WIFE&HUSBAND @ KAMO RIVER (鴨川), Kyoto (京都), Japan
After a vibrant evening of nightlife, most of Pontocho (先斗町) were still in bed by the time we reached the riverside alley during our morning walk. Behind Pontocho, Kamo River (鴨川) glittered under the morning sun. It was probably too cold and too early as not too many people were around at Kamogawa Park (鴨川公園), the park running along both sides of the riverbank. It wasn’t as crowded as we expected, with only occasional joggers and dogwalkers passed by our side. Not a single young couple sitting along the riverbank, nor any fishing enthusiasts trying their luck from the bridges. The summer Nouryou-Yuka dining terraces (納涼床) seemed like distant memories. Cherry trees remained bare, awaiting their moment of spectacle in three months’ time. Yet, pristine water continued to filter through nearby forests and cascade down the shallow river channel, reaching vegetable fields and temizuya pavilions of Shinto shrines near the river. Ducks gathered in groups behind river reeds, while lonely herons stood on river rocks in search of easy preys. Being the most popular hangout area in Kyoto, we always enjoyed visiting Kamo-gawa. Even walking just a stretch of it was for us the most relaxing thing to do in the city. In 2016, we often found ourselves returning to Kamo River every so often. Same thing happened for us in 2022.
Before reaching Downtown Kyoto, Kamo River converges with Takano River at a fork south of Shimogamo Jinja (下鴨神社). Beyond the fork, Kamogawa Park extends further northwest along upstream Kamo River. We came to this part of Kamo River near the Botanical Gardens all because of Wife&Husband, a highly popular coffee shop hidden in an old timber house. Through good coffee, charming antiques, and picnic supplies, the couple Ikumi and Kyoichi Yoshida established a lovely venue that embodies the natural, rejuvenating and timeless spirit of Kyoto. The day was too cold for having picnic at the Kamo, but we still enjoyed our coffee and cake inside the cozy Wife&Husband.
FROM SUGAR REFINERY & DOCKYARDS TO RESIDENTIAL & BUSINESS HUB, Quarry Bay (鰂魚涌), Hong Kong
In 1974, the master plan to redevelop 96 acres of Swire’s land in Quarry Bay was approved by the Hong Kong government. The proposal included converting Taikoo Sugar Refinery into the city’s second business hub that is now known as Taikoo Place (太古坊), and transforming 53 acres of former Taikoo Dockyards into Taikoo Shing (太古城). Literally translated as “Swire’s City”, Taikoo Shing contains 61 residential towers (12,698 apartment flats) and one of the island’s largest shopping and commercial complex known as Cityplaza (太古城中心). The development of Taikoo Shing led the dramatic transformation of Swire from an industrial giant into a real estate developer and business conglomerate.
After inheriting the family trading business Swire Group from his father in 1847, British businessman John Samuel Swire took the company overseas to expand his cotton and sugar trade in China. In Shanghai, he established Taikoo Sugar Refinery and later the shipping business China Navigation Company, laying the foundation for the modern Swire Group (太古集團). In 1881, John Samuel Swire selected a site at Quarry Bay (鰂魚涌) in Hong Kong, below lush green Mount Parker (柏架山) to establish his sugar refinery factory. The factory expanded rapidly to become the world’s largest sugar refinery in 1925. After John Samuel Swire died, the company further developed the adjacent land into a massive dockyard that serviced, repaired, and built vessels for their shipping business China Navigation Company. Completed in 1907, Taikoo Dockyard (太古船塢) constructed some of the world’s largest ships in early 20th century, along with its Kowloon counterpart Whampoa Dockyard (黃埔船塢). With the sugar refinery and dockyards, Quarry Bay emerged as the largest industrial district in Hong Kong before WWII. After the sugar refinery ceased production and the dockyard moved to Tsing Yi Island in early 1970’s, Swire Group looked to reinvent itself for the contemporary era, and to transform Quarry Bay into a new residential and business hub. The 1974 master plan opened up a whole new world for Swire, diversify the company’s profile with real estate, retail services, and hospitality.
