Well it had been many days since we left Islamabad and the journey up North had started taking its toll. We were both feeling tired, but at the same time the places to follow supported a steady flow of adrenaline to tackle the tiredness.

When we got to Istanbul, late at night, we understood that it was a real time metropolitan with all the attributes, which apart from everything else included a fine transportation infrastructure, not to mention the night life and hoards of taxi drivers preying on new comers.

Unfortunately the central railway station in Istanbul is currently under reconstruction, so a number of international trains (maybe all of them) leave from a different location. That place is called Halkali and it is around 1 hour bus ride from the city center.

When you would buy tickets from the counters at the central railway station in Istanbul, the counter clerk would tell you that the train leaves at so and so time from Halkali station, but please don’t be fooled by this misuse of the word “STATION”. When you get to Halkali, it might take you some time before you might succeed in finding the platform (or a set of platforms) called Halkali. It took us some time.

We had bought tickets out of Istanbul on Sofia bound train. The train was to leave at 22:20 (10:30pm), but we decided to go a little earlier. We thought that, why not go to that other STATION, which we had not seen and wait their for the train and in the meanwhile we could have some wholesome dinner and could buy provisions for the night on the train at that STATION.

The idea was good theoretically, but we didn’t know that what awaited us was a long wait in a small room and shocks of hunger and boredom.

You can see the glimpse of our travel out of Istanbul and through Bulgaria into Romania, but I will skip today straight to Cluj Napoca, without any details of the way.

Cluj Napoca is the second largest Romanian city, you can guess after which city. It is the cultural and academic center of the country. The city does not have a large population, but is the unofficial capital of Transylvania and the word Transylvania causes an itch, a pinching sensation on the neck. You don’t know why?

Well we got to Cluj Napoca very early in the morning, when it was still dark. It took us some time to decide to whether to stay at the railway station till the sun would come out or to risk going out into the streets crawling with blood thirsty vampires!

We took our chances and leaving our baggage at the station we went out, into the darkness of predawn urban life. But to our disappointment the only thing that reminded us of Transylvania was the sign board of Bank of Transylvania.

What a disappointment! We traveled all the way from Islamabad and this Transylvanian city didn’t even have a single vampire to offer…

Maybe the city had no vampires to offer, but for city of such minor proportions, Cluj Napoca had a lot to offer as regards to sightseeing.

the central square is well represented in our gallery.

Cluj is a small town, but the local beer is grand. If you would be there definitely give the local beer a try, it’s worth it!

Cluj Napoca is approximately at an equal distance from Bucharest, Budapest and Belgrade (320-350km app), so if you want to tour around the area, you can set base at Cluj Napoca and travel out of there to the three mentioned cities and a lot more. We headed out of Cluj Napoca to Budapest on a mini van, which cost us very little.

I hope soon I wil be in a position to write in more detail, because there is a lot to tell, not only about Cluj Napoca, but the whole route.

What Sri Lanka has done in the last couple of years is nothing less than a miracle. This country has put an end to 30 years of internal war and has succeeded in bringing people closer to each other or at least as much as it was feasible in a short time.
I will not indulge in the history of the conflict, but briefly saying it was an ethnic/religious conflict, which very successfully parted the people of this island state into two halves at the best if not more.

Although most of the observers and media lamented Sri Lankan effort to fight internal terrorism as conflicting with human rights and other such distant stuff, because it was only the people of Sri Lanka, who could rightfully justify or denounce the collateral damage incurred during the operation.

Talking to people here, we came to know that during these 30 odd years of internal disturbance things had gone so bad that children born in Jaffna (Northern Sri Lanka) could not travel to Kandy and children born in the Southern areas could not go to Jaffna for example.
But today things are different. Busloads of youngsters are travelling from Jaffna to southern cities and youngsters from the southern areas are travelling to the north. People born during those 30 years are exploring their own country anew.

In today’s Sri Lanka one doesn’t need to bother about the past war. If you come to this country as a tourist, you can feel safe going anywhere on the island. There are no no-go zones and in cities like Colombo or Trincomalee  all that you feel is serenity and comfort. People are very hospitable and the country is ready to be rediscovered as heaven on earth.

