ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “hotel

QUEEN’S ROAD CENTRAL (皇后大道中), Central-Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

Six years before the handover of Hong Kong to China, Taiwanese songwriter and singer Lo Tayou (羅大佑) published a song called “Queen’s Road East” (皇后大道東) in 1991. Emerged as a satirical reflection of Hongkongers’ collective feelings in the eve’s of the handover, the song became an instant hit. Even today, the song still offers an interesting cultural reference to understand the city’s unsettling moment before 1997. In the face of Hong Kong’s social uncertainties and imminent changes in near future, lyricist Albert Leung (林夕) made use of a wide range of symbols in the song, from “portrait on the coin” and “noble friend” to signify Queen Elizabeth II, to “waves of pedestrians” to suggest the mass exodus of Hongkongers. But the biggest symbolism is in fact the name “Queen’s Road East” itself. Physically divided into three sections, namely Queen’s Road East, Queen’s Road Central, and Queen’s Road West, Queen’s Road was used in the song to symbolize the three main players in the city’s story: “East” for Hong Kong, “West” for Britain, and “Central” for China (in reference to “Middle Kingdom”, the Chinese name of China). While “Queen” is unmistakably a reference to the city’s colonial past, the historical and economic significance of Queen’s Road has suggested a meaning way beyond colonialism. It is in fact a symbol of the city’s success story. As Hong Kong’s first main road, Queen’s Road was home to the first city hall, first post office, first luxury hotel, first bank headquarters, first residences of government officials, first business district, etc. After almost 180 years of urban transformations, its importance in the commercial heart remains vital to this date. The rich history and symbolism of Queen’s Road has made it a sensible choice for Lo Tayou and Albert Leung in their iconic song, and a reference point to tell the story of Hong Kong.

For its architecture and luxury shops, Queen’s Road Central is indeed a popular destination for both foreign visitors and local Hongkongers. Constructed between 1841 and 1843, Queen’s Road was originally named Main Street (大馬路). It ran through the first business district in the city between Sai Ying Pun (西營盤) and Central (中環). The road was soon renamed as Queen’s Road in tribute to Queen Victoria. As the road further extended in the west and east direction, Queen’s Road was eventually divided into three main sections: West, Central and East. Connecting Sheung Wan (上環) and Central along the island’s original shoreline, Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中) has long been considered as a synonym of Downtown Hong Kong. Subsequent land reclamations in the next 180 years pushed Queen’s Road Central further and further inland. The business district has long extended way beyond its original extent around Queen’s Road Central. Yet, buildings along the road continue to be sold, torn down and replaced by taller replacements, from the 19th century Neo-classical structures to the 20th century Modernist buildings, and then to the contemporary glassy skyscrapers. Due to its historical significance, Queen’s Road Central is probably one of the most documented street in Hong Kong. Having the historical photographs in hand while taking a brief tour of Queen’s Road Central offers a fruitful way to understand the tale of constant changes, and endless cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction in one of the fastest growing metropolises in modern history.

