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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bird Photography: Crested Serpent Eagle – Moments to Flight!

It was a bright afternoon at Kaziranga National Park in Assam and I had just entered the Western Range for my afternoon jeep safari. We had about entered the main entrance and were supposed to cross the first jungle bridge when I noticed this Crested Serpent Eagle sitting on a dull tree branch and against the clear blue sky.

Crested Serpent Eagle staring at me 
It posed for about 2 minutes during which I got a good collection of shots and frames. But, most of these shots looked more or less the same. However, all this changed in the last 30 seconds or so, which I refer to as the ‘Moments to Flight’ in this post.

Crested Serpent Eagle getting ready to fly 
These are the priceless moments of the transition of the Crested Serpent Eagle from a still position to getting ready to fly to finally flight. Kinda like a short story Smile

Crested Serpent Eagle in flight 
I hope you like this series as this shows the bird in three different frames and in three different types of activity.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Guest Post: Five Highlights of the 2011 London International Horse Show at Olympia!!

One of the undisputed highlights to the Equestrian year is the London International Horse Show at Olympia which this year runs from 13 to 19 December 2011.

Over 7 days of competition and display, hundreds of horses and riders will ply their art in the arena whilst adjacent, in the National Hall, over 200 shops make up the biggest ever International Horse Show Shopping Village with a wonderful array of equestrian-themed goods - from horse blankets to earrings (for you - not your horse!).

Here are 5 highlights that are guaranteed to knock your socks off.

Extreme Carriage Driving - everything seems to be extreme this year, but few extreme events will live up to the spectacle of Indoor Carriage Driving. On Thursday evening and Friday afternoon the world’s top four in-hand drivers (including Boyd Exell, Ijsbrand Chardon and Koos de Ronde) will compete with their teams of four horses in a speed carriage driving competition. Flying the flag for Great Britain is plucky Pippa Bassett with her team of Lipizzaners.

Dressage Highlight: The Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage Qualifier on Tuesday 13 and Wednesday 14 December is the fourth of nine qualifiers leading up to the finals in Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands next April. Horse riding does not get more technical that dressage and dressage doesn't get tougher than this. Cheer the Brit: Richard Davison currently lies in 5th.

Jumping Highlight: The Rolex FEI World Cup™ Qualifier presented by H&M on Sunday 18 December. This is my top moment each year: incredible riders on incredible horses jumping incredible fences. Brit Michael Whitaker won last year and is back to defend his crown, but Nick Skelton and Scott Brash are having a storming season this year too. I can't wait!

The Lusitano Ride from Portugal - This promises to be the picture postcard moment from this year’s show. The Lusitano Ride from Portugal includes some of Portugal’s finest horses and riders. Actually managing to look cool in traditional dress, ten riders on ten Lusitano stallions will take part in this captivating display, reflecting the traditional horsemanship that still exists in Portugal today.

Lorenzo The Flying Frenchman - this is Lorenzo's third visit to Olympia. What a display of horsemanship, trust and courage - including flying over jumps whilst standing on the back of his horses. The bond with his horses (a team of beautiful grey Lusitanos) is incredible. Although the Horse Show site actually boasts that in 2000 Lorenzo fell off! Yes you too can see a grown man cry!

Of course there is the Shetland Pony Grand National and the Dog Agility Competition and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Father Christmas makes an appearance - as if he wasn't busy enough! All in all a cracking event when the horse world goes mainstream!

London International Horse Show at Olympia, London 13 - 19 December 2011. Tickets available from theatre breaks.

This guest post has been written by Nick Pratt.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Park City, Utah: Storybook Christmas

What would you do if you saw Santa coming down the mountain with his sleigh and reindeer? Why, you would drink hot cocoa and eat snacks while you watch and wait for him to arrive on Main Street. It is guaranteed to delight old and young alike when it happens at Christmas in Park City, Utah. If you really want to have a storybook Christmas experience, you better make your Park City reservations before the town fills up. Park City hotel reservations are also popular.

