Tonlé Sap – a photo tour

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On our last day in Siem Reap, we had requested our guide to take us to a floating village. He took us on a boat trip on Tonlé Sap, a seasonally inundated fresh water lake which is an UNESCO biosphere reserve. This was the lake that maintained the Angkorean empire and to this day, affects the lives of rural population. The houses have been built on stilts to withstand the seasonal surge of the river.

Here’s my photo story of life on the lake.

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Have you visited a floating village? What has your experience been like?

[I am linking this post to:

*Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World]
Wanderful Wednesday

Exploring Pettah

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I have never been a fan of the crowds and traffic congestion in and around Pettah, Colombo, so have mostly avoided it, until and unless I have to go there for a specific purpose such as catching an inter-city train or bus.

So, if you are like me, someone who avoids congested routes but still interested in seeing some of the historical sites within Pettah and at its outer edges, I would recommend the following walking route on a weekend morning or late afternoon. Weekends are relatively quieter in Pettah than weekdays.

The best place to start a walk through Pettah is at the Khan clock tower, at one end of Colombo 11.

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Khan clock tower

The clock tower was built by the Khan family of Bombay in 1923 for the people of Colombo. Walking around the clock tower, take the Main Street (which was known as the King’s Street during the Dutch colonial period). The Main Street is packed with shops selling clothing and can be a good bargain for those looking to buy sarees and kurta tops.

I suggest a mini detour, via 1st cross street, to visit the Dutch museum on Prince Street.

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Dutch museum

The Dutch museum used to be the Dutch Governor’s residence in the country. It does not have much in the way of artifacts to exhibit or stories about the lives of its former residents, though the building in itself is quite interesting.

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View of building from the inner courtyard

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Inner courtyard at Dutch museum

It is a pity that the Dutch museum does not reach up to its potential and that it is in a dilapidated condition now. I would very much like to see the Dutch Burgher Union, for example, take a hand in making it a more interactive type of museum.

After your visit to the Dutch museum, return to Main Street via 2nd Cross street and continue your walk.

Look to your left for the beautiful red mosque.

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Red mosque

The Jami Ul-Alfar mosque, more commonly known as the red mosque, was built by the Muslim community in Pettah in 1909.

Continuing on the main street, look to your right when you reach the intersection of the 4th Cross street. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, you will see an old bell tower. The bell is supposedly from an old Portuguese church from the 16th century. The Dutch had it installed at the Kayman’s gate bell tower, at the foot of Wolvendaal hill.

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Kayman’s gate

Continue along Main Street and you will find the old town hall and market on your right. The town hall was built in the 19th century during the British colonial period. One can ask to see inside the old town hall.

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Old Town Hall

From the old town hall, continue on Sea Street for a very short distance before turning onto Sir Ratnajothi Saravanamuttu Mawatha. Continue walking until you reach Wolvendaal church or the Dutch Reformed Church, which is actually within the Colombo 13 zone (Kotahena).

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Wolvendaal Church

The church is the 2nd oldest church built by the Dutch in Sri Lanka, the oldest one is at the Galle fort.

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Wolvendaal Church facade

The building of the church was initiated in 1749 by the Dutch United East India Company, Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC). The doorway to the church still has the same old lock and the church has a lot of interesting tombstones within its premises.

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VoC logo on the church gate

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Tombstone at the church

There is a small inner room with a gallery of old paintings and photos that are open to visitors and church society members are generally happy to answer your questions provided that they are not preparing for services.

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Photo gallery at Wolvendaal church

After exploring the Dutch Reformed church/ Wolvendaal church, walk down Vivekananda hill until you reach K.B.Christie Perera Mawatha. Walk a little to your left and continue along Jampettah Lane.

The front entrance of Ponnambala Vaneswara temple is on Jampettah lane. This Hindu temple for Shiva is an interesting temple with an interior built entirely from black granite, giving it the feel of an ancient South Indian stone temple. Originally built in 1856 by Ponnambalam Mudliyar, it was rebuilt in granite by his son, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. The best times for visiting this temple is before 11 am and after 4 pm.

