Tuk Tuk Safari!


Some experiences are best when they happen to be spontaneous decisions. This was one of them. I got in touch for one reason and suddenly was about to experience a tour of the city of Colombo simply thanks to the warm hospitality of the men who run this business. I’d picked a poya holiday purely because there would be less traffic on the road and I didn’t necessarily have plans for the day.

Our driver was prompt, friendly and had a wide smile. His name was Tin Tin. Having greeted my friend and I with a flower lei and an introduction to everything that was within our mode of transportation, we were off on our first Tuk Tuk Safari!

I’d always wondered what it was like going on an excursion, experiencing the heritage, history, culture, food and natural beauty of Colombo in a tuk and here was my first time doing so. Prior to booking the ride, I’d explained I did not need a full-on guide to the tours that are organized but I wanted to have somewhat of an idea of what the safaris were like. I’m told there are morning safaris that start at 9am, a sunset safari that is aimed towards the late afternoon (leaning towards the evening) and a delicious food safari as part of the different tours offered.


Touring Colombo

The best part? These tours can be custom planned according to some of the sites you may or may not want to see, also the hours you’r willing to be out and about. A typical tour takes up to four hours and costs $49USD per individual, which I honestly believe is a pretty sweet deal considering the excellent service, the guide information at every stop and also the food you get to enjoyed along the way.

I’ve forgotten to mention the tuk itself. Custom painted, sleek and retro in every aspect, these aren’t your typical rundown every day tuks of Colombo. There’s a small garbage bin placed in the front, a tray that is fixed and built to hold water bottles or beer cans, a hand sanitizer, a facial tissue back and along the back storage a cooler with multiple cans of beer, an awesome speaker set for music of your own choice and a roofing mechanism that can be opened up.

Personally, I’d recommend keeping the top open as the breeze throughout the tour is too lush to miss. If you’re not a fan of getting a slight tan and burnt however, have it closed. Tin Tin took off towards some of the oldest religious sites in parts of the city including one Hindu kovil, a church and then made way to Pettah, the business hub. Thankfully as it were a public holiday, traffic along the small streets were not a problem and my friend and I were also prompted to experience the ride standing from our end of the tuk.


Our first snack stop was beside the Khan Clock Tower for some juicy achcharu. Nibbling, we continued to drive towards Galle Face Green and couldn’t resist getting ourselves some isso wadey like typical locals. The tour also incorporated a stop along Marine Drive, sitting down to a tea presentation and also having a cuppa while watching the sun set for the day.

As much as us as locals tend to overlook the beauty of the city, we also don’t often recognize how culturally and historically blessed we are. There’s a rich sense of being as you walk along the temple ground of Gangaramaya, drive pass the monumental Colombo Municipal Council and the lush Viharamaha Devi Park and even Independence Square that rings with history. For dinner, we stopped at Taste of Asia and dug into freshly made steaming hot egg, plain and milk hoppers paired with accompaniments like gravy and katta sambol. I’d never had a milk hopper before and surprisingly, I loved every bite of it.

As dusk turned into darkness, it was time to head back home. Now I’d like to mention again that this was not the typical sunset tour and that mine was simply a cut down version of the regular experience. For the most part, my friend and I did not stop at many of the places and we also skipped a few snack spots. As said before, if you think a four hour tour is too much to handle, let the driver know or inform the team beforehand, and they’d create a personal tour suitable just for you.

Do I think the experience was worth it? Most definitely; and I’d encourage even locals to give it a go and see the city through the eyes of a foreigner

“Majestic Colombo has endless off the beaten track pearls, and we wanted everyone to be able to experience the city in an authentic Sri Lankan way; on a tuk tuk, the cornerstone of every local adventure! It’s ideal for people who have limited time, access and local knowledge. You can definitely see so much when you do it right; just like a local!” – Tim, Tuk Tuk Safari

You can also experience the UNESCO World Heritage City of Galle with Tuk Tuk Safari. They have a morning, beach and sunset safari. You can log into http://www.tuktuksafarisrilanka.com for additional information.

Pictures courtesy Tuk Tuk Safari

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Fatehpur Sikri – The City of Victory

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As once the capital of the Mughal empire, the city of victory, also known as Fatehpur Sikri bears exceptional testimony to the once grand and highly influential era of reigning kings and queens.

Located approximately a two-hour drive away from Agra, Uttar Pradesh, this Indian city was founded in the year 1569 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. It remained as the capital city from the year 1571 to 1585 during which it was regarded as one of the most influential eras of all time.

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Back when…
Emperor Akbar began work on this capital in the year 1571 and it was said to have been completed in a matter of two years. The architect who worked on the main palace was Tuhir Das. Apart from being influenced by Persian architecture, Indian principles (including Hindu, Jain and Islamic elements of architectural design) can also be seen. Carved beams and posts, decorated pillars, ornamental arches, detailed brackets and balconies are a constant feature. Domes on the other hand have been built very sparingly. An efficient and well organized system of drainage and water supply was also adopted suggesting an intelligent and far-thinking planning strategy by the emperor.

