dividing the Main Beach and Kudle Beach. We were lucky to be in the company of another special Swami named, Yogaratna, Saraswati who was born in Paris, France, of Australian parents and raised in India.

Cruising along the coast of a fishing village in a vintage Fiat Padmini, accompanied by two Swamis.

Swamiji Giridar from Rishikesh and Materji Yogaratna.

Finally, we reached Paradise.

They were planning to visit an old saint living on an island only reachable by boat and only during low tide for he sits in meditation in a cave conveniently carved off from a cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea. We agree it sounds far-fetched because we ourselves took a few days to digest the overwhelming coincidences and timing of everything that happened.

When we reached the jetty, our noses were greeted with the aroma of diesel and drying fish. The jetty was primarily used as a fishing vessel berth and the fishermen were busy either refueling or doing maintenance works. The rest were occupied with laying dried fish leftover from the morning haul.

At the fishing dock, waiting for our ferry.

A 5-minute ferry crossed us safely to the fishermen’s village. We were surprised to learn that most of the island residents were Muslims and they spoke the best English I’ve heard so far in my short term in India. Another suprise, though unfortunate, was that the saint the two Sadhus intended to visit had passed away 3 years ago. The fishermen offered us a private tour around the island on their fishing boat for a small fee before returning us back to Gokarna.

From there we drove about 10 minutes to reach a dead end. A local told us Paradise Beach was only accessible through a 15-minute trek of which you need a guide (obviously he was making a rehearsed sales pitch but we had no regrets for we would really be lost without him).

The journey was extremely fun. Dangerously floored with dangerous red dirt, adrenaline was a constant companion during the trek. Tall bushes, coloured flowers, dancing butterflies and grazing cows added to the picturesque humid weather. Finally, we heard crashing waves and beneath a downhill slope lies Paradise Beach.

Frankly, we were disappointed. All we saw were dilapidated shacks and plenty of empty glass and plastic bottles. Our guide told us that the police banned any sort of business or residential property here for it used to be saturated with drug abusers from the West, polluting the holy vibe of this temple town. There we sat in silence digesting the isolation and the strong playful waves making a symphony by crashing onto the nearby rocks.

The infamous Paradise Beach

We left the place and received an inspirational quote from within about life:

“The experience of the journey is the Paradise. The destination is just an excuse”.