Save your Christmas shopping for Park City, as well. Traditional strolling from shop to shop on historic Main Street under the Christmas lights and decorations, with snow on the ground, will seem like a turn of the century dream. Stop in one of the many eateries or bars for a bite or a drink. Listen to the carolers in Miner’s Park every evening through Christmas Eve. To complete the experience, take a horse and carriage or horse drawn sleigh ride. The Ghost of Christmas Past is still alive and well in Park City, Utah.

Attend the solo Christmas Concert with pianist Kurt Bestor at the elegant Egyptian Theatre. There will also be many other performances at the theatre during the holidays. The Winter Exhibition at Gallery Mar or the art of Anton Arkhipoy at the Thomas Anthony Gallery, add a bit of culture to the season. Try a little ice skating at the city rink to the sound of holiday music and the sight of the Christmas lights.

On the 21st of December Park City will host a Winter Solstice Electric Parade. Everyone joins in this parade by adding lights to their bikes and autos; it’s quite a festive site to see and a lot of fun to participate in. On Christmas Eve Santa will ski down the mountain with 100 elves following behind. They will lead the Torchlight Christmas Parade at Park City Mountain Resort. Visits with Santa are on the agenda right after the parade. Santa will also be on hand for pictures at Deer Valley on Christmas Day. From the 23rd to the 25th Santa will ski the slopes at the Canyons and give out treats to all.

On the 25th a Christmas Day buffet at the Canyons will be the perfect holiday dinner. In the evening, Christmas Day is topped off with a huge fireworks display that will be a fitting end to a once in a lifetime. Imagine the delight on the faces of children, or the warm and fuzzy feeling you will get from the sound of caroling and the scent of cocoa. The holiday mood will certainly be alive and well.

Bring the children and the whole family for a Christmas that will be remembered as the best one ever. There are celebrations and events enough, to fill the holiday season with joy and fun. So many things to see and do and so little time until the Christmas season is over for another year. Park City is proud to bring this seasonal celebration to you every year. Once you have experienced it, you will want to return again and again to celebrate your future holiday seasons.

This guest post has been written by Rick Mumford.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Guest Post: Enjoying Cardiff at the weekend

Cardiff, Wales’ capital, is fast becoming one of the best loved alternative tourist cities in Britain. Attracting an estimated 18 million tourists in 2010, Cardiff offers a vast array of attractions and must-dos to suit all interests, and hotels like the Ibis Hotel Cardiff Gate lie well enough in the heart of it all to provide a decent base from which to explore the city. If you’re thinking about visiting the city soon, here are a few places you should definitely try and squeeze in while you’re there.

Cardiff Bay
Home to a large freshwater lake and the Wales Millennium Centre in which lies the glorious Welsh National Opera, Cardiff Bay is the largest waterfront development in Europe, and offers a fantastic selection of top quality restaurants, bars and cafes in addition to all the fun water sports there. So whoever’s in your party, the more sedate can relax and use the amenities, and the thrill seekers can join in the water-based excitement before you return to your Cardiff hotel to freshen up.

Stockvault Sunset in the bay 
Llandaff Cardiff Ghost Walk
Cardiff History and Hauntings’ Llandaff Cardiff Ghost Walk is the only way to get right under the skin of Cardiff’s paranormal past. The guided tour will take you around the capital city’s spookiest alleyways, where you’ll be told about the chilling history and hauntings of each of the stops on the, and all for under £10. In fact, Cardiff History and Hauntings’ Llandaff Cardiff Ghost Walk has been hailed as one of the best things to do for under a tenner in all of Britain!

Millennium Stadium
Built in 1999 to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup and one of the newest big attractions in Cardiff, the beautiful Millennium Stadium is situated on the water’s edge and lies at the heart of the city, it’s a real feat of architecture and engineering. Home to Wales national rugby union team, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium also stages games of the Wales national football team as well as a plethora of other big ticket events, for example the Speedway Grand Prix of Great Britain, Super Special Stage of Wales Rally Great Britain, boxing and many music acts including the likes of U2, The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Madonna, Stereophonics and Paul McCartney. Visitors are able to take a stadium tour with prices starting from £4.95 for concessions and £19.50 for a family, so it’s well worth checking out.