Four decades have passed since Taikoo Dockyard was turned into Taikoo Shing, and Taikoo Sugar Refinery into Taikoo Place. After work, we would sometimes walk from our office to Taikoo Shing for grocery. The 20-minute walk along Quarry Bay Promenade Pet Garden (鰂魚涌寵物公園) is one of the most pleasant harbourfront walks in Eastern Hong Kong Island. Constructed in late 2012, the pet garden offers a great venue for pet dogs and people to mingle, and lookouts to enjoy the spectacular view of Victoria Harbour and East Kowloon. As the waterfront walk reaches Taikoo Shing, the decommissioned Fireboat Alexander Grantham, Hong Kong’s flagship fireboat that served the city between 1953 to 2002, was on display at the promenade. Built in early 1950’s by Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Co. Ltd., the fireboat is a splendid reminder of the city’s shipbuilding history, the once thriving industry at the Victoria Harbour when Hong Kong has yet become a financial and business hub.
SLEEPY TOURIST TOWN IN THE HILLS, Ella, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.11
Day 7 (2 of 2).
In the midst of tea plantations and cloud forests, the town of Ella situates at an elevation of 1000m above sea level and maintains a relatively cooler climate than the surrounding lowlands. Well known for its scenic valley view of Ella Rock at the Ella Gap, and a laid-back backpacker’s atmosphere, there is no surprises that the hill town has developed into the most popular tourist hub in the entire hill country. Almost all businesses in Ella are somewhat related to tourism. Because of its decent guesthouse and restaurant selection, convenience of transportation, and pleasant surrounding scenery, many travellers including us chose Ella as their base to explore the area’s hiking trails and tea plantations.
Since July 1918, Ella railway station has been an important stop on the Main Line, the oldest railway line in Sri Lanka running from coastal Colombo to Badulla in the hill country, via Kandy.
Just like other railway station in the country, curious dogs were often the first to greet us on the platform, especially when we had breakfast in our hands.
Depending on the time of day, visitors would either get off at Ella from the red or blue train.
We stayed at Zion View Ella Green Retreat for two nights. A number of guest houses, including Zion View, are erected on the valley slope facing the Ella Gap, one of the most scenic spot in town.
Every room in Zion View has a terrace overlooking the Ella Gap.
The terrace was the perfect spot to watch the sunrise over Ella Gap with the silhouette of Ella Rock.
It was also in Ella that we had our first Sri Lankan egg hoppers for breakfast.
The two German Shepherds at Zion View always welcomed us at the hotel entrance.
Walking on the railway tracks is often the the most direct routes to go between attractions. Because only a few trains would pass by Ella daily, both the locals and tourists would use these tracks as footpaths during the rest of the day to reach their destinations.
From our guesthouse we walked half an hour on the tracks to visit Kithal Ella falls. We reached the falls just before nightfall.
Just a few kilometres away from Ella, Halpewatte Tea Factory is a popular tea plantation that offers factory tours for tourists. The factory can easily be reached by tuk tuk.
Halpewatte is one of better known tea plantation in the UVA Ceylon tea region.
Founded in 1971, Halpewatte is a family run business.
Visiting a tea factory is a good way to learn more about the variety of Ceylon tea.
From the factory, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the tea terraces and surrounding scenery.
Among the many restaurants, we picked AK Ristoro in a quiet neighbourhood off the main road for dinner.
We chose to dine at the lovely veranda area at AK Ristoro.
AK Ristoro serves good fusion food with Italian, Japanese and Sri Lankan touches.
We couldn’t resist but to order a can of the local Lion beer to wash down our delicious dinner.
At night, the Main Street of Ella is flanked by lights and signage of restaurants and souvenir stores.
VILLA ROSA, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.10
Day 6 (1of 3).
