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Monday, October 20, 2014

Sri Lanka World Heritage Sites- a guide

This guide is a hand guide and is in no way meant to be used as an exclusive guide for all sites or any for that matter. It is meant to give you a brief preview of the sites along with basic information.
In case you find it difficult to read and process the information on the blog you can also download the pdf after signing up here.

Srilanka Heritage

Sri Lanka an island country in the Indian Ocean just off the southern tip of India, offers a huge wealth of cultural, natural and built resources which for the lack of better phrase will ' make you feel alive'. From the ancient sacred city of Anuradhapura to the rain forests of the highlands there is not just a lot to see there is a lot to do as well. You can climb the Sri Pada (Adam's Peak) along with the pilgrims or you can bear witness to beautiful rock paintings of Sigiriya, and this is without factoring in the non world heritage sites sand activities like whale watching and surfing.

UNESCO lists eight World Heritage Sites there are actually ten with three of them joining together to form a bigger site. These include both cultural and natural sites which showcase built monuments and traditions as well as last remnants of rain forests and the endemic species. All of these sites can be easily visited in the prescribed 30 day time period of your visa though if you want to see more than these sites and also if you want to spend good enough time to truly take in the wonders, you might need the visa extension.

Transport

Travelling around Sri Lanka is quite easy and the country has developed its infrastructure in past few years. Trains and bus linking most of the big cities are quite frequent, the size of the country being an advantage it is possible to cross from east to west in one day on road. Buses are the lifeline of the country and if you are in doubt about whether or not you can reach someplace locate a bus stand and ask around chances are there will be a direct bus or a connecting option.

Currency

Currency of use is Lankan Rupees; you can exchange your currency both at the airport and at various money changer around the town including banks. Though if you are flying in from India, do not carry cash as of Feb 2014 Indian Rupee was not being exchanged anywhere. Indian debit and credit cards work well though.

Entry and Access

Remember to check up on transport and entry fees before you leave for a site. Cultural triangle ticket was recently scrapped and lead to many deciding to skip one site or the other because of high entry prices.

Accommodation

 Accommodation is easily available and reasonable though many find it expensive compared to India or other South-east Asian countries. We did not have any problem finding walk in stays even on a very busy weekend at Adam's Peak. The links that I have included are affiliate links and even though I would be happy you book using those I still recommend you try a few un-booked stays as they abundant and cheap.

About the Guide


This guide is a hand guide and is in no way meant to be used as an exclusive guide for all sites or any for that matter. It is meant to give you a brief preview of the sites along with basic information.
In case you find it difficult to read and process the information on the blog you can also download the pdf after signing up here.

The World Heritage Sites


Sacred City of Kandy

Kandy temple of tooth
View of the Temple complex Photo Credit: POTIER Jean-Louis
Year of inscription: 1988
Entry fees: Free for Sri Lankans 10$ for foreigners you can buy online ticket as well
Closest base point: Kandy

Description

Kandy has been the seat of Sri Lankan royals for over two hundred years and if the legend is to be believed it is because of the relic housed in the Temple said to house the tooth relic of Buddha, hence the name ‘Temple of Tooth’. It is also believed that who so ever has the relic rules the land. Many of the struggles in Sri Lanka's ancient history were because of the relic and each ruler took great pains to secure the relic. The temple was constructed as a part of the Royal palace enclosure.
As the seat of Sinhalese rulers Kandy has always played a very important part in politics, with the temple it has become one of the most revered place for the Buddhist. The temple organizes prayers and events in the evenings and every Wednesday evening there is the bathing ritual for the relic. The herbal preparation used to bathe the relic is collected and distributed among the visitors as holy water, believed to cure many problems.
Thought he Temple is best known the complex contains much more than the just the temple. Along with other buildings it also consists of a sanctuary which is home to the endemic bird species of  Lanyard’s Parakeet.

Getting There

Kandy is well connected with rail and road to major cities of Sri Lanka especially to Colombo. A three hour bus ride from the bus terminal near Airport will get you to Kandy City Centre which is walking distance from the Temple of Tooth enclosure. All the buildings are located in the complex while the entry for the sanctuary is a bit of the walk and lies on the right side of the Tapovanaya Monastery.

Accommodation

Kandy is full of sleeping options to suit all kinds of budgets and needs. There is also a decent couch surfing group. I have not seen any meets but we were able to get quite a few accommodation requests in a day or so. You should be able to find clean basic accommodation with attached toilets for around 800 LKR. As with most places in Sri Lanka you are quoted a cheaper price if you just walk in. For budget accommodation, look at Kandy City Hostel or Olde Empire. Both can be booked online like most of the places in Sri Lanka.




