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Trip Report The Princess Journeys To Sri Lanka and South India

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The Indian subcontinent is indeed an alluring place: It features ladies in gorgeous saris and bangle bracelets, intricate carvings at ancient sites, cows and goats competing with cars on a busy street, and a way of life that has, in some ways, stayed the same for centuries. On this trip, I decided to visit both Sri Lanka and South India, because they are close geographically, and seemed to pair nicely. When my son and I returned from our 2009 trip to North India, our wonderful neighbor, Padmini, who is from South India, insisted that I visit her home area because, she said, "The architecture is pure Indian, and not Moghal." So I heeded her advice, and off I went.


First of all, I can't thank all of you enough for your planning help. I am so fond of all of you, and appreciative. Here is a brief outline of the itinerary.

NEGOMBO, SRI LANKA - Friday, September 1 for one night

DAMBULLA, SRI LANKA - Saturday, September 2 for four nights (as base for Cultural Triangle and Minnerya elephant reserve)

NUWARA ELIYA - Wednesday, September 6 for two nights

SINHARAJA - Friday, September 8 for two nights

COCHIN - Sunday, September 10 for two nights

ALLEPPEY - Tuesday, September 12 for two nights

MADURAI - Thursday, September 14 for three nights

CHETTINAD - Sunday, September 17 for two nights

TANJORE - Tuesday, September 19 for two nights (day trip to Trichy)

TIRUVANNAMALAI - Thursday, September 21 for two nights

My peeps:

My driver, Steven (Chaminda), in Sri Lanka, was excellent, but it was very different than travelling with a formal agency. He has a degree in history, and acted as a guide as well. I truly appreciated having him with me while hiking in rainy Horton Plains, as he offered a hand on slippery rocks, and kept me from getting lost, or scared. He has a small agency, with five other drivers that he uses. He ate dinner and lunch with me everyday, which was nice, but different. He wanted to be my pal, rather than just my driver.

[email protected]

One of my favorite days was spent in Cochin with tuk tuk driver Saneesh Kuku. We spent an amazing, intense five hours together, and he took me to a laundry, a spice market to watch ladies sort out ginger root, and the synagogue, where I met Sarah, the oldest member of the tiny Jewish community there. We are both Kohens, meaning that we are direct descendants of a tribe of Israel, so it was especially thrilling to meet her.

Saneesh Kuku

+91 98950 42863 (Also on What's Ap with same number)

I used Indian Panorama for my entire South Indian trip. You cannot buy their services a la carte--you must stay in their hotels, and use their car and driver. My driver was fantastic--his name is Pallini. At first, I thought the pace was too slow, so I talked to my husband, who suggested I explain that I can do more each day, and that's what I did. Looking back, it's probably important to talk right away, up front, with a driver hired via a third party, to explain your travel style. Oh, and Tim, who is the planner for Indian Panorama, has the patience of a saint, and helped me put together a trip well suited to my interests.

[email protected]

Sri Lanka likes:

I adored the whole area around Dambulla and Sigiriya. Both ladies and men dress traditionally, and were extra friendly. Ladies always smiled at me, and of course, I smiled back. Ritigala was a highlight, as the setting was beautiful. I am so glad I went on the short, but nice elephant safari in Minnerya. I used my binoculars, and patiently observed the interactions in the herd. I was fascinated with the bugs, plants, and elephant footprints in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. It's actually a primary rainforest, and the government had the foresight to preserve it decades ago. We went to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy en route to Nuwara Eliya, and I found the museum fascinating. I regret not staying overnight in order to watch the evening ceremony. The history of the tooth relic is so fascinating, and I recommend spending a good two hours in the museum at the temple.

Most importantly, I liked meeting the locals. The first day, I explained to Steven that I preferred surprises to monuments. I think I confused him, because he said, "There are no surprises in Sri Lanka." It took awhile, but he caught on that I meant spontaneously talking to locals. Shortly thereafter, we began stopping to talk to farmers and other people in front of their homes. For example, we stopped at a house where a man was building a roof made of cinnamon wood. He was a peppercorn farmer, and he showed the the drying peppercorns, and explained the process.

