Special Six: Colombo Cafes

I am more of a fan of cosy cafes, than fine dining restaurants, especially if they are independent ones and not part of a chain. In Colombo, there is a tendency for cafes and restaurants to mushroom and then close after a couple of years of poor business choices or tough regulations. However, there are some that have established themselves firmly over time. Here are my favourite six in Colombo, some of which I have been a regular customer for over a decade, and others which I like from the newly opened offerings around the city.

  1. Barefoot Garden Cafe

Ever since I first stepped into Barefoot Garden back in 2003, it has been my favourite cafe in Colombo. Aesthetically pleasing, the outdoor cafe adjacent to Barefoot gallery, which hosts art exhibitions and music performances among others, serves great food, has a good tea menu and a better wine selection. The customer service can vary but I usually go to Barefoot when I plan to spend a couple of hours there catching up with friends so I don’t mind the sometimes long waits for food to arrive. It also used to be my preferred place of work, during my consultant years, as the atmosphere on weekdays prior to the lunch hour is conducive for working on a report.

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Broccoli and mushroom quiche with salad

Barefoot cafe is at the back of Barefoot, the shopping outlet of the cotton handloom company started by Barbara Sansoni in 1964. The company engages rural handweavers and has continued to be the best in the Sri Lankan handloom industry over the years, yet to be matched by other handloom companies for its vibrant colours, quality and choice of products.

While I enjoy the ambience of Barefoot, I prefer to go to Barefoot during weekdays than weekends, despite its live jazz on sundays, as it is too crowded then for my liking and you are conscious of people waiting for tables to leisurely enjoy your own meal.

2. Commons Coffee House

Commons, the first of Harpo Gooneratne’s ventures, was opened in 2004. From his DJing career, Harpo shifted to the hospitality industry and worked as an entertainment manager at 5 star hotels. With the start of his own Harpo Productions company, he has launched a series of cafes and restaurants with different concepts. While I like several of his cafe/ restaurant ventures, I like his first the most.

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Stringhoppers with fish curry, kiri hodhi and sambol

Commons at Flower Road, Colombo 3 has continued to be a place I have enjoyed meeting up with friends. It has a relaxed atmosphere, friendly service, good food, particularly their Sri Lankan menu – my particular favourite is the rotti cart, with the selection of rotti with fillings.

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Rotti with tandoori chicken filling

3. Heladiv Tea Club

Heladiv Tea Club is an initiative of one of Sri Lanka’s largest tea exporting companies. They started the Tea Club at the old Dutch hospital precincts at Colombo Fort in 2011, after the site went through a massive renovation and restoration project. While I enjoy their tea offerings and their limited food selection is good, my particular favourite here is the soursop iced tea soda.

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Soursop iced tea and peach iced tea

4. Whight & Co

While Sri Lanka is well-known for its tea, it’s coffee is hardly known. It is surprising therefore that for a few decades in mid 19th century, Sri Lanka was one of the top global producers of coffee. In fact, according to the website of Whight and Co, one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo, the Dutch introduced coffee beans from Mocha in Yemen to Sri Lanka in early 17th century and the British subsequently expanded coffee cultivation. It was the coffee blight of 1869 that resulted in the switch to tea plantations.

James Whight, the owner, had tested coffee plants in regions where they had once grown coffee and found that the sample from Mathurata region in Uva province were from the descendants from an Ethiopian coffee bean mother plant. This coffee is now available as the Ruby Harvest coffee and is served at Whight and Co on Marine Drive, Colombo 3.

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Cold brewing in progress

I have tried a few of their coffees and my favourite is their cold brew, which is only sold in two coffee shops in Colombo that I know of. The upstairs space is lovely, if you need to work on your laptop for a couple of hours, read or simply enjoy the view of the Indian ocean while you appreciate your coffee.

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Cold brew coffee

5. Cafe Kumbuk 

A cafe that opened up a year or so ago, I like the way they have decorated their space at the Prana Lounge premises at 60, Horton Place, Colombo 7. It is an inviting, cosy cafe serving delicious meals. I love their french toast specials, which they seem to change seasonally. The couple, who run the cafe, have lived in London for several years and had been inspired by the food scene in East London and opened up this organic cafe. They have opened up another outlet, called Kumbuk kitchen, next to Good market on Reid avenue.

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Pistachio French toast

6. Kopi Kade

I visited this newly opened coffee shop on Stratford avenue, Colombo 6, last month and I immediately added it to one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo.

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Nimesh Namasivayam, the owner and barista of the coffee shop, has come up with a lovely menu of small plates and bites of Sri Lankan food with a twist.

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Roti crisps with a choice of accompaniments

My favourite part of the coffee place was of course the coffee, which Nimesh sources directly from organic coffee producers around the world. The delicious cup of coffee that I tried out recently was a blend of Ethiopian and Indonesian coffee beans.

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Have you visited any of these six special places during your visit to Colombo? Which ones would you be interested in trying out?

