Sri Lanka: Wondrous Wildlife

As a cat lover (big and small), I was hell-bent on a leopard sighting. This solitary, secretive feline had eluded us on two different safari trips in Africa. Sri Lanka had to be the place.

Sloth bear

Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park is said to be home to at least 25 of these beauties. During our February tour of the island nation, we visited that park as well as two others. Sadly, no leopard showed his spots to us. We did see elephants, rabbits, a spotted deer, one wild boar, a mongoose, turtles, lots of birds including numerous peacocks. And, a sloth bear, a rare sighting according to the guide.

Mongoose

“Most tourists don’t see the leopard,” a guide later told me. However, we did learn that the day prior to our visit to Yala and the day after, lucky tourists did spot the evasive cat. We felt cheated.

No leopard, but lots of magnificent elephants. Some 4,000 Asian elephants, an endangered species, make their home in the tiny nation. Herds of 200 or more are a common sight in August and September in Minneriya National Park. The herds we saw in that park were much smaller, 25 to 30, but fascinating. The pachyderms are obviously accustomed to tourists and come very close to the safari vehicles. Guides know many of them by name.ff.41

I was intrigued, touched, with a mini-family grouping. A crippled mother and two offspring, one four years old and the other eight years old, were alone, apart from the herd. The guide explained that the mother, about 40 years old, had been hit by a train. She was left with a bad limp, forcing her to move very slowly. She could not keep up with the herd. Her two offspring stay with her to protect her, he explained.

Elephants need about five square kilometres each to support their 200 kilograms per day appetites. Deforestation and over development in Sri Lanka have diminished their habitat. As in Africa, they encroach on farmland. As in Africa, it’s elephants vs. humans, a challenging conflict.

White birds hang around the elephants we saw. We learned that the elephants, grazing on grass, shake the stuff before eating it. Worms fall out – a tasty meal for the birds.

Painted stork (I think)
Serpent Eagle?

Sir Lanka is a paradise for birders with 400 different species, 26 of which are unique to the country. We saw many on our safaris.

On a visit to a turtle hatchery we learned about the island’s sea turtles which lay their eggs along the coast. Eggs not collected by poachers (turtle egg omelettes are popular) hatch after several weeks and hundreds of baby turtles make their perilous way to the sea. Few survive. Many are devoured by fish and birds. At turtle hatcheries, eggs are collected and hatched in an incubator. After just one day, they are released into the sea at night. Even with this method, only one in 100 survive, about the same as in nature.

The conservation benefits of the hatcheries are limited, but the tiny turtles are adorable. Adult turtles of varying sizes also swim in hatchery tanks. Many have been injured and would not survive in the sea.

The hatchery we visited had been started by the owner’s father in 2000. He died shortly thereafter and his sister took over. She, another sister, their children and his mother all perished in the devastating tsunami which ravaged Sri Lanka in 2004, killing roughly 40,000 of its citizens. The owner and his surviving brother refurbished and reopened the hatchery.

No doubt more popular than its animals and safari parks are Sri Lanka’s beaches. They are grand, but the mountainous interior was my favorite. We spent two nights in the hills above Ella, a picturesque area of tea plantations with splendid views, hiking trails and cooler temperatures…a paradise.

For more on Sri Lanka, see previous post: Wonders of Sri Lanka.

Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@yahoo.com and info@dsltours.com)  chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating. We were happy with all.

More photos of Sri Lanka follow.

Unique tree in Peradeniya Botanical Garden in Kandy.
No wonder they call them street dogs,  There are not as many of these homeless dogs in Sri Lanka as in neighboring India, but still too many, and sad.
Only five percent of Asian elephants have tusks. They can live to be 65 years old.

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Sri Lankan tea is famous worldwide. Tea, first planted by the British, thrives in the hill country.

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At last, a new recipe and just in time for those summer blackberries.  Click on photo of berries, upper right, for recipe, and scroll down for more recipes.

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GERMANS ON THE ROAD

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German tour group at the Taj Mahal

Gerlinde trekked for 12 days in northern Myanmar, a region with no roads, only accessible by small plane and requiring special permission to visit. “It was the best trip ever, such an adventure, no tourists. We did not see a white face for five days,” she said.

