The Island of Lotuses – Sri Lanka

Island of Sri Lanka - Lush & Beautiful

Island of Sri Lanka – Lush & Beautiful

“The Island of Lotuses” sounds like a dreamland right? Indeed, it is one, it is the breathtaking Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is filled with lush landscapes, rising mountains, thick forests, and lakes with gushing waters. It is famously called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. We visited this lovely island a month ago and since I have been waiting to write about it. This post has all the best experiences I had while we traveled through its meandering roads passing through the most dense forests and enjoying the food all along.

Reservoirs of the Island

Moat around Sigiriya

Moat around Sigiriya

“Let not even a drop of rain water go to the sea without benefiting man”, were the words of Parakrama Bahu the Great. It is said that the first great reservoirs ever in the world were built in Sri Lanka. This island today has around 12,000 ancient small dams & 320 ancient large dams together with thousands of man-made lakes. Hence all over the landscape one sees small water bodies with gushing waters that help rice grow abundantly.

Reservoirs of Sri Lanka

Reservoirs of Sri Lanka

The Lotus Land

Offering of Lotuses to Lord Buddha

Offering of Lotuses to Lord Buddha

Since the Sri Lankans don’t waste a drop of water, they don’t waste plucking their lotuses as well. Almost all lakes and ponds on the island are full of lotuses. Bright pinks and purples, serene whites and gorgeous reds flaunt their charm in the abundant waters. I was amazed to see how easy they grew all over and how they were so beautifully offered to the Lord Buddha. According to esoteric Buddhism, the heart of the beings is like an unopened lotus and is one of the eight auspicious signs of Buddhism.

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A Pond full of Lotuses

A Pond full of Lotuses

Magic of Patangi

Patangi Wood and its Colours

Patangi Wood and its Colours

Patangi wood is used since ancient time for colouring in Sri Lanka. Its the most amazing wood I have ever seen. If added to hot water it provides a red colour; adding lemon will turn the colour into yellow; adding shell lime or Calcium will provide a purple colour. It just doesn’t stop changing colours! It is used as a natural dye to colour rugs or wood carvings which Sri Lanka is most famous for.

Devour, Slurp and Enjoy…

Sri Lanka is a food lovers dream. We were very excited to try different dishes. Spice and flavors, diverse assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, and heavy usage of the coconut was what we experienced through our trip. I am gonna write about the ones I enjoyed the most…

Egg Hoppers!!

Egg Hoppers!!

Hoppers!  I love the name and the dish even more! Hoppers or appa are a typical Sri Lankan breakfast. Thin pancakes with crispy edges made from rice flour, coconut milk and palm toddy or yeast. Wonderfully versatile they work with eggs, curries, chicken and vegetables. My favourite is an egg nestling in it.

Lamprais!

Lamprais!

Lamprais is an exquisite accomplishment in Sri Lanka’s diverse and fascinating cuisine.  This delicacy includes a  savory rice with onions and spices in butter or ghee rice and then cooked in a meat stock. Lamprais which originated during the Dutch rule consisted of lamb, beef and pork. But today most commercially made Lamprais have substituted Lamb with Chicken. And all of the above are lovingly wrapped in lightly toasted Banana leaves to make it a whole meal. Its simply delicious!

Making Kotthu - Street food of Sri Lanka

Making Kotthu – Street food of Sri Lanka

Kotthu was one of the best eats on my list. A typical street food which had flaky roti bread chopped with vegetables, meats, and/or eggs, resulting in a fried-rice-like dish. The chefs make it with a rare rhythm and performance. It’s a delightful little package.

So this was a small post on my travel through the country. All these above things fascinated me and I thought I should share it with you. Along with the rich scenic beauty, we also sailed through the ancient Sri Lankan architectural monuments of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigirya etc.  It was an unimaginable experience and would love to share more on this country soon…

How We Lived a Day in Istanbul… Food, Architecture & Its Inheritance

This sprawling metropolis with a huge cultural and architectural heritage is a melting pot of Eastern and Western history. The only city in the world which is transcontinental i.e located on two continents, Europe and Asia and has 3113 mosques! Isn’t that unbelievable? We had a a beautiful vacation in Turkey a few years back. We loved this beautiful city of Istanbul with its ample blue waters of the Bosphorus strait and the 7 hills with a mosque each.

Skyline of Istanbul

Skyline of Istanbul

While walking through its streets, it felt so much like being in India. The blaring car horns, the shrill sound of calling prayers from the majestic mosques, its busy streets where people seem all over and beautiful colourful spice filled markets. We experienced the lovely tram ride from the Gelata bridge to the Grand Bazaar.