Running across the former extent of Victoria City (West District, Sheung Wan, Central and Wanchai), Queen’s Road is the first main road in Hong Kong. [Street sign of Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
In the early days, Queen’s Road was no more than a street of dirt. [A Chromolithograph of Queen’s Road based on a drawing by Eduard Hildebrandt, Public Domain, 1865]
This Central-Sheung Wan (中上環) diagram highlights the extent of Queen’s Road Central and some of its notable street numbers in correspondence to the photos below.
1 Queen’s Road Central: HSBC Main Building (香港上海滙豐銀行總行)
Completed in 1985, Norman Foster’s HSBC Main Building is the fourth version of the bank’s headquarters at the very same site. [Junction of Bank Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
1 Queen’s Road Central: HSBC Main Building (香港上海滙豐銀行總行)
At the ground floor covered plaza, markings on the floor explain the building site in relationship with the various land reclamations of Central. [Junction of Bank Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
9 Queen’s Road Central: The Galleria (嘉軒廣場)
The Galleria formerly housed a flagship Hermes store
, before the French luxury goods company sold the 7500 sq.ft retail space for about USD 86 million. [Junction of Ice House Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
12 Queen’s Road Central: Shanghai Commercial Bank Tower (上海商業銀行) & Landmark Atrium (置地廣塲)
In 2016, Shanghai Commercial Bank moved into their new tower after years of construction. Much of its ground floor is rented out to a flagship boutique of Versace. Across the street stands Landmark Atrium, one of the city’s most upscale shopping centres. [Junction of Duddell Street and Queen’s Road, Central, 2020]
Rickshaws lined up both sides of Queen’s Road Central at the junction where today’s Shanghai Commercial Bank stands. [Photo in Public Domain, Junction of Duddell Street and Queen’s Road, Central, 1900]
15 Queen’s Road Central: The Landmark (置地廣塲)
Home to the likes of Gucci flagship and Harvey Nichols department store, Landmark Atrium is one of the most well known luxury shopping destination in Hong Kong. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
15 Queen’s Road Central: The Landmark (置地廣塲)
The Landmark partially occupies the site of the former Hongkong Hotel
(香港大酒店
), a majestic luxury hotel. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
Founded in 1868 and closed in 1952, Hongkong Hotel (香港大酒店) was the first luxury hotel in Hong Kong. It was later replaced by the office tower Central Building (中建大廈) and The Landmark (置地廣塲) a complex of luxury shopping centre and office buildings. [Photo by Lai Afong, Public Domain, 1880’s]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Entertainment Building (娛樂行) at Intersection of Pedder Street
Designed by P&T Architects, the neo-gothic Entertainment Building was erected in 1993 on the site of the former King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院). Instead of movie billboards that once dominated the scenery at this location, a large LED screen on the podium facade
to engage pedestrians from all directions.
[Junction of Wyndham Street, D’Aguilar Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Entertainment Building (娛樂行)
Long gone the days when Central was a destination for moviegoers (except a small cinema in the Entertainment Building). In 1928, the air conditioned King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院) was erected along with a ballroom and restaurant. It lasted till 1962 and was replaced by the 1,300-seat second generation. The theatre finally closed in 1990 to make way for the current office tower. [Junction of Wyndham Street, D’Aguilar Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
30 Queen’s Road Central: Former King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院)
The 7-storey King’s Theatre was opened in 1931
. Its predecessor on the same spot, Bijou Scenic Theatre, was one of the first cinema established in Hong Kong. [Photo by Harrison Forman, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, 1940’s]
31 Queen’s Road Central: LHT Tower (陸海通大廈) and Theatre Lane (戲院里)
The street name “Theatre Lane” says it all. Decades ago, Theatre Lane was flanked by Queen’s Theatre (皇后戲院) and opposite from King’s Theatre (娛樂戲院). Both famous theatres were demolished and redeveloped in the 1990’s into new office towers: King’s Theatre became Entertainment Building and Queen’s Theatre was turned into LHT Tower with the eye-catching slanted facade verticals. [Junction of Theatre Lane and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
31 Queen’s Road Central: Queen’s Theatre (皇后戲院)
In 1907, Victoria Theatre and Hong Kong Theatre opened in Central. Located at the intersection of Theatre Lane and Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong Theatre was the first cinema founded by local Chinese. It was replaced by Queen’s Theatre in 1924 with 1,200 seats. Queen’s Theatre was later replaced by its second generation in 1961, and eventually demolished in 2008 for the new office building. [Photo by Harrison Forman, American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, 1940’s]