Erich traveled by camel, through the Jordanian dessert for a week. He camped in a cave used for burials. “It was very romantic. Normal tourists don’t do this,” he said. He recalled other past adventures: Driving from Germany to Iran; being robbed, a knife at his neck, in eastern Turkey.


I wrote this article for the magazine German Life (www.germanlife.com) where it was recently published. As soon as I conquer a new operating system on my computer, I hope to post more on Sri Lanka.


Sepp has climbed mountains in Pakistan, India and Nepal. He and his wife Inge have been to Morocco, Mauritius, Uzbekistan, all European countries, and recently to India for the fourth time.

Annette returned to Rwanda for the fifth time to hike uphill through dense bamboo forests to observe mountain gorillas. “I am addicted,” she explained.

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Annette, far right, on her fifth trip to Rwanda, a trek to see mountain gorillas.

Many Germans, like those mentioned above, are passionate about travel. While the above adventures may not be among the pursuits of the average tourist, Germans are known, not just for their travel lust, but for seeking out exotic destinations and unique experiences…sometimes too unique

Ivy, a staff member at a safari lodge in Botswana, told a horrifying tale of a German couple who were driving through the game park in a rented car which broke down. The husband left his wife and set out on foot to find assistance. His wife stayed in the car and was rescued. He never returned…only his boots were found.

Most tourists visit the game parks with a group and guide, Ivy said, but “the Germans prefer self-drive.”

Comments on German travelers from a travel web site included this from someone who had worked at a resort hotel in Eilat, Israel: “From all the nations that would make our guests (and workers) it seems that the Germans were the most traveled people.”

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In the Myanmar jungle, Gerlinde encountered leeches.

Another comment: “I was recently in South Africa and let me tell you that I think I met more Germans than South Africans. They are everywhere!!” With six weeks of paid vacation per year, Germans have more time to travel than the average American. Travel they do, especially in winter to escape the oppressive, cold and dark days.

Norbert Fiebig, president of the Deutscher Reise Verband, sums it up on the organization web site: “Germans attach great importance to travelling. Most Germans are fascinated by relaxing holidays and discovering cultures and landscapes that are foreign to them.” Blogger Andrew Couch, who writes about Germany, finds “the quality of life idea of having vacation time is deeply a part of German working culture.”

Perhaps Germans are inspired by the country’s literary giant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His Italienische Reise (Italian Journey) is a classic. Für Naturen wie die meine ist eine Reise unschätzbar: Sie belebt, berichtigt, belehrt und bildet, ” he wrote in a letter to Schiller in 1797. “For natures like mine a journey is invaluable; it animates, corrects, instructs and develops.”

Last year I accompanied a German tour group to northern India. Most of the group, like Sepp and Inge, had been to India numerous times, as well as many other countries. They especially like the friendly people in India, the culture, and “last but not least, the good food,” said traveler Rainer.

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German tourists in Dharamsala, India

Our Indian guide, Rajesh Mendiratta, has been leading German tour groups for 25 years. He started out in the tourist industry working in a hotel. German guests complained that the

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Tour guides Alok and Raj

guides did not speak good German, he recalled. He decided to learn the language, studied at the Goethe Institute in India and became a guide mainly for Germans.

The Germans are interested in learning about everything. They are very correct people. They are appreciative,” he said.

Most in our group knew Raj from previous trips. He has visited some of them in Germany. “They invite me in their homes. I value their friendship,” he said.

For the second portion of our trip, a younger Indian guide, Alok Tripathi, took over. Like many Indians he speaks English, but he decided to learn German and focus on German tourists because “there is too much competition with English.”

He agrees with Raj and has found that “Germans want to learn everything, the culture; traditions…Americans just want to shop.” Yet, Americans get a plus for tips. They are more generous, he said.

According to Raj, Germans rank as the number one nationality visiting India. “They saved us,” he said, referring to the slump in tourism 10 years ago when other nationalities, including the British who had been at the top, cut back on travel to India. Germans kept coming.