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The Brightness and richness of the Grand Bazaar

The Brightness and richness of the Grand Bazaar

The Beautiful Grand Bazaar

The Beautiful Grand Bazaar

Constructed in 1461 Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is quite popular today. It has 3000 shops which store dainty Turkish artifacts in small tunnels which is a complete jumble once you enter. It was such a pleasure to see this labyrinth  complex with pushy merchants and colours which your eye would never know.

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

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The most illustrious architecture I have ever seen till today is the Blue Mosque . The interiors are adorned with 20,000 blue tiles that fashion in fifty variations of tulip designs. It also has some extravagant resemblances of flowers, luscious fruits and perfectly grown cypresses.

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Street Food!

Street Food!

While walking through the Taksim square one chilly day of our stay in October we saw a man selling steaming muscles. This friendly vendor offered one to us and promised it would taste out of the world! It is called the Midye dolma, sort of a munchy that comprises of muscles stuffed with rice. He told us to eat it with using the shell as a spoon… and indeed, it was the most flavoursome eats I ever had!

Awesome Tradition to Relax and Cleanse

The Famous Hamams

The Famous Hamams

 The age old and popular Turkish baths play an important role in Turkish culture. These often beautiful buildings provide a place to relax, refresh and revitalize, but they are also a place for local people to socialize. These baths have long been considered a place to purify the body and give your overall health and well being a boost. I am not a big fan of massages yet I didn’t miss a chance to walk through these Hamams and feel its luxury.

The Bosphorus

Bosphorus Strait

Bosphorus Strait

On the Traditional Steamboat through the Bosphorus

On the Traditional Steamboat through the Bosphorus

Oh what a wonder this Boshphorus is! It is a straits that connects Asia and Europe, also connects the Maramara Sea to the Black Sea.  We took a lovely traditional steamboat ride to enjoy the array of colours and scented breezes, its balmy waters and admire the palaces and old mansions commonly called as ‘yalis’ that adorn the Bosphorus waters.

Sunset over Istanbul

Sunset over Istanbul

While steering through this city…Dusk fell and the setting sun illuminated the everything, gently bathing it in shimmering golds and crimsons. Lights were switched on and the silhouettes of the mosques rose, ready to greet the moon. It was time to go back to our hotel and look forward to the next wonderful day we decided to spend in Trabzon on the Black Sea.

In the Jumbles of Chandani Chowk – Delhi

Where people gaggle and lanes never end is the Chandani Chowk of Delhi! Walking through the dusty crowded alleys, smelling hot kababs and watching people shop for absolutely anything gives a feeling of how the olden times might have been. Jahanara the unwed princess of Shah Jahan & Mumtaz Mahal designed and shaped the Chandani Chowk in 1650. While in there… I tried to fabricate how life might have been with nobles, veiled Begums, intoxicated poets, the seductive courtesans and the busy markets…

Chandani Chowk Bylanes

Chandani Chowk Bylanes

The whole place was very engaging. A lane was full of shops which sold an entire wedding trousseau while the other one was overloaded with textiles and it wasn’t a surprising when a man selling stoles chased you until the end of the lane. The next you know is a bunch of devout namazis praying in between the streets. What amused me is so much happens within seconds in this old town.

The Textile Lane

The Textile Lane

Us in the Cycle Rickshaw

Us in the Cycle Rickshaw

After a very long time our friend Tanu negotiated a good deal with a cycle rickshaw and we hoped on one to go to this famous and the most talked about restaurant called Karims! The legendary eatery for the Mughlai food. Slowly yet steady we tore through the crowds of the Chandani Chowk and reached the Jama Masjid where we had a sumptuous meal of kababs and bheja fry and rumali rotis! It is said that only sons in the family are allowed to enter the business. Daughters are not taught the complete recipes because they could reveal the secrets to outsiders after they marry… looks like its still the man’s world!

The Legendary Karims

The Legendary Karims

Us at Karims... our bellies rumbling!

Us at Karims… our bellies rumbling!

The seriously legendary Seekh Kababs

The seriously legendary Seekh Kababs

With our tummies full and despite the hot day we set off into the Jama Masjid. Huge and as grand as ever we must hold a thousand devotees. A yellow and red sandstone mosque is again a architectural extravaganza of the Emperor Shah Jahan. Wide staircases and arched gateways are the hallmark of this popular mosque so very suited to the area it is located in. We looked around and rested at one of the porches of the mosque which overlooked the Red Fort. The cool stone below us, the view of the Red Fort at our backs and grand minarets ahead of us was a compelling sight. Then I thought Chandni Chowk might not match the grandeur of these western cities but the truth is that the place with its monuments, places of worship, old buildings, and gallies (alleys) and their businesses has its own heritage, a world in its own.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

The Archways carved from Yellow & Red Sandstone of the Jama Masjid

The Archways carved from Yellow & Red Sandstone of the Jama Masjid

On our way into the Jama Masjid

On our way into the Jama Masjid

The Inca Marvel of the Machu Picchu on the Ridge of the Peruvian Andes

Peru is a land of wonders! It stretches from the rocky sea cliffs of Lima inward to the deserts of Nazca, climbing high into the Andes and plunging deep into the Amazonia! Its wonderful to see a country have so much geographical richness! And yes, its wonderful to be able to experience all of it! From the treasures of the country, we had a chance to visit the one called the Machu Picchu at 2430 m above sea level. This archaeological ruin is perched atop a mountain, mysteriously abandoned more than four centuries ago. It is a symbol of the power and engineering prowess of the Inca.

The Machu Picchu

The Machu Picchu

This urban architecture and engineering of the Machu Picchu poses a lot of questions. How and why was this civilization built on such an inaccessible terrain? How did these people farm its emerald green terraces, and drank from its sophisticated aqueduct system? And why was it abandoned? In this post, I am going to tell you more about how wonderfully the city was planned and how everything made sense!

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The Holy Site
From what we were told, the Machu Picchu is located among the holy peaks. The surrounding peaks of the Wayna Picchu, Mount Yanantin & the peak of Putucusi are worshiped. Perhaps that is why the Machu Picchu was built where it was.

The Andes

The Andes

The Stone Work that with stood Earthquakes
The ancient wall of the Incas were made with blocks of stone which fit together tightly without mortar. They were so tightly interconnected that it is said that even a blade of grass was not penetrable.  These walls do not rise straight from bottom to top but are offset slightly from row to row. Peru is a highly seismic land, and when such disasters took place the stone walls moved slightly and resettled without the walls collapsing. Such was its perfection!

The Structure of the Walls

The Structure of the Walls

 Trapezoidal Doors & Windows
Doors and windows are trapezoidal and tilt inward at the top. This design detail help protect the houses from collapsing during an earthquake.

Trapezoidal Door of the Machu Picchu

Trapezoidal Door of the Machu Picchu

Homes & Mountain supervene
The roof tops of the homes and buildings match the mountains behind them. The slopes coincide exactly with the mountain.  What makes me think is if it had some significance because it does not seem like a coincidence!

Houses of the Machu Picchu

Houses of the Machu Picchu

The Innumerable Terraces
The biggest problem here are landslides, unstable earth. Incas built more than 700 terraces which are fundamental to its longevity. Without terraces, the mountain would have slid and the city would have succumbed to disasters. The terraces which were not used to make houses served as farmland. This proves that the Incas  studied their site before building their civilization… most astonishingly without any writing.

Terraces close to the Guard House

Terraces close to the Guard House

 The Rocks Carved like Mountains
The Incas worshiped nature. Everything seemed like it came from what lay around the citadel. Most rocks have been carved exactly like the mountain behind it. The shape of the rock perfectly matches the mountain behind it. The Incas worshiped mountains, and perhaps visibility due to fog or cloud cover must have made them carve rocks to be able to worship them everyday.

Rock cut like the Mountain behind

Rock cut like the Mountain behind

 

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Sacred Waters
The Inca spring, in many ways, controlled the layout of Machu Picchu. The location of the spring was fixed, and the Inca engineers figured out the slope of the canals accordingly. There were 3 fountains and the first fountain was located next to the the Emperors residence who got the cleanest water.  We were also told that outside the walls of the Machu Picchu was a overhanging rock that catches the sound from the Urubamba River 1,600 feet below the citadel. This rock amplifies the sound of flowing water. All these little aspects ensure that water was certainly sacred.

Aqueducts  of the Machu Picchu

Aqueducts of the Machu Picchu

Nature & the Citadel
What we observed that through many windows and gates the Wayna Picchu made a perfect view. The houses were constructed in such a manner that it overlooked an aspect of nature… some could even see the Urubamba river. Even the terraces close to the guard house have been built in curves which makes this site looks mysteriously beautiful.

Door of a house overlooking the Peak of Wayna Picchu

Door of a house overlooking the Peak of Wayna Picchu

It just amazes me to know how Machu Picchu is… also known as the Lost City. We know so less about it yet the theories make this place a mysterious wonder.  According to me the Incas built this city of stone, without the aid of wheels or iron tools with eternity in mind.