Ancient city of Sigiriya

Sigiriya
Frescoes of Sigiriya

Year of Inscription: 1982
Entry fees: foreigners 30$ including museum visit. 50% off for SAARC nationals
Closest base point: Dambulla or Sigiriya though you can visit easily from Kandy

Description

Constructed high up on a rock Sigiriya is both a palaces complex and a fort. Surrounded with beautiful planned gardens the rock stands tall and is considered the eighth wonder of the world by many. The 200m high rock can be climbed with 1200 steps both carved in the rock as well as steel steps hung from the side of the rock at a much later date.
As you go higher the steps get steeper and on the last leg you might see many clinging to the railing as they move up. Before you reach the summit of the rock to the actual palace ruins you will come across various stops. All of these are actually checkpoints, your ticket will have each one of them mentioned and a ticket checker will take the relevant part of your ticket as you cross the stop.
Mirrored wall is a stucco covered wall that runs along the steps. It is said that the polishing of the stucco was maintained such that the king could see his reflection in the wall. The wall is now covered by graffiti from 8th to 10th century, talking about the abandoned fort as well as the frescoes.
Frescoes of Sigiriya are perhaps the next image you will see after the beautiful sky shot of the rock. These frescoes believed to be of the king's ladies, some believe covered an entire face of the rock. If this was the case then it would have been a huge picture gallery. The paintings look a bit like Ajanta caves but are believed to be of the same time period as Anuradhapura, though they are of a completely different style than the ones at Anuradhapura.
Almost three fourths of the way up you will reach the terrace which has the famous Lion feet stairway. It is believed to once have been a grand lion edifice with a gateway protecting the entry to the palace. This is where you will find most of the climbers resting. Summit and the palace ruins are now close by maybe another 10 minutes and you will be in the ruins which once saw the grandeur of a King's palace.
There are many gardens all around the rock varying from a water gardens to Boulder garden. Look below from the ruins at the top for a grand view of the citadel. The citadel in its glory can be seen at the museum with a well done model of the site. The museum is well designed and the collection mostly related to Sigiriya is good. The entry for museum is included in your ticket price so there is no reason to skip it.

Getting there

The heritage site of Sigiriya is well connected by bus which arrive every half an hour or so from Dambulla. You can also hire a tuk-tuk or a taxi to drop you here or for a return journey. It is best to base yourself at Dambulla if you are only visiting Sigiriya rock.
Do Not get off on the main road if you have hired a private vehicle, insist on getting dropped at the ticket counter, it is quite a bit of walk from road as well as the parking.

Accommodation

If you want to stay at Sigiriya you will still have a wide variety of choice in accommodation as you move towards Dambulla on the main road. Though available most of the guest houses you will find online are not really as cheap as you will find in other parts of the country. Staying is Sigiriya is recommended if you plan on climbing the Pidurangala rock nearby which is free.






Golden Temple of Dambulla

Golden Temple
Buddhas of The Golden Temple

Date of inscription: 1991
Entry fees: Foreigners pay a flat fee of 1500 for all nationalities
Closest base point: Dambulla or Kandy

Description

The rock temple of Dambulla is situated high up on a rock and houses various Buddhist statues and paintings. Accessed after climbing a lot of steep steps the temples are in a series of five caves. Dedicated to king and Buddha the caves feature Buddha in various poses from standing to sleeping. Though these are the caves most of us visit there are around 80 documented caves in the area. The area is considered to have been a prehistoric settlement with a burial ground found nearby. I could not find a way to reach the ancient site or other caves.
Most important thing to remember is to buy ticket. Visiting the museum is free for foreigners but the temple requires a ticket. You might be told by locals that ticket is not required because it is free for them. In case you do forget to buy the ticket you will have to come down climb up steps to the ticket counter and then climb up again. It will not be pretty. The temples should not take an entire day and many visit both Sigiriya and the temple on the same day, which is easily done but hard on your legs.

Getting There

Like most of Sri Lanka Dambula is well connected by bus. You can take a non-ac bus for around 100-150 to Kandy and Colombo and vice-versa. Bus from Sigiriya starts a bit further down the road near the market, and will drop you there too. Do not go to the bus stand it is off the Kandy road by 1 KM or so.

Accommodation

Dambulla is usually considered as the base point for visiting other WHS cities in the area. You will find accommodation in all price and comfort ranges. Prices usually start from 1500 upwards for a double room though it is possible to negotiate as you walk in the place. It is also possible to visit Dambulla from Kandy. We did a Day trip to both Sigiriya and Dambulla from Kandy in a single day and though the climb was tiring the entire trip was easy and we did not skip anything.