National Museum and Art Gallery
Free to enter and bursting with culture, Cardiff can offer visitors the likes of the National Museum and Art Gallery where they will learn about natural history, geology and archaeology.

This guest post has been written by Joseph Griffiths.

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Guest Post: Falling in Love all over again in Switzerland

Think of Switzerland and your mind could be transported to any number of places: idyllic flower covered hills inhabited by bell-wearing cows; snow-capped mountains; opulent modern cities; all of these still play a part in contemporary Switzerland. Flights to Basel, Switzerland’s most populous city, open up a world of beautiful scenery and romantic getaways, making Switzerland one of the most romantic destinations for couples both young and old.

Switzerland has a number of fantastic and romantic regions, but many of them are to be found in the mountains: resorts here are so isolated that couples have nothing to distract their attention away from each other, offering the optimum conditions for a romantic break you’ll never forget.

Mürren, for example, is accessible only by cog railway or cable car and is perched hundreds of feet above the beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley. With just a smattering of chalets on offer, Mürren is quiet and still to the point that it looks like something that you might see on a postcard rather than in real life. Skiing here is still fantastic, so if you and your significant other are snow bunnies there are few better places to go.

If you prefer something a little less remote, Zurich provides all of the romance of a lonely log cabin with added sophistication. The town is one of the most highly acclaimed tourist destinations in the world and offers a delectable blend of history and modernity that allows you to slip in and out of a romantic reverie. Zurich may be full of banks, but it’s most romantic is most definitely the one surrounding Lake Zurich. Couples can rent paddle boats and tour the city from the water or can hop on one of the tour boats that will take you out to view the breath taking vistas in nearby villages.

This is just a small sampling of what Switzerland has to offer couples looking for the ultimate romantic getaway this winter, but hopefully it will have whet your appetite to find out more.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Guest Post: 5 Tips for planning a Touring Trip on a Motorcycle

There can be any number of unexpected surprises on a motorcycle trip.  You can’t plan for the unexpected, unless you are simply always prepared.  Planning may seem daunting, but it will end up allowing you to enjoy the best moments along the way.  Here are just a few things to consider as you build your trip strategy:

Tip #1: Take the right bike
Not everyone has the luxury of choosing their ride for a motorcycle trip.  If you only have one bike, then think of it this way: Plan the right trip for the bike you ride.  An ADV bike will take you further into uncharted territory where a cruiser would be out of place.  A properly outfitted touring bike will allow you to outlast for those ironbutt treks.

Tip #2: Choose the right season

Leaving at the right time of year can make all the difference in successfully completing a tour.  Keep in mind that the seasons reverse as you cross the equator.  How many hours of daylight do you need to cover the mileage to your destination?  Will you expect rain, or even snow?  Don’t ride below 36 degrees unless you’ve been doing this for twenty years - ice is the silent two-wheel killer.

Tip #3: Wear the right gear
Based on your first two set of choices, make sure your gear is up to task for your style of riding and the season you are in.  Not everyone has the budget for high end gear, but you can build a strong wardrobe to suit your needs by paying for the right features and functions.  The ‘right’ gear will give you the stamina to log the miles and remove distractions so you can focus on the road.  Some brands to consider that offer good options at several price points are: Bell Helmets, REV’IT! Textiles, and Sidi motorcycle boots.

Tip #4: Pack the right stuff
Are you camping or staying at hotels?  Will you be traveling in urban areas with quick-access to amenities, or will you be stranded next to the ‘No gas station for 100 miles’ sign?  Does your cell phone have coverage along your route?  Will you be stopping for food or bringing it with you?  Ask the right questions; get the right answers.

Tip #5: Map the right roads
This is what it is all about, right?  Don’t be too short-sighted.  You can choose the most awesome twisties on the way out, but remember you have to get back home!  A return timeline can force you to take long, straight, boring highways all the way home, if you aren’t careful.  Charting in triangles often allows for a good mix of mileage, diversity and pacing.