All in all, the then city comprised of a series of palaces, public buildings, harems, places of worship (mosques), as well as living areas for the emperor’s entire court, army and servants as well as the entire population of commoners. Although it is probable from the ruins of mud huts on the plain surroundings that the people of Fatehpur Sikri were not well-off, the area was rich in sandstone which was primarily used to build the entire city and its main buildings.

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The royal palace of Fatehpur Sikri stands tall (even to this day) on a rocky plateau, bound on three sides by a 6km wall and fortified by towers and gates. A man-made lake was said to have planked the fourth side but this does not exist today. Regardless of how many years this palace had been abandoned, visitors throng to this part of the city just to get a glimpse of the architectural grandeur and splendour of its yesteryears. Each section of the palace was constructed, keeping in mind of how best each section could be used and also in keeping with its natural surrounding – including a hall for the public audience, a jewel house, a pavilion, an entertainment hall, stables and also a grand mosque.

Standing at 54 metres at the entrance of the palace complex is the Buland Darwaza – a wall-like fortification entrance gate gradually making a transition to human scale on the inside. The emperor was known to have been a very pious man and many places of worship and religious monuments were constructed during his reign, including the grand mosque – Jama Masjid – which lies beyond the Buland Darwaza. It can accommodate over 10,000 worshippers and was said to have been built sometime during the completion of the main palace. High red sandstone walls flank this mosque and at the centre of the court lies the tomb (made of white marble) of Sheik Salim Chisti (a devout follower and Sufi saint of Islam). The tomb is elaborately decorated with carvings and floral patterns and the sarcophagus itself is surrounded by detailed work and excellent craftsmanship only known to the Mughal era. Jodha Bai (Emperor Akbar’s wife) was gifted a palace of her own which lies in close proximity to the mosque and main royal palace. This too consists of a large main courtyard at its centre which is surrounded by a continuous gallery.

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Above this gallery rise rows of buildings on the north and south end of the palace. Made of the famous red sandstone, the courtyard opens up to the Panch Mahal also known as the five-storey building and the private audience chamber (also known as the Diwan-i-Khas). Whilst the Panch Mahal is of five galleries, one above the other and adorned with carved motifs, the private audience chamber consists of an enormous octagonal pillar, a circular centre and four separate galleries that run to the corners of the chamber. This is where the Emperor Akbar met with the general public and adhered to their grievances and requests. It is known that he also gathered his many representatives of different religions here and discussed their faiths.

At the centre of the second large courtyard lies the Anup Talao – an ornamental pool with a central platform and four small bridges leading up to it. The other buildings of the royal enclave are situated around this, including the drum house, another public court and the house of Emperor Akbar’s favourite minister, Birbal.

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World heritage site
Fatehpur Sikri is in fact well kept and fortified even centuries later. One description of a visitor’s personal account goes on to say “the palace was deserted, not ruined, and its lord was not dead but abandoned… everything is carved in a sandstone so fine and compact, that, except where injured by man, it appears nearly as sharp as when first chiselled. The amount of labour bestowed on this city throws the filigrees of the Alhambra quite into the shade and it is unlike anything that I have ever seen.”

Although the Taj Mahal is the most known monument in the region of Agra, the grandeur of Fatehpur Sikri should not be underestimated. There truly is no other facade of this kind, be in form of structure or architectural brilliance. There is a sense of simplicity that welcomes you even amongst the grand decorated pillars and endless rows of galleries. A mere hour or two would not suffice here; its best to take time and spend at least half a day walking through the rooms, stopping to take in the view of the land beyond the palace, sit by the ornamental pool whilst a light breeze fills the air and image a group of men singing khawalis at dusk.

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Weekly Snap!

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My first weekly snap after coming back from Saudi Arabia is this picture I took when in Medina. This city is known to be the second most holiest city in Islam after Makkah. Devout Muslims around the world would be able to easily identify the mosque I have captured in this picture. It is Masjid Al Nawabi (the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad PBUH – Peace Be Upon Him) in Medina. I will go into detail about this mosque and the city when I post about my stay there. This picture shows a side view of one minaret of the mosque and also a partial view of the beautiful umbrellas on the outside.

Xoxo

Beruwala

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My husband and I took a quick trip down south over the weekend. I know it’s not much to blog about but I actually had a great time and captured a few images I wanted to share. The town of Beruwala is located roughly about an hour away from Colombo. It is actually my hometown in the sense that its my father’s birthplace.