The beautiful coastline of east Sri Lanka, the ancient ruins of Anuradhapura, the hills of Kandy and the old Portuguese city of Galle are all ready to welcome tourists and investors. A week in Sri Lanka offers more serenity than one can avail in years passed at other destinations.

Colombo is a bustling city, but even in Colombo one can wander around in any area, fearlessly at any time of day or night. Wandering around in Colombo one can’t even imagine that a few years back bomb blasts and other terrorist activities were a norm in this city and the country at large.

I think religious tolerance has played a major role in gluing back the torn apart society, because for example when you go to the Adam’s peak you will see Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus worshiping around the same footprint, which according to all of them belongs to different deities or people.

When you go to Kelaniya temple or Gangarama temple in Colombo, you will see statues of Hindu deities at the entrance and in the halls, although both of them are Buddhist temples. In this country of just 8% Muslim population, you see ample number of mosques and you hear Azaan and sermons. Religious tolerance is a characteristic, which can mend many of the societies, which face religious-ethnic problems.

Sri Lanka unlike the neighboring tourist destinations is very inexpensive. The range of accommodation starts from 1000 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupees) and goes up with the addition of amenities. The country offers ample budget and luxury accommodation at guest houses, B&Bs and Hotels.

If you want to discover Sri Lanka by bus or train, you will be surprised to know of the low fares. A train ride to Trincomalee is just 900LKR if you opt for a sleeper, but you can also opt for 2nd class, which would cost even less. A bus ride within the city of Colombo costs from 10 LKR upwards according to the distance covered. A train trip from Colombo to Galle costs just 230 in a 2nd class car. A ride in the observation car of Colombo Kandy train gives you a chance to see the natural beauty of the island through a huge glass window. The interesting thing is that your seat faces that window so you have a panoramic view.

Now telling you about all these prices let me mention that 1US$ is app equal to 128LKR. Now you can understand how inexpensive it is to travel and live in this master piece of nature.

The most comfortable means of travelling is of course taking a private taxi. The taxi prices for intercity travel are definitely lot higher than train or bus prices, but comfort has to be paid for!

And if you are an adrenaline monger, rent a bike, motorcycle or a car and believe me you will have sufficient adrenaline rush for a long time, just travelling a 100 kilometres on mostly narrow intercity roads.

Food is another thing that inflates a traveller’s budget, but in Sri Lanka this commodity is also very inexpensive. You can find local cuisine, as well as Chinese and European cuisines. If you buy a portion of fish rice curry, it will cost you app 400-450 LKR and believe me a normal human being can’t even drink water after eating all this food. This set of food is comprised of a platter of rice, four vegetables a plate of fish curry and salad. All of this for a little more than 3.5US$.

The most interesting fact in all of the above mentioned and witnessed, for me as a Pakistani, is that Sri Lanka was assisted by Pakistani state institutions in curbing down terrorism and finally to eliminate the issue at a political level at least, But unfortunately within Pakistan we cannot still counter this situation. Probably we are not working on inculcating tolerance in the society? Or maybe we are not looking for any harmony or tolerance? Or maybe someone within the country is reaping the fruits of conflict?

Whatever the reason maybe, I am sure that I want to see Pakistan progressing into a harmonious society, just like I see Sri Lanka today.

With the Indian Ocean splashing on shore and all those coconut trees dispensing the breeze right into my face, it is nothing less than a feeling of heaven!

There are mosquitoes, but mosquitoes are a lesser evil than the evil induced or committed by humans. We humans, although it might be very haughty to call myself a human, commit such evil that even evil says “God mercy”.

We, the herd, are so misplaced in our thoughts that we consider evil as good and good as evil. For us poverty is an evil, but pseudo riches are good. We spend what we don’t have and we have what we don’t have. Our lives are virtual. Our thoughts are virtual. Our reality is virtual.

Look at this man heading down a busy road in Singapore with his eyes dug into an iPhone screen. He is into his FB and for him the virtual face is more real than the faces that he might knock into, walking down the street absent-mindedly. But once again reality has turned into virtuality and virtuality has taken over reality.

You see all those apps, offering you to do farming online, town building online, playing strategy online and  all those things, which we used to do physically are now done electronically. Most interestingly, when your friends ask you to join their cityville or online farm, you can’t help laughing at the idea of someone offering you something that does not exist.