Sacred city of Anuradhpura

Anuradhapura
Ruwanwelisaya Stupa Photo credit: Roberto Saltori

Date of inscription: 1982
Entry fees: 30$ for foreigners and 50% reduction for SAARC Nationals
Closest base point: Anuradhpura or Dambulla

Description

Centre of Sinhalese empire for 1300 years the city has seen various developments as well as invasions. The invasion of 993 by Cholas the capital was shifted to Polonnaruwa. The city was once even held by Pandayan kings who returned it to the Sinhalese monarchy in return against ransom. Though the city was established long ago it saw major development when Buddhism was introduced and the Bodhi tree was planted. The city has various monuments ranging from stupas to museums and monasteries spread over kilometers. You would require a tuk tuk or a bike to navigate the old town or the historical city.
Stupas of varying sizes can be seen all around the city including Ruwanwelisaya which is still a place of worship. The oldest and most voluminous of all stupas in the city it has been fully restored and painted in white.
Another stupa called the Jetavana or Dagoba is under restoration. The stupa standing at 120 m was once the largest structure in Sri Lanka and the tallest ancient stupa. It was indeed the third tallest structure after The Great Pyramids of Giza. Some do believe that the stupas were much more than worship centre owing to their layout which represents three stars on Orion's belt much similar to the layout of The Great Pyramids of Giza.
The citadel itself is a sight to behold though most of the structures are now ruins.  The city was located in the dry part of the country and many tanks were built to supply adequate water which still stand. It also had one of the most complex irrigation systems in the ancient world.
Another structure not to miss is the Brazen Palace. Thought to be a nine floor monastery currently around 1600 pillars of stone can be seen. Called as Lovamahapaya because of the bronze roof it was right next to the Bo tree brought to the city by Asoka's daughter Sanghmitra. The city tells stories of various times all through stone and the remnant of its citizen which can be visited in two of the museums.

Getting there

Bus from Colombo take 5 hours and run every 30 minutes or so. Buses are also available regularly from Kandy. Anuradhapura has two train stations with train from Colombo to Anuradhapura running earliest  at 5:45. It is always advisable to check and book tickets in advance for the train journey especially if you want to travel first class.

Accommodation


Anuradhapura has many budget as well as upper end accommodation options though budget to middle range are easily available but not so much online. A decent room with TV and fridge can cost you around 3000 LKR.






Ancient city of Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa
Gala Vihara Photo Credit : Mahesh Kularatne 

Date of inscription: 1982
Entry fees: 30$ for foreigners and 50% reduction for SAARC Nationals
Closest base point: Polonnaruwa, Dambulla or Kandy

Description

One of the best planned cities of ancient time Polonnaruwa became the capital after Chola invarion in 993 when Anuradhapura was abandoned as the capital. The city has one of the most efficient rain water harvesting and irrigation system which still supplies water for paddy cultivation during the dry and hot season. A huge shallow moat called Parakrama Samudra encircles the entire city, acting as a safety from the enemy and a lifeline for the citizens. The moat is so wide that it is difficult to see the other shore. Gal Vihara is the most visited monument of Polonnaruwa with beautiful monolithic statues of Buddha carved into stone it is considered to be place where the King used to have congregation of religious leaders.
Several story high Royal Palace stands tall in the centre of the city with a audience hall nearby. Made of thick brick walls and wood parts of its edifice remain today. It is said to have been burned during an invasion. Remains of many other buildings like the shrine for tooth relic can be seen. It is better to hire a tuk tuk or a bike to shuttle between the sites.

Getting there

Polonnaruwa is a 6-8 hour bus ride from Colombo. It is around 3 hours from Kandy a distance of 140 Km. Buses are readily available and are quite reliable though they can get a bit crowded. A daily train runs from Colombo to Trincomalee connecting Polonnaruwa. The train journey takes around 6 hours and train runs at 6 in the morning.

Accommodation

Many budget guesthouses are available near the Batticola road with prices ranging from 800-1000. Higher end accommodation is also available and can be booked online.


Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications

Galle
Old Town Roads of Galle

Date of inscription: 1988
Entry fees: free for most part though there is a 5$ fees for the museum.
Closest Base Point: Galle, Colombo  or Matara

Description

Galle is one of the biggest reminders of Sri Lanka once being a Dutch colony and is one of the best example of fortified city developed by Europeans in south, south-east Asia. Covering an area of 52 Ha the city was defended by 14 bastions. Laid on a grid pattern adopted to suit the terrain the city housed around 500 families and was the centre of development and later designated the administrative centre for south of the country by British.
Present day Galle retains its charm of a fortified city and walking along the ramparts is one of the best ways to enjoy the fort city. These walls sustained the tsunami which led to massive destruction along the coastal parts of the city. Though many do stay in the city it is an easy day's trip from the neighbouring famous beach towns on the south coast. The city is considered as a heritage site for being an urban settlement which resonates with both European and South Asian vibes and traditions.
The fortified city houses a private museum apart from the government run museum. The museum displays collection of one man. As you move around you will see people engaged in crafts like weaving the lace and polishing stones. You will also be directed through the shops in the museum which sell gems and other valuables.

Getting there

Galle is around two and a half hours journey by train to Colombo and an hour or so to most of the neighbouring beach towns of Hikkaduwa and Mirissa. Buses are easily available and run at regular intervals. Bus to Colombo may take 2.5-4 hours depending on the service and traffic. Train and bus station is right across the fort entry.

Accommodation

Galle has perhaps the most luxurious of hotels in Sri Lanka along with the southern coastal areas. Many budget and cheap guest houses and hostels can be found though they come at a relatively higher price compared to other areas in Sri Lanka with the cheapest accommodation option around 1200LKR.


Sinhraja Reserve forest

Sinharaja Forest
Sinharaja Reserve forest Photo Credit: Nadeera Jayasinghe

Date of inscription: 1989
Entry fees: 660LKR plus compulsory guide
Closest Base Point: Galle, Deniyaya or Weddagala

Description

Though to be the last haven for lions of Sri Lanka and definitely the last of undisturbed rainforest area in Sri Lanka Sinharaja national park is around 3 hours drive from Galle. The park houses most number of endemic bird species in the island country, around 18 of the 20 found in Sri Lanka have been spotted in these forests. The 189 sq km area of the reserve consists of ridges and peaks with Hinipitigala being the highest peak at 1171m.
The forest receives around 3000mm of rain each year going over to 5000mm a year. The drier months of August September and January to April are the best time to visit the reserve. The humidity remains at about 87% with a constant temperature of 24C. Be prepared for leeches as there are many along the way.

Getting there

There are three access ways for the reserve
Access ways
Kudawa entrance - Colombo --> Kalawana --> Kudawa
Pitadeniya Entrance - Galle or Matara --> Deniyaya --> Pitadeniya
Morning Side Entrance -- Galle or Matara --> Deniyaya --> Morning Side Estate
The most convenient way is to hire a tuk-tuk or a private vehicle and drive to the entrance. You can easily get a bus to Deniyaya from Galle and then hire a tuk-tuk. Getting to the park is not very convenient  and you might end up spending a night at the nearby town.

Accommodation

Accommodations in all ranges are easily available around Deniyaya and Weddagala. Budget places are available starting around 10-15$ or you can opt for higher end lodges for around 150$+.
Contact number for forest department run places and other details can be found here.


Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

Adam'e Peak
View from top of Adam's Peak

Date of inscription:2010
entry fees varies while climbing the SriPada is free you might pay around 30$ for entry to Horton Plains.
Closest base point: Varies covered below

Description:

Home to the sacred mountain of SriPada held in reverence by four religions the peak wilderness protected area joins in with Horton plains and Knuckles Conservation Forest to make the central highlands of Sri Lanka. The highlands rise to 2500 m above the sea level and are one of the last remnants of Montane forests. With famous World's End the highlands are a not to be missed while visiting Sri Lanka.

The Peak Wilderness Protected Area.

Though a large part of these forests were cleaned to make space for tea plantations around Nuwara elliya the remaining areas were declared a sanctuary in 1940. Though you can enter the forest with permission from Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Department you will not find any lodge in the forest to spend the night in. Care should be taken during rainy season as the weather is unpredictable and you can be stranded in life threatening situations in case of sudden floods and heavy downpour. To get a bird's eye view of the sanctuary climb the SriPada.

Horton Plains

Horton Plains
Baker falls in Horton Plains Photo Credit: Sankara Subramanian

Covered with grasslands interspersed with Montane forests and cloud forests. With its low hanging clouds the forests are known for world's end where you see nothing when the mist and cloud settle in valley formed by this sheer cliff with 4000ft drop.  It said that Indian Ocean, which is 81 km away to the south, can be seen during clear visibility days. The forests are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna some of which are not just endemic to Sri Lanka but some of those are found nowhere else except Horton plains.

Knuckles Conservation Forest

A vast of expanse of forest covers these ranges and are subjected to almost all climate variations found in Sri Lanka. These forests present a great opportunity to trek on undisturbed paths and are easily accessible. The forests are not just a must visit because of the flora and fauna you will spot or the trek you will enjoy, they are a great visit for their prehistoric sites many of which have been recently identified. Many drip ledges and caves associated with Iron age have been identified.