View of the Machu Picchu from the Wayna Picchu

View of the Machu Picchu from the Wayna Picchu

 

Swimming through the Gardens of Coral & Fish – The Maldives

The Maldives - Cyan Blue Paradise

The Maldives – Cyan Blue Paradise

A country with 1100 islands, ring reefs with its own sandy lagoon and the abundance of beautiful fish makes Maldives an infinite paradise. When I say it is a paradise it means this country is naturally supported and is lucky to have excellent weather conditions to be able to sustain its beauty. It  is located outside the normal cyclonic zones and thus violent storms are rarely been experienced. Not only that, since there is any absence of rivers on these islands sediments from inland sources are almost nil and hence the waters around Maldives are very clear and exhibit ideal conditions for coral growth. Hence I call it a wonderland of colours and textures!

The Maldives with its stunning White Beaches

The Maldives with its stunning White Beaches

Atolls of the Maldives

Atolls of the Maldives

 

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While flying over these islands, we noticed circular stretches of lagoons still submerged under the sea leaving behind an azure colour to them. I was a bit confused because they didn’t seem like islands yet they were shallower then the rest of the sea. I wondered what that was. It seems that they are atolls. They form borders along the shoreline and surrounding islands even though they may be submerged under water. When a fringing reef continues to grow upward from a volcanic island that has sunk entirely below sea level, an atoll is formed. Atolls are usually circular or oval in shape, with an open lagoon in the center. They looked so enigmatic and alluring and it was unbelievable because they are a pile of dead coral.

Descending in to the deep sea to swim between the fish & corals

Descending in to the deep sea to swim between the fish & corals

We visited the Maldives dreaming about water activities we would do, our preference for scuba over all the others. The idea of the dive thrilled us more than what we were going to see because it was beyond our imagination. These islands in the Indian Ocean are not only coral-fringed with their cyan waters but have a  rainbow-coloured coral reefs below its surface.

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Since we had snorkeled in the Hawai’i islands, we were equipped with a simple yet a very handy water camera. We tried capturing most of what we saw though the pictures still don’t do justice to its beauty.

The Reef & its life

The Reef & its life

So started our scuba dive in the shallow sea and we were further going to be taken into the Banana reef to be able to witness what gardens of the sea are. In our minds we worried about being able to handle breathing through our mouth and handling the equipment and the depths of the sea over what we would actually witness. Slowly we swam further towards the reef… slowly forgetting that breathing became less relevant than the forthcoming beauty of the sea bed. Unawares came a steep valley…the reef with the azure blue of the sea changing to the  shades of cerulean and thats when it dawned upon us that we will be going deeper and beholding an unimaginable reality.

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As we descended slowly into the deep sea,  we saw bewildering array of fish of course, with imaginable colours, shapes and sizes darting in and out of the corals.  We also saw various corals with breathtaking designs over them… some like a brain, some more like spike noses and some like ferns with pinks, magentas and oranges. It was so incredible, nothing mattered at that time. Just looking at every being under these waters and conceiving how magnificent this is, made us want to live there our whole lives!

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The Purple Pocillopora Coral

The Purple Pocillopora Coral

Snorkeling in the shallow seas

Snorkeling in the shallow seas

A day after we scuba dived we shifted our room from the beach villa to the water villa. Basically a room with a private deck constructed in the sea. So when you looked down, you saw corals, dainty fish, small reef sharks and the rays fly and glide through the sea. Our deck had a private staircase which lead us in to the sea and the whole two days we swam, snorkeled and covered every coral around that area. There wasn’t a single undersea garden we wanted to miss. It was a vacation which promised never-ending romance, infinite horizons of kaleidoscopic blues, hundreds pristine corals, a beautiful reef which teemed with life. This place is indeed a  real stunner.

View from our Water Villa

View from our Water Villa

 

Sting Ray gliding from below our Deck

Sting Ray gliding from below our Deck

 

The Staircase from the Deck of our Water Villa that dipped in to the Sea

The Staircase from the Deck of our Water Villa that dipped in to the Sea

The Chicago Architectonics

Everyday Chicago celebrates its life that runs through its restaurants, movies, music, people and its unique culture. But nothing defines the city more than its creative and technologically advanced architecture which is it’s identity.

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This post is a walk through Chicago’s boulevards exposing its architectural wonders and water ways which leave me mesmerized!