80 Queen’s Road Central: Pottinger Street (砵典乍街) or Stone Slab Street (石板街)
One of the most popular tourist destination in Central is the historical Pottinger Street. Its stone steps lead tourists all the way from Queen’s Road Central to Tai Kwun, the former Police Headquarters in Central. [Junction of Pottinger Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
100 Queen’s Road Central: Don Don Donki (驚安之殿堂) at 100 QRC
Open 24 hours 7 days a week and famous for its vast selection of household and food merchandises imported from Japan, the Japanese supermarket Don Don Donki at 100 QRC is their 5th outlet opened in Hong Kong since 2019. The pandemic is preventing Hongkongers to visit their favorite destination: Japan. For the time being, Don Don Donki is benefiting from the situation and is determined to speed up their expansion plan of opening 24 stores across the city. [Junction of Central-Mid Levels Escalators and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
100 Queen’s Road Central: Central-Mid Levels Escalator Since its inauguration in 1993, the Central-Mid Levels Escalator has completely transformed the pedestrian patterns and urban scenery of SoHo, bringing people up to the Mid Levels from Queen’s Road Central. [Looking down from Central-Mid Levels Escalator, Central, 2020]
93 Queen’s Road Central: Central Market (中環街市)
Famous for its Bauhaus style, the 83-year Central Market is undergoing a major revitalization work. It would be adapted into a new shopping complex. [Junction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
93 Queen’s Road Central: Central Market (中環街市)
Before the modernist version was erected in 1938, the earlier versions of the Central Market had always been a traditional Western architecture.
[Image courtesy of Historical Photographs of China reference number: NA16-019., University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net), CC BY_NC_ND 4.0, 1895]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
At 346m, The Center is the fifth tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong. It is one of the tallest steel buildings in the world without reinforced concrete core. In 2017, the building for sold for a world record of USD 5.15 billion. [Junction of Jubilee Stree and Queen’s Road, Central, Central, 2020]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
To facilitate the skyscraper’s construction, several historical structures were demolished and streets shortened in 1995. [unction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road, Central, Central, 2021]
99 Queen’s Road Central: The Center (中環中心)
The main lobby is raised up a level for better views, leaving the ground level to become a semi-open plaza. [Junction of Jubilee Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central,
2021]
128 Queen’s Road Central: Peel Street (卑利街)
Graham Street Market, the oldest street market in Hong Kong, is accessible from Queen’s Road Central via Peel Street or Graham Street.
[Junction of Peel Street and Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2020]
A century ago, Queen’s Road Central was flanked both sides by qilou (騎樓), or arcade buildings. These unique architecture originated from the British in India, who came up with the idea of adding verandas in front of buildings for shading in hot climate. These architectural type then spread into Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Southern China and became widely popular in the 19th century. [Photo by Lai Afong, Public Domain, late 19-century]
176 Queen’s Road Central:
Not many qilou buildings survives in Central-Sheung Wan today. [176 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
176 Queen’s Road Central: Peel Street (卑利街)
The qilou at 176 Queen’s Road Central has become a precious survivor in the area. [176 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
176 Queen’s Road Central: Kam On Building (錦安大廈)
A thin building called Kam On Building marks the junction of Wellington Street and Queen’s Road Central. [Junction of Wellington Street and Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
181 Queen’s Road Central: Grand Millennium Plaza (新紀元廣場)
Similar to The Center, Grand Millennium Plaza was also a redevelopment project that dramatically transform the urban fabric of the area. Old tenement buildings were demolished and small streets and lanes were removed to make way for the current two office towers and a neo-classical plaza.
[Junction of Bonham Strand and Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, 2020]
378 Queen’s Road Central: Possession Street (水坑口街)
In Sheung Wan, Possession Street, the spot where the British navy first landed on the island, defines the end of Queen’s Road Central and beginning of Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西). [Junction of Possession Street, Bonham Strand and Queen’s Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]