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Ponnamabala Vaneswaram

Exit the temple, via its back entrance onto Shrimath Ramanathan Mawatha and walk towards the church that you see on your left hand. St. Anthony’s church is considered a powerful church where people of all religious faith visit and make fervent prayers. During the Dutch colonial period when Catholicism was banned from the island and priests carried out sermons from hiding places, Fr. Antonio supposedly masked himself as a merchant. The Dutch subsequently had found out and came in search of him. He found refuge with a fishing community who asked him to do something about the sea erosion. According to the church website, a miracle happened after Fr. Antonio planted a cross and prayed at the beach and the sea receded. The fishing folk were converted and the Dutch authorities gained some respect for the priest and allocated some land for him to carry out his sermons. The current church is in the same premises where Fr. Antonio started openly having his sermons. He brought an image of Anthony of Padua and installed it in the church. When he passed away, Fr. Antonio was buried within the church.

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St. Anthony’s church

I am sure you would want to have some refreshments after all this walking and exploration. I would recommend trying out Sri Suryas, a vegetarian restaurant right next to Kathiresan kovil on Sea Street and within a short walking distance from St Anthony’s. Do try out their delicious Chennai style filter coffee and tasty vadai, which is a lovely way to end your walking tour of Pettah and the edges of Kotahena or a refreshing stop before you explore the streets of Pettah more.

[I am linking this post to City Tripping#41, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels]

Wander Mum

Special Six: Beijing Experiences

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During my travel around China with half my APLP cohort, I had the opportunity to explore a little of Beijing in-between our meetings and discussions. So, in addition to the must visit Forbidden City and some of the places in our Discover Beijing challenge, I highly recommend the following special six Beijing experiences which I enjoyed most.

1. Relax at the Summer Palace

We had a free morning on the day of my birthday so some of us decided to visit the Summer palace. After a delicious breakfast of steamed dumplings at a local specialty breakfast place, we took two cabs to the palace ensuring that one of the two Chinese speaking people in our group was in each of the two cabs. After getting our tickets, we walked around the summer palace.

The summer palace, a World Heritage site, has its origins dating back to the 12th century Jin dynasty though subsequent dynasties have added to the original structures and landscape designs of the 2.9 square kilometres palace area.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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After wandering around the temple and going up to the summit of the Longevity hill, we walked down to the lake area, where the boats were. A few of us decided to go for a boat ride on a self-paddling boat,instead of waiting in the long queues for the large dragon boats.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Despite the heavy smog, I enjoyed my visit to the Summer Palace. The palace had a very pleasant and tranquil vibe and I would recommend walking around the palace and taking the boat trip on Kunming lake.

2. Visit Peking University 

Peking University in Haidian district is considered China’s leading university and it has a very interesting history. It is China’s first modern national university founded in 1898. It replaced the ancient Imperial Academy, as part of the hundred days’ reform. Therefore, the university campus area has an interesting mix of ancient structures and modern buildings which make it a very fascinating place to visit.

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I was most intrigued by the beautiful lake, as you can see from my photos above.

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I was also fascinated by the pretty buildings with their intricate roofing and creepers weaving themselves along the walls and the green trees besides them.

3. Enjoy a special dining experience at the Red Capital Club

The Red Capital Club at 66 Dongsi Jiutiao Dongcheng district is an interesting dining venue in a historical Hutong neighbourhood. Said to have been the former home of a Manchu princess, the club has been restored and designed to preserve the lovely architecture as well as create a museum dedicated foremost to the Communist party of the 1950s as well as a tribute to the Qing dynasty. The club is a kind of living museum and one can choose to stay at the place or just enjoy a meal and explore the club’s public rooms.

According to Lawrence Brahm, the founder of the red capital heritage foundation, who also founded the NGO Himalayan Consensus Institute in 2005 and the Shambala Serai Group of social enterprises in 2011, the foundation established in 1999 is the first social enterprise in Beijing. The Foundation restored a few homes, including the club venue, in the Dongsi neighbourhood and converted them to sustainable businesses, which has led to the heritage protection order being given for the neighbourhood.