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Germans visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, where heads must be covered.

While Germans love India, it is not their favorite foreign destination. That distinction goes to Spain, followed by Greece and Italy. “Greece is currently having the strongest growth with booking plus of 41 percent compared to last summer,” said Susanne Stünckel, a spokesperson for TUI Deutschland, the largest leisure, travel and tourism company in the world.

Long-distance destinations such as the U.S., Mexico, South America, Canada, Indonesia and the Seychelles, are also “growing rapidly,” she said.  New York is the German favorite in the U.S., followed by Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco.

More Germans, like those previously mentioned, are venturing off the beaten track, Stünckel noted, “moving more and more into exotic destinations with increasing travel experience.”

One such place is Iran, which travel agent Bettina Rohleder in Karlsruhe termed “very popular.” Travelers, including Gerlinde who visited Iran with a guide,  find the country friendly and fascinating.

Yet Germany is considered the most popular overall destination of Germans who are happy with short travel distances, the close proximity of attractions, and being able to speak the same language.

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The Black Forest, above, is popular for “Wandern” (hiking), a favorite German pastime.

Hiking in Bavaria, swimming in the Baltic Sea, culture and history in Berlin – it’s the variety that people love,’’ said Karl Born, professor of tourism management at the Harz University of Applied Sciences in Saxony-Anhalt.

Hamburg is tops for culture this year with the recent opening of the Elbphilharmonie, the city’s new concert hall acclaimed as one of the largest and most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world. The glassy construction resembling a hoisted sail was designed by Herzon & de Meuron and is attracting visitors from around the world — not just Germany.

According to the German National Tourist Board (GNTB), culture is the number one drawing card (75%) for visits to the country, followed by the outdoors and countryside. Whatever the motivation, more and more international tourists are joining the Germans to experience the wonders of Deutschland. The nation’s tourism numbers have been up consistently for the past six to seven years.

Germany’s reputation as a stable, safe and affluent nation has boosted its status as an attractive travel destination in recent years, especially as tourists increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs of international terrorists,” notes Deutsche Welle, the country’s international broadcaster.

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Germany’s number one attraction:  Neuschwanstein Castle

With 35 million international visitors in 2015, Germany placed eighth in world tourism rankings by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. France took top honors that year with 84.5 million visitors. Most foreign visitors to Germany come from the neighboring Netherlands, followed by Switzerland, with the U.S. in third place.

The top attraction in the country: Neuschwanstein Castle. Other favorites are the Berlin Wall,

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Wilma at the Taj Mahal.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Heidelberg Castle, the Cologne Cathedral and the Romantic Road. Berlin is the most popular city, followed by Munich.

“Germany is full of attractions,” says my friend Wilma who lives in Darmstadt. “I like the Rhine. I like Bavaria and the mountains. I like the cities, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg. There are so many old and interesting things. Germany would be the best country for travel if it weren’t for the weather.”

Never mind the weather, Germany was number one in the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Countries” index.

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Please feel free to comment.  Click below, scroll down to Leave a Reply and add your thoughts. … More new recipes coming soon.makeread2

 

In the Merde

Yes, in deep and desperately needing escape. I/we cannot get out from under the  ominous, all-encompassing black cloud which has bombarded us with one disaster after another.  What did we do to deserve this merde?  Did someone put a hex on us, cast a black magic spell of evil?

The current calamity ranks as the worst, yet those preceding were far more than minor photo.hexmishaps. (see previous posts: “Prisoners in an Airbnb Apartment” and “China II: The Fall”).

More merde followed those catastrophes but let’s start with the present which began the afternoon of April 10.

I was typing away at my computer when a frantic husband ran in screaming.  “I need some ice. I need some ice quick.” Too hot?  He needs a cool drink?  No such luck. He related that he had fallen from a ladder while trimming a tall bush.

I was not terribly sympathetic.  At his age, he has no business on ladders.  Last summer he fell out of a tree when trying to trim.  He has fallen off the wall in front of our property when cutting shrubbery.  He relishes climbing a wobbly ladder into our attic. ladder - CopyClimbing must have been one of his favorite boyhood exploits.  But, he is a boy no more.

