Meditating above water

Whenever I pass Beira lake in Colombo, I am always drawn to the wooden bridge and temple in the middle of the lake. However, it was often a place I usually hurried by on the way somewhere, as it  was in the midst of the commercial part of the capital. Then, one day, my mother asked me to take her there during her birthday week. I think she realized that unless she requested, I might simply go on passing the place without stopping there. Whatever the reason, we finally visited the lovely Seema Malakaya early one morning.


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According to the Gangaramaya temple website, the area was once a swamp before being converted to the picturesque spot that it is now. The Seema Malakaya is part of the Gangaramaya temple which is famous for its annual ‘perahera’ (festive Buddhist temple religious procession) during the months of February or March. What I found fascinating is the aesthetic sense of the place, designed by Geoffrey Bawa. Bawa was a renowned Sri Lankan architect whose signature trademark was his emphasis on spaces and natural light.


The meditation hall was surrounded by statues of Buddha by the edge of the water, which was what had attracted me in the first place. There is something very peaceful about being in the midst of water. The pavilion felt like a calm oasis despite its bustling commercial neighbourhood.
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For me, what I found most intriguing was that the Seema Malakaya combines aspects of different religions. Built through a donation by a Muslim couple – S.H.Moosajee and his wife – in memory of their son, the pavilion itself combines Hindu deities together with the statues of Buddha.
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The smaller pavilion on one side of the meditation hall has a Bo tree, which is from a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura. The Sri Maha Bodhi is an ancient Bo tree, that is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage spot in Sri Lanka, because it is a tree grown from the sapling of the Bo tree under which Buddha obtained enlightenment. The sapling was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta, the daughter of Emperor Asoka. Surrounding the tree at Seema Malakaya are more peaceful Buddha statues.


At the four corners of the smaller pavilion which has the Bo tree and the chaithya, are the shrines for Hindu deities including Pillaiyar and Murugan.


When one walks across to the other side of the meditation hall, one sees a tiny pavilion with a small wooden house marked ‘Treasury of Truth.’ I was curious about what the truth treasury held and found it locked.
Treasury of Truth
Perhaps it is fitting that the place is always kept locked. Where would humankind be if truth became a way of life for all.

Sometimes, you pass by something beautiful in your own city so often that you hardly bother to take a moment to pause and appreciate its beauty. Something which you would do automatically when you are a traveller exploring another city or country. I am glad my mother requested me to take her there for her birthday because not only did I finally get to explore the place but also create a special memory there with my mother.
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[As I am merging my Sri Lanka-focused travel blog with my Perspectives Quilt blog over the course of the coming months, I am transferring some of my favourite posts from there to here]

I am linking this post with City Tripping #29 hosted this week by Clare@Suitcases and Sandcastles and The Weekly Postcard, hosted by Anda@Travel Notes and Beyond.

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Overnight at Ha Long Bay

Continued from… Visiting Hanoi

The next day, my friends and I hired a car to take us to Ha Long Bay, a world heritage site with its 1600 islands and islets of limestone formed over millions of years. We went directly to the harbour to board our boat. It was a traditional junk boat, which fortunately for us, was all ours for the overnight trip. There were no other passengers so we had the entire upper deck, restaurant and lounge as well as the four cabins to ourselves.

rope on deck

cabin

I have always loved boat rides and as we made our way across the Gulf of Tonkin, I spent a lot of time on the outer deck enjoying the feel of the sea spray and the chilly wind. The beautiful rock formations loomed ahead and it was fun trying to figure out shapes in some unique rock formations.

stone dog

witch in the rock

karst

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We eventually docked at one point and the guide took us on a tour of  Thien Cung grotto (the Heavenly palace cave). The impressive stalactites and stalagmites were highlighted by surreal lighting.

underground cavelimestone karsts

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pathway

After re-boarding our boat, we resumed our sea journey. We passed a lovely floating fishing village.

Floating fish market

Floating fishing village

Our boat eventually entered a lovely cove, where there were only a few other barges, and dropped anchor for the night.