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Photo credit: Michelle Taminato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Michelle Taminato

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Photo credit: Michelle Taminato

The restaurant menu is in line with the theme and boasts of using recipes that were favourites of Chinese leaders across the centuries.

4. Browse through the collection at Bookworm, a delightful bookstore

Bookworm at Nan Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang district, is a place with a lovely vibe. It is a coffee shop/ English bookstore/ library/ event space all rolled into one store. We were there on the afternoon of my birthday, for a little gathering held at the event space of the store. While waiting for the event to start, I enjoyed browsing through the books as well as enjoying my coffee and tiramisu treat.

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5. Walk around an old Hutong 

During our time in Beijing, we stayed in an old Hutong neighbourhood. While hutongs are considered to have been introduced in the 13th century, they obtained a distinctive flavour during the Ming dynasty when neighbourhoods were planned in concentric circles with the Forbidden city at the center and the aristocrats and high ranking officials closer to the Forbidden city and the merchants and artisans in the furthermost circles.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

While many hutongs have now given way to modernization and been replaced by modern buildings, there are still some old Hutong neighbourhoods and if you decide to stay in a guesthouse in such a neighbourhood, you are in for a special treat as you walk around the old neighbourhood.

6. Enjoy a traditional tea experience

We had our final morning in Beijing free for doing anything we left for the last minute. Our group broke up into smaller groups to go for some sightseeing or shopping, as per their interest. I was not in the mood for sightseeing or shopping but I was interested in visiting a traditional tea house, before we left China. My room-mate decided to join me in this little trip to Lao She tea house, near Tiananmen square. The tea house is named after the Chinese novelist, Lao She, who was famous for his 1957 play ‘Teahouse’.

The tea house was an interesting experience and I enjoyed the jasmine green tea, which was in the form of a dried ball that blossomed as hot water was poured over it.

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My recommendation is that you do go through the tea menu carefully and ask for recommendations from the tea guide as the tea sold here is very expensive and several are along the USD 500 price range. I personally preferred to focus on the tea as it is an experience in itself and forego the food or snacks or the theatre performance, which can add to your hefty bill. After trying out this special flower tea, I simply had to splurge on a small gift box for home.

Have you tried any of these six special experiences? Which experience was your favourite or which would you like to try out?

[I am linking this post to
*Monday Escapes #41, hosted by My Travel Monkey and Packing My Suitcase
**City Tripping #40, hosted by Mummy Travels and Wander Mum
***Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World ]

Travel Monkey

Wander MumWanderful Wednesday

An afternoon in the Forbidden City

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The Forbidden City, a World heritage site since 1987, was the site of the Chinese Imperial Palace from the 15th century Ming Dynasty to early 20th century Qing dynasty. The Forbidden City houses the Palace museum, one of the most visited museums in the world. As the Forbidden City contains around 1000 buildings, one would need to visit the place over a few days to visit them all. My friends and I simply walked along the central axis from the south gate to the north gate taking in the structures along the way.

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Close up view of the city wall and its intricate roofing

Walking into the outer city through the Meridian Gate, one has a a lovely view of the Gate of Supreme Harmony. During the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held morning court sessions with his Ministers here while in the later Qing dynasty, it was used for ceremonial functions only.

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view of the Gate of Supreme Harmony from the courtyard of the outer city

I saw the movie ‘The Last Emperor’ after my visit but I would recommend your seeing it before your visit to the Forbidden City, if you haven’t seen it yet. The movie, filmed mostly at the Forbidden City, provides an interesting glimpse into the life of the last Emperor of China, who abdicated in 1912.

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Bridge over the Inner Golder Water river

Crossing the little bridge, we entered the Gate of Supreme Harmony to come across the center of the complex, three halls on a marble terrace. The largest, the Hall of the Supreme Harmony was the venue of important official ceremonies.

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Sun dial on the terrace of the Hall of Supreme Harmony

Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the smaller Hall of Central Harmony, where the Emperor used to rest before or between ceremonies. The third of the halls in this square is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which was used for rehearsing ceremonies.