He had an enormous lump on his calf.  We iced it down.  He was in pain, but he could walk/move with no problem.  Nonetheless that evening we went to the emergency room at the Manosque hospital, about a half hour away.

And, there we spent 3 ½ hours.  Leg was x-rayed.  Nothing broken.  We were told to wait and see the doctor again.  We waited and waited. Many of those who arrived after us had seen doctors and left.  My patience and nerves were shattered. I had a killer migraine.  Bob was getting antsy.  We learned our doctor was on the telephone dealing with a very urgent case. Bob’s leg injury was obviously not urgent.  Who knows how much longer the wait would be?  We  left.

Next day he saw his local doctor.  The lump was a gigantic hematoma, now red, purple, pink and horrific.  His foot had also ballooned – too fat for his shoes. The doctor ordered a Doppler ultrasound to check for blood clots, and he arranged for the test with a nearby doctor that evening.   All clear – no clots.

There had been a half-dollar sized blister on the surface of the hematoma. At some point it burst and a large scab formed. But, the swelling was increasing. The grotesque colors on his leg now engulfed the fat foot, too.

We decided this required another look by a medical professional.  His doctor was off that day, so we trekked back to emergency where this time we only to had to wait a few minutes. A doctor checked it out, said it was infected, gave us a prescription for antibiotics and another one for daily at-home nurse visits to change the bandage (a wonderful plus of French medical care).  He turned us over to a nurse who we assume followed his instructions and cut delicately around the scab which immediately began oozing thick, black blood (the hematoma contents).  She covered it with a large bandage and sent us on our way.

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Nurse Vero cleans the hole.

Back home the next day nurse Aurelie I appeared, removed the bandage and was horrified.  “They did this at Manosque?”  She began pressing the hematoma, again and again and again, draining it of the ancient blood. I watched, incredulous.  Would it ever stop?  It did, but left a gargantuan cavity in his leg.  It is this cavity which the nurses came to clean out and stuff with treated gauze every day.  In the beginning it took a meter-length piece of gauze to fill the cavity.  The mountainous lump was/is still there, but getting smaller.

Several days passed and a  new nurse arrived, Aurelie II. She was shocked.  “This does not look good….How long has it been like this?”  She urged us to go the emergency department at the hospital in Aix en Provence.  We learned from her, and others, that the Manosque hospital does not have a good reputation.

Afternoon plans were canceled and we set off to Aix, about an hour and 15 minutes away.   A two-and a one half hour wait merited an examination by a very patient and thorough doctor.  He carefully cleaned the “hole,” stuffed it, patched it, wrapped it and sent us on our way with a prescription for a different antibiotic and a new at-home nurse prescription.  He also sent a swab of the cavity to the lab. The results later indicated the infection was resistant to the first antibiotic, but the second, the one he had prescribed, was on target.merde.7

Meanwhile, our lives have been in turmoil since the fall.  My Easter dinner party canceled.  A hotel overnight in Aix canceled. A weekend in Italy canceled. My doctor’s appointment canceled.  No time for my activities:  photo club and French writing group.  The real tragedy, the month-long trip to Germany, out the window. We had planned to see some friends, but the trip was primarily a research trip for me.  I write for the magazine German Life and planned to gather material for future articles.  It was a time-consuming, complicated trip to arrange – reservations, appointments, calculating driving distances and times.  All for naught.  Merde!

Nurses continued to come daily for the cleaning-stuffing wound ritual, warning us that full recovery would be long.  Aurelie I suggested we see a “specialist des pansements” (bandage specialist) at the Manosque hospital, a woman (Hungarian) whom she had great regard for.   I made an appointment, but we had to wait 2 weeks to see her.

When the bandage specialist saw the dreadful wound and learned that we had been to the hospital emergency room way back at the beginning of the sorry saga, five weeks prior, she was angry.  “Why didn’t they call me?  They know this is my specialty?”  She said if she had started treatment initially, by now Bob would be recovered.

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Supplies delivered from hospital for at-home care, all covered by national French health insurance.