A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Damascus, Syria

2006.05.15.

A number of foreign journalists have been allowed to return to some Syrian cities to report on the current conditions after a decade of civil war.  After witnessing the apocalyptic devastation, most journalists depict an upsetting “hell on Earth” picture made of miles of concrete ruins and overwhelming human suffering.  New York Times journalist Vivian Yee went a step further reporting on an uneven distribution of recovery resources as well as human suffering among different social groups and in different neighborhoods of a city.  As a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, Central Damascus is largely untouched by the war, the 310 million shopping mall recently built in the capital stands as a friendly reminder of which side is the true winner.  A little further away in the suburbs previously held by the rebels, such as Douma and Ghouta, ruined neighborhoods and the lack of young men and the middle class illustrates a completely different Damascus.  No running water, no electricity, no intact infrastructures, no hospitals or schools not lying in ruins, it is a tale of oblivion.  Journalists describe the overwhelming noise of portable generators fill the streets of these neighborhoods, revealing a glimpse of hope that local residents are returning and attempting to move on with their lives.  While government reconstruction in these areas are virtually non existence, rebuilding efforts are largely laid in hands of the returning residents who just refuse to give up their homes.  A peaceful Damascus that we have experienced in 2006 feels like a fairy tale from ages ago.

* * *

Back in Damascus from Borsa, we decided to visit the National Archaeological Museum.  It has a fabulous archaeological collections from sites across the nation, from the region’s earliest settlements up to the Islamic times.  I was particularly interested in the ancient alphabet of Ugarit, the ancient port city in northern Syrian that thrived between 6000 to 1200 BC.  With 30 letters, the Ugarit alphabet was widely used in the area at around 1500 BC.  Although not a dominate culture, Ugarit’s central location in the ancient world (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, Crete, and Cyprus) almost ensured a certain level of interaction with the adjacent writing systems at a particular moment in history.  At the museum shop, I bought a necklace carved with Ugarit alphabet.  After the museum visit, a travel buddy and I decided to take a causal walk.  We ended up reaching Mezzeh, a wealthy district dotted with affluent mansions and foreign consulates.  Occasional French mansions flanked peaceful residential streets.  Floral shrubs, shading trees, trellis of climbers stood out from the private gardens.  The scorching Syria Desert felt like a distant world.  Through large windows, piano music could be heard clearly in the street.  For a moment we thought we were in a French suburb.

Back at Al Rabie Hotel, we bumped into a German photography student and an Australian Chinese traveler.  Similar to us, the German student visited Turkey before entering Syria.  He came in search for monotonous urban scenes to fulfill his black and white photographic quest.  He planned to travel in the Middle East until mid August.  The Australian Chinese traveler has been to many places in Asia, Iran, India, and Pakistan are among his favorites.  At 01:00am, three of our travel buddies took a taxi for the airport.  Their Middle Eastern journey had come to an end.  The remaining three of us would continue the second half of the journey to Jordan and Egypt.

Marjeh SquareAt Marjeh Square, Yalbugha Mosque and the concrete structure (some said Business Centre or Ministry of Religion) behind are famous for remaining unfinished for 25 years.  Recent news claims that the mosque has finally been completed.

streetscape 2After visiting the museum, we had a pleasant walk in central Damascus.

06ME31-30In Mezzeh, we had a relaxing stroll in a residential neighborhood under the soft piano music from the French mansions.

06ME31-32On our way back to the hotel, we once again entered the old city of Damascus.

06ME31-31There were many mosques around the area Al Rabie Hotel.

06ME33-11Before the civil war, Al Rabie Hotel was a popular budget hotel just a few blocks away from the Umayyad Mosque.

06ME33-12Ten years ago just before the war, Al Rabie Hotel has undergone a major renovation to keep up with the increasing number of tourists.  Back then, no one has foreseen the coming of the war.