About the Author: Chris K, Motorcycle Enthusiast, RevZilla.com. Commuter by trade, but an aspiring sport-touring rider, Chris prefers twisties and mountain views, but will put up with stop and go traffic to avoid driving the cager.  A dedicated two-wheeler, Chris rides his VFR800A Anniversary Edition Honda Interceptor - rain or shine.

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Sangetsar Lake: Abundance of Himalayan Vistas

The Himalayan landscapes are bound to captivate nearly anyone in this world. Irrespective of the month of the year or the time of the day, it has something to offer to its visitors. It was indeed such a moment when I approached Sangetsar Lake, a high altitude lake in the Eastern Himalayas of Arunachal Pradesh that is considered holy by the Buddhists.

Near Sangetsar Lake 
It is the heady mix of spirituality, the mighty Himalayas surrounding it and the tree trunks jutting out of this lake that give it that oomph factor. Or may be, it is because, your brain is gasping for oxygen at this high altitude of about 12,000 feet.

Sangetsar Lake from a distance 
This place is also known as Madhuri Jheel after the famous Bollywood movie Koyla (featuring Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit) that was shot here. In terms of location, the Sangetsar Lake is about 30 kilometres North East of Tawang (about 2 hour drive one way depending on weather and road conditions). One requires a special permit from the District Commissioner's (DC) office located at Tawang to visit this lake. Only Indian nationals are allowed here.

of valleys and peaks 
There is a fair bit of history associated with this lake. The Sangetsar Lake is one of the remotest high altitude lakes in India and is located tantalizingly close to the China border. Both the Buddhists of India as well as the Buddhists of Tibet, consider the waters of this lake extremely pure and come here on pre-defined days of the year to offer their prayers.

Sangetsar Lake or Madhuri Jheel 
And then there is a bit of story attached to the eerie tree trunks jutting out of this lake. I found this one out from the local army folks over a cup of tea. Apparently, the Sangetsar lake used to be located at a short distance away from its current location, but after an earthquake that hit this part of the world and the ensuing tectonic plate shift, the lake moved its position from its earlier location to a pine forest. The move was so dramatic that it drowned the entire forest except for the top of the tree trunks that can still be seen jutting out, even today.

A high Himalayan view 
There are some other interesting facts about this lake. One, it never dries out even during the driest years and second, it never freezes even during the coldest year and that too when everything around it is deeply frozen.

Enjoying a quiet nature walk in the high Himalayas 
If you are fairly fit and have acclimatized well to the high altitude, then you should definitely walk the well paved pedestrian path that surrounds this lake. This trail gives you a 360 degree view of this magnificent Himalayan vista, while you cut across innumerable streams and pine forests that are dressed in fresh snow. This place is a definite on the travel bucket list if you are in love with the Himalayas.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

See India from a different vantage point

India is a must-visit destination for travellers – a whirlpool of exotic food, unique culture and people excited to welcome you. However, travelling a country the size of India can be difficult – especially in a short period of time – making a stress and hassle-free ocean cruise a great way to explore the country.

Before arriving in India, there’s a chance to enjoy the culture-clash of modern Phuket. Whether you choose to be enchanted by the inside of a traditional Thai temple or decide to enjoy the company of some friendly locals – and their elephant friends – Thailand is a great place to relax before immersing yourself on a colonial spice adventure! One of the best parts of an ocean cruise voyage is that after a day exploring the local area, you can always head back to your ship each evening – a sumptuous home-from-home for any traveller.

With an exciting history and a host of things to do, a stopover in Sri Lanka is a great introduction to India. Ancient Hindu mythology says that Sri Lanka was once connected to the main Indian mainland via a natural bridge – but after sea rises and a cyclone, only a chain-link shoal of limestone is left above the water. Sri Lanka offers a range of activities for a visitor, from relaxing on the white beaches, where you can scuba-dive, snorkel or go whale watching to take in the history of the country, which was once ruled by the British.