She advised Bob be hospitalized for a week to start treatment with a machine which would suction all the bad stuff lodged in the cavity.  The process would take about a month, as opposed to three to four months if he continued with the nurses at-home

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Bob and his talking purse.

treatments.  He would need to spend about a week in the hospital, and then go home with machine.

The machine can hang from his shoulder, like a purse, and can operate on batteries, so he can be mobile.  He was given permission to go home for the weekend. We were elated.

On Sunday we were about to depart for lunch at the home of friends in a nearby town.

Telephone rang.  Hospital.   They had taken a blood sample during his stay.  Results indicated “a very dangerous infection.” Get back to the hospital immediately so treatment can be started, they urged. That ended lunch with friends.  More merde!

I did some research on the bacteria he had contracted – both common hospital infections, multi-antibiotic resistant. Of course, the hospital insists he did not get the infections from contamination there, even though he had been infection free when entering the hospital.

So, now in addition to the machine, he was/is on a drip of a very strong antibiotic for 10 days.   This was the last straw, too much. We were both at rock bottom, very nervous about the gravity of these infections, sick of the hospital, depressed, despondent.the-last-straw

Our sanity was saved, again by the fabulous visiting nurses.  After four days back in the hospital, “hospitalisation a domicile” (home hospitalization) was arranged.  A nurse comes  three times per day, at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.,  to hook him up to the drip which lasts about 1/2 hour each time.   The 10 days will end tomorrow, but he will still have the machine, however it only requires a nurse’s attention every three days.

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Nurse Aurelie I and the drip hook up.

Nurses may call it a miracle machine, praising its medical prowess, but we call it Farting Freddy.  It is noisy, emitting sounds identical to farts all too often. We are ready for a return to the world, a meal in a restaurant, but dare we?

On top of this tragedy, and the others previously mentioned, my China fall still haunts me.  The broken collar bone did not heal correctly, the bones did not realign (non-union). It is still painful at times.  I am (was) a devoted lap swimmer, but the crawl, my stroke, is difficult. Double merde!

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My hand splint.

Another complication: somehow nerves in my upper arm, below the damaged collar bone, became compressed.  My left hand movement is limited, namely the two little fingers which are basically frozen. At first I was told recovery could take a year.  Now they say two years.  I have learned to type with one good hand, and one finger of the left hand.  Many kitchen/cooking tasks remain challenging.

And yet another whopper: basal cell skin cancer. I had a tiny bump on my nose, cancer caused by the sun and not usually dangerous. Removing the mini lump would be a piece of cake, so I thought.  Not quite – underneath the skin the lump was not so tiny.  Removal left me with 26 stitches on the side of my nose and face.  Fortunately I had a skilled plastic surgeon.  The scar is easily hidden with makeup.  But, after all that, he did not get all the cancer.  One cell remains. More merde!

Perhaps there is light at the end of this tunnel of merde. Since Freddy attacked the wound, it is slowly shrinking.   While these troubles have been – and still are – annoying, I realize it all could have been far worse.  But, we need a break from bad luck. If anyone can offer a hex of happiness and good health, a magic spell of good fortune to chase away the merde, please send our way.

In between all of the merde, we did have a lovely trip to Sri Lanka. See previous post, “Wonders of Sri Lanka.”    More on that coming soon. Don’t miss it.  If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared. 

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 Wonders of Sri Lanka

 

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Mihinthale

The treacherous climb to the top of Sigiriya, Lion Rock, is a tourist must.  We had told Nimal, our first-rate Sri Lankan driver and mentor, that we were reasonably fit and up for moderate hiking.  That was before I viewed this massive monolith of stone with steep vertiginous metal staircases attached to its walls: definitely more than moderate. I wanted to wimp out. My courage and determination dissolved.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was hot, very hot. There were no trees to provide shade en route to the top.  It was crowded, a single file of slowly moving bodies inching upwards on those dreadful stairs. This did not look like fun.  Was it worth it?  Could I make it?  After the Chinese disaster (See previous post:  “China II:  The Fall”) I could not risk another crash.

