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Explore Sri Lanka’s Southern Province (Part 1 – Stay & Tour)

Sri Lanka, a tear shaped island country in South Asia is located in the Indian Ocean. With its coast lined with palm trees, this country is one of the ideal destinations for beach bums across the globe.

And so, after a lot of arguments, Sri Lanka (originally Ceylon) was the chosen destination for a short vacation. And since the time we set our foot on this island country, it was nothing but a box of pleasant surprises.

Read on to know the places we visited and the gourmet options on our road trip to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka’s only International airport is in Negombo. A 2-hour drive from the airport takes us to the country’s capital city – Colombo. You have the option of hiring a cab, Govt run AC buses or the local tuk-tuk to reach Colombo. The tuk-tuk costs around Rupees 500 – 1000 (heavy bargaining skills required here). Hence, I recommend taking the AC bus service which costs around Rupees 150 per person.

Our plan was to stay at Unawatuna which is a part of Galle district. Galle is the main hub for travelling to most the cities in the southern part of Sri Lanka . Unawatuna was chosen as it has a beautiful shoreline and is trending as an upcoming destination; Which meant a less crowded town!

We reach Colombo bus stand and meet my local friend- Dan. (Well, didn’t I tell you I am fortunate enough to have friends not only in India but across the international waters too). Since we were super hungry, we asked Dan to take us for a traditional Sinhalese lunch. And the best part of having a local friend – not only are the best places recommended, but we also get to hear lots of interesting stories about the place, people, food and culture.

We head to Sri Lanka Hut for the traditional Sinhalese buffet lunch. Depending on Vegetarian or Non-vegetarian food choice, you must choose the dishes you want.
Eg: for a vegetarian – choose 4-5 dishes among the spread plus the choice of rice i.e. steamed, lemon or red rice. Dal and salad are common.
Same goes for the non-vegetarian and fish eaters. Oh, did I tell you? The staple diet of Sri Lankans is Rice and dal which they have for all 3 meals. There is a variation in dal for each of the meal, though.

We were put up at:

La Veranda Di Serena was our home for the next 5 days. To reach there, we could either take a cab, bus or a train. Since we had read a lot about the train ride along the coastal route and having Dan vouch for the same, we did not have to think twice.
The journey was just as we had read about – trees, sandy shores and blue waters! And since it had rained, the weather had cooled down a bit. This gave us a chance to enjoy the scenic view the ride offered.

The stay was by the Unawatuna shore. The host, Mr. Chandana and his family were very hospitable. Not only were they available for touristy guidance, but we got to hear of the bye gone era, the war and how the Tsunami in 2004 changed the way the world looked at Sri Lanka. Having a sea facing room, breakfast on the sandy beach, a serene walk by the shore, our stay was just beginning to get exciting!

To the Moon and back

P.C. Siva

Full she is today
Perfect in her own way
Behold her beauty spots
A lil here and a lil there
High up above, she shines so bright
Love at every sight

Whole day I wonder where she’ll be
At night I simply stare and see
Even when she’s doing the disappearing act
Every bit of beauty she’ll be
And the night she chooses to hide herself
Oh! How I miss her wholeheartedly.

Photo Credits: Siva

Gratitude in the times of Corona

Social distancing and isolation are the trending words
Being confined indoors is the new routine
The new normal now seems disturbing
But this is what everyone wanted, before Corona broke loose.

Work from home; Family time; Work life balance, were the requests
Now that everyone has it, it is beginning to suffocate
Parents dealing with home-schooling, now being thankful for Teachers
Children who yearned for parents attention, now adjusting to generation gap
Governments trying to help their people, whereas all we do is blame
Party lovers and Shopaholics now seeing, life can go on without the bling and glitter
Everyone realizing, they can live with the minimum resources.

True! Corona is scary and we fear to lose our loved ones
We now use technology to have meals together
Those hugs and smiles are being missed so much
Even a nod from a stranger, brings out a warm smile, full of gratitude
We see the world differently in these hard times
More than anything, it has taught us to value and be thankful for our present.

Corona – An unusual hero

A humble virus from some cramped up lane
Now feared by the whole world
Everyone hates Corona
And it does not know why
Cursed and looked down upon, the places of worship too have disowned it
As it moves across the world, looking for a place to call it’s own
Humans have caged themselves indoors, while animals roam fearless facing no threat
And as someone quoted – The Earth is healing now. Corona was the vaccine for the virus called ‘Humans’.
Corona now feels it is a superhero. The Earth smiles upon it, while it continues to find a home.



First World problem – Toilet paper crisis

In the midst of a pandemic, the news keeps flashing everywhere and I chuckle.

Being an Indian, we have been taught to use water to wash our bums. You ask me why not paper? Well, how does a piece of paper even clean you? The dried and smelly behinds, left behind after a wipe.

Potty training always meant squatting down. Once you finish your business, wash and come up clean. And a lot of emphasis on washing those hands, super clean.

Urban areas developed and we moved from an Indian WC to an European / English WC; buckets and mugs of water replaced by jet sprays. Most of Asia and Middle East is equipped this way. And I imagined the whole world would too!

But to my dismay (although I had some inkling about this), when I moved to Australia, I realized that not a single house is equipped with a jet spray. I haven’t been interested in finding out why. Not to prove what is right or wrong, but research shows that using water is hygienic than paper. Although now-a-days we have recycled and organic toilet paper, but hey, they still have to go through a process using energy and water albeit lesser than the first hand ones.

Though I have made peace with the toilet paper (Read: No option), I hate using it during the critical 5 days of the month.

So, while everyone has been panicking and rushing in a frenzy, I smile. Because my bestie gifted me a bathing mug. It did seem peculiar and we laughed about it. However, while many were fighting over a bag of rolls, I knew I needn’t worry if I run out of stock!

A beautiful trek in the Devbhoomi: Chandrashila- Deoriatal Trek

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are snow.

Well, I made up that up post the trek to Chandrashila. The trek was planned with Uttarakhand Tourism Company, in December 2018.

There will be hardly anyone who would not be fascinated by the mighty Himalayas. This time though, the idea was to do a trek in peak winters just for feels – well at least for someone who is from Bombay, it’s peak winters even at -3 degrees Celsius.

However, instead of doing the trek with the usual route i.e. Sari – Deoriatal-Chopta-Tungnath-Chandrashila and back, a quicker one called for experimenting – Chopta to Chandrashila and back & Sari to Deoriatal and back.

The drive from Dehradun to Chopta was a long one, mainly because of the road work being undertaken there (as of Dec 2018). As expected in the mountainous region, the drive was through hairpin bends with an amazing view of the valleys filled with pine, oak & fir trees. The route was via Rishikesh where one can witness the birth of Ganga at Devprayag – the Sangam of Alaknanda & Bhagirathi Rivers. The meeting of the 2 rivers is evident through the diverse colours of each river. Upon reaching Chopta, the snowfall of the previous week was still apparent. As night falls, so does the temperature. Our campsite was in a forest, blanketed under a canopy of oak trees overlooking the starry night.

Devprayag – The birth of River Ganga

Summiting Chandrashila Peak

Waking up to a view of alpenglow over the snow-capped mountains always feels like my novels coming alive! Watching this view and sipping hot chai was sheer bliss. And then some stories over steaming hot parathas by our trek leader and kitchen staff. The best part about visiting a place and speaking to locals – so many beautiful stories and experiences!

Age is not a number, just another level

The trek route was through the Tungnath Temple – the highest Shiva temple, part of the PanchKedar temples, in the world. It is situated at an altitude of 3,680 meters (12,073 feet). The temple is closed during winters as the deities are taken to Mukhmat temple and then reopened in summers where the deities are then brought up again for worship. The trail from Chopta to Tungnath is a well-defined cemented / stony path, covered with ice from the previous snowfall. The climb was a complete ascent. The only colours that were visible on this trail were blue, white and grey (excluding the people of course). And as is always on any trek, there was a mountain dog for company.

The last few meters before the temple were slippery with ice all over. Reaching the temple gives one a panoramic view of the mountain range in that area. And needless to say, it was beautiful!

Unfortunately, visitors have been very careless to litter around the temple. The whole excitement of climbing to the highest Shiva Temple just dropped straight down. Not only is it a place of worship, but the fact that people do not consider the dangers posed to the environment, was saddening.

We then head towards Chandrashila peak which is another 1 kms steep climb, a path where I nearly gave up especially after almost slipping down at the edge of the trail. In approximately an hour, we make it to the breathtaking view of the summit. And needless to say, it was amazingly beautiful! And though this may sound cliché, I stood there, frozen in awe of the spectacular view all around me. The 360-degree view of the Garhwal and Kumaon ranges which includes the Mountains – Nandadevi, Chaukhumba, Trishul, Bandarpoonch, Bhagirathi and more; were just so beautiful!

After spending about 45 minutes at the summit, comes the hardest part of the descent. Snow has increased as temperature drops and besides, we were also late. Not to mention, the fresh ice that has formed on the cemented trail. As the sun goes down the horizon, the sky becomes a canvas painting of pink, yellow and orange hues. And before we know it, the scene turns pitch dark, thus making it difficult to track our way back. There was only 1 solution – slide through the snow. And with all the sliding and gliding, we manage to reach the base. Only to be hungrily devouring on hot tea and Maggi – all our bruises forgotten!

Hiking at Deoriatal

The next day, we drive to Sari and then begin our hike to Deoriatal. The route to the lake has rocky but well-defined steps for almost 3 kms. En route, we met a few Garhwalis and got to hear some lovely stories along with a cup of chai. Deoriatal or Devariyatal – dev (God) Tal (Lake) – was was considered as the bathing spot for the Gods.

As per the Hindu mythology, it is said that it was Yaksha (spirit of nature) that had a Q&A game played with the Pandavas at this lake.

Well, I can’t remember the story as the view was only getting better and increasing my excitement.

As we reached the open forest, we were treated to a grand view of Deoriatal, with Mt. Chaukhambha looming in the background. Mirror reflection of the peaks can be seen very clearly in the lake. The frost on the grass made crispy sounds as we walk around. Watching the moving clouds and the mountains and the peaceful surroundings made it difficult to continue ahead.  No camping is allowed near the lake, anymore.

We tread further to Rohini Bugyal. Bugyal means meadow. Walking through the forests with roots of trees acting as steps in most places, we pass through a different sight – autumn foliage. The temperature drops when the clouds hide the sun. Upon reaching the meadow, we notice a small village. However, the place was empty due to the cold and snowy weather. The water stream was freezing. But had the most pure, crystal clear water. My lungs, heart, soul – everything leaped for joy at this. Though the place was isolated, it was peaceful. Birds chirping, the sun shining, laying on the grass and another hot cup of tea. We did not realize the time and as we were supposed to leave before it got dark, we almost raced our way back. As we reached Deoriatal, it turned pitch dark, cold and misty. Tired and hungry we reach the small stall for steaming hot tea, Maggie & omelette.

The Chandrashila – Deoriatal trek was unlike any of the treks done earlier. Although the season of snowfall had begun only but a week prior to travel, it was still a first time. After completing a summer & winter trek, I knew I had to do a snowy trek. Well, this was not to the extent of Sar Paas or the Chadar trek, nevertheless, it was a memorable one!

Picture Credits: Amit Bendkule

Volunteering – A Way of Life

Far away from home, in a new country with no friends! Being a busy bee, I found it difficult to just keep doing sight-seeing in the winter (I felt like an Eskimo walking the streets!). There was plenty of time for me to get a job. So I found an alternative: doing something which always brings me happiness – Volunteering.

After applying to a couple of places, I got selected by the Food Coop Shop as their café coordinator. Imagine handling a café with no prior experience! Well yes, training is provided, and when you feel you are ready, it will be…show time!

So what is Food Coop Shop all about?

It’s a non-profit group, run by a community supporting local, organic, unpackaged, fair trade and affordable food for all. With one of its primary focuses being environment, the BYOC (Bring Your Own Containers) concept is followed here. So, go grocery shopping using your own containers and if you have plenty at home, donate the ones lying in your house for others to use. It also supports refugee women by giving them a chance to work here.

The USP of the Food Coop’s café, is the lunch served here – prepared with love by the chefs (yes, I choose to call them that) and served by the volunteers who manage the orders placed by customers along with flaunting their Barista skills. The food served is vegan and so are the yummylicious baked goods – again, prepared by the volunteers. The food products sold in the shop are all organic or prepared by Coop members. The Food Coop’s café also has Suspended Lunch/Coffee, which is the ‘pay it forward’ concept. The Food Coop has now started the Thursday Drinks and Dinner night; one of the many efforts to sustain themselves, financially.

The Food Coop Shop and it’s café is one of the many places that does not care who you are. Leave your background behind because what matters is YOU and everyone is welcomed here. This place is always buzzing with students and working professionals. Not just for lunch but also as a place to meet and have some serious as well as hearty discussions. It attracts groups who are involved in social causes as well. You can notice this by the number of awareness leaflets put up. Not just this, there are many workshops conducted on – growing your own seeds, herbal tea preparation, yoga, etc. Keep a tab on events you may like by following their Facebook page (@thefoodcoopshop ) or Instagram handle (foodcoopshop).

The place has a warm ambiance and lovely music. Most of the furniture here is donated by well-wishers and decorated by the coop managers and volunteers; which is the reason behind the vibrant look and feel of the place.

What did I get in return, you may ask. A whole lot of smiles and friends, encouragement, and tons of hugs! Along with a free meal and a coffee for the shift I completed.

