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Archive for December, 2009

This small little island just off the coast of Kanyakumari (the southern tip of india) has been bubbling with activity in the recent months. In May 2009, the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers  terrorists surrendered themselves to the army ending 30 yrs of war and misery for this beautiful island nation.

Today, the island which is covered with beautiful beaches and lush thick forests is attempting to revive itself  by attract travelers to showcase their natural wealth. So if your looking for a cheap, yet beautiful destination to spend a few days, then this is it.

We did the same and grabbed an interesting offer by Kingfisher airlines (before they shut down their service from Bangalore) which offered a 3 night vacation which included airfare to Colombo and back long with a 5 star stay for as little as 13,000 Rs per head. It was cheaper than flying to Delhi and back from Bangalore, so i guess it was a bargain. We packed our bags and after a 2 hr flight we were in Colombo’s international airport which is bout 30kms from the city. We reached our hotel Taj Samudra on Galle Rd (popular area) after a few security checks on the way (they are still a bit paranoid n hence extra cautious) and checked into the sea facing rooms and decided to explore the locality. The Sri Lankan Rupee is lower in value than the Indian rupee by 2.15 times but the prices are pretty much the same or more.

Note: You will need to get comfortable with their constant security checks and always carry your passport with you.

Ocean view room at the Taj Samudra, Colombo

We discovered a small mall near our hotel called Crescat Boulevard and picked up a few souvenirs and experimented on Sri lankan cuisine at the food court. A meal will cost between Rs 200 to Rs 350 Sri lankan at the food court. Few other malls include Majestic City Mall, Odel House and House of Fashion. One thing we always do when we travel abroad is to visit the local supermarket in that country. This is where you get a feel of their eating habits and also get to check out their local food. Tea being very popular in the region, we picked up quite a few varieties of tea (regular, lemon, peach, mango & black current). At nite we discovered a street market infront of the beach opp our hotel which sold some interesting varieties of prawns and chicken. This was our dinner the second evening in Colombo and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Prawns with rice and papad Srilankan style

During the day we rented a rickshaw (transportation is quite expensive) and visited the floating temple called the Gangarama Temple (buddist temple) which has a vast collection of antique artifacts which is very well preserved. There are a few old churches across the city which are worth a brief visit and a few parks, but besides these there isn’t much to do.  So try and relax on some of their popular beaches, shop at the malls, pickup some gems n rubies and try authentic sri lankan cuisines.

Gangarama Temple

Statues of Buddha at Gangarama Temple

House of Fashion is a good place to spend time for the price conscious shopper since you will get some good bargains on clothing and visit only certified stores to pick up precious stones since there are lots of fakes around.

Bentota Beach

The third day we hired a mini van from a local company (Kangaroo Cabs) who gave us a good deal and visited a popular beach destination called Bentota. This is about 60kms from the city and is away from the madding crowd with clean sandy beaches and lovely resorts (Taj has a lovely property here). This is a good place to stay overnite and get a nice massage while your at it. Since we were visiting for a day, we stopped over at a lovely resort on the backwaters called The Waterside for a leisure lunch. On our way back we stopped over at a souvenir shop but it was shockingly expensive.. guess it was targeted at the american tourist since everything was priced in dollars.

Open restaurant at the Waterside Resort, Bentota

Pool and view of backwaters from Waterside Resort

Back in the city, we attempted visiting their local market which was a big disappointment. Another item on our list was to check out their casinos which was a bigger disappointment since they looked so dingy and small with hardly any options. They didn’t even have slot machines which was quite a shocker for us first timers. Our hotel’s nite club was shut down for renovations but the pub was pretty decent. We did manage to use the heated pool, club house and spa facilities on two occasions though. But the best part of our journey was the beach walk at nite and the amazingly sweet tender coconuts.

Odel is a very popular brand in Sri Lanka and its worth picking up a few t-shirts from here and so is their tea (Dilmah is quite famous). We were promptly picked up from our hotel and dropped back to the airport and after another 3 rounds of security check we boarded our flight back to Bangalore.

Overall it was a nice n inexpensive get-away but wish we had more time to visit the mountains and forests near Kandy which is in the central part of the country. We were just able to brush thru the borders of this beautiful nation and will definitely get back there for a longer visit.

Recently, a new cruise ship has started operations from Kochi to Colombo which should be a good experience too.

Quick Facts: (All rates mentioned are in Indian Rupees)

Always carry your passport with you and a map of the city (available at the airport or on the net)

Hotel tariffs vary from 1500Rs (2 star) to 6000Rs (5 star) per nite in Colombo and go higher in Bentota for a sea facing property

Try and change your currency from Dollars to Sri lankan rupee at the local bank since you get better rates

Look for private cab companies which are cheaper than your hotel cabs

If you visit a casino in your hotel cab and do not spend money on the games, you will need to pay for the cab fare, else its free since the casino pays for the cab ride.

Bargain with the auto guys before you get on them. Minimum fare is Rs 40 to Rs 50

Always buy certified gems and precious stones

Don’t forget to taste their tender coconut which costs about Rs 15 to Rs 20

Shop for local soft drinks, tea and snacks to get a feel of their food culture

Do not get intimidated by the gun men in uniform at every corner of the city. They are there for your own safety.