Getting there and Accommodation

All of the three sites are easily reachable and closest base points for each are.
Peak Wilderness Protected Area- Hatton is around 3 hours by train from Kandy. Stay at one of the places in Nallathanniya if you are climbing the peak. If not you can stay at Hatton.
Horton plains are around an hour's drive from Haputale. It is easiest to hire a auto rickshaw which may be available for 2500 round trip. Be sure to ask around town. Here you are best suited to walk out of the train station and walk in to your accommodation options. We stayed in the first place from the station.
Knuckles Conservation forests
From Colombo through Kandy, Matale Rattota and Illikkumbura ir tajing a route from Colombo through Galeweka, Navyka pallegana, illikkumbura ,a five hour journey.
Through Kandy, Teldeniya, Bambarekka and through Ragala, Thangappuwa Kobert pass, Lullwatta, Deenstan , each route take about 6 hours or little more , depending on traffic and weather changes.
Two more routes to reach Dumbara forest are through Hunnasgiriya, Lullwatta and Kobert pass, Kaikawala , Meemure.
Accommodations are available around Ragala and Hunnasgiriya with limited budget options though higher end resorts and accommodation are easily available.
Contact number for forest department run places and other details can be found here.

A Few More Things

Sri Lanka has started to see many more tourists ever since the end of civil war. Though there are many more things to do and places to see these world heritage sites will provide you a window into Sri Lanka's history as well as natural reserves. The country has launched many programs and conservation efforts and the same reflect in many places. The entry tickets are exorbitantly high though to be fair there is a lot we get to see when we pay 30$ for Anuradhapura.
You might come across some tuk-tuk drivers who will offer to show you around without tickets for price that might be way below the ticket price. This happens in both the cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Though they might not be able to get you in all the ruins many have had no problem while on such a trip. It is your choice if you want to contribute to local economy or conservation.
It is important to be respectful not only of the nature abut also the traditions and beliefs of the locals. While visiting the sacred cities you will be required to take off your shoes. Do not take photographs with your back to Buddha as it is considered disrespectful. All around the country you will find helpful people who will explain these traditions to you apart from the same being posted up as a sign.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Travel, Trafficking and Sex trade


As P came back to her family free from her husband travelling all alone through the dangerous border areas of China it was not just her family rejoiced. Ben was there along with her mother who finally saw her daughter again. A daughter she had probably given up the hope to see. Others like me were also there being updated through regular posts from Ben. While the drama of her escape and getting out of contact was running high all of us were waiting to know what would be fate of this girl who was kidnapped and sold across the border married to a Chinese man.

A fate most of us in the civilized world would rarely imagine for anyone around though we know bad things happen but at a scale where every few days someone looses a daughter or son to dark hands of human trafficking is not something easily imaginable. The beauty of mountains starts scaring you when you loose your loved ones to their shadows as they are smuggled across the passes and the same mountains become an insurmountable barrier.

Many of us try to travel with least possible environmental impact and we love to immerse ourselves in culture but this is a place where we should be causing an impact.

Those who would shun prostitution do not mind referring to a thriving sex industry so much so that in India, Thailand is not a budget backpacking destination it is a place to get a quick release in numerous parlors around the country. To believe that the government and authorities are completely uninformed of all this would be a big lie, they know it exists maybe they take steps to stop it but till there will be a demand someone will try to feed the supply chain. A sex tourism heaven within a culture that still thinks sex as taboo should be an alarm bell but none of it matters as good time weighs above everything else.

Matt did and article on Thailand's sex tourism, which was interesting but the comments were what engages me to spend almost 30-40 minutes on the page. Even though everyone agrees that they do not support trafficking and forced prostitution, they all agree they are nobody to judge and neither am I. My social moral rests on a very simple question-
Would I want it for my family? 
No, none of it but many people who are in the trade from the children being trafficked to the people who traffic them or run the camps started out simply with a desire to support their family and when I twist the question to -
Will I do it if my children were starving? 
The balance swings towards Yes and I do not have children yet let alone starving.
But it is not just sex trade or forced marriage that is the final destination of all those trafficked many end in labor camps working unimaginable hours to produce or create something we might have used sometime in our lives.

What appalls me are the people who see no wrong in putting others into situations which strip them of their basic human rights and in many cases will lead to their untimely death. Is it just the mentality of 'Better them than me'; or do people simply don't see human life and dignity as something to be respected.

Anyways I do have a few questions for those who have availed paid sex services.

Do you know for sure that your partner was not forced or trafficked to share your bed?
Would you have walked out if you came to know they were forced or trafficked?

Life and your perception of crime can take a completely different hue when you are one of the people affected by any crime in the world from something as simple as a pick-pocketing. This is probably what happened when Ben found out that one of the girls in the paradise he had come across in his travels was trafficked, and then to know there were not just one but two he knew and more he could only hope to support and help with his documentary SisterForSale.

If you want to contribute to the project head over to their site or follow them here on twitter.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Travelers-Brand Loyalty is Not for You



When we stick to a brand or a product without giving others a chance it is us clinging to our way of life and the need to walk in a comfort bubble.
Travelers swear by the airlines they fly and the bags they own. All that is good but there is a flip side to brand loyalty. If you have ever spent extra money to get something you already know because all the other options are foreign, you have already experienced the expensive side of brand loyalty. From the pizza and burger you have been craving instead of the rice plate to the expensive brand of shampoo you have packed in multitudes just to make sure you pamper your hair well. Hey ladies I know what I am saying is second nature to all of us, but tell me how long is the supply going to last if you are on a RTW trip and visiting all the humid South Asian cities. I have carried a lot of toiletries for my two day trip and I have spent three to four time for my lunch simply because the restaurant seemed up class or because I knew the brand.