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Throne at the Hall for Preserving Harmony

Beyond the Hall for Preserving Harmony is the inner city, the home of the Emperor and his family. The center of the inner city had another set of three halls – the Palace of Heavenly Purity which was the official residence of the Emperor, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, the official residence of the Empress and between the two halls was the Hall of Union.

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Palace of Heavenly Purity

Walking beyond the inner city halls, we came across the Imperial Garden. A key hall within this garden is the Hall of Imperial Peace.

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I found that I liked the Imperial Garden best because it not only seemed tranquil, but also had the atmosphere that people had been happier here than they had been in the ceremonial halls in the outer and inner courts.

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My friends, Michelle and Emma, were happy to reach the end of our walk through the Forbidden City and eager to find some place to eat as they had skipped lunch and were very hungry.

Exiting the Forbidden City at the north end, we came across a major bus stop as there were many numbers marked on the road and different buses would stop at the number corresponding to its bus number. Intrigued, we decided to take a bus to ‘Wangfujing’, as I recollected it was a shopping area nearby and bound to have restaurants.  After talking to other commuters, we found that the bus to Wangfujing was 103 so we waited at the stop, which had the number marked on the road. However, when a bus which was not 103 came by, some of the people we had asked earlier indicated that we should get in. To make sure that that bus went to Wangfujing, I asked the driver, “Wangfujing?” and he nodded but didn’t take the money I gave for our three tickets. He pointed to the back so we went in. There was a person shouting at the back, which was presumably the conductor of the bus. It was not really different from the crowded Sri Lankan public buses, where the ticket conductor would keep shouting for people to move so that more people could be fit in yet remember with ease if each passenger had paid for their tickets and not. So, the experience was not a culture shock to me as it was for my two friends.

We were not sure which stop we had to get down and we knew it was not so far away from the Forbidden City stop so we kept asking if it was the stop for Wangfujing at intervals. When we came past an area, where we saw a sign on one of the stores that said in English ‘Wangfujing road’, we immediately got out of the bus at the next stop and and walked along the main road till we came across a restaurant. We walked into it and found that the staff were undergoing a briefing and prep talk by their manager before the restaurant opened for the evening but they were courteous and asked us to come and sit inside and gave us the menu. Fortunately, there were English names printed under the Chinese names and we were able to order our dinner without problems.

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After dinner, when we emerged from the restaurant, we saw the pedestrian street across the restaurant was lined with lighted stalls and crowded with people. We decided to walk across the street, which I later learnt was the Wangfujing snack street located in Dongcheng district. A place where commercial activity has taken place since Ming dynasty. Though we did not feel like eating, as we had just had a full dinner, we decided to try out one of the candied fruits.

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I would recommend eating at Wangfujing snack street so you will need to time your visit there as it seems to come alive only after 6pm.

We decided to take the cab back to our hutong. This was the first time that we were taking a cab without a Chinese speaking friend in the cab with us but we felt ok as we did have the hotel card, written in Chinese, with us. We did find it difficult to get a cab to stop for us though and several of the cabs quoted an inflated price of 100 yuan for the ride back to our Hutong. After refusing a few cabs, we finally managed to negotiate the price down to 60 yuan. We were quite proud that we had managed to negotiate with a cab driver, who didn’t know English, using some basic Chinese words mainly numbers and short phrases that we had learnt during our stay.

This little half-day trip during our stay in Beijing was a memorable one.

[I am linking this post to:

*City Tripping #39, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels]

Wander Mum

A hike across the Great Wall of China

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Sometimes one knows when to push oneself beyond one’s limits and sometimes not. Ever since my 2005 road traffic accident, I have found that I am reluctant to push myself beyond my perceived limits in walking as it has always ended in a lot of pain. As this adversely affects travel experiences and that of my travel companions, I tend to avoid pushing at my limits especially when I am in a group. I also have a fear of re-injuring my leg, in a difficult to access region or a place, without facilities to treat me in case of another accident.

