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Sri Lanka
Part 1
04.01.2024 - 19.01.2024

One of the best things about travelling is that time slows down. The first part of our trip has felt like two months condensed into two weeks.

After a smooth flight from Cork to Colombo we headed straight to Ahangama, a surf town on the south coast. A combination of our post new year wariness and a little jetlag brought a slower pace to our days. We awoke to our first taste of fresh Dahl and warm coconut Roti, which has become a favourite. Raja's cafe on the beach became our breakfast spot for the next 3 days, a locally run (hopefully owned) curry and rice hangout. Our spice tolerance still needs breaking in! Fin went out for a morning surf and quickly realised the swell was too big and he was way out of his depth - fitness levels not upto scratch. His ego reignited after winning many backgammon battles.

Next we took the local bus from Ahangama to Hiriketia. It took us a while to settle into the organised chaos of the bus drivers flavourful driving, clinging on while standing for most of the journey. We were greeted in Hiriketia by Benj, Soph and baby Fabain - lovely to see familiar faces!  We stayed at Vinu's Place, a homestay hosted by a wonderful Sri Lankan family who cooked for us beautifully. Some glorious days starting with a 6am surf,  hanging with friends, new and old. Fabian seemed to be loving every moment, making it look very easy to have a 6 month old abroad. Sadly Fin took ill on our last day, so our plans to head to Colombo to meet up with family and friends were parked. We extended our stay with Vinu and family, who brought Fin hot cothamale, a Sri Lankan herbal remedy. It was interesting to see the vast development of places along the coast, both in Hiriketia and Ahangama, mostly by foreigners. We were told Hiriketia was almost undiscovered by foreigners 10 years ago. While we were less taken by the more western influences, it was interesting to see the varied architecture - polished concrete top to toe, very 'on brand'. Shame to see a lack of natural materials or timber structure, but money rules.

 

Our next stop took us along the coast towards Tangalle, staying 5km inland by a small lake. We found a jungle cabana built by Nuwan and his family, which seemed the perfect place to hibernate while Fin recovered. A mixture of vernacular craft and hotelier, we were treated like kings and queens. Gorgeous vegetarian curries, sunrises over the lake and a theatrical bird display like no other.

Day 9 took us further inland to Udewalawe national park to stay at Banyan Camp. This was a recommended highlight place to stay, and a highlight it was. A rustic jungle retreat by a lake in the jungle, self-built by a Sri Lankan and Indian couple. An eclectic mix of buildings to stay in, cob houses with wine bottles in the walls, timber structures which have grown in the water and absorbed moisture before being used structurally, floating docks, reused Mercedes van into a bedroom. They also had a beautiful communal space surrounded by water and wildlife, a space we loved and an opportunity to meet other travellers. We became hooked on solitaire (the board game). Our first morning, we took paddle boards out into the lake in hope we might catch elephants. No luck, but we sighted a small crocodile and incredible bird life. We hiked a small rock for sunset within the elephant corridor, again in hope we might catch a glimpse of elephants travelling from the national park eastwards. To no prevail, but the views were absolutely worth the walk. After a morning deliberating, we opted to fork out 2 days budget on a safari. We were conscious of being stuck in queues of jeeps and the hassle and disruption this brings to the wildlife. But we quickly got over it and joined the grockles on tour. A memorable few hours, sightings of elephants, crocs and THE BIRDS, wow. The sass and elegance from cuckoos and kingfishers as they lined up for photos.

Reflections:

1. Sri Lankan people are wonderful

2. Our tolerance to spice is terrible

3. Life is better with fresh coconut roti

4. Monkeys will steel your food

5. Sri Lankan mangos are incredible 

6. Ignorance is bliss (particularly regarding snakes)
7. Not getting up for sunrise is criminal
8. We actually do love architecture