Giving up brand loyalty is not just for those who are travelling a lot or travelling without their jobs it is actually far far more important for those who are traveling with their jobs simply because it saves you money. When you travel with your job you have people who depend on you, obligations you have to fulfill, you are still not a nomad who can wipe her hands and mind free and think only about herself. you need money not just to sustain travel but to maintain roof over your head when you along with paying for those hotels as you travel. Commute is a daily thing and so are utilities and social commitments. Saving up and making it a habit will surely keep you travelling happy and working happy.

When we travel for business it is usually for a week or two at max and many of us come back without knowing what that place offered. Stuffed with hotel breakfast and office lunches it is very rare to have business traveler sit down in a local shop or trade their shampoo for something local. We rarely take chances and I believe that takes a lot away from travel just the way it did for me when we went for our honeymoon.

Ever paid more to get your brand of Beer?
Before we go in depth on all the issues that brand loyalty can create for a traveler who is either traveling or saving up for her travel it is important that you realize some major things up front.


Currency changes the ball game:

Are you earning in Dollars and planning to spend it in Ringgit or Rupee? If so than you will have a lot less to worry compared to people earning in those currencies simply because your money runs way longer than theirs. But do remember if your favourite brands are present in the country you are going to there are high chances that the same stuff is going to cost you less when you land in the foreign land. 2$ go a long way in SriLanka.
Bottom Line: earn in an expensive currency and spend in a cheaper one or else learn to survive on less and forget those 50$ bottles of whisky.

Somethings cannot be replaced

Most of these things are medically related, but after the recently comparing cost of insulin injections in India and US I am inclined to say you will be better off visiting a high end hospital in a developing country and still save a ton. Tim Ferris had a lot to say about this in his book-----. Now when things are not medically related there are always things that you simply can't compromise on. Maybe you HAVE to use tampons but they are not available in most parts of the world so you stock up. Maybe there is only this specific shampoo which is saving the last hairs on your scalp so you stock it up and leave behind something else.
Bottom line: if there is really something that you cannot live without (or you will come to some harm) it is no problem being brand loyal or stocking them up.

The world is getting smaller

No seriously this is the truth, most often than not you can find the exact same thing in a remote country though you will pay more. There are cases when I have heard people exclaiming that they got their home brands cheaper in India than wherever they are from. If you look carefully there will be a Made in India/China/Vietnam or something similar on most things. So in case you are planning to pack everything stop and do some research that thing might already be available in the country you are heading to. If what you want satisfies both above requirements and is not available stock up otherwise you will find a way.
Bottom Line: You might get your brand where you are going, maybe even cheaper or better and you don't even have to compromise.

Sure you don't want to try something- Different?
There are reasons why choosing a local brand will help your travels and experiences even if the regular you is a bit uncomfortable.

They are usually cheaper

We all know and agree you need money to travel and you need to spend smart if you want to travel more. If you have a million at your disposal please feel free to laugh at us mortals. When you choose a much cheaper product compared to your usual you are cutting down from your established expenses. Not only will this now become a recurring saving you will more often than not start applying it to more and more consumables. Trade off between local chocolates and the dark chocolate you are used to at home can be worth a lot as soon as you start comparing prices. In India most chocolates start from 10 INR but imported dark chocolate will rarely start below 40-50 and that is actually the entry level pricing.

You are experiencing more

Living like a local, experiencing things their way is what most of us dream of when we travel. What better way to experience local culture than to accept and enjoy local produce and products. Lettuce tastes good but have you tried some ripe mangoes or a dragon fruit. You might not be able to put it in a sandwich but really you want a sandwich when you can eat from a Mamak shop and savor piping hot nasi goreng? While in Malaysia for a month I realized potatoes were very expensive and lemon was too much pricing at 99sen per piece. In India that would be a rarity though now produce has gone higher here too. That meant no homemade lemon water and no potato but I filled up my cart on pineapples and watermelons and some very different mee than I was used to.

You are supporting a local business

Well local or not all businesses have dubious policies but supporting a local company makes much more sense than filling up coffers of a multi-national. Eating local, buying local helps the economy and money goes directly in the hands of the people you came to visit. If you have an option drink from a small tea shop and skip the expensive cafe. When you stock up you are supporting your own local business but stocking up usually results in heavier baggage and rarely lasts the whole trip.