More funny is the situation, when your friend sends you the best quality carrots, from his or her Farmville holdings. Holy cow! Have people lost their minds? Is it the only possibility of sharing left in this world?

And then, on the same road, I see people walking towards the subway entrance, heading to the escalators, but the predominant happenings are all in their screens. They don’t think about stumbling and falling down the escalator or bumping into someone. All they care about is the conversation that they have running in one of the many social networks.

You’re standing somewhere, trying to find a place, but being an alien in this sea of iPhones and iPads, you need to ask someone to show you the way, but unfortunately all the passers-by are busy. You don’t feel like disturbing someone, but then again if you remain loyal to your politeness, you will stand there and wait till the evening to go where you need to go. So being a little rude, you say “Excuse me” to one of the set of eyes buried into the screen, and those eyes lose their focus to look at you inquisitively. You take courage and ask them about the desired destination and even if that place is just 2 blocks away, this person will refer to his or her GPS app to show you the way and the moment you say “Thank you!” the eyes give you a virtual nod and they go back to their world in the screen.

On the other hand if you are not on the Orchard road or Serangoon Road, but you are on the Indian Ocean shore, the iPhones are replaced by human eyes and human smiles and human curiosity. On the shores of Sri Lanka and it does not mean only on the shores, but everywhere life is very real. Virtuality has not yet penetrated into the lives of the dark tanned inhabitants, who still have the same real problems like finding employment, feeding children and themselves also. Problems like counting the money they have and thinking about spending on things most important first of all. Problems like dreaming to buy a car, or a house or travelling to lands far away.

But in reality these problems and other ones have not made them into money making machines, because they can survive without FB and e-mail and other online farms and cities. They still watch TV on a regular TV screen and even if they don’t have a TV they still don’t mind it. They still read printed newspapers and they read books, with a hard cover or a soft cover and they still mark the pages with a pencil or a ball point pen. They still take pride in being human and they like to talk to each other in the trains and buses and on the road and in their houses and they still have real friends, who might not be listed in a friend list and might not be as many as 718 or 2543, but they are real and they can come to share your joys and your sorrows. The people from this Indian Ocean Island might not be able to get limitless credit to buy luxury cars or condominiums, but inside their earthen huts and brick walled houses, they still have happiness, laughter and smiles. Their kids can run around in a single pair of shorts that they have, but their eyesight is 100%, they don’t need glasses, before even starting school. They don’t need dental braces and their laughs are not dependant on the evenness of their teeth.

Back on the most popular and important and busy roads of the other Island, which is sunk deep into virtuality, into a sea of Galaxies and HTCs and other wide-screen, touch-screen, multi-mega-pixel, app loaded gadgets, he is walking towards the subway with his wife, talking about something interesting and engaging. All of a sudden his feet stopped moving and with a loud sound his 2 meter long corpus humanum fell down like a plank, hitting the sidewalk with his palms and barely escaping his forehead crashing into the granite tiles. He was astonished, unable to understand what happened and she was standing there stunned by the scene of her husband falling without any apparent reason.

And then he pulled himself together, overtook the shock and looked at his feet. He was thinking that his shoe laces were undone and he got tangled, but how come?

Then he saw a thin, transparent packing stripe holding his feet together. What was that packing stripe doing there? In a country, which once took pride in being the cleanest and in a country where every act of loitering is heavily fined and in a country where all your actions are documented and never forgotten. In a country, which employs more than a million aliens to keep the city clean, and in a country, about which he used to tell tales of discipline and human practicality?

Then he sat there on a nearby bench and he remembered a childhood poem:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the king’s horses

And all the king’s men

Could not put

Humpty Dumpty together again!

He was sitting there and he was thinking and he was the Humpty Dumpty, all of whose dreams and memories, were shattered by that fall. And all the world’s iPhones, iPads and all the world’s dollars could not put the Humpty Dumpty of his memories together again!

The first morning in Singapore greeted us with bright sunshine, a clear sky and an aura of welcome. We had our plans for capturing Singapore, only on tape, but I’m not going to bore you with those shooting details.
On the very first day we decided to go to the Central Business District (CBD), which hosts a number of tall buildings and when I say tall here in Singapore, it means tall.