The town area is quite small to be honest and the best part is mainly the beachside and the hotels nearby. Almost every other person you meet would possibly be a gem merchant or trader of sorts because that’s typical of the people living there. My family and I have been also visiting the main grand mosque every year during special occasions – Kechchimalla Mosque

I do not know much about the history of the mosque on a personal note but inside there is a framed copy of an article written about the history so you should check that out if you happen to visit. I should add that you need to be properly dressed to enter the mosque. No outfits that are short and showy and the head must be covered with a shawl or scarf.

There isn’t much to do in this part of the south but you will find plenty of little boutique hotels and resorts lined up one after the other which are often frequented by foreigners and locals too.

Xoxo

 

Greek mythology

This is a piece I wrote for the newspaper I freelance at – Ceylon Today. Hope you all like it 🙂

The ancient world is full of tales and old folklore. This was what the people of the past based their history on – mythology that stemmed from bedtime stories and their imaginations. At the core of these stories lie a certain amount of truth. Mythology in itself has many orientations. Unlike in older civilizations, the Greeks believed in a world where Gods and Goddesses were very much human-like, lived amongst and above them and also has unique powers.

It all begins with the rule of the mighty Titans and the reign of the Olympian super powers. In a world that was so engrossed in fighting for their own causes and goodwill one will find Gods and Goddesses with great might and power, falling hard at the feet of shame, greed and lust. The most famous amongst them all being Zeus. His parents were given an omen that one of their children will kill the father, Cronus and rule over the world. He in turn swallowed every child that was born. Zeus’s mother hid him instead and fed her husband a stone in his place. Years later, a grown man, Zeus fought for the great kingdom over Cronus, killed him and took over Olympia, dividing sectors amongst his brothers and sisters. Zeus reigned as the ruler of the skies with the thunderbolt as his weapon. Although married, he was known to have a very lustful nature and had many affairs with multiple women (Goddesses and human) which led to him fathering over hundreds of offspring. As the supreme God, the people of Greek took to him as the one presiding over laws of nature and stately life. If the weather was calm and beautiful, Zeus was perhaps in a good mood. If the day was full of turmoil and danger, he was certainly in a bad temper. Stately affairs were taken with the same consideration. Such were the lives of the Greeks. Every matter and affair had a connection with the super powers, and their emotions had catastrophic as well as overwhelming effects on their simple lives.

Like so, mythology was very much tangled with the nature of the world in the eyes of the Greeks and gave way to ritualistic ways, customs and practices that to some extend continue even today. Modern scholars struggle to find the fine line connecting mythology with the world we live in today, drawing connections between old songs and poetry, classical tales and literature, art that portray these Gods and Goddesses and also religion and political institution. Vase paintings and literature are prized give-ways of the lives the super powers led. Statues dedicated to these mighty folk stand tall in some parts of Greece and museums around the world are home to fragments of pottery and art from the ancient world. The oldest literary sources to date remain the same; The Iliad and The Oddessy. These choral hymns give accounts of life in Greece some centuries ago and earliest Greek myths.

And then some…

Hera was the Goddess of motherhood and childbirth; she also Zeus’s sister and wife. If a woman was barren and could not have children, the people of Greece visited temples dedicated to her and prayed to be blessed with child. Holistic rituals would be performed and if their prayers were answered, some even went to extend of devoting themselves as priestesses of Hera. It was not unusual to speak of the dead and the underworld. To the Greeks this was one of the most natural things. Brother of Zeus and Poseidon, it was the unfortunate Hades who took control of the underworld. He was known to have spent most of his time out of sight and rarely in the real world like his brothers and sisters. If someone were to have lost a family member by unfortunate circumstances, mythology goes to say that they even visited the world to trade something else of importance in order to get the dead soul back. Whimsical one would think of those who lived at the time, but these super powers were their Gods and Goddesses, their only guiding light so everything was done in order to satisfy their wishes and live good lives.

Fishermen took to Poseidon in the best way. He was the king of the waters and ocean. Before long voyages were taken, a blessing was often given in his name. Turmoil at sea was said to have been caused by the great Poseidon’s temper. He ruled the waters with his trident (also featured vases and art work). The city of Athens in particular paid homage to the Goddess Athena who was their patron. She was said to have fought in the name of the city and the ruins of the temple dedicated to her can be seen to date. She is often identified wearing a long flowing dress, a helmet, spear and shield at hand. The famous and chivalrous Apollo saw over music and drama. Armed with a playful nature, festivals and culture flourished under his name and guise in the world of the Greeks.

Such are the tales of Greek mythology, that continued further for centuries of years. The defining characteristic being that these Gods and Goddesses were persons, not just ideas and conceptions. It was also only the rise of philosophy, prose and rationalism (sometime in the 5th-6th Century BC) that the fate of mythology became uncertain and shaky. Looking back on their history, the people of Greece tried to exclude the supernatural and look to something solid to turn to from their past. While artisans, poets and dramatics tried to refit myths and lore, historians and philosophers and began to criticise it all.

(As published in Ceylon Today newspaper)