Your baggage is lighter

When you stock up or carry what ever is important to you, baggage becomes heavy from the get go. I love shoes and made the mistake of carrying 4-5 pairs for many trips and had over 10 as we left for our honey moon. I wore 2 pairs at max and now travel with just two or add up another if it is required for a specific task. Not only were we marginally spared form paying for extra baggage, that weight was a nuisance. Another issue you risk facing is bursting liquids. Hopefully nothing will actually burst but there are high chances of leakage and when you have multiple bottles the chances multiply.

You save up

Though this follows from the first reason of avoiding brand loyalty when you are traveling it is always better to reiterate because not only will you save money while you are traveling you can keep on saving money when you come back or start when you are building your kitty. Remember most of us cannot recognize varieties of rice but a slightly cheaper but comparable variety will probably do the same thing for you once it is a part of your meal.


If you are traveling with your job and will probably not take a round the world trip until later in life do remember all of this applies to you too. Whether you are an Expat or you are a student or you have a regular salary funding your family coffers staying away from brand loyalty both while travelling and at home can be a savior and breathe fresh air into declining bank balance.We came across Jeera Soda in Hyderabad and loved it. Stuck to coke and other well known aerated drinks I had never looked at the local variety in them until recently and some of those will surprise you.

Not just that when you restrict yourself to a certain brand or product you are letting go of all the experiences and tastes you might get with the other brand or product. We buy a certain kind of oil for daily cooking, if you have been in India you would know that these vary according to regions and you will find people cooking in Ghee to people cooking in olive oil. Though any refined oil works for most of the population now my travels have introduced me to mustard and coconut which I now love because of the flavors they impart. These same ones were at some point discarded because of their distinctive taste.
Delicious Dosas on the Highway near Kadpakkam 

If you think that the chains or big name restaurants are the place to eat, I do not disagree with you completely. Sometimes comfort of something you know and a familiar taste can ease all the discomforts of a hectic trip in a dusty mini bus filled to its brim. I have whenever possible grabbed a burger and coke in other countries and other parts of India just to see if it tastes different. I now know that mayo is way sweeter in Srilanka than anywhere else, and so is the coke apart from being VERY expensive. Seriously I had a veggie KFC burger there. Just like I know No Subway really puts right amount of veggies in Malaysia, no clue why but that's how it works and I could go on and on.
But when you stick exclusively to the top brass of the restaurants not only are you doing a disservice to your pocket but also to the local cuisine. Any part of South India has its own version of Idli which can cost you 20 for 4 pieces in a local shop to 100 for 2 pieces in a well established name and way above that in a five star hotel. The choice is always yours but I am yet to find a big place which does idli sambhar better than the local shops.

There are many things in which brand loyalty can pay you in the long run. Airlines and Hotel miles are one such example but you have to be prepared to spend for the first few nights before you get a free night stay or fly a while before you get some free flights.

I have observed that when we stick to a brand or a product without giving others a chance it is us of clinging to our way of life and the need to walk in a comfort bubble. Though I would probably never tough a live octopus let alone eat it I will travel to japan and may be eat something else which is local and vegetarian, there always is something.

If you have ever felt restricted because of your comfort needs or because you seek a certain product or brand let us know also if you have had any positive or negative experiences with local produce or product put it in comments. All those who tasted Durian or Durian candy I feel you unless you liked it (HOW?).


Friday, October 10, 2014

Andaman & Nicobar- What You should Know Before You Go


We went to Andaman& Nicobar for ten days, you would remember it from my last post. Now it is time for me to help you plan your trip to Andaman the way I helped you plan your trip to Diu.


This post is more for those who have researched about Andamans but are looking for some first hand experience and reposts. In case you are looking for the First Hand guide it will be out soon. Now that you have decided to visit Andamans the far Away Indian territory with beautiful beaches, forests and wildlife it is time to take note of all the things below. You will thank me for it later.


Transport

All of us on the ferry deck to Havelock

Transport in Andaman can be the biggest spoil sport for your plans and you will not know what is going to happen unless you land in Andaman or get your tickets booked through an agent. If like us you are DIY ticket bookers go straight to phoenix bay jetty in Port Blair from your airport, and book your ferry tickets. Bus terminus is close by and in case you are looking to catch a bus to go up north get your tickets there. Ferry advance booking counters are closed on Sunday and even when they are open you will have to endure a long line filled with agents who always seem to multiply before you. If you know when you are going to leave the other Island get that ticket booked here too. Earlier you book the tickets more chances you have to get the ticket and not have your plans pushed back due to ticket unavailability.
After all the exercise remember a ticket is no guarantee that your vessel will leave on the designated date in case of bad weather the ferry will be canceled along with all issued tickets. You will have to buy fresh tickets.
Another thing which you need to consider is the timings, there are no transport options in the night an almost every thing moves around 6 in the morning. Do not attempt to get from one place to another far away in a day or night. Plan in some stop days and options.

