Sunday, April 25, 2010

Elephants of Pinnawela in Sri Lanka

Visiting Colombo gives one an opportunity to go on one day excursions out of Colombo. One such single day tour is the Pinnawela-Kandy tour. Went on the internet and found  offering day tours to Pinnawela and Kandy for $60.00. Fernando the driver cum guide was at the hotel next morning to take me on my trip. Our first stop was Pinnawela which is 90 Kms from Colombo - a 2.5 hour drive. The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was established by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department in 1975 to take care of orphaned baby elephants
 There is an entry fee to visit the orphanage. If you are from one of SAARC countries, the fee is just Rs 500 ( $6) whereas for visitors from other countries, the fee is four times higher - Rs 2000 ($ 24) plus another $ 5.00 if you have a video camera. The elephant young are fed at 8 AM - be sure to reach the orphanage before this time. Feeding lasts for 2 hours after which the elephants are led to the bathing area in the river Maha Oya. The bathing area is surrounded by cafes and seating where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or fresh juice and watch the elephants in the water.
 Tourists watching the elephants
The elephants are bathed in the river for 2 hours after which they are led back to their resting place. It is possible to get close to them and also offer some food to them.
Tourists offering food to a Baby Elephant
The orphanage is doing commendable job looking after these orphaned elephants. These animals are released into the wild only after they have matured and can take of themselves which is usually when they are around 5 years old.
You can also sport this lame elephant who was rescued by the orphanage and has been here since the last 3 years.
A tired baby elephant resting its trunk
As you head back, do not forget to stop at the workshop at the entrance which makes beautiful paper sheets and other items from the dung of elephants through an elaborate process of recovering the fibre that is used to make the paper. The entrance is also lined with shops offering leather goods like bags etc. The initial prices quoted are high and you need to bargain to get the right price. Start by giving a counter offer which is 1/5th the orignal price and you could settle at 1/3rd the price quoted.
A cute Baby Elephant at the centre

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shopping and Dining in Bentota

Bentota is a great place to pick up some of the fabulous Sri Lankan handicrafts that this island country is famous for.  The markets of Bentota are colourful and interesting and you could walk the streets going through the offerings and pick a great bargain for yourself.
The high street shops and kiosks stock a whole variety of Sri Lankan handicrafts  ranging from Bamboo hats to intricate masks. However keep in mind that you need to really bargain to get the right price. Prices are quoted over 3 times the actual selling price - so put your best foot forward on negotiations. Do remember to pick up a mask. These are  exquisite.
You can pick beautifully crafted  masks like this one from Sri Lankan Handicrafts - one of the best stocked outlets on the outskirts of Bentota. These are made of balsa wood and painted with organic paints. Cost varies from US$ 50 to US$ 200 ( The mask shown above cost me $50).  The ones available in the kiosks on the high streets are for as low as $5 - certainly very much inferior in craftsmanship .
A visit to this outlet in Bentota is a must even if you dont buy anything. Ask any cab or auto driver and he will take you there. The prices are much higher here and there is no bargaining . The quality and craftmanship is the best.

Evening's in Bentota are very pleasant with cool sea breezes blowing inland. There are numerous bars and eating joints all along the beach serving Sri Lankan food as well as cuisines from around the world. Sea food is a speciality and fresh catch of the day is served . One popular place which I highly recommend is the WUNDERBAR. The food is excellent though expensive. Be sure to try thier fish baked in bamboo leaves. You could also try the local beer - Lion.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Exploring Bentota - Buddhist Temple of 'Galapatha Raja Maha Vihara

A 15 minute drive from our hotel, The Tax Exotica saw us at another 'must visit' place  in Bentota  Buddhist Temples - also known as the 'Benthara Galapatha Raja Maha Vihara'. This ancient Budhist temple is famous for the tooth relic of the 3rd desciple of Buddha that lies buries in the Stupa. This temple is believed to have been made in the 12th century, it however was destroyed by the Dutch in the 16th century and was subsequently rebuilt giving it a newer look.
 A Long path leads upto the main building
 This is the main entrance to the temple complex. At this point you will be required to remove your shoes. ( When it is hot , your feet can really burn). The arched doorway is made of 2 upright monolith carved pillars with another 2 pillars on the top and bottom of the doorway. Dating back to the 'Kandyan Period' (1590 to 1830), these pillars are elaborately carved with the 'Nari Latha' motifs. The Nari Latha is a mythical creeper orignating in the Himalayas that when it blossoms , the flowers take the shape of dancing girls.   
The main temple building houses a mumber of brightly coloured statues and images. The sleeping Buddha is a long over 25 ft statue that is placed on the floor in sleep posture.
One of the statues in the temple. There is a visible connection to Hinduism.
Statue of the Budha where offerrings are made
You cannot miss this large bell with inscriptions near the entrance, It is supported on two ancient rock pillars.
At the end of the tour, remember to make an entry in the guest book that is maintained and make a donation to the monastry.

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