So by the time the end of our group’s three week travel around China was in sight and I ended up with not only a fever and nasty sore throat but also fatigue and leg pain, I decided that I would not exert myself the last couple of days. However, I was hoping to do one last walk on the trip – a hike across the Great Wall.

We took the bus from Beijing to Dongpo village, where we were accommodated in a simple home stay/ guesthouse.

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Stacked corn at the village

When we reached the village at the foot of the Great Wall in the afternoon, we found it was colder there than it had been in Beijing. After some coffee, the group decided to go for a sunset hike. I initially tried to go on that short hike but just a few minutes after we started, I was finding it more and more painful to walk so I took a photo of my friends continuing the hike and returned to the guesthouse.

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Hiking around Dongpo village

I enjoyed sitting in the courtyard resting my leg, while attempting to make friends with the little dog under the chair, and watching the sun set over the hills.

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When the others returned from their sunset hike, we had a lovely sumptuous dinner following which the hosts started a bonfire outside.

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Our sleeping space was in tiny rooms where six mattresses had been placed on a concrete platform in each room. The platform had smoldering coals underneath them to warm up the sleeping space. We had to sleep like packed sardines so it made for an uncomfortable night.

I woke up very sick and with a lot of pain in my leg and I knew that I would not be able to keep up with the others on a hike across the Great Wall. I told myself that I did experience a lovely home stay at a village at the foot of the Great Wall and had experienced lovely views of the wall in the distance. After everyone had left on the hike, I completed my packing and waited for the cars that would leave with our bags to the meeting point with the hikers. I was enjoying my coffee when three of my friends, including a staff, returned. In some ways, it is nice to have company rather than being alone when you are feeling a little down. We decided to play a game of cards till our departure time, which was a lot of fun.

When it was time to leave the guesthouse, the hosts offered us some ‘baijiu’ (Chinese beer) and the others encouraged me to try a sip as well, suggesting that it would be better for my throat. I tried a sip of the bitter, pungent concoction which was my first introduction to beer. I did feel slightly better as the drink burned my throat but the taste put me off beer that I didn’t attempt a second taste till several years had passed.

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Gretchen’s reaction to baijiu

We went with the hosts in their car to the point where our bus was parked and transferred to the bus. The bus took us to one of the entrances of the Great wall. I initially assumed we would be waiting at a restaurant at the entrance, and the others would join us for lunch after their hike, but I found myself following the others on a walk to the base of some steps leading upward to the Great wall. One of our mini-group members decided to go up the steps and meet up with the rest of the group. When walking back to the restaurant area, we passed the cable car ticket counter and the staff with us suggested we take the cable car up the mountain, since we had come all the way to the great wall and it would be a pity if we at least didn’t take a photo on top of the wall. Tempted, we agreed and took the cable car up.

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As we were in the cable car going up the mountain, we learnt that the rest of the group had begun their descent down the steps. We took some photos at the viewpoint at the top. I was happy that we had made it to a tiny portion of the Great Wall and it was amazing seeing the wall winding its way into the distance.

Given the context of today’s world, it was easy to imagine the fear that provided the impetus for the Chinese empire to start building its walls to control migration as well as prevent attacks by nomadic tribes along its borders. Some fears of humans seem to remain the same despite a couple of millennia of evolution.

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When we returned to the cable car, we were told that the cable cars had stopped working and that we had to climb down the mountain. I felt dismay because I knew I was not fit to attempt an arduous climb down and worse, I had left my hiking stick in the bus thinking that we were only going to a restaurant to order lunch for everyone. We agreed that the less strenuous way would be to walk across the wall to the nearest steps that led down the mountain rather than attempt the souvenir sellers’ rough hiking route downhill. I steeled myself to face the inevitable. One of the souvenir sellers, who had been pointing out her walking route down the mountain, said that she would accompany us to ensure we found the stairway. She also found a stick for me which I could use as a temporary walking stick.

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There we were, the four of us, going so slowly across the great wall marking each tower we reached as an achievement and keeping our spirits up. The souvenir seller was a very kind woman and she helped me across the steep inclines and steps. She mentioned she was from the Mongolia side of the wall and I found it admirable that she made the hike up to the wall and back every day to sell her souvenirs.