My time at the Food Coop’s café resonates with this quote:

“Volunteers are not paid not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless” – Sherry Anderson.

So stop by the Food Coop Shop’s café during the morning hours for some hot, freshly brewed chai or during noon for the lunch & beverages (tea, coffee, smoothies, etc.) and enjoy your space.

Wish to volunteer at the Food Coop ? Meet the Coop managers from Monday to Friday between 10:30 am to 5:30 pm.

Picture Credits: The Food Coop Shop

Explore Sri Lanka’s Southern Province (Part 2 – Gourmet & Transport)

For those who missed Part 1 of the blog (on Stay and places to visit), please visit https://bit.ly/2N9bHTn

Gourmet Places:

Pink Elephant:

A hip and happening place, with a bohemian ambiance, groovy music and a super cool host, Mr. Chaminda, you cannot miss this place. It is recommended to either go early or reserve a table as this place gets full very fast. And yes, Mr. Chaminda loves to interact with his guests. We tried the Beef Strips and Deviled Chicken as per recommendation and it was a right decision. The beef was well cooked along with stir fry veggies and the sauce was just perfect. This was served along with rice. For drinks we had Arrack shots specially prepared by Mr. Chaminda. This one is a definite must go to place.
(Arrack – a distilled alcoholic drink produced in the Indian Subcontinent & Southeast Asia Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrack

Thaproban Beach Restaurant:

Just as its name says, this restaurant has placed its seating on the sandy shore of the beach. With light music in the background, helpful staff and delicious dinner, we could not ask for more. The seating is at an angle where one can enjoy a panoramic view of the beach, listen to the waves and in all this, the slow service is forgiven. Well known for its sea food, this restaurant gives you to choose the fresh catch of the day and accordingly decide your meal. However, we went in for the Grilled pork chops with Red wine.

Koha Surf Lounge:

A small cozy place to chill, enjoy good music especially reggae, in a bohemian ambiance. Their crispy sweet potato fries are recommended along with your beer. Their in-house burgers were tasty and well cooked.

Food at Koha Surf Lounge

La Boheme

Given its quirky bohemian décor, we decided to try out this restaurant. They are known for their wood-stove pizzas. They serve mainly Italian food. Good for someone who loves having pizzas the traditional way. Very good ambiance but too expensive for food.

Given it’s hot weather, your best bet on the most refreshing drink was the King Coconut. Easily found anywhere & everywhere, it is not only cheap, but also good for the health to beat the summer heat. For stronger drinks, the local beer – Lion or the Arrack is recommended.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:King_Coconut.jpg
King Coconut

Mode of Transport:

It is recommended to take the train ride from Colombo to either the north or south Sri Lanka. The scenic view is one in a million with the train passing through the beach shore lined with coconut palm trees and the wind rustling through your hair!

The trains may be of an era gone by, but do not base your judgement on looks. It was one of the most beautiful train journeys. Go for it – You won’t be disappointed.

Although Tuk-Tuks are easily available, we found them a bit too expensive. Instead, we tried the local buses. Their services are frequent & cheap. The bus drivers drive crazily but, I must admit that the buses had some great music and a few were decorated as well. The drive felt like a colorful roller coaster that got your heart in your mouth! Unfortunately we were unable to click clear pics. But a ride is worth a try!

With its pristine waters, excellent road network, beautiful nature & heritage, Sri Lanka is now one of the most trending places in the Indian Sub-Continent for holiday destinations. After 30 years of civil war, the island in the Indian Ocean, has now begun witnessing an increase in tourism.

What are you waiting for? Go & visit this beautiful country now!

 

Whispers of an Anxious Mind

“Roses are red, Violets are blue,
my heart beats only for you.”

She thought of this and led her life
waiting to be that one man’s wife
That man whom she loved more than herself
who broke those barriers to touch her soul
Everything she had was given to him,
her faith, her trust, her love, her life…
She was warned against such men
but she paid no heed as blind in love she was by then
But as months and days passed by
changes in him she could see and tried to figure out why
Her mind wasn’t sure but she believed her heart
because an emotional fool she was right from the start

She tried to talk, she tried to explain,
all her efforts were in vain.
Because a patriarchal society he was raised in
where women follow a process set in
it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from
a good wife and daughter-in-law is what you are supposed to become
Those modern thoughts and independent days
from her have parted ways
she won’t talk, she won’t cry
she will walk with her head held high
She’s broken from within, hopes all crumbled down
losing herself is the only loss she mourns
And yet as another day creeps in
she opens her eyes and silently prays
that it’s only a dream and he’s holding her beside him.

 

**Image source: Instagram: aanushree_fadnavis
https://bit.ly/2KDXuuB