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Nimal

“You can do it,” Nimal assured us.  He arranged a local guide.   I let him carry my camera and water and concentrated carefully on every step. Fortunately a landing with a gallery of remarkable frescoes provided a welcome break en route up.  The reward, stunning vistas atop, was well deserved.  It is generally believed that Sigiriya was a royal citadel during the fifth century, although another theory maintains that it was a monastery and religious site.   Our guide adhered to the citadel theory and told us that King Kassapa had 500 concubines, for whom he built swimming pools with diving boards.

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Superb views atop Sigiriya

There are many more astonishing sights in Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of India.  Although not much bigger than Wales, Sri Lanka packs a lot into a small area: glorious beaches, ancient temples, hillside tea plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, rain forested peaks, more challenging climbs.

The country’s 30-year civil war, which ended in 2009, kept visitors away. That has changed dramatically. At Sigiriya, and just about everywhere we went during our two week tour of the country in late February, we encountered lots of tourists.

We visited many other sites, temples and ruins.  The city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital, is a complex of archaeological and architectural treasures.  We followed a parade of worshipers walking along a giant piece of orange cloth, 300 meters long according to Nimal.  It symbolizes Buddha’s skin, he told us, and was to be wrapped around Ruvanvelisaya, a magnificent white dagoba or shrine for sacred relics.

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Devotees help carry  the orange cloth which will be wrapped around Ruvanvelisaya (below).

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The climb at Mihinthale, another temple complex, was beyond us:  1,843 granite slab steps with the sun blazing down on them. No shoes allowed –you had to ascend barefoot.  No way.

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Tough feet, as well as stamina, required for this climb.

Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka’s medieval capital from the 11th to the 13th centuries before it was abandoned to invaders from South India.  We – and many others — toured the area by bike with stops to admire and photograph.  The major attraction is the site with colossal Buddhas carved out of rock.

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Reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa

At Dambulla Royal Rock Temple, some 150 different Buddhas are enshrined in five  caves.  The Disney-like entrance to the site, with a monstrous Golden Temple and

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Cave Buddhas

mammoth concrete Buddha, seems out of place, but the gentle climb along a wooded path to this hilltop temple complex is easy and pleasant.  Entrance to the caves is controlled with a certain number admitted for each visit. It is well worth the wait to see these remarkable statues in this dimly lit, mystical ambience.

srpart1.nBoth tourists and worshipers flock to Kandy, a lovely hill town whose magnet is the Sacred Tooth Temple where one of Buddha’s teeth is said to be hidden inside a golden shrine or casket which in turn contains six more caskets, much like a Russian box.   We joined a large crowd and patiently waited in line for a night time opening of the heavily guarded room containing the tooth shrine, and our turn to file by the relic casket.   Although there was little to see, the holy ritual and huge temple complex are intriguing.   According to Lonely Planet, Sri Lankan Buddhists believe they must complete at least one pilgrimage to the tooth temple.

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Worshiping at the Sacred Tooth Temple

Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@yahoo.com and dsltours.com)  chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating. We were happy with all.

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Gaudy entrance to Dambulla complex

More on Sri Lanka in coming posts:  flora and fauna;  food, markets and produce, beaches and hilltop retreats.  Don’t miss it.  If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared. 

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Ruins at Polonnaruwa
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Cave Buddha at Dambulla
The concrete Buddha surveys the landscape
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Polonnaruwa

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Adventure Abu Dhabi

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I was wooed by those classy commercials on CNN.  Stunning desert landscapes.  Futuristic, fantastic architecture. Glamorous hotels.

Abu Dhabi.  We had to change planes there en route to  Sri Lanka.  Let’s break up the long journey and check out the capital, the largest and wealthiest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

It is indeed intriguing, interesting.  Bob and I had visited Dubai many years ago, long before most people had even heard of it. Like Dubai back then, and now, construction and progress are everywhere in Abu Dhabi.

“For a time, both emirates seemed locked in a battle to build the most glittering skyline,” notes an article in Global Traveler.  “But lately, Abu Dhabi has deliberately repositioned itself as New York to Dubai’s Los Angeles.  Abu Dhabi serves as the commercial and cultural heart of the U.A.E., while Dubai remains more populist, with an economy centered on tourism and real estate.”ad,4

Nonetheless Abu Dhabi has its share of tourist attractions. The Emirates Palace, billed as a “7* luxury hotel,” is high on the  list. We wandered through the cavernous public areas of the $3 billion hotel, looking up and around at an abundance of  gold leaf and marble.  We had an expensive coffee amidst the posh surroundings. I asked where the gold bar vending machine ad.3was (mentioned in an NYT article), only to be told it had been removed.  Pity – that was my souvenir choice!

Fortunately taxis are reasonable in Abu Dhabi. There was nothing of interest within walking distance of our hotel, supposedly in a central location, and distances are vast.   Taxi driver Mohammed, an Indian from Kerala, took us to the sights.

He is one of 65 percent of Abu Dhabi residents who are foreigners, he told us. Fifty percent of the foreigners are Indians, and most, like Mohammed, are from Kerala in the southern part of the country.

Markets are my passion.  I asked him to show us the fish market. This was not the collection of stalls with fishermen selling their catches as I had envisioned, but  a huge warehouse with aisle after aisle of all sizes, shapes and varieties of sea creatures.  Mohammed knew many of the workers, all from Kerala.  We continued to the date market – another vast structure with nothing but dates – numerous different kinds. There too he had chums from Kerala.  One gave us a sample of chocolate covered dates – exquisite.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We continued to Heritage Village, an old fortress where the Abu Dhabi of bygone days with Bedouin tents and old stone houses has been recreated.  Artisans are at work in many enclosures.  I zeroed in on a purse in the leather workshop and tried to bargain with the shopkeeper, attired in the long traditional Muslim robe. I assumed he was a native.  No, he too was from India.

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Admiring glass creativity at Heritage Village

Foreign workers come to Abu Dhabi where earnings are good, work for several years, save and then return home, a Nigerian taxi driver explained.  He has a degree, but no jobs in Nigeria.

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Foreign workers on break at the fish market.

Abu Dhabi’s piece de resistance is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a dazzling edifice of domes, minarets, reflecting pools, crystal, marble…. materials from all corners of the globe. Elements of Moroccan, Persian and Arab styles blend in this monumental beauty.  Non-Muslim visitors are welcome. Like all female visitors, I was given a blue abaya to wear.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We wandered around with numerous other visitors all taking photos while Mohammed took time out to pray.ad.8

Other Abu Dhabi attractions include the Galleira, a luxury shopping mall, and Yas Waterworld, an amusement park with watery rides. We passed on both, but did ask to see the Yas Marina Circuit that hosts the Abu Dhabi Formula I Grand Prix. I had read that when races were not taking place you could experience the circuit at high speed as a race car passenger.  Yes, but arrangements must be made far in advance. I failed.

ad.15Instead Mohammed took us to nearby Ferrari World. We were content to amble around the mall and admire cars, although had we paid the expensive entrance fee we could have experienced high speed simulation drives.

Future Abu Dhabi visitors will enjoy major attractions on Saadiyat Island,  a $27 billion project that will include the first outpost of the Louvre outside of France, scheduled to open at the end of this year, a Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim museum, and much more.

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Family visit to Grand Mosque

The fall in the price of oil has delayed completion of these showpieces. Abu Dhabi has about a tenth of the world’s oil reserves which accounts for its wealth.   But, the reserves will decline and the emirate is preparing for life without oil.   Masdar City, a $22 billion project currently under construction, aims to create the world’s first carbon-neutral city powered almost entirely by solar and other renewable energy sources.ad.9

Abu Dhabi is worth a short visit, especially if you want to break up a long flight to Asia.  We found the people, namely foreign workers, all very friendly and helpful. Most speak English.  Because it is a Muslim country, alcoholic beverages are only served in international hotels.  All manner of ethnic restaurants abound.  We tried Thai, Italian, French , a British pub, but the favorite was Café Arabia with Lebanese, Syrian, Moroccan specialties and more.  I relished Palestinian Shakshuka, a spicy tomato, egg and feta combo.  See Today’s Taste, column upper right, for a recipe.

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