Halong Bay early morning

That evening, we took our time over the delicious dinner that the crew had cooked for us. While I did enjoy our conversations and it was lovely to share the experience with friends, I enjoyed my moments of solitude the most on this visit to Ha Long bay. Especially the moments when I watched the sea, as rays of sunlight broke through the clouds or as the sun set…

Light breaking through cloudsSunset at Halong Bay

and especially the next morning, as I watched dawn break over the gulf and the sun gradually rose above the horizon. It was a spiritual moment and I felt happy and content.

Sunrise at Halong Bay

Halong Bay sunrise

As the boat lifted its anchor, I made my way back to the restaurant to enjoy my morning cup of coffee and wait for my friends to join me for breakfast.

Back to port

[I am sharing this post at the Weekend Wanderlust link up and The Weekly Postcard]

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Visiting Hanoi

Following our Malaysian road trip, my colleague and I decided we should travel again soon to another Asian destination using the same budget airlines. I was interested in visiting Siem Reap. As we discussed plans, another friend from work decided she was also interested in joining us. She had friends she wished to visit in Hanoi so we decided to combine both during our travel. We started our trip in Hanoi.

It was a bit strange when we arrived at the airport in Hanoi to see that all the airport officials were military personnel. After a lengthy process, we were issued our tourist visas and left the airport. Our hosts had sent us a car to pick us up so we didn’t have to be concerned about navigating the city on the day we arrived.

Our host had planned a full day of exploration of Hanoi city, showing us her favourite spots in the city. We started out at the temple of literature, which was built in 1070, to house Vietnam’s first university. The university functioned till 1779 as the imperial academy educating the Vietnamese elite.

temple of literature

This is a photo of the gate leading to the second courtyard, which was the constellation of the literature pavilion. In the third courtyard, the well in the middle was referred to as the well of heavenly clarity.

temple of literature

woman at temple of literature

I enjoyed the visit to the temple of literature the most during my day in Hanoi. The peaceful aura of the beautiful place of learning was enchanting.

After exploring the temple, we went to the nearby Koto café, a social enterprise aimed at providing disadvantaged youth training and work opportunities in the hospitality industry. The lunch was delicious and the café had a lovely ambience.

Koto

As my colleagues loved shopping, our host then took us to a market where she said great bargains could be found on stuff made for international brands but which had been rejected due to minor defects and thus available at budget prices. As someone averse to shopping, I didn’t like this part of the day but it was fun to watch my friends’ excitement over their various finds.

After stopping for a refreshing and delicious fresh fruit juice, we visited Hoan Kiem lake (lake of the returned sword). According to legend, this is the lake where a 15th century emperor was asked by a turtle god to return his magic sword and hence the name of the lake. A cute, red wooden bridge took us to the Ngoc Son temple in the middle of the lake.

Huc bridge

We ended the day with a lovely dinner at a restaurant overlooking another lake. As I had expressed an interest in visiting the Bing Minh jazz club, a popular jazz club in the french quarter, our hosts had decided to take us there after dinner. Enjoying the live jazz music was a lovely way to end our day in Hanoi.

To be continued… overnight at Ha Long bay.

[I am sharing this travelogue at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #120, co-hosted this week by Loretta and Linda.

I am also sharing this at
* City Tripping #28 Link up, hosted by Cathy@Mummy Travels and Elizabeth@Wander Mum

** The Weekly Postcard, hosted by Travel Notes & BeyondA Hole in My Shoe, As We Saw It, Eff it, I’m On HolidaySelim Family Raasta]

A Hole In My Shoe

A sojourn in Cape Town

Looking back at my brief time in Cape Town, my three favourite memories of the visit are the trips to Robben island, Cape Point and the colony of African penguins at Boulders beach.

My colleague and I had booked a 3 day tour package in Cape Town through our travel agent, when booking a flight to Johannesburg. After a couple of days in Pretoria with our host family and driving around the city taking in the President’s office, freedom park, the craft market etc., we took the budget Kulula airlines flight to Cape Town. I had read about the humorous announcements made on the flight and I was delighted to hear some of them. The following clip is a Kulula humour snippet I found on youTube, courtesy of South Africa Travel Online.