[To check this and related articles on Colombo on gpsmycity.com, click on this link]

[Linking this post to City Tripping #71 and Faraway Files #28]

Wander Mum
Suitcases and Sandcastles

Special Six: National Museum Gallery Highlights

The national museum of Colombo is the largest in the country and its founder, Sir William Henry Gregory, who was the British governor at that time declared it open on January 1st, 1877. When I visited the museum a dozen or so years ago, I was not impressed with the quite dilapidated building and presentation of exhibits, especially the lack of information about exhibits. Having learnt that the national museum had reopened after major renovations, I decided that it was time for me to revisit the museum this week and hoped that this visit would be more interesting. I was not disappointed as the building itself seems to have undergone a face lift and looked beautiful.

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In this post, I would like to share the six galleries that interested me the most of the different galleries at the museum.

  • Prehistoric gallery

The earliest evidence of the pre-historic period in Sri Lanka is 250,000 years ago in Minihagalkanda, Hambantota and the latest around 2,800 BC in Manthai, Mannar.

This gallery’s focus was primarily on burial techniques. I came across two different burial methods. One was an urn burial that was excavated from Pomparippu from around 800 – 700 BC. The pot was used to place human ash and offerings and covered with the circular stone slab, similar to the stone enclosure on display, which had been found near Galewela.

The other form of burial on display was the earthen canoe burial, where a pit built with clay was used for burning the corpse together with offerings and then filled and covered with a layer of burnt clay lumps. The one on display had been found in Kegalle district and was dated to 360 BC.

  • Anuradhapura period gallery

The museum has missed out on the period between prehistoric and Anuradhapura period, where there was an influx of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, which contributed to the decimation of the indigenous population and establishment of the Sinhalese and Tamil settlements in the country. The information plaque at the entrance of the gallery mentions that Anuradhagama was founded in 5 BC by Anuradha, a minister of the legendary ruler Vijaya. The city of Anuradhapura was then established in 4 BC by King Pandukabhaya, and became the first capital of Sri Lanka.

Two images under this period caught my attention. One was the 8th century image of Buddha found in Toluvila, which actually is displayed at the entrance of the museum and not within the Anuradhapura gallery. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 3 BC, through the missionary activities of Emperor Asoka of India.

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The other image that fascinated me was that of Goddess Durga from 9 – 10th century, found in Mihintale. The image had no similarity to contemporary images of the Goddess in the country. The information board in the gallery mentions that “the presence of Tamil rulers in Sri Lanka from pre-Christian times indicates the practice of Brahminical or Hindu faith” and it mentions the 7th century poetry of Tirujnanasambandar, praising the Hindu shrine at Tiruketisvaram in Mantai.

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I was also intrigued by the surgical instruments found from this period. On display was a scalpel and a scissor from the 8th century, as well as a grinding stone for herbal medicine.

  • Polonnaruwa period gallery

During the heydays of Anuradhapura, Kandavurunuwara, which was considered to be the legendary ancient city of Pulastipura from Ravana’s time, became a strategic city midway between the Anuradhapura kingdom and the southern kingdom of Mahagama. It was this city that became the capital of the Chola empire of India when they re-conquered Anuradhapura in the 10th century. The city was renamed Janathamangalam and became the second capital of the country. It was when Vijayabahu I defeated the Cholas and took over the city that it was named Polonnaruwa. Irrigation tanks was a major contribution of the Polonnaruwa reign and the major ones are still in use.

In this section of the gallery, what attracted my attention immediately was the images of the Hindu gods, Siva  (12 – 13th century) and Ganesha (12th century). These images looked more like contemporary images, than the ones from the Anuradhapura period.

Of interest again was the medical instruments of the time, which was similar to the ones found in Anuradhapura.

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Another object that fascinated me was the time and day calculator. While the water ladle in the center of this glass display is beautiful, the time calculator was the polished coconut bowl with holes in it through which water seeped into another bowl. When the bowl was filled, it indicated that an hour had passed.

  • Transitional Period Gallery

With the decline of Polonnaruwa in early 13th century, there was a transitional period across the country where there were frequent struggles for power between kingdoms and one kingdom would emerge powerful within a region (s) for a few decades. This transition period was till the end of the 16th century, when Kandy emerged as the capital of the country. It was towards the end of this period that the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka and took over the coastal areas.

I would have liked to see more local artefacts from this period, especially details from the Kingdoms of Dambadeniya, Gampola, Jaffna and Kotte. From the exhibits in this gallery, the one that fascinated me most was the trilingual inscription, carved in Nanjing, and brought to the country by the Chinese navigator Zheng He in 14th century. The stone was installed in Galle. The Chinese writing on the stone invokes Buddha and offers alms to the Buddhist shrine at Samanalakanda, alternatively known as Sivanoli Pada malai and Adam’s peak, the Tamil writing invokes blessings of Hindu gods and particularly of God Vishnu, the Persian writing invokes the ‘light of Islam’. The placement of the inscription in the gallery was poorly done as it has been placed by a glass door, so the strong light at the back of the stone reduces the visibility of the inscription in addition to not allowing a good photograph to be taken.