NATURE’S SCULPTURE PARK, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

2006.05.07

Our bus arrived in Goreme at around 08:00.  Surprisingly the bus went all the way to the village centre, instead of the otogar at Nevsehir.  Arriving at Cappadocia in early morning felt like waking up in another world: minimal traffic, occasional herds of sheep, stone houses and cave dwellings.  But it was the bizarre rock formations, some of which towering straight up the sky known as fairy chimneys that captured our imagination.  The unique rock formations of Cappadocia began 2.6 million years ago when eruption of the ancient volcano Mount Erciyes covered the area (about 20,000 square kilometres) with lava and ash.  The ash later solidified into soft rocks exposed to erosion from wind and water.  As most of the soft rocks were eroded away, the remaining hard rocks appeared like stone chimneys towering towards the sky.

We checked in at Hotel Elif Star to begin our temporary stay in a cave.  The owner Jacky and her cat welcomed us.  Jacky pulled out a map and recommended to us a number of hiking trails around the area, and a few lookouts for sunset watching.

1In the midst of fairy chimney rock formations, unique valleys and the open air museum, Goreme is the main tourist hub in Cappadocia.

2Inhabited since the Hittite era (1800-1200 BC), cave dwellings had been constructed in the era for thousands of years.

3Throughout history, cave dwellings and underground structures have been carved out from the volcanic tuff.  These rock-cut houses of Cappadocia provided homes and hideouts for people escaping from wars and persecutions from close and afar.

4This world famous UNESCO world heritage town receives significant amount of tourists, reaching a record high of 3.8 million in 2019.  When we visited in 2006, Goreme still maintained a relatively peaceful ambience.

5Souvenir shops lined up the main street of Goreme.

6Remnants from the past were still visible on the fairy chimneys in the side streets of Goreme.

7Other than cave dwellings, other buildings in Goreme are also constructed with the local stones.

8We stayed at Elif Star, one of the many cave hotels in Goreme.

9This people-friendly cat approached us during our breakfast time at Elif Star.

10Late afternoon offers the best moment to photograph the unique rock formations.

11There are several popular spots to watch the sunset in and around Goreme.

12Everyday, if weather is fine, tourists should be able to appreciate the scenery of fairy chimneys blanketed in the orange glow.

13Around Goreme, there are a number of hiking trails to explore the interesting rock formations.

14Even without exploring the surrounding valleys, visitors at Goreme can still get close to the fairy chimneys.

15Cappadocia offered one of the best sunset scenery we have ever experienced.

16We watched the sunset everyday while we were in Cappadocia.

17At night, Goreme returns to its former tranquility after tourists make their way back to their hotels.


PERFECT SUNSET, Selcuk, Turkey

2006.05.05

Sleepy town of Selcuk welcomes one of Turkey’s biggest concentrations of tourists.  Home to the mighty Ephesus, as well as the ruined Basilica of St John (where some believed was the final resting place of St John the Apostle) and House of the Virgin Mary (a stone house where some said was the final home of the Virgin Mary), Selcuk has its unique power to attract visitors from around the world while maintaining the tranquility as a small town in the Aegean Region.  After visiting Ephesus, we strolled around the town for a short while and completed the day by enjoying a glass of wine and a moment of perfect sunset on the rooftop of Homeros Pension.

streetscape 2Away from the Classical ruins, Selcuk is still dotted with historical buildings from the Middle Ages.

06ME14-06Alpaslan Mesciti is a 14th century building.  Today, the building continues to serve as a mosque.

man in selcukThe Turkish way to chill out: to smoke Turkish tobacco with a water pipe or nargile in the front porch of their home or shop and watch the world goes by.  The tradition started 500 years ago in the Ottoman Empire. Its popularity declined as cigarettes entered the Turkish market after World War II.  In recent two decades, water pipes have made a solid comeback for the younger generations.

06ME14-02Other than smoking nargiles, some locals we met chose to play music to celebrate the last hour of sunlight.

06ME14-08Many of the elder generation preferred to socialize at the outdoor area of a cafe.

streetscape 3Near Homeros Pension, the beautiful sunset made everything to appear under a tint of orange.

streetscape 4Walking under the last bit of sunlight on the hill was a sublime experience.