It’s probably hard to not find an office of nearly every bank in the world in this area. Well maybe not every bank, but most of the biggies and some not very biggies, have their presence here. This is the most white collar area in Singapore.
Talking of white collars, I can’t hold myself from making an observation here. Singapore used to be probably the cleanest place in the world. It was impossible to find uncovered land here. In Singapore you could either concrete and asphalt or you could see grass and other plantation. Back in those good days one could not even imagine of seeing cigarette stubs, different packing materials, pieces of paper and other stuff collectively and commonly called “trash” on Singapore streets. But time and growing population have taken their toll.
Singapore these days is a huge construction site, with all sorts of development works going on. Unlike those times, when these activities were limited in number, currently construction sites are not so minutely covered during works. So as a result of relaxation in regulations, one can find a little bit of dust and post rain mud on the sidewalks. Other constituents of “trash” are also not a rarity now.

But as far as the white collars are concerned, you still can wear a white shirt for two days in a row, without noticing black streaks on the inside of your collar. So this slight degradation in the level of cleanliness is still a whole lot better than in many parts of the world. Your shoes still don’t need a polish every morning and the air is clean; free of smog and dust.

Well getting back to CBD, we tried to count the tall buildings standing in a cluster on the edge of the island and if our count was right we counted 23 of them (approximate number). The new additions in this area are the Esplanade theatre,s Marina Bay complex and the Bay Front.
Standing by the Merlion, you can also see the giant observation wheel, which in fact is the largest in the world.
Most of you might be asking a question: “What is a Merlion?”
Well Merlion is Singapore’s symbol. It is a hybrid of a Lion and a Mermaid. Looking at the image of Merlion probably you will understand what I mean. This Merlion stands near the Fullerton Hotel, facing towards the Marina Bay, but earlier it stood facing the sea.
There are a few Merlions in Singapore mounted at different locations, but the One Fullerton Merlion is by far the most popular of them all.

The Merlion

This area also has the highest observation platform at Altitude 1. But right across the Bay you have another high observation point in the Marina Bay on the 57th floor. So if you come to Singapore and you would like to take a bird’s eye view of the city, you have more than one choices and perspectives to do that.
Behind all those tall buildings, there are a number of open cafés on the river embankment. Why am I so especially telling you about the open cafés? Well if you are a smoker, like myself, you will have a hard time here. Smoking is not allowed in any of the public places and those public places include bars, restaurants, cafés and other closed premises. So, your best shot are these cafés on the embankment, but be ready to pay for the pleasure, because these cafés and bars are a little up-beat.

As always you will see a lot of dust bins or trash cans on Singapore roads, but if you see a trash can with an ashtray on top, it means you can smoke there, but if you find a trash can without an ashtray on top, you better not smoke there. And this goes not only for CBD, but all around the island. Maybe a few things have changed here, but the large amounts of fines for mischief are still applicable. Don’t expect to be fined for tiny amounts of 10 or 20 S$, you should look into paying 500, 1000 or 1500 S$ fines for things like loitering, smoking in the no smoke area and doing the first or the second in an elevator.

But I’m not telling you this to scare you off. Normally the law enforcers in this country are very humane, so if you commit a mistake for the first time, they will let you go with a warning, but be sure that you are on record after that and any repeat offense will be dealt with strictly.

One of the most interesting things in the CBD, are numerous sculptures, which can take quite some time if you decide to see them all in detail. My favourite is the sculpture on the embankment in front of Fullerton Hotel, depicting young boys jumping into the river for a swim, but I don’t want to force you into believing that this is the best work.

Movie in sculpture

You should take your time if you are an art lover and especially if you like sculpture and walk through CBD at a relaxed pace. Your memories will be enriched with the art that you will witness, for a long, long time.

 

High rise financial district

Well if you took my advice and you spent the whole day in this area, you can relax in the evening in the Merlion park and watch the laser light show, which takes place at 20:00 hours every day. To watch the show you can either take a seat at one of the steps by the Merlion’s base or you can sit in a comfortable seat of the numerous cafés and restaurants along the Bay front. But apart from the light show and Merlion and all other man made attractions, you’ll also see the bouquet of humanity or simply saying most of the ethnicities populating Singapore, at this spot, especially in the evening, along with a lot of foreigners.
I hope you’d enjoy your time in CBD, whenever you come here and if you don’t have a chance of coming here soon, don’t forget to see our United Colours of Humanity series to see it from our perspective.