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  • Kandyan Period Gallery

By the end of the 15th century, the Kandyan kingdom emerged as a powerful force, despite the turbulence experienced in the rest of the country due to the inter-Kingdom wars, the Portuguese colonization of the coastal areas followed by the Dutch colonization efforts. The capital finally fell to the British in 1815, due to internal power struggles between the King and his Prime Minister, which divided the people.

Occupying the pride of place in the Kandyan gallery was the throne, crown and scepter of the King of Kandy.

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The best display in this gallery was the writing instruments though. The stylus pens used to write on palm leaves or gold and brass plates.

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The ground floor of the museum was the most interesting part of the museum for me. I didn’t find the upper floor as fascinating, despite some interesting galleries focusing on art, woodwork and even agriculture.

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I was delighted to know that the cost of the museum ticket for residents and non-residents, while still different, was not too much as in other sights in Sri Lanka. I used to be embarrassed when accompanying visiting friends to places in the Cultural triangle, where they would be forking out a 1000 or 2000 for a entry ticket, while I only had to pay a 100. The national museum ticket on the other hand is LKR 35 for locals and LKR 300 for non-residents, and the photography permit of LKR 250 is the same for both.

The museum has been better organized and presented in the form of different galleries and now conforms to the trilingual policy, that was initiated in 2012. This enhanced the experience of my visit, as each exhibit now had information boards in English, Sinhala and Tamil. I also noticed there were tags on several of the exhibits and asked the museum staff, if there was an audio guide. It seemed most of the current staff in the galleries were newly recruited and were not aware of the guide. It was towards the end of my visit that I met a staff, who was able to explain to me that the audio guide was in the form of a downloadable mobile app and that once downloaded, I could scan the tag of an exhibit and listen to the corresponding audio recording.

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Hope you enjoyed the brief tour of the museum of Colombo! Would you include it in your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka?

[Linking this post to Wanderful WednesdayFaraway Files #25 and Cultured Kids]
Wanderful Wednesday

Suitcases and Sandcastles
CulturedKids

Special Six: Taunton Museum Highlights

During my recent holiday in England, I visited the Museum of Somerset with my sister. The museum, which is located within the 12th century Taunton castle, had a lovely collection of exhibits about life in the Somerset region from prehistoric to present day.

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The castle, designated as an ancient monument, has an interesting history from its 12th century beginnings to its decline in the 16th century, its role in the siege of Taunton in 1644/45 and as the site of the hangings of 144 of Monmouth’s supporters, following the Monmouth rebellion in 1685.

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View from an older section of the castle

The reconstructed castle has several interesting galleries on display. While I enjoyed the different sections in the museum, the following six are the exhibits that I enjoyed most.

(1) The tree of Somerset

The sculpture greets you as you enter the ground floor gallery of the museum. The 175 year old Somerset oak tree on Quantock hills was originally felled to be made into beams. However, it was created into an artwork by Simon O’Rourke, reflecting some of the stories and objects to be found at the Museum of Somerset.

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(2) Plesiosaur fossil

The Plesiosaur fossil is displayed in the Great Hall of the castle museum. Discovered by a Somerset fisherman, this fossil of a Plesiosaur was the first complete skeleton to be found in Britain for more than a century. The marine reptile thrived during the Jurassic period but became extinct about 66 million years ago.

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(3) The Low Ham Mosaic

The floor mosaic was found in the bath block of a 4th century Low Ham Roman villa. The mosaic floor, which tells the story of Vigil’s Dido and Aeneas, is considered to be one of the most famous objects surviving Roman Britain.

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(4) Frome Hoard

The Frome hoard was discovered in 2010 and is the largest hoard of coins ever found in a single container in Britain. The 160 Kg hoard is thought to have been buried in the 3rd century at Witham friary near Frome.

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(5) The Shapwick Canoe:

The canoe was made from an oak tree trunk felled in 350 BC and was found in 1906, preserved in peat.

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(6) Wild Art: Nature Re-Imagined, an exhibition by the Neal brothers

During my visit to the museum, there was a lovely exhibition of photography, sculpture and paintings by the Neal brothers. The brothers’ art career stemmed from their inspiring childhood explorations of the Somerset countryside.

There is much to discover about the history of the region, at the Museum of Somerset.

Have you visited Taunton and its castle museum? What is your favourite exhibit, from your own visit, or from my special six?

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[I am linking this post to City Tripping #62]

MummyTravels

Special Six: Cardiff Bay Highlights

I had to choose between an afternoon at Cardiff Bay or St. Fagan’s, during my recent trip to Cardiff, and I chose the bay area. Having taken the boat from Bute park to Cardiff Bay, I stepped onto the pier trying to decide which direction I should start my exploration. My eyes were drawn to the beautiful red building right in front of me. So, I started my exploration with a visit to the Pierhead.

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I found that parts of the building was open to the public so I decided to explore it. On the ground floor, adjacent to the reception area, was a small gallery with posters and information on the background to the building and the post 1800 history of Cardiff. I learnt that the Pierhead had been built as offices for the Bute Docks company, during the peak of the coal trade in Cardiff in 1897. Soon after in 1905, Cardiff was granted city status.