After the entertaining flight into the city, we checked in at our hotel and then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking around and exploring the nearby markets. It was a relief to be able to walk about the city freely after having feeling constrained in Pretoria and Jo’burg, where the roads became deserted by 5pm and houses had electric fences around them.

table mountain

We took the cable car up Table mountain the next morning. Despite my fear of heights, I always seem attracted to hills and mountains and their summits during my travels, especially when it is accessible by cable cars. This time was no different and I found myself in a crowded cable car going slowly up the mountain to the summit.

cable car

After our little trip to the summit of Table mountain and back, we took a bus tour around the city, stopping at the Malay quarter, the castle fort remains, the Company gardens as well as the City Hall and House of Parliament. I liked the colourful and lively atmosphere of Cape Town.

Malay quarter

The next day, we went on a day trip to the Cape peninsula. It was a beautiful drive passing Clifton bay.

Clifton Bay

We then continued on to the beautiful Cape Point Nature reserve and Cape Point, the most southwesterly point of Africa. We climbed up to the old lighthouse.

Cape point

Lighthouse at Cape Point

Cape of good hope

After lunch, we travelled onto Simonstown to visit the colony of African penguins at Boulders beach. The tiny penguins seemed habituated to humans and thus did not seem to mind that people were walking around their little space on the beach. This is a short video clip that I put together from a few of the videos that I had taken at the penguin colony.

I did read that the African penguin colonies were reducing in size due to food shortages. The colony at Robben island were down to 3000 from around 15000. So, I suppose the same could be the case for the Boulders beach colony.

The day trip ended with a visit to Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, a 528 hectares estate, where only indigenous South African plants were grown. After walking around the gardens a bit, we were quite content to return to the cafe and enjoy our afternoon tea and relax.

Kirstenbosch

On the third day, we walked to the famous Alfred and Victoria Waterfront and took a ferry to Robben Island. The island prison, which housed prisoners from the 17th to 20th century and where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years in prison, is now a world heritage site and museum.

The island tour started with a bus trip around the island. We had an interesting and funny guide called Yasien Mohamed, who had been a former political prisoner on the island. His tour was very informative in relation to the island’s history and the influence of different countries on the tiny island prison. He was also the funniest tour guides I have ever come across and I believe his vocation should have been that of a stand-up comedian. In between sharing island facts, he would ask each one of us on the bus which country we were from and then make a joke related to that nationality as well as mention a connection that that country had with the island.

The part of the island that inspired me the most was the limestone quarry where the prisoners had to work long hours, which in turn affected their eyesight. He mentioned that Mandela too had worked in this quarry for 18 years due to which he had not been able to face the camera flashes directly. The interesting part about the quarry was that the limestone quarry became the place where the more educated black African prisoners like Mandela focused on the education of other black African prisoners and sometimes that of the prison guards. It came to be known as the university of limestone quarry.

As I had forgotten to recharge my camera battery after my trip to Cape Point the previous day, my battery had died while on the ferry to Robben island. So, I have no photos from my visit to the island. However, it is the place that made the biggest impression on me, at Cape Town, as I seem to remember several details of that visit without the aid of photos.

Table mountain

[I am sharing this post at:

Travel Tuesday Linkup, co-hosted by Diana@Diana Elle, Rachel@A Nesting Nomad and Katrina@The Thrifty Gypsy’s Travels;
** City Tripping #34, 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]

Wander Mum
Travel Notes & Beyond

Wanderful Wednesday

Botswana – the lion country

I was recently watching the documentary “The Last Lions” filmed in the Okavango Delta. It brought back memories of my trip to the delta a few years back, especially that of a lioness that I came across on a safari drive. The lioness had looked quite lost and distressed, looking into the distance as if searching for something. The guide told us that her pride had been shot by the villagers as they had gone into the village and attacked some dogs. This young lioness had escaped death, perhaps she had been with her cubs, when the others were killed. Whatever the reason, she didn’t seem to know that her family was no-more or perhaps she was hoping that they had survived somehow. She did not seem bothered by all the jeeps travelling alongside her. Watching the documentary, I wonder if her small pride might have been driven to the edges of the delta by other larger prides. Having moved closer to the villages and running short of food, they must have foraged into the villages and met their demise. Human villages encroaching further and further into the delta should be prevented. It is sad that the lion population, according to the National Geographic documentary, is down to 20,000 from their population of 450,000 fifty years ago.

lioness

The trip to Botswana was quite an unexpected one as it had not been on my travel list. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series had been my introduction to the country and while I had found the place fascinating, I had not thought I would visit there anytime soon. Then, I received an invitation from some family friends living in South Africa to visit them there before they returned to Sri Lanka later that year. When my colleague and I decided to visit South Africa, a friend of my colleague invited us both to travel with her to neighbouring Botswana where her relatives lived. I am glad we took her up on her invitation as the trip to Botswana remains among one of my favourite travels to-date.

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From Johannesburg, we took a flight to Gaborone. Only Air Botswana and South African airways flew into Botswana so there was not much air traffic. From Gaborone, we went on a five hour drive to Francistown, where our hosts lived.  After arriving in Francistown at the home of our host family and spending the day with them, we took a car the next morning to Planet Baobab in Gweta. The website of the B&B was lovely and we found that our expectations was met when we arrived there and were shown our quirky accommodations in traditional huts. After a restful afternoon and evening around the B&B, simply soaking in the atmosphere, we woke up early in the morning to go on our booked tour. We went on a drive to the Nxai salt pans, which were a part of the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi. The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park is said to be roughly the size of Switzerland and is the remnants of Lake Makgadikgadi, which dried up around 10,000 years ago.

salt pans

The driver/ guide stopped soon after we had entered the park so that we could enjoy our picnic breakfast in the middle of nowhere.

breakfast at the salt pan

While driving through the park, we came across herds of zebras. The guide informed us that it was the seasonal migration when hundreds of zebras travelled for water. I was delighted to see the beautiful zebras in the wild.

zebras

I learnt that the zebra is the national animal of the country and also that the black and white stripes in the middle of the Botswana flag, representing racial harmony, was inspired from the zebra.

zebra migration

The guide took us next to meerkat territory. One of my sisters, who is a huge fan of meerkat manor, would have loved this. We came across the cute meerkats, who seemed to be habituated to humans and seemed comfortable in coming right up to us.

meerkat family

meerkat

We stopped at Chapman’s baobab, a 3500 year old baobab tree, named so because it was used as a post office in the old days and people left messages in the tree as they travelled along the route.

Chapman's baobab

After the lovely drive around the Nxai salt pan, we returned to Planet Baobab and continued onward to Maun. Maun is considered the tourism capital of Botswana as it is the gateway to the Okavango delta, the world’s largest inland delta. The Sango safari camp staff picked us up at Maun and took us into the Okavango delta past the Moremi game reserve. At the camp, we stayed in a luxury tent with proper beds, comfortable pillows and duvets as well as an en-suite bathroom. There was no electricity at the camp and only lanterns were available. Hot water was provided, upon request, by heating a bucket of water and having it poured into the small water tank that provided the water for the shower pipes.

safari camp

During our drives in the delta, besides the lioness, we also came across elephants, a hyena and her cubs, a few giraffes, impala, red lechwe and some very colourful birds.

giraffe

elephant

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While it was a privilege and an unforgettable experience to come across some of these majestic animals in the wild, I also felt that we were being intrusive. At the Nxai salt pans, though, it had not felt intrusive and the herds of zebras and meerkat groups we came across had not seemed disturbed by our presence. However, within the Okavango delta, it felt as if we were intruding. Intruding with the numerous safari jeeps rushing at the animals and crowding them out, intruding with the expanding villages cutting down the trees depriving wild life of their natural habitat and shooting them down when they seek food from the villages. It affected me to the extent that I resolved that I would not go on another safari drive again. I hope there are stricter regulations placed on safari drive operators on the number of drives they can undertake and they are provided with training and guidelines on how to move within national parks with the least negative impact on the wild life. Places like this pristine Okavango delta need to be conserved for future generations.

OkavangoParticularly for the lions…

lioness

[I am sharing this post at Monday Escapes #35, hosted by Ting@My Travel Monkey and Allane@Packing My Suitcase and at Wanderful Wednesdays, hosted by Lauren@Lauren On Location, Van@Snow in Tromso, Isabel@The Sunny Side of This and Marcella@What a Wonderful World]

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