06ME14-13For our short stay in Selcuk, we picked Homeros Pension, a family run guesthouse full of character.

06ME14-14The common areas of Homeros Pension are richly decorated.

06ME14-15Local handicrafts fit perfectly well with the interior.

homeros pension 4Apart from local handicrafts, we could also find gifts left by previous travelers, such as these koalas from an Australian traveler.

06ME12-08The delicious food at Homeros was prepared by the experienced hands of the elderly staff.

06ME14-22The rooftop patio was a fantastic spot to enjoy the sunset.  We were invited by the friendly staff to have a glass of wine during sunset.

homeros' roof patio 2With the clean air and relatively low buildings, we had no trouble watching the sun setting below the far horizon.

06ME14-27Watching the marvelous sunset and mingling with the other guests at the guesthouse on the rooftop patio was the perfect way to end our day.

 

 

 

 


MIRISSA HILLS CINNAMON PLANTATION, Mirissa, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.15

Day 11 (2 of 2).

Cinnamomum verum, or true cinnamon tree, is an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka.  Considered as the better tasting and has more health benefits than the other types of cinnamon cultivated elsewhere in Asia and Africa, the inner bark of Cinnamomum verum has been a precious commodity sought after by the West since colonial times.  Sri Lanka nowadays exports roughly 85-90% of the world’s true cinnamon.  Spice plantations can be found in many parts of the island, including the South Coast.

We stayed at Mirissa Hills, a working cinnamon plantation near Mirissa, for two nights.  At the plantation, there are three buildings that offer guest accommodation.  We stayed at a building called the “Museum”, a work-in-progress cinnamon museum.  At Mirissa Hills, we got a chance to join a plantation tour to learn more about cinnamon production.

01Our room was located at the “Museum” building, around halfway up the hill of the plantation estate.

02Inside the “Museum”building,  four guestrooms are allocated on both sides of the courtyard.

03Despite the age of the building, our room was quite comfortable.

04The main building, Mount Cinnamon, is located 5 minutes walk uphill from the Museum.  Designed by architect C. Anjalendran, Mount Cinnamon is an hidden architectural gem in the midst of dense vegetation.

05Served as an apprentice of architectural master Geoffrey Bawa, C. Anjalendran is a leading architect of today’s Sri Lanka.  At Mount Cinnamon, C. Anjalendran arranges the guestrooms around the courtyard and swimming pool.

06The common room in Mount Cinnamon is dominated by Laki Senanayake’s sculpture “Enchanted Forest”.

07Laki Senanayake worked as an assistant to architect Geoffrey Bawa, and created a number of sculptures and murals for Bawa’s buildings.

09Outside the common room, the covered veranda was where we had breakfast and dinner.

08The two dogs of the estate often lingered around the veranda.  One of the dogs is already 16 years old.

10The pavilion in the backyard served as the dancing stage for peacocks to attract other peahens.

11After breakfast, we walked over to a covered veranda serving as a gallery for sculpture and artwork.

12Seeing such an interesting collection of artwork was a great surprise for us.

13In the second afternoon just before most staff called it a day, we followed the manager for a cinnamon tour.  The manager showed us cinnamon trees of different sizes and ages.  The cinnamon trees were virtually everywhere in the estate: by the road, behind the buildings, on the hill slope, etc., just that we didn’t notice them until the tour.

14At the factory, a staff showed us how to remove the bark of the cinnamon branch.

16The bark rolls were then placed over our heads for drying.

15From 1970 to now, international production of cinnamon has grown more than tenfold.  It is hard to imagine that such popular spice could still be processed in such a simple and traditional manner.  Such production method in Sri Lanka hasn’t changed much in the past few centuries.

17In the morning of December 16th, Mirissa Hills arranged a car to drop us at Galle.

18We passed by a series of beaches near Weligama.  Occasionally we would see empty stilts near the shore.  The traditional fishermen that Steve McCurry encountered in the mid 1990s were long gone.  Today, the stilts are mainly for tourist to take selfies or locals to mimic their the bygone fishermen and let tourists to photograph them for a fee.

19Most beaches were empty except occasional surfers.  Half day in Galle and a dinner in Colombo would make up the last day of our Sri Lankan journey.

 


ARRIVAL AT UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.13

Day 9 (3 of 4).

After the morning walk to the Little Adam’s Peak and Nine Arches Bridge, we returned to Zion View Ella Green Retreat for a quick breakfast. The car came to Zion View Ella Green Retreat to pick us up right at 10:30.  We bid farewell to the two German shepherds and hopped on the car.  We left Ella behind and slowly descended from the hills.  Our next destination was Udawalawe, a small town between the hill country and the southern beaches.  The two hour drive from Ella to Udawalawe brought us from tea plantations and green hills to grasslands, marshes and forests, the home of diverse wildlife.  After world heritage historical sites and hills of tea plantations, our focus shifted once again to the natural treasure of Udawalawe National Park.

Established in 1972 as a sanctuary for wildlife displaced by the construction of Udawalawe Reservoir, the 30,821 hectares national park has become the third most visited park in the nation.  With an annual rainfall of 1,500mm, the park lies at the boundary between Sri Lanka’s wet and dry zones.  Within the park, there are marshes, grasslands and forests.  Udawalawe is famous for its 250 or so Sri Lanka elephants. Other mammal species found in the park include Sri Lankan leopard, rusty-spotted cat, sloth bear,  Sri Lanka sambar deer, Sri Lankan axis deer, wild boar, water buffalo, jackal, civet, monkey, mongoose, etc.  The park is also a good venue for bird watching, and so as reptiles including lizards, crocodiles, and snakes.

01Passing the Rawana Ella Falls on the Wellawaya Ella Kumbalwela Highway signified our departure from Ella.

03The more we get closer to Udawalawe, the higher the chance we might see wildlife along the highway.

02Domestic water buffalo are kept for their milk (curd and ghee) and rice cultivation.

04Sri Lankan elephant is undoubtedly the superstar in Udawalawe, and can often be seen along the road.

05Elephants are highly intelligent animals.  According to our driver, some of the curious males have learnt to approach the highway fence regularly to greet tourists in exchange for easy treats like bananas.

06Roadside stores near Udawalawe offer visitors a convenient stop for fruits, and perhaps have indirectly encouraged the unnatural habit of the highway approaching elephants.

08Despite the popularity of the national park, the town of Udawalawe is relatively tourist-free.  There is hardly any tourist souvenir shops along the main road.

09Bakery tuk tuk is quite common across the country.  As soon as we heard the music of Beethoven’s Fur Elise, we knew one of these mobile bread vendors must be nearby.

07Our guesthouse Green View Safari Resort was at a side street across the road from R/Emb/Udawalawa Primary School.

10Hidden from the dusty main road, our guesthouse for the night Green View Safari Resort was a simple little retreat.

11Facility was clean and simple.  The guesthouse owners arranged both the afternoon and morning safari for us.

12Dinner and breakfast were included in our one-night stay at Green View Safari Resort.

13To reach the national park from Udawalawe, our jeep would pass by Udawalawe Reservoir, a place of potential wildlife sighting before reaching the park entrance.

14Locals came to the dam to catch the sunset.

15The Udawalawe Dam separates the lush green forest on one side and the peaceful reservoir on the other.

16 The Udawalawe Dam provides a high ground to watch the distant scenery.

17The lush green forest revealed what the area might have look like before the construction of the reservoir.

18Local wildlife has adapted to the man-made environment of Udawalawe Reservoir.  The water has even attracted wildlife including birds and elephants.

19Beyond the reservoir, we finally arrived at the ticket office of Udawalawe National Park.