“Steeply up the hill” was what many tuk tuk drivers referred to when they heard us mentioning the name of our guesthouse. Every time we head back or out of Villa Rosa would be an exciting uphill or downhill tuk tuk journey. High above Mahaweli River, Villa Rosa was more than a tranquil retreat of several spotless rooms with amazing views of the river valley. Sitting on our private terrace looking over the river valley in search of returning flying foxes in early morning, having a fine Sri Lankan dinner at the outdoor patio in a breezy evening, resting in the airy bedroom surrounded by traditional wood furniture, these pleasant moments would live long in our memories.
Greeted by friendly staff and three dogs, we were glad to arrive at the entrance foyer of Villa Rosa after the car journey from Dambulla.
Flanked both sides by guestrooms, the entrance foyer, upper living room, and the courtyard bisects the complex of Villa Rosa.
Accessed from a covered veranda, our room was situated at a corner on the upper level.
At the upper living room, we spent a short period of time flipping through an architecture book on Geoffrey Bawa, one of the most famous architects in Sri Lanka.
Our room was spacious and spotless. The ambience was relaxing and the river views from the terrace was amazing.
Even the bathroom revealed a tropical sense.
Sitting at the terrace to enjoy the river scenery was a delightful morning activity.
After heavy rain at night, a rainbow emerged for a short period of time in the second morning during our stay.
The 335km long Mahaweli River is the longest river in Sri Lanka. It passes by the valley right below Villa Rosa.
The courtyard offered views to the river valley and the dense forest beyond.
In the courtyard, small lily ponds and sculptures are put together in perfect harmony.
The courtyard is a well tended garden for all guests to enjoy.
Another classical sculpture somehow goes well with the surrounding tropical vegetation.
Despite their size, the dogs were pretty friendly. The staff was helpful too. We were especially thankful that they were able to get us two reserved train tickets for from Kandy to Ella, something that had been sold out online 1.5 month prior to our arrival in the country.
One of the dogs has its own resting mat in the foyer.
The dogs play together every morning.
We had two breakfast and one dinner at the patio facing the river valley. Fruits were always served during breakfast in Sri Lanka.
For dinner, we had local prawns as one of the main dishes.
And tuna steaks for the other main dish.
Fine details at the veranda reveal some lovely touches from the owner. Staying at Villa Rosa for two nights was truly a remarkable experience.
TOUCH DOWN IN NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.05
Day 1 (1 of 1).
Almost all foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka would stop by Negombo, a seaside town less than 10km from Bandaranaike International Airport. Since many incoming international flights arrive at night, staying the night in nearby Negombo before heading elsewhere is not uncommon. That’s exactly what we have done, flying in just after midnight and staying the night at Icebear Guesthouse in Negombo.
Situated at the mouth of Negombo Lagoon, Negombo is an important commercial and fishing hub in the west coast of Sri Lanka. In the 1500’s, Negombo became a Portuguese port for cinnamon trade. Later came the Dutch who took over the town’s control, and then lastly the British arrived in the 19th century. The majority of Negombo’s population had converted to Roman Catholic ever since the Portuguese era. Today, two thirds of Negombo residents still consider themselves Roman Catholics. With its high concentration of churches, Negombo is sometimes referred to as “Little Rome.”
Unfortunately, St. Sebastian Church in Negombo was under terrorist bombing during Easter service in 2019. Innocent lives were lost and the town’s tourism was devastated. The negative impact on tourism and other related business could still be strongly felt when we visited in December. The only souvenir vendor we met on Negombo beach expressed his discontent and anxiety when we politely rejected his offer. Negombo’s deserted beach, vacant hotels and desperate souvenir vendor reminded me of Dahab in Sinai Peninsula back in 2006 when I visited the famous diving paradise two months after a terrorist bombing that killed 23 people. Back then, rows after rows of empty beach chaise lounges lined up on the silky sand along the Gulf of Aqaba. Desperate hotel and restaurant owners waited outside the bus station and approached any foreigner with dirt cheap deals. Today, there are a whole lot of places around the world solely rely on tourism to generate jobs and sustain the local economy. Any terrorist attack or natural disaster causing a sudden disruption to tourism would lead to terrible suffering for the locals. This economic vulnerability may spell unpredictable trouble for any resort town, but can also cause a painful impact for any tourist city like Paris or New York. Resilience, versatility, social unity and a persisted sense of hope would be vital for recovery and regeneration for any town or city after such mishap. First came the 26-year civil war and then the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, and now the Easter Bombing of 2019, Negombo is once again on its path of gradual recovery.
All foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka have to fill out an arrival card upon landing.
Our flight arrived at midnight. The airport passenger concourse was surprisingly busy. We went through customs, bought some Sri Lankan rupees, and purchased two local mobile SIM cards.
We stayed our first night at the northern strip of Negombo where dozens of hotels and guesthouses dotted the shore of Laccadive Sea.
Before breakfast at Icebear Guesthouse, we went for a short walk along the beach behind the guesthouse.
On the wall of Icebear Guesthouse we could still see markings from the Boxing Day Tsunami 15 years ago.
With the country’s largest concentration of Roman Catholic population, churches and Christian shrines can be seen all over Negombo .
Looks like another new church is under construction by the beach.
Not the most exotic beach in Sri Lanka, Negombo’s beach nonetheless provided us a place for a relaxing stroll before moving on to our Sri Lankan journey.
The beach is popular with locals coming for morning exercises.
Dogs also take the beach as their playground.
After the Easter’s bombing, Negombo’s tourism has taken a heavy toll. There were hardly any tourists on the beach except a few Western couples.
A traditional fishing sailboat was the most eye-catching feature on the beach, though we had no idea how Tirol related to Sri Lanka.
A local man stood by the boat waiting for any tourist interested to take a selfie on the boat by paying him a small tip.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit Central Negombo and any of its churches, maybe next time.
DAY 6 (1/3): SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, 2018.11.29
At 6:30 in the morning, we returned to the ghats of Pushkar Lake. The eastern horizon was about to turn yellow. We came to have a final stroll along the sacred water. We regret that we couldn’t spend more time in Pushkar, a place that is meant for slow indulgence for its spiritual qualities. We, however, were making a brief loop of Rajasthan in a rather limited time. Situated between Jaisalmer and Jaipur, Pushkar was a convenient stop in our itinerary. We didn’t come in time to attend the famous camel fair, nor did we hike up the nearby hills or visit the Brahma Temple (no cameras, shoes, leather). Just spending several hours strolling on the ghats turned out to be more than worthwhile for us. Among cities and sites that we visited in Rajasthan, Pushkar stood out as a charming and peaceful destination that truly touched our hearts.
At 6:30, some locals were already lingering at the ghats.
It was interesting to see how a local interacted with a cow.
The forever presence of pigeons at Pushkar Lake.
The sun rose beyond the hills while a dog rested on a ghat with marked 2018.
The adjacent temples had yet come to life. Scattered temple staff and pilgrims arrived at the ghats.
Once again the ghats were covered with a coat of orange glow.
The setting looked magnificent with the morning reflections.
Following the sunlight, we walked over to the west side of the lake.
Every moment could be captured as a peaceful painting of the old India.
Some worshipers were listening to the priest’s teaching at one of the ghats.
At the northwest corner of Pushkar Lake we bid farewell to the sacred water.
We stopped by a tiny cafe called Honey Dew for morning coffee.
Brahma Temple in Pushkar is one of the very few Hindu temple in the world dedicated to Brahma, the creator god in Hinduism.
Robin Jewels is a nice jewellery shop we found online. Before leaving Pushkar, we dropped by the shop and picked up a few pieces. Robin is specialized in silver, brass, gold and gemstones, with their own manufacturing workshop in town.
We took us a while to narrow down to a few pieces to bring home.
After Robin, we followed the main market street along the north side of Pushkar Lake back to Inn Seventh Heaven.
For a little less than 24 hours, we had a taste of the spiritual side of India in the sacred town of Pushkar.
We checked out the lovely Inn Seventh Heaven and get on a hired car to Ajmer Junction Railway Station.
In an hour or so we would arrived at the bustling city of Jaipur, the capital and largest city of Rajasthan.
Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-
Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur
Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer
Day 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, Jaisalmer
Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer
Day 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar
Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur
Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi