A Travellerspoint blog

August 2009

Sri Lanka - Colombo

sunny 33 °C

Sri Lanka. It is an island in the Indian Ocean, located to the South of India Subcontinent. Sprawling over the area of about 60,000 square kilometres, Sri Lanka with its tear dropped shape is dominated by the astonishingly varied features of topography. The pear-shaped island is consists mostly of flat to rolling coastal plains, with mountain rising in the south central part of the island.

I was there with two of my colleagues for a business trip in Aug 2004. We stayed at Ceylon Continental Hotel, Colombo for about three weeks and only managed to visit some of the interesting places during the weekends. I enjoyed my stay at the hotel, which was well maintained with its friendly and warm-hearted staffs. The hotel was strategically located near the heart of the city facing the Indian Ocean and it was really convenience for us to move around the town with the taxis or the local transportation like “tuk tuk” in Thailand.

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Let’s me talk about Colombo. It is the capital or Sri Lanka. Being the largest city in the country, it is quite congested, noisy, frenetic, and a little bit of frenzied. In fact, I dun really like the hustle and bustle of the city as it made me felt complicated. However, the diverse cultures and the major attractions there just made me keep going and to love the place. The city holds a lot of interest as we can see a lot of interesting places, culture, art and people around the there that will easily captured the heart of tourist like myself. Colombo is the country’s business centre, which has department stores, shops, business centres, banks and a lot more. In addition, other significant buildings like the parliaments, Central Bank and the World Trade Centre twin towers proudly stand there. There are also ample sights such as the clock tower. A former light house, the president’s residence and a cluster of colonial building, which lend the district an aura of bygone Empire.

I remember that there was a hotel by the name of Galle Face, which is more than a century old. This hotel is established in 1864 and soon became and continues to become one of the unique, exclusive and exquisite hotels in Colombo. We managed to try the elevator that was operated manually by the hotel staffs, which we will not able to find it elsewhere. It was an interesting visit for us. However, due to the strong colonial feel, the hotel did send some chill to my spine.

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We went to Kandy during one of the weekends. We wanted to take a break from all the stress of the work there. Kandy is one of Sri Lanka hill capital that is located about 500 metres above the sea level and the city is acclaimed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Sri Lanka. The focal point of the town is the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. However, we did not enter to the 15th century temple where the sacred tooth was enshrined as it was too commercialized. We were required to pay a certain fees to enter the temple. After deep thoughts, we just ignored the plan to visit the temple and walked around the town. Also, we managed to try out the traditional costumes at one of the shop there.

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We also went to the botanical garden and elephant sanctuary, which were very interesting to us. The Botanical Garden was situated near to Kandy, about 5-6 kilometers. Based on the brochure and travel information, this garden dates from 14th century reign of King Vikrama Bahu III. It provides spectacular and extraordinary beauty for nature lovers as well as casual visitors like us. Also, it is well know for it's large variety of plants ornaments, useful machine and other creepers that produce the special spices at Sri Lanka including those use for Ayurveda treatments. While exploring the place, we could see the great lawns that highlights the huge tropical trees and trees with amazing roots that help the trees to expand its size.

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As mentioned earlier, we also managed to make a side trip to the Elephant Sanctuary. It's more known as Elephant Orphanage and located about 70 Kilometres away from Colombo. Upon entering the place, we could see elephants as well as jumbos wondering around the place. We also had the experience to witness the bottle feeding for baby elephant. It was too bad that I did not capture those pictures. At least during the bathing sessions (two sessions a day - 10 am and 2pm), I managed to snap a few pictures for memories. It's definitely a place that will give us all the fond memories about elephants.

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Among other interesting places visited by us was the Sigiriya Rock. This ancient architecture was acclaimed to be the Eight Wonder of the Ancient World. I suppose this it is one of the world heritage sites, which need to preserve for the future generations appreciation.

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The Complex consists of the central rock, rising 200 meters above the surrounding plain, and the two rectangular precincts on the east (90 hectares) and the west (40 hectares), surrounded by two moats and three ramparts. The plan of the city is based on a precise square module. The layout extends outwards from co-ordinates at the centre of the palace complex at the summit, with the eastern and western axis directly aligned to it. The water garden, moats and ramparts are based on an “echo plan” duplicating the layout and design on either side. This city still displays its skeletal layout and its significant features. 3 km from east to west and 1 km from north to south it displays the grandeur and complexity of urban-planning in 5th century Sri Lanka.
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Sigiriya dates back from over 7,000 years ago, through Pre-Historic to Proto-Historic to Early Historic times, then as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 3rd century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees to the sangha. The garden city and the palace was built by Kasyapa 477 - 495 AD. Then after Kasyapa's death it was a monastery complex up to about the 14th century.
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The Mahavamsa, the ancient historical record of Sri Lanka, describes King Kasyapa as a parricide, who murdered his father King Dhatusena by walling him up alive and then usurping the throne, which rightfully belonged to his brother Mogallana. To escape from the armies of Mogallana, Kasyapa is said to have built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya, but Mogallana finally managed to get to Kasyapa and he committed suicide.
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However, there is also another version of the Kasyapa story, related by one of the most eminent historians of Sri Lanka, Prof. Senerat Paranavitana. He claims to have deciphered the story of Sigiry, written by a monk named Ananda in the 15th cent. AD. This work had been inscribed on stone slabs, over which later inscriptions had been written. Till to date no other epigraphist has made a serious attempt to read the interlinear inscriptions.

Since Sigiriya was abandoned after Kasyapa’s death, visitors had been attracted to it from around the 6th century till about the 13th century. They had come to see the paintings and the palace on the summit and the garden below, even as they do today. Inspired by the wonder they saw, they transferred their thoughts into poetry, which they wrote on the Mirror Wall (The term Mirror Wall is an attempt at translating the word used by the ancient writers)
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Most of these graffiti were addressed to the ladies in the paintings. Paranavitana, has studied these writings in detail in his masterpiece "Sigiri Graffiti", describing the people who had written them, their ideas, their way of life and the grammer and style of a period ranging over a span of over eight centuries.

The most significant feature of the Rock would have been the Lion staircase leading to the palace garden on the summit. Based on the ideas described in some of the graffiti, this Lion staircase could be visualised as a gigantic figure towering majestically against the granite cliff, facing north, bright coloured, and awe-inspiring.

Through the open mouth of the Lion had led the covered staircase built of bricks and timber and a tiled roof. All that remains now are the two colossal paws and a mass of brick masonry that surround the ancient limestone steps and the cuts and groves on the rock face give an idea of the size and shape of the lion figure
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Though traces of plaster and pigments occur all over this area, only two pockets of paintings survive. These are in a depression of the rock face, about a 100 meters above the ground level. These paintings represent the earliest surviving examples of a Sri Lanka school of classical realism, already fully evolved by the 5th century, when these paintings had been made. Earlier the Sigiri style had been considered as belonging to the Central Indian school of Ajanta, but later considered as specifically different from the Ajanta paintings. The ladies depicted in the paintings have been variously identified as Apsaras (heavenly maidens), as ladies of Kasyapas court and as Lightening Princess and Cloud Damsels.

There are also remains of paintings in some of the caves at the foot of the rock. Of special significance is the painting on the roof of the Cobra Hood Cave. The cave with its unique shape dates from the pre-christian era. The painting combines geometrical shapes and motifs with a free and complex rendering of characteristic volute or whorl motifs. It is nothing less than a masterpiece of expressionist painting.
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In fact whenever, I came across anything about Sri Lanka, this magnificent piece of art from the past will just run wild in my mind. Visiting the Lion Rock, the citadel of Sigiriya is a must for all visitors so that they will have the opportunity to let their imagination runs wild in this picturesque and unique place and try to feel the flamboyant lifestyle of the King at that time.

Time to leave. It's a great place to shop as well. It was evidenced by the baggage that we were bringing back home then.
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Posted by terrence79 23:03 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged ecotourism Comments (7)

Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

First Trip Conquering Mount Kinabalu

sunny 4 °C

Mount Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s highest mountain at about 4,093 metres above the sea level. This place is the crown of the Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia’s World Heritage site located about 2 hours from the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu (KK). This majestic and awesome mountain is one of the premier destinations for thousands for visitors around the world.

My first visit to Mount KK was in year 2005 right before the Chinese New Year during one of my business trip there. I managed to book the trip with a few of my ex-colleagues then - Eric, Kit Lee, Gan, Dennis and Roland. Six of us took up the challenges to conquer the highest peak in the region and it was a worthwhile and unforgettable moments for all of us. Roland is a local native of Sabah who made the arrangement for the trip. He managed to get us very good price then. It was just less than RM200 for the whole 2D1N expedition.

As the distance of the standard start up point for Mount Kinabalu is via the Kinabalu Summit Trail at Kinabalu National Park, (approx 1600m above the sea level), We had to wake up very early on that very morning. We travelled about 2 hours from KK town to Kinabalu Park and had a stopover along the way for breakfast and gulped the fresh air. As we were enjoying the aromatic coffee, we took some time to appreciate the beautiful mountain terrains. I was amazed by the magnificent view of the mountain.
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Upon reaching Kinabalu Park, we went to the registration counter to get all the necessary documentation, i.e. climbing permit, mountain guide, and etc. A lots of people queuing up to get the documentation / registration done. We proceeded to Timpohon Gate, which was about 30 minutes away after all registration was completed.

We started our journey from Timpohon Gate and there was a chart, which was located near the entrance with the records of people who reached the peak within the shortest period of time. The shortest time to reach the peak from the gate is about an hour. That was pretty amazing. An average person will takes about 5-6 hours to reach Laban Rata at approximately 3,272 metres above the sea level where the accommodations for Mount Kinabalu are located. In their annual mountain climbing competition, the participants managed to conquer the peak and return to the Gate in about 2 hours only!!!

From the Timpohon Gate, we followed the crest of a narrow ridge that dips down onto the main slips of Mount Kinabalu itself. Not long after that, we reached a scenic but small waterfall known as Carson’s Fall that was named after the first warden of the Park.
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We did not carry too much of water with us as along the way, we could get fresh natural mountain water to refresh the body and to refill out body's "water tank". A sip of the mountain water really refreshing and it was “sweet” in taste. In fact, I drank a lot of the mountain water that energised me throughout the way to the mountain. Of course, the chocolate bars also continuously provide me with the necessary calories to continue my journey. We have few stops along the way to re-energise our body... It helped a lot.
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Around 12pm we reached Laban Rata after such a strenuous journey. In fact, we were so relieved that we could rest very very soon. After resting a while we proceed to the Rest House (approx 3,272.7 metres above sea level) for lunch. It’s another hundreds of metres away, I supposed. As the body was too tired we just could not move speedily though we were extremely hungry...craving for the food.....
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All of us took fried rice or noodles for lunch and then checked-in to the room at Gunting Lagadan Hut, which located further up from the rest house. There was a small trail and some steps built by the operator to ease the trekking from the rest house to the Hut. The Hut was situated at 3,323.5metres above the sea level. It was a big dorm with 60 beds, whereby 2 double-deckers is placed in each of the room. Basic cooking utilities and common bathrooms with hot shower were provided to the occupants. It was a new experience for me to take the shower in such a chilly weather.

The scenic view from Gunting Lagadan was amazing and wonderful. The clouds that scattered down under the Rest House give me a peaceful kind of feelings. Looking at the sea of clouds down under my feet I just felt great and wonderful. I sat at the lounge area enjoying the scenic view and wonderous mother's nature. This breezy atmosphere made me felt satisfied and all the efforts taken to reach here were worthwhile. As the night was approaching and the temperature getting colder, I moved back to my room and prepared to rest and got ready for my final expedition for the next day.
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We woke up around 1.30am and it was damn cold and I had wore a few layers of clothes to warm up the body. We took some noodles and prepared for the trekking that was scheduled to start around 2am. We started the journey around 2.15am and I reach the peak at about 4.30am. The summit, which was called Low’s Peak, named after the British colonial officer Sir Hugh Low, supposedly the first person to conquer Mount Kinabalu. The final journey to the summit which was shorter but was more challenging than the initial track as the air was thinner near the peak and may resulted in difficulty in breathing.
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As we moved nearer to the peak, no more steps for us and on the stone or granite I supposed portion of the ascent, thick nylon ropes were laid down to mark the route so that the climbers would not got lost in the fog as certain time the blurry vision along the way was quite dangerous. I used the rope to assist me all the way to the peak. Out trip was a lucky one as the weather was very good and the full moon had brightened the trail for us made the journey easier. I felt so close to the moon as I reached the peak.
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It was one of my greatest achievements to be the first one to reach the peak. We stayed there for more than an hour to see the sunrise. I was captivated by the ray of lights that slowly reach us from the far east of the horizon. As the day was getting brighter, it gave us the opportunity to observe the surrounding and appreciate its beauty, e.g. the beautiful rocks around me, the serenity of the area that calms me down. Standing at the Low's peak, give us the feelings like on the top of the world.
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It was a great trip for that year. In fact, on the following year I went there again using another trail - Mersilau Trail. It's worth a second visit...

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Posted by terrence79 22:45 Archived in Malaysia Tagged hitchhiking Comments (0)

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