If someone has the link for online booking of ferries or bus please leave it in the comments.

Health Care


Andaman is every one's Health care dream. Government provides free health care and hospitals are quite clean and well maintained. We had to use the services on multiple occasion and were pleasantly surprised to find reliable services available on even the remote Long Island. We were treated with injections and medicines with great recovery and all of that for free. On the other hand it is quite impossible to find pharmacies anywhere except for Port Blair.

Language and culture


Andaman is almost little India. You will people talking in Bangla, Tamil and most surprisingly Hindi. English is widely spoken and most Indians as well as foreigners will rarely have problem communicating. Like the language the culture is heavily influenced by the mainland and it is quite evident in clothes, interactions and celebrations. Durga Puja is a big festival and though it is difficult for any on to match the craze in Gujarat or Bengal Andaman did well with beautifully done Pandals and blaring songs. It might not be the best way to celebrate it but it is a big festival like many other mainland festivals from different regions.

Food and Liquor

Rate list for liquor outside Govenment Shop in English and Hindi

Just like the language and culture food is heavily influenced by Tamil Nadu and Bengal. You will find piping hot idli and parota in the morning for breakfast and thali for lunch and dinner. Taste and style of curries will vary depending on whether you are in a tamil establishment or a Bengali one. In the main Andaman Island we came across mostly Tamil and South Indian influences in food while it became majorly Bangla as we traveled to Havelock.
Liquor like all UTs in India is very cheap, you can get a chilled beer bottle for under 80 from a Government shop and for around 120-150 in one of the expensive bars. Other spirits are similarly priced with known Indian brands available in a few hundreds to Johnnie walker aged running for around 2500.

It is very cheap and very expensive

Our Duplex cottage for 3 great deal and right across the beach

Andaman is like most of India and yet different. Here you can get clean accommodation for two starting at 350-500 or you can spent 5000 a night easily for an average accommodation in one of the high end resorts.This was a welcome relief after all the fretting about Andaman trip.  Most cheap accommodation come without attached toilets especially in the islands though you will get good accommodation with attached toilets for 500-600 in Port Blair. The places we stayed in were not just clean and well maintained the toilet to user ratio was also very good. We rarely missed attached toilets except when nature called late at night. Rooms with attached toilets run from 100-1500 upwards and have no real top limit.
Air conditioned rooms seem to be in big demand especially by Indian tourists, maybe it was the time we had visited but we saw no need of AC rooms. If your room has ventilation rest assured the island has enough sea breeze. Actually I for one needed a sheet or two to keep away the cold which would settle in late in the night.
Food is likewise quite inexpensive as long as you stick to local fare especially vegetarian. In case you want some meat choose sea food over chicken and you will still have a cheaper deal. Rice is the accompaniment of choice though you might get parota or roti if you are lucky.

Very few people harass tourists

The People of Long Island- Nobody spared us a look and we loved it!

To be true very few will turn and look at you unless you approach them first. People here not only respect privacy but are quite content looking after themselves. You might have a few asking if you need an auto but a single nod will solve the problem even at the Airport.
That being said this is not true for the Havelock Jetty where you will find agents in droves approaching tourists. Even though most tourists come here as a part of some group tour you will find touts trying to help you get everything from taxi to hotel.

Forget the Internet and sometimes your phone and Relax


There is no Internet in Andamans. You might get fleeting connection on your phone in Port Blair but don't expect a regular 2G service let alone 3G running with any force. We did spot a few cyber cafe and one of our guest house in Port Blair offered WiFi in reception area for 60 and hour. In Havelock though you can book every thing online the only Internet we found was satellite Internet costing around 150 for 30 minutes of usage. Forget about your mail and enjoy the nature.
If you have a BSNL connection you rare the king in Andaman, and you will have network on all islands. Most other carriers are limited to Port Blair and Havelock with some connection around Rangat. Like most remote areas in India BSNL is the way to go.

If there is something you would like to share or ask put it in the comments below. I would be happy to help.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Friday, September 26, 2014

Travelling to Andamans- Here are images to keep you happy


Travel has been keeping me busy along with all the other projects I have taken up. I have had almost no creative juice left after writing huge amounts of content for my other blog and rewriting the Work Travel Live book.Well I have just started rewriting the book. I am taking a break for 10 days and going travelling. I know I should probably take you along and post updates but nah! that's a bit too much for where I am at these days. We are not sure if we are taking the laptop even.

So in purely shameless fashion I am leaving you with these images from awesome people over at Unsplash and a great blog to read while I saunter around the white sandy beaches of Andamans.

The blog is The Art of Non Conformity. In case you have not read it head over and read this awesome blog. Ans all my dreamer followers go ahead and have a look at Mixergy. Even if you do not dream of becoming an entrepreneur it will light a fire.

We are back on 7th October so see you around.


An now the Images