Singapore may be a small country, but it has a lot to offer for the visitor. So stay with us and we will take you through the whole country in the following few days.

Stay with us 2 see it all!

We were having a good time in Sri Lanka, but just like every good thing our pleasure time also came to an end, when we realized after returning from the second visit to Colombo that it was time for us to move on to our next destination.
Had we been on a leisure trip I would had suggested to extend our stay by at least a few days more, but ours was a working tour, so everything had to be on schedule.
We asked Sri the driver to come pick us up from the hotel at 4:00 in the morning and take us to the airport, from where we were supposed to take our Sri Lankan Airlines flight to our next destination, Singapore.

Well before we could relax for the night we had those last minute things to shoot, so we availed the Silver Sands Hotel management’s hospitality and used the hotel’s premises to record our closing shots.
After that, before we would get down to packing things, we decided to go take dinner outside in the town and after dinner naturally decided to head to a local bar to have the last of our Lion Beers.
It was not very crowded out in the streets, because first of all it was a Thursday evening and secondly it was raining. So we looked around a bit and then decided to stop at a bar, which had no one in it except for the bar’s personnel.
The Beer that they brought us was the same Lion beer, but the new thing was that the chilled bottles were placed in thermopole containers. This was the first time in my life that I had seen a beer bottle served in a thermopole container. It was a great idea, because in hot places if the beer bottle stands open it quickly warms-up, I mean the chill is lost, but in the container it kept its cool.
While we were sitting there three more local guys came in and sat at the table besides us. They ordered a bottle of Araak and of course food to go with it. One of these guys reminded me of one of my friends from India, who was going through healing after an accident at that time. I told Vera that the guy at the neighbouring table reminded me of Raj, she looked arounf and asked why did I thik so? I said the way he is talking and the way he is drinking and his demeanor is exactly the same as Raj.
Well a few minutes later I went to dispose of beer and when I came back, this same guy was talking to Vera and the others. I joined in the conversation. We had all those initial “Where are you from and what do you do?” things and then the chat got a little informal. I told that guy that he reminded me of a friend of mine from Hyderabad. He asked me what was the friend’s name and I told him that my friend’s name was Raj. And now get ready for the real thing…
That guy very readily said: “You know my name is also Raj”.
I was left speechless for a few moments. I couldn’t believe that the person who looked like Raj was also Raj. Well when I recovered my ability to utter a few words, I told him that it was astonishing that two people from two different countries, having no relation to each other, could look so much alike and had the same name.
Then the Sri Lankan told that his full name was Rajesh Khana, but since in Sinhalis “UKHANA” is a very bad word, which I would refrain from writing here, he dropped it after being teased at school by everyone and shortened his name to only Raj.
Taking to Sri Rajesh Khana of Negombo I was wondering if Raj of Hyderabad would be with us and would see with his own eyes, how similar to him Raj of Negombo was.
Well getting over that astonishment we got into prolonged conversation and upon my inquiry, Raj, explained that Sri Lanka used to have one rainy season, before 2004, which started in May and prolonged to somewhere till the end of August. But since the December 2004 Tsunami, now they had two rainy seasons. The first one as I mentioned already and then the rainy season in which we were caught, which started in the end of September and continued till December.
Well the beer and the conversation both were very nice and I would had sat there till the morning having fun listening to Raj and drinking that chilled beer from a thermopole container, but once again the same early morning flight forced us to wind things up and get back to the hotel to pack-up before we could go to sleep.
We did what we had to do at the hotel, went to sleep with alarms set at 3:00 am and the time just flew by in sleep, because soon it was 3:00 am and we were all up again and the preparations to leave got into the final phase.
Sri came as planned and soon we were on our way to the Bandranayake Airport. Arriving at the international departures, we unloaded our baggage and equipment on to trolleys, said our good-byes to Sri, wished him luck and he wished us all the best, and after that we got into the building and the routine airport procedure started, with all those security checks, check-ins and passport controls. Soon we were in the waiting lounge, but before going in there, we had a cup of coffee each with sandwiches, because when we left in the morning there still was nobody at the hotel kitchen.
We boarded another nice Sri Lankan Airlines plane, tucked our hand bags into the overhead compartments, fastened our seat belts and got ready to fly, leaving behind the land, which really had the right to be called heaven.