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It is said that Chicago River was a key element in the rise of Chicago from a sleepy lakefront town to the metropolis and major transportation hub that it is today. The Chicago River flows backwards, away from Lake Michigan, and the river is actually higher than the lake. I keep wondering how does a city that has a population of nearly 3 million has 300 bridges out of which 37 are movable and yet life travels normal on roads!

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While taking a river cruise through Chicago, you get to admire the great architecture of the skyscrapers. The view of the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower and the striking Chicago skyline is lovely. But if you crane your neck a bit less, you might notice that you pass through 18 bridges in the heart of the city. Isn’t that something?!

 

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The Cloud Gate designed by Anish Kapoor is an interactive sculpture that graces Chicago’s Millennium Park. It reflects the Chicago skyline. Not only does it play tricks with the light and the sky, but allows viewers to become a part of it due to its reflection. Its just fabulous!

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While strolling in Chicago is one thing and admiring a view from the top is another. We had a chance to see this sweeping view of Chicago and the lakefront from the John Hancock Observatory. Apparently the building’s exterior is aluminum and glass with distinctive x-shaped external bracing which virtually eliminates the need for interior columns. It was simply sensational.

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Parading through the city and looking at these beautiful steel giants rise high above you is really captivating. Skyscrapers all along the Michigan Avenue reaching taller and taller is among the aspects and qualities that make Chicago a unique city.

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Chicago is a true demonstration of architecture at its best. I feel it is a wonder city with new wonders rising everyday!

Thanks to my dear brother Kshiteej for taking such wonderful pictures of this beautiful City. He does justice to my writing!🙂

Up the Tikona Fort

A small routine breaker was getting more and more essential for us. We decided to go camping for a night somewhere close to Pune yet far away from anything commercial. So camping and barbecue was decided and it happened to be at the foothill of Tikona fort overlooking the lovely backwater of the Pavna Dam. As soon as we reached the camp site and saw this strikingly triangular fort (hence called Tikona), we decided we needed a hike to the top. So… we started our climb at 6 am the next day.

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View of the Tikona Fort from Pavna Dam backwaters

A short trek up the fort was amazingly interesting because of so many esoteric odds and ends we saw on our way. Our hike didn’t seem too long for sure but we didn’t anticipate the steepness of the fort. It made it more fun because the trail was narrow and lofty, the incline was high and the view was enthralling!

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Tikona Fort at Dusk

While climbing and admiring the early summer morning, we suddenly came to the first interesting facet of the fort. The first entryway called the Bhuyari Darwaza.  A cave which served as an entrance to this fort is very commonly seen among all forts in Maharashtra. It  further led to the watch tower from which the view of the valley was spectacular. This was called the Vetal Darwaza.

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After this point we came across some very serendipitous things. It started with a huge stone wheel. Beautifully cut and enormous  it was, that we wondered who would have moved this. Later we found out that this was used to grind lime to build this fort and was moved with the help of bulls by the Maratha leaders.

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It wasn’t too long before the statue of “Chapat Maruti” (chapat meaning flat in Marathi language) arrived. It was a rock craved into the statue of Hanuman and painted bright orange. It was big and is said to protect all the people who climb this fort.

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While we were getting over the odds on our way, we came across to set of caves. There was a large cave which had a few smaller ones buried into it. These small caves were Taljai Goddess Temple and Ram Dhyan Mandir. In front of these temples was a small mysterious pond wreathed with thicket of trees and roots seeping into the green waters. In this profoundly mysterious setting was a hermit and when we asked him some questions, he just looked through us. Enchanting as it was, we were looking forward to what we would see next!

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A few minutes from the temples we realized we would not only see but feel the steepness of the this fort. The tall steps through the various gates made the climb fun. Looking down made us a bit dizzy but couldn’t help noticing the panoramic view of the valley. By the time we reached the 3rd gate, the climb was tough and gradient sharp. This gate was almost a narrow duct guarded with watch towers and water tanks and then came a view so spectacular that we decided to come back here again in the monsoons!

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We wondered if there was more in store for us. After admiring the view, we continues our climb to the summit. Like all other forts in Maharashtra, this one had a lovely Mahadev (Shiva) Temple on top. The Shivling was ancient and appealing.

 

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The last little climb took us to the flag post where we couldn’t take our eyes off the backdrop. We overlooked the Tung fort which stood tall reaching below to the Pavna Dam backwaters and how the Tikona was standing tall, all strategically located in the middle of the other Sahyadri mountains. We stood there gazing dreamily in to the panorama……And then we knew we had to go back. The sun was getting harsh and we were getting hungry yet leaving this place was difficult. We walked back to our campsite leaving behind the mighty Tikona.

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