20We chose Udawalawe National Park over Yala National Park was an attempt to avoid overcrowding.  During our first safari visit, the entry route into the park was loaded with tourist 4×4 vehicles.  Luckily, as we ventured deeper into the park, we would have the park pretty much by ourselves.

 


OLD TOWN AND LAKEFRONT, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.10

Day 6 (3 of 3).

Located in the hilly heartland of Sri Lanka, Kandy was the last capital of pre-modern Sri Lanka before the country was colonized by the British in 1815.  Kandy was our last stop in the Cultural Triangle, and the first stop into the hill country.  The Kindgom of Kandy was established under King Sena Sammatha Wickramabahu (1473 – 1511).  In 1592, Kandy became the capital city of the last remaining kingdom in Sri Lanka, while the colonial powers, Portuguese and Dutch had taken over the coastal regions and gradually made their way into the heartland.

Home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, Kandy is an UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular tourist attraction.  Many tourists, including us, stop by Kandy before heading to the villages of the hill country, such as Ella, Nuwara Eliya or Haputale.  Today, Kandy remains as the second largest city in Sri Lanka, and a major transportation hub in the region.  It also lies in the midst of tea plantations.  Known as the Sea of Milk, the artificial Kandy Lake remains as the focal point of the city.  The lake was built in 1807 by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe right by the Temple of the Tooth Relic.  During our 1.5 days in Kandy, apart from the Temple of the Tooth Relic and Royal Botanic Garden in Peradeniya, we had a waterfront stroll at Kandy Lake, made a brief visit to the national museum, had lunch in the old city centre and dined at the historical Empire Cafe.  Though a heavy shower in the second afternoon cut short the time we spent in the rather laid-back city.

IMG_6556On our first night on Kandy, we dined at Empire Cafe adjacent to the Temple of the Tooth Relic.

20Housed in a beautiful colonial building, Empire Cafe also serves as a hotel.

IMG_6558Under a rather vintage ambience, we had a enjoyable meal at Empire Cafe.

IMG_6559It was pleasant to sit by the window and enjoy the evening streetscape right by the Temple of the Tooth Relic.

IMG_6441Taking the tuk tuk down the steep slope from Villa Rosa was an exciting way to enter the city of Kandy.

02JPGWall paintings could be seen in a number of locations around Kandy.

01On the outer wall of a school building, different groups of painters were busy making murals.

03Similar to other Sri Lankan cities and towns, tuk tuk is the best way to get around in Kandy.

IMG_6452Like other tourists, we spent most of the time in Kandy near the Temple of the Tooth Relic.  The temple entrance plaza was always crowded with visitors.

04Around the Temple of the Tooth Relic, vendors were selling all kinds of Buddhist souvenirs, lotus offerings, snacks and king coconuts.

IMG_6815We made a brief visit to the small national museum behind the Temple of the Tooth Relic.

05Kandy Lake is the main focal point of the city.  The waterfront scenery reminded us of some European cities and towns.

06Right by lake embankment, the Ulpange or Queens Bathing Pavilion stands out as a beautiful between the palace and the lake.   Built in 1806, the building was used as a bathing chamber in the past.  Today, it belongs to the local police.

08Kandy Lake is also home to Asian water monitor lizards, one of the largest lizard species in the world.

09In the heart of Kandy Lake rises an artificial island planted with palm trees and shrubs.

10Known as Walakulu Bamma or Cloud Wall, the ornate wall was built around part of Kandy Lake for aesthetic purpose.

11With over 160 years of history, the Queen’s Hotel stands proudly across the street from the entrance of Temple of the Tooth Relic and Kandy Lake.

12The elegant colonnade of Queen’s Hotel prominently connects the entrance plaza of the Temple of the Tooth Relic with the old city centre.

13We followed the colonnade of Queen’s Hotel towards the old city centre.

14The old town centre is a busy hub of shops, banks and restaurants.  We had lunch at one of the cafes before an afternoon shower forced us to return to the hotel.