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My favourite corner of the building was the assistant dockmaster’s office, which had a great view of the bay and pier. There were two pieces in the former office that stood out – the grand post box and the table with the phones, which one could dial and listen to a recording by a current resident of the Bay area, about her or his favourite spots or memories of living in the area.

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The Pierhead is now part of the National Assembly estate and is located next to the Senedd, or Parliament in English, also part of the estate.

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Walking towards the Norwegian Church centre, I passed a statue and the clothing on the statue holding a torch made me go closer to read the plaque next to it. I found that the statue of Sri Chinmoy was a gift of the World Harmony Run organization (or the Sri Chinmoy Oneness) to Cardiff during its visit in 2012. The Peace Statue invites the onlooker to hold the torch and make a prayer for peace.

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A few steps from the peace statue is the little Norwegian Church Arts Centre, which was founded in 1868 and was a haven for Scandinavian seamen, not only as a place of religion but also as a place to relax and read newspapers and magazines from home or write letters.

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The building is open to the public and there is a coffee shop on the ground floor adjacent to the little chapel. This chapel was where the writer, Roald Dahl, was christened. On the first floor, there is an exhibition on the history of the church centre as well as its connection to Roald Dahl.

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Walking back to the Pierhead and beyond, I came across the Roald Dahl Plass and the Water Tower. The public space is an oval shaped square surrounded by pillars with the water tower, at one end, which has a constant stream of water running down it.

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Just across the square is the Millennium Centre, another iconic landmark of Cardiff, which is an arts centre with two theatres – the Donald Gordon theatre and the Weston Studio theatre. The Glanfa stage in the foyer, at the centre, hosts free performances during the day. The centre is also home to nine arts organizations.

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While these six were the highlights of my afternoon visit to Cardiff Bay, there are other interesting places in its vicinity such as the Mermaid Quay shopping centre and the Doctor Who experience centre, for those familiar with the TV series. Fabulous Welsh Cakes at Mermaid Quay was highly recommended for their Welshcakes but having just finished a food tour with Welshcakes earlier that day, I decided to skip a visit to the shop.

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Which of these Cardiff Bay highlights have you enjoyed or would like to visit?

[I am linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration , The Weekly Postcard and Wanderful Wednesday]

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Wanderful Wednesday

Special Six: Cardiff Experiences

It was dark and cold when I arrived in Cardiff for the first time. I was quite tired after a long flight from Colombo to Birmingham followed by a coach trip from Birmingham to Cardiff. The last hour of the coach trip was caught in a slow moving traffic so it was with relief that I got off the coach at Sophia Gardens. I saw that the November rains had freshly washed the city that day as I made my way along the footpath to my hotel on Cathedral road. I had chosen to stay in quieter Pontcanna rather than the busy St. Mary’s street in the heart of Cardiff. However, as I walked along the dark, tree-lined street hardly seeing anyone on the road, I was questioning my choice especially as the late 19th century houses that I passed by seemed dark and empty.

The next morning, Pontcanna looked lovely in the light of the day as I walked along Cathedral road and I was glad I had chosen this part of Cardiff as my base. Here are my special six experiences, which I would recommend to the first time visitor to Cardiff.

(1) Visiting Llandaff Cathedral

I started my exploration of Cardiff, not with a visit to the heart of the city but to the adjacent ancient city of Llandaff, now a suburb of Cardiff, where the 12th century Llandaff Cathedral stands. The local Cardiff bus is the quickest way to get to the cathedral and it took around 10 – 15 mins, so is quite walk-able for those who prefer a long morning walk.

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Old Bishop’s palace

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View of the cathedral, from the cathedral green

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(2) Walking around Bute Park:

The park was once part of the private property of the Bute family, who had inherited the land in 1766 and begun the development of the grounds. The Bute family gifted the castle and its park to the people of Cardiff following the death of the 4th Marquess of Bute in 1947. The park was named Bute park in 1948. I only had a short walk around the beautiful park but the 56 hectare park is one of the largest in Wales and is a beautiful part of historic Cardiff.

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the “bridge” in Cowbridge road

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a model of Blackfriars friary, which once stood at this site

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19th century ornamental garden, commissioned by the 4th Marquess of Bute, depicting the medieval friary

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(3) Cardiff Castle

The castle is an iconic heritage site of Cardiff. The site of a 5th century Roman fort was where the Normans built their castle and keep in the 11th century. After being the heart of the Marcher lord territory of Glamorgan for several centuries, its significance declined after Marcher powers was abolished in the 16th century. The castle and grounds eventually passed into the hands of the Bute family in the 18th century. The 1st Marquess of Bute employed Capability Brown, the famous English landscape architect, and Henry Holland, who was Brown’s son-in-law and business partner, to convert the lodgings into a Georgian mansion and to landscape the castle grounds. The 3rd Marquess of Bute restored the Roman walls and undertook a major transformation of the Castle lodgings and park, as he was passionate about Gothic revivalism. He employed William Burges for the transformation of the castle lodgings and Andrew Pettigrew for landscaping the southern part of the park.