AHANGAMA

HIRIKETIA

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UDAWALAWA

Sri Lanka
Part 2
20.01.2024 - 02.02.2024

Our next stop was Ella, a picturesque town set in the mountains. A 10 minute walk along the railway track from the centre of town took us to Dawn's homestay. Extravagant breakfasts of fresh fruit, vegetables samosa, panipol pancakes, and dhal Roti on our terrace was a pretty solid way to start our three days here! We were surprised to see the buzzing backpacker nightlife in Ella, which we avoided...maybe we are getting old? On the plus side, our earlier night helped fuel a sunrise hike up little Adams peak the following morning. A fresh king coconut at the top whilst taking in the 360 views. Another highlight was the local cooking class that we took with Shashini. We thought it was the best meal we'd had in Sri Lanka thus far, local cuisine connoisseur after 2 hours, naturally

After much confusion at the station desk, we managed to get an online ticket (at a premium) for the iconic Ella - Kandy train ride. We rode 3rd class, which was actually pretty luxury - 8 hours never went by so fast. We got off at Gampola, a few stops before Kandy, and took a tuktuk over the mountains towards Guava House to meet up with Ranj, Shaunagh and Sach. Woweee what a sublime spot, nestled in the jungle. Bravo Ranj, very impressed with your architectural handiwork! We spent three luxurious days catching up with family, eating delicious food prepared by Janthi and Ranj, and trading long lost family stories. We left feeling rejuvenated and inspired to take some of essence of Guava house back with us into the future. Thank you for having us Shaunagh and Ranj.

Next we caught the local bus to Kandy. Note to self set off earlier, riding the buses in the midday heat is tough. We seemed to be allergic to the cities, and headed straight through Kandy to Digana, to our next stop, Pepper cottage. A small barn up high in the hills of the edge of the knuckle mountain range. The homestay had been renovated, set up and run by a very interesting Dutch woman who we managed to catch on our last night. Each meal is shared communally around a long table, with an array of nationalities all trying to converse and share stories. Regrettably, our limited yet over enthusiastic French made an appearance. A highlight of our stay was a temple visit and rock walk, up to 360 views. Apparently the birthplace of Buddha. We shared tea and stories with Sri Lankan travellers, and learnt about the local coffee plantation. A slight resemblance to drinking hot soil, but the story and passion turned it into one of the best cappuccinos I'd ever had. 

A 5am wakeup of drums and chants for pula day from the local temple, we caught another breath taking sunrise over the knuckle mountains. That day we travelled from Digana to Matale and opted for the local bus again. A longer and harder way to travel, but you have much more opportunity to engage with locals and their routines. We obviously look like deer's in the headlights trying to find our next bus, and everyone is so helpful and friendly. London, take note. We visited the Aluwihare temple on Pula day on the way. After a very bumpy Tuk Tuk ride we arrived at Silver Hill, a remote spice farm in the middle of the jungle. The place was closed for maintenance but we had managed to convince them to give us a last minute booking for a couple of nights. We spent the next 2 days indulging ourselves in the spectacular sucluded jungle. 

Feeling recharged we caught a train from Kurunegala to Colombo. Shaunagh and Ranj kindly offered to host us again in their lovely apartment in Central Colombo. We timed our stay in Colombo to line up with a night of live music and theatre hosted by Sach and Hiran. It did not disappoint. Very excited to see where their creativity takes them next.

 

Our final stop in Sri Lanka was Galle. We rented a lovely characterful apartment in the Galle Fort where we spent 4 days surfing, eating, relaxing and feeling very lucky how good life is right now. We took a day trip to Bentota to check out some of Jefery Bawa's architecture before heading back to Colombo to catch a our flight to Mumbai for the next leg our our trip. Sri Lanka has been the perfect start of our travels. We will miss the beaches and the beautifully friendly people. 

ELLA

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GUAVA

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DIGANA

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COLOMBO

GALLE

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India
Part 1: Gujarat
03.02.2024 - 18.02.2024

BOOM. BEEP BEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEP. As we landed into Mumbai at midnight, we were hit by the car horns and absolute chaos of vehicles, and we hadn't yet left the airport carpark. Making friends as we landed, we managed to share a taxi with other travellers also headed to the same hostel in the southern part of Mumbai in colaba and shared recommendations along the way. Our first sight of the city in the morning, we set off for an architectural tour of the Fort and Colaba areas. Limited on cash, we took our own tour of the city based on the lonely planet guide (LPG), and boy did it not disappoint. There is only so much of the heat and the maddness you can take in one hit before a reset is needed...so we headed to a for a late lunch at Samrat. We ordered the famous Gujarati thalidomide, a cavalcade of local tastes and textures.  Quote fin, 'sounds rash but honestly think this is the best meal I have ever experienced'. House full to the brim of locals, this meal was a true highlight. One day was not nearly enough for Mumbai, but we managed to see some of the classics. 