After a day at sea, the coast of India will rise from the azure waters and visitors will be bewitched by the city of Kochi. Surrounding lush green hills, the port city was a hugely important base for traders, who would sap Chinese fishing nets for the exotic spices which are so central to Indian cuisine. Even today, the city ranks as an important Indian seaport – and the proximity to the coast makes it a great place to try local fish and seafood! Visit the waterfront of the area to find ‘You Buy, We Cook’ – a service where visitors can choose to have their favourite fresh fish cooked to their specifications!

A second stop on the Indian mainland will afford you time to experience Mangalore, on the southwest coast, renowned for beaches and temples. It’s a key site for the export of goods from India – particularly coffee and cashews – and there’s even the chance to see the inside of a cashew factory for those who choose to visit the city. The final docking in India is at the most populous city in the country – Mumbai – a metropolitan expanse where cinema, contemporary art, architecture, holidays and food are all a blend of multiple cultures.

India is wonderful to visit – a stimulating whirlwind of people, places and possibilities which make it impossible to forget. If you’re looking to see the sights of this unique country, why not consider something a little bit different and delve into India from the comfort of an ocean cruise?

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Guest Post: Planning a Foodie Road Trip Across India

Planning a road trip across India, it’s hard to know where to start. Whether you’re going by car, motorcycle, or rickshaw, you’re going to want to base your trip around something. India’s cuisine is famous throughout the world, so why not plan your journey around your stomach?

Many flights to India land in Mumbai, and coincidentally this is a great place to begin your foodie odyssey. Get the taste for Indian street food in the famous food markets, or Khau Gullies. One of the most popular, Jhaveri Bazaar, is also the goldsmith’s market. Watch as diamond traders bid for uncut stones while you eat your batata vada.

After Mumbai head to nearby Pune: the perfect destination for garlic lovers, as the aromatic bulb features heavily in most dishes. The food of Pune is delicate and based on lacto-vegetarian principles.

Next stop: Goa, famous for delicious seafood curries spiked with chilli. The food of Goa has a strong Portuguese influence, dating back to colonial days. While in Goa you’ll notice the difference between Hindu cuisine, which is known for being delicately spiced, and the Catholic cuisine (Vindaloo is the most famous example). This part of the country is breath taking; so take some time to relax on one of the white-sanded beaches.

Kochi, a little further south, is a famous banana-growing district. The fruit is used in many dishes, and most meals will be served to you on a banana leaf. Enjoy curries flavoured with coconut milk, and expect to drink coconut water: the perfect tangy accompaniment to any meal.

Bangalore is a haven for fans of South Indian Udupi cuisine. Udupi cuisine is unusual as it contains no onions, garlic, meat, fish, or shellfish. Grains, beans, and vegetables are used to fill dishes out.

Chennai, your next stop, is well known for hospitality. Dishes are served with rice, coconut chutney, sambar broth, and mulaga podi. Find out where the foodie hot-spots are by following local food blogs; a little research goes a long way whilst on the road!

Heading Northwards you’ll find yourself in Hyderabad, where the food has a tradition passed down from the Sultans. What better way to eat like royalty? All ingredients are carefully chosen, picked, and cooked to the highest standards. Biryani is perhaps the most famous dish from this region.

A foodie trip to India would not be complete without a visit to Kolkata. Bengali cuisine focuses on fish and lentils, with subtle fiery spices. The confectionary and desserts in this part of India are also famous.

Before finishing your trip in Jaipur, India’s “Pink City”, spend a few days in New Delhi getting reacquainted with the fabulous street food tradition. People from New Delhi love eating, and you’re bound to find something to tickle your taste-buds.

About the author: James writes for cheap flights comparison website Skyscanner.

Route Map 
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guest Post: 5 Tips for Finding Cheaper Flights to India

If the only thing standing in your way of being blown away by bustling Bombay or becoming bronzed on Baga’s beaches is the price of your flights, it’s time to have a look at these top tips for cutting your travel bill.