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the Norman keep

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Castle lodgings

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Nicholls’ 1890 sculpture of a lioness with William Burges’ clock tower in the background

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Carrick’s 1931 sculpture of a leopard

I particularly liked the animal wall, which was designed by William Burges but completed after his death. There are a total of fifteen animals on the wall, nine of which were sculpted by Thomas Nicholls in the 19th century and six were sculpted by Alexander Carrick in the 20th century.

(4) Loving Welsh Food Tour

I felt my first visit to Cardiff should include an introduction to Welsh food and after searching online, found the Loving Welsh Food tours. After communicating with its founder, Sian Roberts, I was treated to a complimentary tasting tour during my visit. The walking tour was a delightful experience that I have shared it as a separate post.

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(5) Cardiff Boat trip

My boat fix on this trip was going on the Cardiff boat from Bute Park to Cardiff Bay. The 20 minute trip over River Taff, with an audio commentary, took me past Principality Stadium and Brains Brewery.

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Principality Stadium

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Princess Katharine, a covered boat, was great for winter though I would have certainly preferred an open boat if I had taken the trip during summer.

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(6) Cardiff Bay Visit

Cardiff Bay played an important role during the industrial revolution as Cardiff became an important port city for its coal trade. The sun had come out of hiding during the afternoon of my trip so it was a lovely few hours when I explored a few of the landmarks around the bay area. I will share the highlights of my bay visit in a separate Special Six post.

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Have you visited Cardiff? What was your favourite part of your visit?

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #57 and The Weekly Postcard]

Wander Mum
Travel Notes & Beyond

Special Six: Memories of Delhi

It was ten years ago that I first visited Delhi. The trip was a celebration of sorts for having survived a very stressful year. I had convinced my mother, who had also had an equally stressful year albeit for different reasons, to accompany me. Perhaps because this was the first multi-day holiday trip that my mother and I were taking without any other family members and perhaps because it really felt like we were celebrating overcoming adversity, this trip remains my favourite travel memory. We enjoyed doing all the touristy things that the first time visitor to north India, on a package tour, would do on their travel around the Golden Triangle. This is the first of a series of posts on my Golden Triangle trip memories, starting with my favourite six from our time in Delhi.

  1. Staying at Hotel Broadway

The tour operator had booked us at Hotel Broadway situated on a dusty and tired looking road close to Delhi gate. The hotel did not look promising on the outside but the room that we checked into turned out to be a delight. Room number 46, was decorated by Paris-based artist Catherine Lévy, and was such a fun, eclectic and quirky room to be in. A blue sofa with red and yellow birds stitched on it was placed at one end of the room, with a low table from a nursery serving as the coffee table. I enjoyed writing in my travel journal each morning at the writing desk, which was a table generally found in canteens, and sitting in a revolving chair that was probably from a barber’s shop. The small radio fitted into the wall above the writing desk had strobe lights fitted on. I also liked the bedside lamps, which were an optician’s rectangular eye testing lamps, with the alphabets on its screens. The bathroom had a travel theme and it was covered with blue tiles and each tile with a picture of a different place from around the world. My favourite though was the ceiling fan, which would measure your luck each time you switched off the fan. We loved staying in this room and were disappointed when we were not given the same room at the end of our tour as well.

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2. The ‘do rupiah’ kahani/ story

My mother and I discovered that the Delhi gate bazaar was just next door on our first evening in the city and we decided to explore the maze of tiny crowded and colourful streets filled with bright-coloured clothes, sweet shops filled with fly-ridden sweets, food carts selling pani puri, odds and ends shops selling gifts and souvenirs etc. My mother asked me if I had any small change and I gave her the ten rupee note that I had on me.

When I gave her the ten rupee note, she was like a child with her first ten rupee note at her first carnival. She happily bought an incense stick box and a packet of chips and was left with a 2 rupee coin, which she was determined to spend at the bazaar. We were walking further down the bazaar, when we saw an apple cart and she decided to spend her 2 rupee coin buying an apple. The apple-seller said that one apple was 3 rupees and she said ‘nahi, do rupees’. She was looking at an apple, when she suddenly started rooting through the apples on one corner of the cart. I was getting a bit worried and embarrassed because the cart owner started grumbling about it. She finally exclaimed gleefully as she picked up her two rupee coin, which I then realized had fallen into the cart.

I have always marveled at my mother’s ability to tap into her inner child and experience the moment with a child’s carefree and happy attitude. Especially even amidst painful life experiences. Being of a more serious disposition, I didn’t always appreciate this attitude especially during my teen years. However, I have learnt to value and treasure such moments with my mother.

3. Visit to Raj Ghat

During our first morning in Delhi, the guide who was a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, discussed the suggested itinerary for the day with us and asked if we had specific places we wanted to visit. I expressed an interest in paying our respects at Raj Ghat so that is where we went first.

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We bought some marigold flowers from the flower seller at the entrance and walked through the peaceful park to the memorial. The place where Mahatma Gandhi had been cremated, on 31st January 1948 on the banks of Yamuna river, had a marble platform and a burning lamp at one end.

As we drove away from Raj Ghat, I noticed the road was lined with memorials of cremation places of other Indian leaders like the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

4. A quick glimpse of India Gate

Having watched the republic day parades of India on TV, while living in Madras for a couple of years as a child, I had to stop by India Gate on our drive around Delhi.