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I am glad we went up the cable car and were forced to walk across the wall as it turned out into a special achievement of will and perseverance, besides actually experiencing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of walking on top of the Great wall. I felt quite proud that despite my initial dismay, once I resolved myself to face the task, I undertook it without a murmur of complaint even at the tough sections of the wall which we had to cross.

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The unexpected kindness of the souvenir seller touched me and I felt that simply giving her some money, as if in payment for her services, would devalue her kindness. So, I bought a Tshirt for my mother from the souvenir seller, which my mother loves to wear on her short evening walks knowing the story behind it.

The travel lesson for me from my Great Wall experience is that sometimes when you find yourself in an unexpected and seemingly impossible situation, there is always some residual strength and determination left within you to go the remaining distance and often, where you least expect it, you come across unexpected human kindness and empathy.

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[I am linking this post to:

*Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Snow in Tromso, Lauren on Location, The Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World

**Travel Link Up – August theme of ‘Travel lessons’, hosted by Two Feet One World, Adventures of a London KiwiSilverspoon London and #TravelwithNanoB]
Wanderful Wednesday

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Helga’s Folly

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Dusk was setting in. The hundreds of candles that had once burned bright had melted upon each other and the candelabra with these candle relics cast a ghostly pall on their surroundings. With only a few lamps illuminating the rooms, it was easy to imagine ghosts lurking in the corner. The effect was enhanced by a face staring at you from the wall, an old writing desk with an old ledger left as if the person working on that decades ago had just stepped out and would return any time.

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When I saw the old vanity table with a framed photograph placed on it, the thought that had crossed my mind earlier and became stronger was that I might very well be in the ruined house of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, had she been inclined towards murals. It seemed like a living memorial to the ghosts of the past by the owner, who lives on the top floor of the (guest) house.

As we moved across the room, we suddenly heard a thud behind the seemingly black walls off one corner that led to the dark stairs. We peeped down the unlit stairway and saw a black door at the end of it. There was another thud. With the haunted atmosphere hanging in the air, my friend and I scrambled back to the lounge area, which was playing music from the 30s and finished our tamarind juice drinks before leaving Helga’s Folly.

I was intrigued however by this first dusk visit to Helga’s Folly, a home turned into an art museum/ guesthouse in Kandy. So, when a couple of friends visiting me in Sri Lanka this month wanted to go to Kandy for the weekend, I decided to explore more of Helga’s Folly with them. Visitors who are not staying overnight at the guesthouse, where the rooms start at USD 100 and go up to USD 500 per night, or dining at their restaurant can walk around the house after paying a tour fee of USD 3 per person. I think it is wonderful that they allow visitors to tour the house and at such a reasonable price because the artwork in the house is truly worth seeing.

This time though I chose to visit during daylight, when I could see the murals better and the house had a slightly less haunted atmosphere. What greeted us first as our vehicle climbed up the steep road leading up from the Kandy Lake was the bright red buildings covered with colourful artwork. The house was originally designed in the 30s by Helga’s mother, Esme de Silva. A house that has welcomed famous dignitaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi during its political heydays, given that Helga’s paternal grandfather was Sri Lanka’s first Minister of Industries and Fisheries and her father was the Mayor of Kandy, a parliamentarian and Ambassador of Sri Lanka to France and Switzerland in the 60s.

Helga’s parents turned their house into Chalet hotel. However, it is after Helga took over the house a few decades ago, renamed it Helga’s folly and covered it with artwork that I feel it has become a legacy for future generations. It has certainly attracted many movie celebrities, such as Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier, and the Folly brochure boasts of its Hollywood heydays as well as the Stereophonics song, Madame Helga, inspired by a stay here.

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Photo credit: Nancy Yang

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Photo credit: Nancy Yang

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Photo credit: Nancy Yang

The front office manager handed us a sheet of information on Helga’s Folly before suggesting we start our tour of its interior from the Jane Lillian Vance grotto. So we walked into the front room where the artwork of American artist Jane Lillian Vance covers its walls.