Tip #1: Be Flexible & Fly Off Peak
You’re guaranteed to save if you’re able to be flexible with your travel plans. Peak travel times tend to be over June and July, when the western world starts planning its summer fun, but if you’ve got a head for heat and you need cheap flights to India to meet your budgetary requirements, you could save money by travelling between March and May – be prepared for hot and humid weather though. Prices also go up in the winter, especially as it’s over these month’s that most of India’s best known celebrations take place, such as Dussehra, Durga Puja and Diwali all in November, so check out and avoid special celebrations.

Tip #2: Start Planning Early
A holiday to India is likely to be a trip you’ve been saving up for and looking forward to for a long time, don’t do yourself a disservice by booking at the last minute. As a general rule, the earlier you can book a long haul flight like this the better. The closer it gets to your departure date, the more seats will be filled, driving the price up. Of course, it’s possible the airline will sell a few remaining seats off cheaply at the last minute, but you can’t ever rely on this.

Tip #3: Don’t Assume Indirect Equals Cheaper
You may think that choosing an indirect flight or a flight with a couple of stopovers will save you money, but it could actually end up costing you extra. Not only will you have to factor in the cost of food, transport and accommodation at your stopover destination, but if you book with different airlines you could find yourself liable if you miss your connecting flights.

Tip #4: Be Prepared To Try New Airlines
There are many different airlines flying to India, from Lufthansa to Flybe, so don’t limit yourself to the few with names you recognise. If you’re nervous, you can always research the name of a carrier you don’t know, and reassure yourself of their reputation.

Tip #5: Find the Best Airport to Fly From
Remember that the airport closest to you, or the biggest airport in your area, isn’t always the best one to fly from. Search for flights from your whole country rather than your local area, and find out if it saves you money even when you factor in connecting flights or transport.

Relaxing beach resorts, thrilling cities, amazing natural sights, India is a destination and a half. Crammed with so many unique experiences, you’re sure to want to visit again, and by finding cheap flights to India you might just be able to.

About the author: James writes for cheap flights comparison site, Skyscanner.net.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

How to commute in Sri Lanka?

I am sure that there are many sites and blogs that provide this information on the web, but thought I would like to add my thoughts based on my recent backpacking experience to this island nation.

Port of Entry
There is only one International airport in Sri Lanka, which is the ‘Bandaranayake’ airport, about 35 kms from Colombo. Currently, this is the only port of entry for international travellers. There is another international airport being planned on the South West coastal city of Hambantota, but locals tell me that this will take more than 10 years to get complete.

From the Colombo airport, one can take a bus, tuk-tuk (3 wheeler taxi) or a four wheeler taxi (cab, van) depending on budget and baggage size. Buses work out the cheapest, though slightly difficult if you are carrying a lot of baggage. There are AC and Non-AC buses (Bus No. 187) that connect the airport to the main city bus stand at Pettah. These buses run 24 hours a day and cost 50 LKR (Non-AC) and 130 LKR (AC) for the 60-90 minute journey depending on traffic. There are buses every 15 minutes during the day and the frequency drops to one every hour during the night. The airport bus stand, which is about 3 kilometres away from the airport is connected by regular free airport shuttle buses and tuk-tuks (cost LKR 100 for the one way trip). A Tuk-Tuk to the city would cost between LKR 800 and LKR 1500 depending on the time of commute. Night charges are higher. A 4 wheeler taxi would cost between LKR 1500 and LKR 2500 depending on time of commute. All mentioned prices are from the airport to Colombo Fort or Pettah, which is the city centre and houses the Colombo railway station and the main city bus stand (government and private).

Inter-City Commute
Nearly the entire island nation of Sri Lanka is well connected by all-weather roads. This is also the fastest mode of commute. For luxury-oriented travellers, AC vans (Nissan Caravan, Toyota Hiace and lookalikes) are available at 30 LKR per kilometre. In addition, there is a driver fee of LKR 500 per day. These are the base rates, though the cost may vary with quality of vehicle and commission of travel agent.