Designed by Edwin Lutyens, India Gate is a war memorial to the 82,000 Indian soldiers who died during the first world war. The canopy behind India Gate once had the statue of King George V, but was subsequently removed.

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From India Gate, one could see Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President’s house, and the Parliament House. We were told that both the President’s palace and India Gate were built in perfect alignment and that they were of the same height of 42.5m. The Parliament house were two identical buildings on either side of the road leading to the President’s palace. I liked the symmetry of Lutyens’ design of the administrative centre of New Delhi.

5. Lotus Temple, the Baha’i house of worship

The Lotus temple was a pleasant surprise to my mother and I. What we liked most about the temple, considered the mother temple of those of Baha’i faith, was that not only was it open to people of all faiths, who were free to read scriptures of any faith within the temple, it was forbidden to have any sermons or ritualistic ceremonies within the temple. Everyone was asked to be silent within the temple premises. It made a huge impression on me.

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6. Exploring Qutb Minar

Of all the ancient monuments and buildings we visited in Delhi on this trip, the one that made the most impression on me was the aesthetically pleasing Qutb Minar. It was simply a beautiful masterpiece. The Qutb Minar was built upon the ruins of the old city, with the foundation laid by Qutb al-din-Aibak, the founder of the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century. However, it was only completed by his successor after his death.

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Qutb Minar and the Alai Darwaza gate

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Ala-ud-din Khilji started the construction of the Alai Minar in early 14th century, as he wanted to build a monument that rivalled Qutb Minar. However, he died before the first storey was completed and work on the monument was discontinued.

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Alai Minar

The iron pillar with its Sanskrit inscriptions was brought from its original place to the site during the building of the Qutb Minar complex. Some of the translations indicate that the pillar was raised for Vishnu to celebrate the victory of a King in the 4th century.

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Iron pillar

The UNESCO heritage site is impressive and it was interesting to see features of the older city peeping out of this ancient monument complex.

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Since that first visit to Delhi, I have visited a few times and explored the city more. While several of my Indian friends seem to prefer other Indian cities over Delhi, I continue to find the city fascinating.

I would highly recommend reading Khuswant Singh’s Delhi for those who have visited or are interested in visiting Delhi.

Have you visited Delhi? Which experience do you treasure most from your first visit to the capital of India?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful WednesdayFaraway Files #4Weekend Travel Inspiration and The Weekly Postcard]
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Untold Morsels
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 Travel Notes & Beyond

Special Six: Tastes of Lijiang

When I revisited the UNESCO Heritage site, the old town of Lijiang in Yunnan province of China in 2013 with Yuan, we tried out a lot of the local Naxi cuisine. Someone once told me that for every person, one of their senses tend to dominate more than the others when it comes to memories. So much so that for some, smells or tastes can unlock an entire treasure trove of memories. While I do feel that a particular sense tends to dominate in a particular context, I don’t feel that that same sense is dominant across all travel memories. I feel that it could vary. Some of my travel memories are connected to sounds or music that I was listening to during that travel and listening to that particular song(s) back at home can bring back the entire details of that particular travel memory – the place, the weather, the people, the conversations etc. This trip to Lijiang was connected with the tastes and flavours of Lijiang cuisine and perhaps the sense of taste was heightened because I could not participate in the conversations in Mandarin around me.

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So, I am sharing the six special tastes that made up this visit.

  1. Street food night market

The evening Yuan and I arrived in the old town of Lijiang, we checked into our guesthouse and made our way to the night street food market to try out local delicacies. The street was packed with people and the range of local snacks on display was something to behold. I was happy that my friend was not only Chinese but knew the region well enough to recommend local specialty food. This is where I had my first taste of Er Kuai, which is a compressed rice cake, and loved it.

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2. Breakfasting on Lijiang baba

When Yuan returned to the guesthouse from her 10 Km morning run on our first day, she brought these  local pancakes for breakfast. They are called Lijiang baba and are a pan fried pancake. There are varieties of these pancakes but the one I tried was with eggs and spring onions. I loved them so much that I went to Naxi Snacks, the shop where they made these, each day for breakfast.

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3. A bowl of fresh rice noodles in chicken broth

Yuan insisted we try out the fresh Yunnanese rice noodles in chicken broth which is a local specialty and which she said could not be found elsewhere in the country. I think Yuan would have been happy to have had this for all her meals during our time there. I had to put a lot of the coriander, spring onions and chopped chilli in my bowl to make it more flavourful for my palate.

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4. A Naxi feast

A friend of Yuan’s, Anna, whose family we would be staying with during the next leg of our travel, invited us over to a dinner party with some of her friends. They treated us to a Naxi feast.

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5. Steam pot Chicken

When we returned to Lijiang from our stay with Anna’s family, we went out for a farewell dinner with Anna. We decided to order the steam pot chicken, another specialty of the region.

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6. Yunnanese veggies

For our last meal in the city, Yuan and I decided to try out more of the vegetarian dishes at Alily, a cafe that we had walked past often and wanted to try out. The spiced lotus root was a great balance to the spice-less tofu and greens soup.

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Have you tried out Yunnanese cuisine? What has been some of your favourites or what would you like to try out?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #3]
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Oregon Girl Around the World

Special Six: Kunming Highlights

The first time I visited Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwest China, it hardly made an impression on me because I was only there overnight with the APLP team and we were busy with our presentations on our mini-field studies. We also had stayed at a hotel in the modern part of the city, which was not so interesting to walk around. I revisited Kunming in 2013 and met up with a couple of my APLP friends from China, who had not joined the 2012 visit as they had naturally chosen the NYC/ DC field study option. This time though it was a lovely experience as the accommodation and places to visit were suggested by my friends. These are my special six experiences and recommendations for the traveler to this city.

1.Stay at the Lost Garden Guesthouse

We stayed at the Lost Garden guesthouse near Green Lake. It was a lovely guesthouse, which had a restaurant serving delicious food.

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Breakfast on the rooftop , Lost Garden Guesthouse

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Duan, Yuan and I

2. Walk around Green Lake

With our proximity to a lovely lake and park, Duan and I spent a lot of time exploring different parts of the park in the early morning hours, while Yuan ran her daily 10km morning run around the lake. The park established in the 17th century has lots of lovely places to discover.

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3. Day trip to Xishan Forest Park (Kunming West Hill)

This was a special trip recommended by Duan so the two of us took the cab to the base of the hill and then took the cable and then the chair up the hill.

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We walked around the trail leading to the Dragon’s gate, where every visitor stopped to touch the gate. The adjacent Datiange (Mansion of Heaven) is one of the most visited of the Longmen grottoes along the hillside. This grotto has relief carvings on its wall of Kui Xing. According to mythology, Kui Xing was a highly intelligent human being whose services the Emperor refused as he was repulsed by his appearance. When Kui Xing threw himself off the cliff, a dragon saved him and because of that, he became the God of imperial examinations and official documents.

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Longmen/ Dragon gate

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Kui Xing, the God of examinations

4. Visit Guandu old town

Guandu old town is a short drive from Kunming so we decided to explore the old town. What I remember most from exploring the town is the rose flower cake bakery that we came across. Rather the smell of the pastries being baked drew us and we indulged ourselves in this Yunnan specialty snack. Of course, we got some boxes for home.

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Edible roses

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Rose cakes fresh out of the oven

5. Drive to Fuxian lake for lunch

A colleague of Yuan invited the three of us for a drive to Fuxian lake, the deepest fresh water lake in Yunnan province, for lunch. She explained that this area was famous for its fish and fish based meals, among the locals. So, we had the local specialty fish soup for lunch.

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6.Try out one of the group exercises in parks

Whichever park I visited in China, I always saw groups of people going through various exercise routines. Green Lake was no exception. While I was hesitant to join a group without having talked to the people beforehand, my friend didn’t hesitate and joined in the activity.

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Have you visited Kunming? Which of these experiences have you tried or would like to try out?

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #48 and The Weekly Postcard]

MummyTravels
Travel Notes & Beyond

Special Six: Shangri-La Experiences

Shangri-La city, in northwestern Yunnan province, is considered to be the inspiration for James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’ so much so that the official Chinese name of Zhongdian was changed in 2001 to Shangri-La. The city’s traditional Tibetan name is Gyalthang or Royal Plains. I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful city at the foot of the Himalayas, for a few days, with half my APLP cohort in 2012. It was tragic to hear that a devastating fire destroyed most of the historic old town of Dukezong in 2014. The place has been rebuilt and while I haven’t visited the city since the fire, I did check whether some of my favourite places survived the fire.

My experience of Shangri-La was special and the following are six experiences I recommend to the traveler to this city.

  1. Early morning walk to temple

This was my favourite part of my stay in Shangri-La.

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Taku turning the wheel of the golden temple, photo credit: Mami Sato

2. Visit to Shangri-La Thangka Academy

The Thangka academy is a place where aspiring artists are trained in the traditional Thangka art. It is a wonderful experience to visit the center, and learn of the years of training that the artist goes through as well as see how the colours are mixed etc. There is a shop attached to the center, where you can buy local handicrafts including Thangka artwork.

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3. A Hike to the 100 chicken temple

This temple apparently received its name from the chickens roaming around, though I didn’t seen any chickens on the afternoon I visited. It is a short hike but has steep inclines, which can be a bit difficult for those with mobility issues especially when combined with the change in altitude from Beijing to Shangri-La. I did make it to the temple at the top but when the group decided to go on a further hike through some woods, I decided to turn back with my room-mate and we went back into the old town for some tea.

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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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Taking a break and enjoying the blue trumpet gentian flowers, photo credit: Mami Sato

4. A visit to the Songzanlin Monastery

I was too tired to go on the third hike, which was a longer one. The photos, taken by those who went to the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, also known as Songzanlin Monastery, were amazing. I would highly recommend visiting the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, founded by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1679, which is the largest in Yunnan province.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

Songzanlin Monastery 2

Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

5. Stay at Karma Cafe and Lodge.

Our group was split up to stay at three guesthouses. I was delighted that I had the opportunity of staying at this traditional Tibetan house, which had lovely gathering places on the first floor. The verandah space, where breakfast was served, had great views of the temple and the indoor gathering space around the fire place was really cosy. The restaurant also served great local food.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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6. Eating at Tara Gallery cafe and bar

We had a couple of meals here and enjoyed the fusion of Indian, Yunnan and Tibetan food.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

The old town is a lovely area, with its narrow streets, and where vehicles are not allowed. Though the shops are targeted at tourists, they are fun to explore. The Yunnan Mountain Heritage Foundation‘s Handicraft center, at the edge of the square and away from the tourist centre, is a non-profit organization that supports local cultural heritage, handicrafts and eco-tourism in Diqing prefecture and is worth visiting.

Shangri-La is also a great base for mountain hikes and treks, especially for those interested in going on the old tea horse trails. Do read Jeff Fuch’s The Ancient Tea Horse Road before going on one of the old tea horse road treks.

Hope you enjoyed the photo series of my recommended special six experiences in Shangri-La! Which of these experiences would you enjoy?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Lauren on Location, Snow in TromsoThe Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World; and

the newly started Faraway Files, hosted by Untold Morsels, Oregon Girl around the world and Suitcases and Sandcastles]

Wanderful Wednesday

Faraway Files - Untold Morsels

Special Six: Manhattan highlights

While returning home, after completing my APLP fellowship residency in Hawai’i, I had chosen to fly back to Colombo via New York. A close friend of mine had asked her sister working in NYC to host me at her apartment so I had a great base in midtown Manhattan to explore the city from.

Besides seeing iconic Manhattan landmarks such as the Empire State, Chrysler building, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, UN headquarters and spending hours at the Met and Guggenheim museum, these were my special six experiences from my first visit to Manhattan.

  1. Home-stay at an apartment with an amazing view

I enjoyed staying at my friend’s sister’s apartment and experiencing views of amazing sunrises and sunsets over the East river.

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I think I was actually quite content staying indoors, comfortably warm, enjoying the amazing view as well as reading the books I had brought for my NYC trip. I also enjoyed getting to know my friend’s favourite sister better.

2. Walking around the neighbourhood

It was quite frustrating that while I was staying in midtown Manhattan very close to so many landmarks that I had previously only seen in movies or online, the pain in my leg aggravated by the cold winter meant that I could only walk for very short distances with the help of a walking aid and I needed to take lots of breaks. This was highly inconvenient because walking around is the best way to explore Manhattan. While I did manage to enjoy a few short walks, I did not take any photos during these walks because it was a hassle to have to remove my gloves and juggle my walking stick and camera. A walking route that I particularly enjoyed was a short loop walk, between 1st avenue 34th street and 5th avenue 35th street, which meant passing by two places I grew quite fond of – St Vartan Armenian Cathedral and the Empire State building. St Vartan Cathedral drew me in several times and I really liked the peaceful atmosphere within the cathedral, especially as I was at an emotional low point during this visit.

3. Experiencing a Broadway show

The only thing that I had pre-planned and booked well in advance for my visit to New York City was a Broadway show. I had to treat myself to one show while there and my choice for my first visit to NYC was Phantom of the Opera at Majestic Theatre. The theatre district is packed during evenings and is a sight in itself. It was especially difficult getting a cab after the musical and I had to walk a block or two before I could get a cab to stop.

4. Enjoying a mojito at Havana Alma de Cuba and exploring Christopher Street

A friend and I had made plans to meet up for coffee, after Christmas, at her favourite neighbourhood in Manhattan. I enjoyed exploring Christopher Street with her trying out some of her favourite places. We started with coffee at the now closed Mojo café, then visited McNulty’s Tea and Coffee shop where I bought some Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee for home.

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I had to walk into Sockerbit, a Swedish candy store, as soon as I saw the displays of godis, and it brought me back an edible piece of a country I consider my second home. The highlight of our walk though was enjoying a mojito at Havana Alma de Cuba, where we had popped into on an impromptu impulse.

We made a final stop at the Fat Cat jazz club. The place had not yet opened for visitors for the day but they let us walk around and see the venue. Since I was leaving the next day, I did not actually get to revisit the place and experience some live jazz music. However, I really liked the vibe of West Village, at least of the street that I explored.

5. Taking the Staten island ferry to see the Lady

I was meeting up with a former colleague living on Staten Island and was delighted to learn of the Staten Island ferry service, which gave me my boat fix for this trip, together with the pleasure of seeing the Statue of Liberty against the night sky.

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6. Eating out in Manhattan

With my kind host leaving me freshly cooked lunches daily before going to work, despite my repeated requests not to bother about it, I had no choice but to eat in most of the time. I did try out a few cafes occasionally though. Of the few that I tried, I very much enjoyed The Wright restaurant at Guggenheim museum, a museum I also enjoyed very much.

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Source: The Wright

What is your favourite Manhattan experience?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Lauren on Location, Snow in TromsoThe Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World; and

Faraway Files #2, hosted by Suitcases and Sandcastles, Untold Morsels, Oregon Girl]

Wanderful Wednesday

Suitcases and Sandcastles