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Photo credit: Nancy Yang

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Jane Lillian Vance grotto is an amazing art room combining Vince’s beautiful artwork, Helga’s family history as well as a bit of Jane Vance’s personal traumatic story.

We retraced our steps past the reception where framed news clippings of Helga’s family line the walls and passed the former office of Helga’s father, Frederick Lorenz de Silva. The office is currently used by the front office manager as her office. We were not able to see the room that Mahatma Gandhi stayed at during his visit, but the friendly manager mentioned that she had been lucky to stay in that room when she first arrived at the Folly.

Both times that I visited the lounge area, it had some lovely old French music playing in the background. This time though, I was not able to explore the artwork in this area much as there were other guests seated on all the available couches that I did not feel comfortable walking around them looking at the walls. Anyway, I knew I would need to revisit a few times in order to leisurely appreciate the artwork in each room.

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A little corridor leading away from the lounge towards the gardens had this little nook, which we decided was a great spot for a group photo.

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Taking the stairway up to the restaurant area, we came across several dining areas which were set up as private dining spaces. Each seemed to have a different theme and the dining room with the octagonal Taprobane table seemed extra special and perhaps reserved for special occasions.

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The corridor leading away from the dining rooms and to the guestrooms was covered with black walls. One of the walls had a white tree and red hearts and writing that asked you to add a heart for each beloved soul you have lost. I really don’t think I could comfortably stay overnight in a room in a corridor that was decorated like this. I felt that the house was not haunted, as I initially felt during my first visit but rather had dark vibes of a place that had absorbed the grief, depression and angst of its residents, the owners and its guests.

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There was a colourful, whimsical corner under the staircase, along the sombre corridor, which lightened its dark overtones.

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What’s interesting about the place is that the artwork is diverse and at first seems the result of a psychedelic mind. However, you begin to see individual stories emerging and the hand of different artists at work, whether it is in the whimsical or spiritual overtones of the murals. I was informed that Helga’s Folly welcomes artists, writers and senior citizens for longer stays at special rates and the house is certainly a place that seems to inspire the creative. From artists who have been inspired to contribute to the murals to musicians who have been inspired to write a song about the place, it is certainly a place that invokes your emotional and creative response to the visual extravaganza.

I left Helga’s Folly with a sense that here was a house that needed preserving for future generations and some maintenance in the present, as it seems to be acquiring a certain dilapidated air about it. I hope Helga and her family consider establishing a trust that will manage it well in the future and continue to allow visitors to tour the place. And, for travellers visiting Kandy city and interested in amazing murals, I highly recommend that you visit Helga’s Folly at 70,Rajapihilla Mawatha, Kandy.

Have you visited a (guest)house that has amazed you with its beautiful murals? 

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #38, hosted by Mummy Travels and Wander Mum]
Wander Mum

Launching travel article app with GPSmyCity

GPSmyCity

There have been times during my travels when I have been frustrated, because I wasn’t able to access interesting travel articles that I had bookmarked, when I needed to. This was mainly because I did not want to incur a hefty phone bill, while using my phone on roaming mode. There have been times also when I have been in a city where the internet was quite sketchy or where places with free WiFi were limited. So, it was with a lot of interest that I read about GPSmyCity‘s new feature – the travel article apps. This feature allows me to freely access travel articles, from the site, on my iphone and save them for offline use. The feature also enables access to an offline city map and GPS navigation linked to the article, when you upgrade for a small fee. This is definitely something that I find very useful.

Image Source: GPSmyCity

I am delighted to announce that I will be participating in this exciting initiative and some of my blog articles will also be available on GPSmyCity from August 1st 2016. To celebrate the launch of my travel article app, we are offering an App giveaway for a limited time duration. Please download the GPSmyCity app first to access the giveaway. After you launch the downloaded GPSmyCity app, you will be able to upgrade to the travel article’s full features.

From August 1st to 7th, you will be able to freely download the upgraded app of my article: Special Six: London TheatresDo try it out and let me know about your experience.