For budget travellers, buses and trains are available. Most of the cities have private and government buses plying. The private ones are quicker, but cost slightly more than the government one. But, in principle, both of them are good. For longer journeys or commute between important cities, AC buses are available. All these buses start from the respective city bus stand. All notice boards in these bus stands are available in English too, apart from Sinhala and Tamil. To give you the idea of the cost, a private bus from Thissamaharama to Matara (140 kms or 3 hours) costs about LKR 115 per person. On the same lines, a private AC bus from Galle to Colombo (117 kms or 3 hours) costs about LKR 230 per person. Mostly, the buses are on time, though it would be best to keep a small tolerance.

In terms of train travel, the Sri Lankan railways, cover about 50% of the country. They are most efficient between Colombo and Kandy, Colombo and Galle and Colombo and Badulla as there are umpteen trains available every day with the option of AC, 1st class, 2nd class and 3rd class on these trains. The trains are comfortable, but are known to get delayed quite regularly. Currently, tickets cannot be booked online and one needs to go to the train station booking counter to book in advance. Advance bookings open for 14 days before the actual boarding date. As a thumb rule, 2nd class and 3rd class tickets are available on the day on the journey. However, first class and AC tickets get sold out quickly. The situation is much different during festivals and national holidays, when everyone is eager to visit their hometown.

The train from Colombo to Nanu Oya in the central highlands is quite popular with the tourists as it passes through tea estates, meanders across waterfalls, streams and hills. For such a train from Colombo to Nanu Oya, the 1st class observation car costs about LKR 750, the 2nd class about LKR 450 and 3rd class about LKR 230. As far as I remember, there are AC trains only between Colombo and Kandy, though I guess this will change pretty soon as upgrades are being made to the Sri Lankan train system.

For shorter inter-city travel, even the tuk tuk (3 wheeler taxi) is possible. Passengers would have to pay the entire round trip fare even for a one-way trip. Remember to bargain well with tuk tuk drivers.

Intra-city Travel
For larger cities, buses are the best option. They are cheap, available in plenty and are efficient. For those who want to save on time, the tuk tuk is available at all corners, though you might have to bargain to get a good deal. Tuk Tuk drivers in Sri Lanka are known to stop by all tourists and enquire if they are interested in a ride. For luxury travellers, AC cars and vans are available, though, one will have to work out a daily package rate or get in touch with their hotel desk to get a good deal. This option is the most comfortable, though depletes your wallet pretty fast.

One can also hire rental cars and bikes. Luxury Rental car agencies like Malkey are actually more expensive than a chauffeured car/van, though CF Budget hires can work out slightly cheaper. Bicycles and motorcycles are also available on rent, though I have personally not given these a try. What I have heard from other travellers is that the state of these bikes leaves a lot to be desired.

If you are a good walker and can handle the sultry conditions (especially on the coastal side) of Sri Lanka, I would recommend ‘walking’ as a great mode of commute. Most of the cities are small in size, with the exception of Colombo and offer fantastic leisure walks while you admire the various locations on your travel map. In fact, Sri Lanka promotes walking through large and well laid out cobbled paths and a traffic system that gives preference to the walker than the automobile (something similar to the United States and most of Western Europe).

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Friday, November 04, 2011

Travel Summary: Backpacking in Sri Lanka

I got back yesterday morning after a fabulous 6 day and 6 night backpacking holiday in Sri Lanka. The trip was so great that each day was a highlight. After learning some basic Sinhala words during my last trip, I have progressed to forming small, but broken sentences during the course of this holiday. English is still a prized commodity in Sri Lanka and is limited to the major cities and that too in the tourist circles. Colombo is the only exception to this trend. Tamil is quite well spoken in the central highlands, in the north and in small Muslim communities. The rest of the country is pure Sinhala. But, the people are so welcoming that as a traveller, you hardly feel the difficulty in communication. But, learning a local language helps as always.