The following morning we caught a train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Whilst Mumabi was a sensory overload, we hadn't felt overwhelmed by the chaos. Our first moment of mind boggling chaos came when we stepped out of the station at 10pm in Ahmedabad. A sea of traffic, people and locals hounding us with offers for a ride and hotel recommendations. At first we tried to walk but we quickly realised that crossing the road was a no goer. We then tried our luck in a Tuk, but after 2km heading into the traffic on the wrong side of the road we sacked that off also. After a full on sense of humour failure from Jessy Wheels we managed to eventually cross the road and walk to our accommodation. We stayed in a restored 16th century home stay in the old town. Our hosts, a three generation family of 8, invited of into there home with open arms. We loved our time with them. Jess took part in a wedding dance practice session hosted in their living room and we joining the whole family in a game of India version of Marco Polo. All smiles. We spent 2 days in Ahmedabad exploring the city. Highlights included, wondering through the old town, seeing the stunning Hoothi Jane Temple at sunset, and visiting the Ghandi ashram and museum. 

On recommendation, we headed far east of Gujurat to the Kutch region, home of handcrafts and tribal craft villages. It was also close to Hunnunshala, a foundation who work with local artisans and architects to produce beautifully crafted vernacular buildings for the community. We were very keen to visit, having heard a lot through our mate, James. Coincidentally, our air bnb host worked at the foundation so was able to give much more insight into the works, materials and techniques when we visited. We left feeling very inspired for similar projects at home. On other days, we explored the city and its Jan temples and palaces, much of which were devastated in the 2002 earthquake. A highlight of our time om Bhuj was a day exploring local craft villages around, guided by our homestay host, Neeru We were also joined by a lovely Italian man (who's name we have forgotten). It was his 50th visit to India and it was amazing to absorb his unwavering love for India. We visited a villages dedicated to block printing, embroidery, leather work, and Textiles. Each explaining the processes and intricate details behind their craft. We were inspired to learn how all materials were sourced locally using mostly natural materials. Very memorable!

After a bit of deliberation, we decided to head to Junagadh next, a relatively small city in southern Gujarat. The next morning we set off to walk up the Girnar mountain, which had been highly recommended by a few people. The sacred pillgaramage route took us up a long steep climb up 10,000 stone steps to the summit with stunning temples and views the whole way up. It took us 5 hours to reach the top with many interactions with beautifully colourful and friendly Indian faces along the way. They particularly loved Jess, who became a selfie machine by the time we reached the top! Exhausted, but with a big smile on our faces, we sat on a bus from Junagadh to Rajkot reflecting on how inspiring the Indian attitude to life is. 

Arrived to dirty sheets in our not so luxury hotel in Rajkot. All was forgoten the following morning riding a Tuk to day 1 of the cricket with optimistic energy flowing through our viens. Watching the England cricket team abroad has always been high on the list for Fin, and no better place to do it than in India. Although the stadium for only 1/3 full, the Indians still made a crazy amount of noise. It's a sound we haven't heard before, somewhere between a screech and a yelp. We loved meeting and talking to so many cricket obsessed locals. During our time in Gujarat we have regularly been asked to take a photo with locals, but the cricket took things to a whole new level. We are talking full on Brad and Angelina A-List celebrity status. A real highlight was meeting up with our friends Sez and Tom to watch the cricket. They are in the midst of an epic 8 months trip in India were evoking that kind of glow it seams you can only find out here. We loved seeing them and sharing our misguided optimism that England would get the job done. Sadly not! Although England got thumped, we absolutely loved our 2 days at the cricket. Fingers crossed we make it to the 5th test in Dharamshala! 

MUMBAI

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AHMEDABAD

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BHUJ

JUNNAGAGH

RAJKOT

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