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By Shilpa Jamkhandikar, Reuters, India

PANAJI (Reuters Life!) – A small state on India’s Western coast, Goa boasts of quaint Portuguese colonial charm, sun-kissed beaches and great seafood.

Goa is also favourite haunt for domestic and international travellers, and Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a visit to this beach town.

FRIDAY

7 p.m. – Start off your holiday in Goa the way you are meant to — sipping a beer or cocktail, and watching the sun go down at Baga beach, one of the many beaches that dot the coastline. If you are the more adventurous sort, indulge in some water sports or para-gliding, popular activities on this particular stretch.

9 p.m. – Dine at Britto’s, one of the many shacks located right on Baga beach. Don’t be fooled, however, by the modest surrounds: Britto’s is not just a shack, it is more of a local institution. Try the pepper prawns and their trademark baked crabs and finish with their fabulous home-made desserts, especially bebinca, a traditional Goan sweet made of jaggery and coconut milk.

11 p.m. – Burn off those calories with a walk up to Tito’s, one of Goa’s most well-known — and packed — night clubs. Frequented by tourists and locals alike, the energy and buzz around this place more than make up for the claustrophobia you might experience amid the hordes that turn up every night. If you prefer something slightly more crowded, head over to the Butter Lounge, in nearby Candolim. It may not have as many people, but the music is equally good for dancing the night away.

SATURDAY

9 a.m. – The best, and cheapest, way to get around in Goa is to hire a motorbike. You can get them in most places, even in the smaller towns. Make sure you have a valid licence, put on lots of sunscreen and head out towards Old Goa, or Goa Velha as it is locally known. Visit St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Basilica of Bon Jesus on the other side of the road. The 16th century basilica, built by the Portuguese, who ruled Goa until as recently as 1961, houses the body of Goa’s patron saint St Francis Xavier. The body has been preserved for more than four centuries and devotees from all over the world flock there to pay their respects. This is one of the best places to get a sense of the Portuguese influence that pervades most aspects of Goan life.

12 p.m. – Take the opportunity and explore the countryside a little more. Goa’s beaches are its most well-known feature, but there is more to the place. Green fields dotted with coconut palms, quaint houses with red-tiled roofs, and winding roads make for a great ride. Stop at a local bakery and sample some “pao”, traditional Goan bread, and buy some locally made pottery.

2 p.m. – Head back towards Panaji, but not before you make a detour at Star Bar and Restaurant. Yes, it isn’t the most imaginatively named place, and nor does it have any ambience to speak of, but this place can boast of the best fresh shrimp in all of Goa. Order a full Goan meal and wash it down with the feni local liquor as you watch boats sail along the river.

4 p.m. – Panaji, Goa’s capital, is a charming town set on the banks of the river Mandovi and well worth exploring. Visit the Panjim Church, an imposing structure that looks down on the city, and old quarter of Fointanhas for some traditional Portuguese architecture.

7 p.m. – Goa is also home to off-shore casinos, so if you fancy your luck, try your hand at the slots.

9 p.m. – Have dinner at Fiesta, another North Goa institution, which serves up Mediterranean and continental fare. If that’s not your style, try The Republic of Noodles at Candolim. Located near the Taj Palace hotel, this restaurant boasts of great interiors and delicious South East Asian cuisine.

11 p.m. – If you still have any energy, rev up the motorbike and make your way to the Saturday Night Bazaar at Arpora. A huge, chaotic, throbbing market, this place comes to life past midnight. Expect to find everything from trinkets to clothes to watches and even luggage. There are also food and beer stalls. Don’t forget to bargain hard.

SUNDAY

9 a.m. – Start off your Sunday with a traditional Goan breakfast of pao-bhaji, bread and vegetables in gravy, at one of the many eateries that dot the Baga-Candolim stretch (or you can visit Infanteria which serves great breakfast on the calangute baga rd). Get on the motorbike and head towards South Goa, which has some of the best beaches on India’s Western Coast.

11 a.m. – Palolem beach is one of Goa’s most pristine beaches and is located at the southern tip of the state. Soak in the sun, do some swimming, read a book and just relax – that’s what most people come to Goa to do.

2 p.m. – If you can rouse yourself from your slumber, treat yourself with a Sunday buffet lunch at the Taj Exotica or the Park Hyatt, both in South Goa. If you prefer to do some celebrity spotting instead, ask for directions to Martin’s Corner, a small shack located in the village of Betalbatim. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and actor Shah Rukh Khan are regulars to this family-run restaurant.

4 p.m. – If Goan food has intrigued your palate, perhaps a visit to a spice farm (www.sahakarifarms.com) might be appropriate. Spices play a vital role in Goan and Indian cuisine and an insight into what it takes to cultivate these spices is a good start towards understanding the local food.

8 p.m. – End your holiday with some drinks and people watching at the Taj Aguada Resort, one of Goa’s best luxury hotels. Watch the sunset, breathe in the ocean air and start planning your trip back.

Source: http://in.reuters.com/article/topNews/idINIndia-44827520091218?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0

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