My backpacking trip started with staying at a budget hotel on Galle road in Colombo 3. This was followed by a long walk through the heart of Colombo fort, which included the marine drive, Fort Railway Station, Pettah and the five star hotel district. The walk was special in spite of the sultry weather as the wide cobbled paths and zero litter environment are pleasing to anyone coming from the crowded and not so clean roads of India. During this walk, I got myself a local Dialog Sim card, explored the handicraft emporium, the old colonial buildings from the Dutch, Portuguese and British times, tried getting myself a train ticket at the fort railway station and walked the entire marine drive stretch.

The next morning, me and my friends reached the fort railway station, got ourselves first class observation car tickets to Nanu Oya. The rest of the day was spent admiring the changing landscapes as this train chugged its way along the steep slopes to the central highlands of Sri Lanka. A local bus then took us from Nanu Oya to Nuwara Eliya, the tea capital of Sri Lanka. The evening and night was spent exploring the markets of Nuwara Eliya.

Next early morning saw us take a tuk tuk (local three wheeler taxi) to Horton Plains National Park, where we trekked 9.5 kms in light rain and significant mist to Mini World’s End, World’s End and Baker’s Falls. Then we headed to the New Zealand milk farm to see how Cheese is manufactured while enjoying a hot cup of fresh farm milk. The evening saw us struggling to find a bus to our next destination and seeing our plight, a local agreed to drive us down to Thissamaharama for a basic cost. The night was spent in a home stay at Thissamaharama, which is fondly remembered by the group as ‘Princess Castle’ as the beds had pink mosquito nets on them.

The fourth day provided us with a great wildlife experience at Yala National Park. The highlight of this wildlife safari was us seeing 2 different leopards, one in the morning on the tree and the other in the afternoon on the jeep track. We were also treated to the sights of a 14 foot Tusker crossing the jeep track and that too at not more than 10 feet from our jeep. In addition, we saw plenty of bee eaters, land monitor lizards, peacocks, raptors, crocodiles and deer. This safari was a full day safari, which meant that we spent a good 12 hours inside the wildlife sanctuary. Lunch was spent on the Yala beach, which faces the wide open Indian Ocean. The evening was special too as we stayed in a tree house facing the jungle. This place was illuminated only by Kerosene lanterns and had the basic of facilities. The highlight of the evening was us sipping on some Old Arrack, a local coconut brew.

Two buses in the morning took us from Thissamaharama to Matara and then to Unawatuna Beach on the South West coast of Sri Lanka. Here, we decided to go for some luxury and stayed at a beach facing bungalow. This gave us great access to the beach. Rest of the evening was spent swimming in the waters and exploring different corners of the beach. It is here that I spent my 30th birthday.

After a relaxed wake up next morning at 8 AM (every morning, we were up by or before 5 AM), we went to explore the nearby coastal city of Galle. The day was spent exploring the fort, the coastline, the colonial buildings, the churches and the Galle International Test Cricket Stadium. After lunch, me and my friend parted ways and I headed to Colombo in a AC bus, while they returned to Unawatuna Beach.

At Colombo, I met Heminda Jayaweera, my local Sri Lankan friend and fellow trekker and he was kind enough to drop me at ODEL Fashions for some souvenir shopping. I spent close to 3 hours at the ODEL showroom and after spending a lot of money, I came out, had dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant (first Indian food in the last 6 days and nights) and then took the local Bus to Pettah and then the Airport. The return flight was less than 30% full, but much better occupancy considering the fact that only 4 of us passengers were there on my onward flight. Overall, this trip was physically tiring, as we faced variety of weather (rain almost everywhere, chilly nights and mornings in the central highlands and high humidity on the west coast), but then ain’t that the beauty of backpacking trips!!

This trip was much richer than my last one and I have loads of information and tit bits to share. I am sure you are all eager to see the photographs, but please hold onto for some more time as I am travelling today to Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra and haven’t yet gotten enough time to process my photos. Do stay tuned to read more on my Sri Lankan experience. I am sure backpackers, vacationers, budget travellers and others will find it helpful.

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