Sri Lanka not like so much:

Yes, I knew about the hefty admission fees for foreigners, but I did not realize that there was a charge for every tiny, minor Buddhist temple. Steven wanted me to see a unique, carved Buddha en route to Annapurna, but really, seven dollars, for one Buddha? We stopped at several other temples as well, and I could not help from being a little annoyed.

I am a really adventurous eater, having grown up in Los Angeles eating all sorts of exotic foods. However, Steven asked me at the beginning if I wanted to eat at tourist restaurants, or would I prefer to eat with the locals, but in clean restaurants? Of course I wanted to eat like a local! Well, it turns out that virtually every lunch was buffet, and boy, the spices were way too strong for me. The non-spicy foods contained a strong, bitter herb (I forgot the name). Usually, the dhal (lentil) curry was edible, but it was getting a bit monotonous after awhile. I only ate vegetarian on this trip for safety reasons.

Two sites were disappointing. Sigiriya was amazing, but the climb up was a big mess, due to huge lines. I didn't time the climb, but I know it took more than two hours because of the lines. I suggest going right when it opens at 7:30 AM. At Horton Plains, Little World's End and Big World's End were completely fogged in. However, I enjoyed the hike, nonetheless, particularly the gorgeous waterfall.. Steven is a huge Eagles fan, so we sang, "Hotel California" while he hiked.

Wow, the not like list seems longer than the like list, but I really did enjoy Sri Lanka. The people were amazing, and it's a fascinating and diverse country.

India likes:

I enjoyed the state of Kerala immensely. My favorite day was actually my first day in India, when Saneesh showed me the sites of Cochin. Afterwards, I strolled around for a couple of hours, then my driver, Pallini, picked my up at 4:30 PM to watch the make up application for the dance show. Pallini patiently waited for me, and then drove me to a vegetarian restaurant that was an hour away. The previous night, right after I arrived, we drove to another vegetarian restaurant, also an hour away. I spoke to my older son, and he said, "With all the vegetarians in South India, why did you have to drive an hour for dinner?" I think Pallini wanted me to have what he considered the best and cleanest food.

I enjoyed my two nights in Alleppey on the river. I took a public ferry, and also the hotel had nightly sunset boat rides, which I took twice. In between, I walked quite a bit, and I found the people wonderful, as there were no beggars. I actually took a five hour walk on the second day, and I met many nice people. All in all, Kerala seemed easy, breezy, and that part of the trip was over way too soon.

Tamil Nadu was fascinating, and my favorite part was the two walking tours arranged by Indian Panorama. Kartek, who works in the local Madurai office, took me on a sunset food safari, and a sunrise walking tour. The tours were more fascinating than visiting any monument, and I wish that I could have had similar experiences in other cities. Kartek was so fascinating in his presentation, by explaining that certain foods are good for the pancreas. Pancreas, really?

At my older son's suggestion, I sat in the front with Pallini so that I could get a better view. Driving in India is like a surreal video game--there are cars, walking cattle, trucks carrying cattle, ox carts, and motorcycles. While in Madurai, where traffic is heavy, I asked Pallini if the same drivers were going in circles just for amusement. I don't think he got my humor. It's quite a fascinating experience watching who and what is on the road with you, and I recommend sitting in the front, no extra charge.

India not like so much:

I enjoyed the temples in Tamil Nadu, but I thought they got a wee bit monotonous after a awhile. Non-Hindus are not allowed in the inner sanctuaries, so tourists are confined to simply look at the architecture. Looking back, I would have preferred to spend a bit more time in Kerala, and a little less in Tamil Nadu.

Oh, and did I mention the schmutz and the begging? I do find India fascinating, but it is not the cleanest place I have ever been. I did not encounter any beggars in Kerala, but they were everywhere in Tamil Nadu. All the young guys wanted to take selfies with me--I mentioned this to my younger son, and he told me to start charging a fee. Maybe I could have paid for my trip that way.

In summary, I would call it a great trip.

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