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PHOTOS: Postcards from Sri Lanka

Last updated on: October 30, 2012 19:44 IST

PHOTOS: Postcards from Sri Lanka

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Abhishek Mande

Rediff.com's Abhishek Mande visited Sri Lanka and returned with these photographs.

Sri Lanka has a lot more to offer than you can imagine. The tiny nation that has been in the news more for its battle against the LTTE than tourism is today a fine country to visit. The presence of the armed forces has gone down considerably and life in the coutnry is slowly returning to normal as the War has officially ended.

In the pages to follow, we take you through the country that resembles a tear drop in the Indian Ocean.

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Image: Malwatta Monastery, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Photographs: Abhishek Mande/Rediff.com

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Kandy is your classic weekend destination -- clear air, blue skies and a surprisingly clean city centre. The weekend train from Colombo to Kandy is packed with young men travelling back to their hometown after a hard week's work as well as tourists heading away from the madness of the capital.

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Image: Kandy, Sri Lanka


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The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is one of the most popular tourist destination that is easily accessible from Kandy. Look up the local guide book to find out the ideal timings for visitng the orphange.

While there you can also visit the neighbouring Millennium Elephant Foundation, which has a relatively smaller number of elephants as against over 80 at the Orphange.

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Image: Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage


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The area around Kandy is peppered with tea factories and spice gardens such as this one. Hire a tuk-tuk for half a day and the driver will take you to one of these places, stop by for a viewing of the Bible Rock and the Millennium Elephant Foundation or the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.

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Image: Spice Gardens, Sri Lanka


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On our way back from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage we discovered a large wood-carving factory and I was quite taken in by the serene look on the carver's face that was so similar to the Buddha's face that he'd just carved.

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Image: Sri Lanka


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Some of the work displayed at the wood-carving factory.

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Image: Sri Lanka


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One of my most favourite part of Sri Lanka was Galle (pronounced Gaul). This antique printing press was for sale in a store in the old Dutch quarter of Galle.

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Image: Galle, Sri Lanka


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Tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka are the most convenient mode of local transport. They also however continue to be the most expensive with fares being unregulated in most cities and the drivers charging you pretty much what they feel like.

Even in Colombo where the tuk-tuks are metered, the minimum fare is LKR 50 which is roughly INR 25.

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Image: Tuk-Tuk, Sri Lanka


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At the heart of Galle, Sri Lanka's fourth largest city, is the old Dutch quarter quite simply known as the Fort, and one that holds pretty much everything that there is to see in Galle. The new town, where the bus and train stations are and where the commercial activity in Galle takes place, has all the charm of a dead dog's bottom.

Long before the British made Colombo a major port, Galle was an important trading hub thanks to its strategic position -- almost on the southernmost tip of the country -- and a great natural harbour.

In 1589, the Portuguese established their presence here and constructed a small fort called Santa Cruz. After Galle fell into the hands of the Dutch, they expanded the Portuguese fortifications, enclosed the entire sea-facing ridge, established a street plan, sewer system and a series of bastions that survive to this day.

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Image: Galle, Sri Lanka


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Somewhat ironically, the heavily fortified city of Galle fell to the British in 1796 without so much as a gunshot being fired, following a transfer of power when the Dutch were defeated in the Napoleonic Wars.

Much of the Dutch legacy, though, remains intact in the form of quaint colonial villas, old cars such as this one and churches along sleepy streets.

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Image: Galle, Sri Lanka


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There really isn't much to see in Galle, barring a couple of museums in the area, but its quiet, understated charm can keep you busy doing nothing for hours on end.

If you've arrived at Galle in a vehicle, leave it in the parking lot near the Maritime Museum (even though you can park almost anywhere in the area) and go around on foot. Don't forget your camera; you'd be kicking yourself if you do.

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Image: Galle, Sri Lanka


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Most parts of Sri Lanka, except the capital city and the city centre of Kandy have a laidback atmosphere. Rarely will you see anyone in a hurry. Scenes like this one are more common than you can imagine.

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Image: Sri Lanka


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On our way from Bentota to Hikkaduwa -- to popular beach towns on the west coast of Sri Lanka, we discovered a charming church converted into a Buddhist temple. Inside stood a larger-than-life Buddha statues alongside life-size models depicting scenes from his life. (Sadly, I managed to misplace my notes along the way so I'll never know what it's called or its exact location. It is however about 5-7km from Bentota towards Hikkaduwa on your left hand side.)

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Image: Sri Lanka


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For all practical purposes, Galle Road continues to be the primary road that connects Colombo and Galle. (There is also the country's first highway -- Southern Expressway -- but its toll is tad prohibitive).

Yet in parts, Galle Road is no wider than two lanes and the buses and trucks zooming at insane speeds make it a dangerous to drive or ride on. If you've rented a scooter, it might be a good idea to stick to the left and keep a lookout for the numerous by lanes from which vehicles emerge with little or no warning.

In spite of the manic traffic Galle Road, flanked by tiny village houses on one side and the roaring Indian Ocean on the other, is also one of the most scenic roads in Sri Lanka.

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Image: Galle Road, Sri Lanka


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Much like India, the Sri Lankans have the British to thank for their railway system -- the route from Colombo to Kandy (pictured here) is a classic example of British engineering marvel.

However unlike in India, Sri Lanka's railways continue to run on diesel with electrification of the system being long overdue. Many of the long-distance rakes are quite old and not always the most comfortable. Yet they are usually clean and scenic routes make up for the discomfort.

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Image: Sri Lanka


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Sri Lankans continue to be enamoured by Indians and yet are able to relate to us thanks to Bollywood.

The railway staff at Nanu Oya, the nearest railhead to Nuwara Eliya kindly let me in and photograph their quaint booking office when they realised I shared my first name with Bachchan Junior!

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Image: Nanu Oya, Sri Lanka


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Even though there are three classes of compartments, some trains such as this one only have a third class. Others have just third and second and a few such as the one travelling between Colombo and Kandy have all three.

If you're absolutely certain about your itinerary, ensure you buy a first class or an 'observation van' ticket. These tickets are few in number and are sold out almost on the same day as the bookings open few weeks before the train's departure date.

The observation van is the last car in the train and offers panoramic views of the landscape. If you're travelling second or third class, ensure you sit on the left hand side to get the best views to Kandy.

The quaint train rakes are making way for swanky new ones (most of them manufactured in Chennai).

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Image: Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka


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About 20km from Nuwara Eliya lies the sprawling Mackwoods Tea Estate in Labookellie.

With tea plantations on both sides and breathtaking views at every turn, the 20km ride downhill is a dream. The estate is one of the largest in Sri Lanka and a popular tourist attraction.

The staff, warm and helpful, offer free (and informative) tours of the factory and are happy to play host in the charming cafe pictured above. Spend some time here, if only to watch the clouds descend upon the sprawling estate or for cup of tea (on the house) and brownies (LKR 60).

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Image: Mackwoods Tea Estate, Sri Lanka


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Situated in the heart of the country, Anuradhapura is a city with a turbulent history.

At the peak of its glory, Anuradhapura was inarguably one of the greatest cities in the world. The city was a cultural capital that boasted of monasteries housing over 10,000 monks at a time and dagobas second in scale only to the Pyramids of Giza.

It was also the centre of Sri Lanka's hydraulic feats with huge reservoirs designed to store and supply water to the dry arid lands that surrounded the city and enjoyed a reputation in and did fair amount of trade with countries as far as Greece and Rome.

Yet, all that remains of this city are ruins such as these.

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Image: Anuradhapura


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The city of Anuradhapura has seen innumerable highs and as many lows.

Having risen to dizzying heights around 300-260BC under Devanampiya's rule and later again during the reign of Dutugemuni (161-137 BC), Anuradhapura never recovered its former glory and suffered at the hands South Indian rulers who attacked it from time to time. Finally, in 993 AD the Cholas from Tamil Nadu destroyed Anuradhapura completely and set up their capital further south at Polonnaruwa.

While a few half-hearted efforts were made to restore it, the city was largely consumed by the forest, leaving just a few communities of monks who guarded the holy Bodhi tree that grew from the branch of the same tree under which Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment.

It was left to the British to rediscover this city and make Anuradhapura a provincial capital in 1833.

How long you take to explore Anuradhapura depends entirely on how interested you were in the pictures of Mohenjo-Daro in your school text book. Nonetheless just walking around the ruins can be overwhelming, to know that you stand at the very spot where once a country was born and a culture flourished.

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Image: Anuradhapura/Sri Lanka


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