Good-bye Sri Lanka, and Here we come Singapore…

Today we will again go to Colombo. You might be wondering why I didn’t tell you about our visit to the Adam’s peak. Well we went there in the night. It was impossible to take any photos. More so we are here in the off season, so not a lot of people going to Adam’s peak.

Adam’s peak attracts a lot of visitors in the pilgrimage season, when Sri Lankan Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians go to perform rituals at the top. For those of you who don’t know, let me tell you a little bit about this peak.

On top of this peak there is a more than five feet long foot print, which according to believers of different religious thought, belong to different personages. According to Hindu belief it is Shiva’s footprint. According to Buddhist belief it is the Buddha’s footprint and finally according to Christian and Muslim belief it is the footprint left by Adam, when he was exiled from heaven and sent to the earthly heaven today called Sri-Lanka.

This place is a very nice example of human harmony despite differences of belief, because all of the abovementioned religious groups, very peacefully perform their religious rituals at the site and have no objection on the believers of other schools of thought considering this footprint to belong to someone else. When we see this sight we can easily understand that people are capable of agreeing to disagree and still not turn fanatic in imposing their own thought, which in itself is a great thing to witness.

Apart from the abovementioned footprint, the other remarkable thing about this peak is the opportunity of witnessing sunrise from top of the peak. For people who have been to real peaks like the famous peaks of Himalayas, Karakorum and other ranges, this hill might not deserve to be called a peak, but believe me when you go up, climbing 5000+ stairs, in a couple of hours of exhausting physical workout, the hill turns into a peak.

The sunrise is remarkable. It seems as if you are looking at the whole island right under your feet, turning from dark to light. It is hard to phrase this beauty, so the best way to get the feeling of it, you must come here. I can promise you this will be an experience of a lifetime.

Getting down right after sunrise, we did have the light but did not have the juice left to take photos or to do anything else. So that’s why this story of the Adam’s peak will go verbal only. Although we did shoot the sunrise and you can see it, when you watch our film about United Colours of Humanity in Sri Lanka.

At ground level, it was a drive back to Negombo and a couple of hours of sleep on the go for all of us, except for the driver, who for our own sake, I hoped, had a nice sleep, while we were up there!

Well we did also have a nice rest after returning to the hotel and the next morning we went again to Colombo to visit the Kelaniya Temple. It is the temple, where they have Buddha’s throne sealed in a stupa. The temple is situated on the river bank. As per legend or you may call it history, Buddha took a bath in this river, when he was here in Sri Lanka. Across the river there is another temple, where they have Buddha’s bathing apparel enshrined in a stupa.

Unlike Ganagramaya Temple in Colombo, this temple is not frequently visited by tourists. This is a functional temple, with a more than nine meter long resting Buddha statue and a lot of enshrined relics. On the walls of the main halls you can see paintings depicting Buddha’s arrival in Sri Lanka (this temple is the site of the arrival). Going through these paintings you can see the whole history of how Buddha arrived here and brought peace to the two warring factions. The story goes like this. There were these two brothers, who were fighting over the throne for many years. People were dying, but they could not decide the fate of the throne. When Buddha arrived they asked him to help resolve the problem and the solution was found. The solution was that both the princes gave up the throne in favour of Buddha and he took up the throne. This is the same throne that is enshrined in a stupa at this temple.

Kelaniya Temple also has a number of statues of the future Buddha, who according to Buddhist belief will come 5000 years after Gautama Buddha. According to Buddhist belief a new Buddha arrives to heal the mankind every 5000 years. So it just another 2500 years (approximately) before the world would come to know the new Buddha. I can’t even wish to be here to see that happen, but two and a half centuries later someone else might write about this. How and where this writing will be posted is also a question. Maybe we’ll have more advanced means of writing or maybe once again there would be some tree-bark leaflets of such writing. I can only wonder what it would be!

After seeing the temple we went across the river, over the newly made bridge to see the stupa with Buddha’s apparel. At this temple they have Buddha’s footprint, which is a place of worship for the Buddhists. At this temple we had a chance to listen to some Buddhist chants. We were told by our guide that those chants were called “mitra drohi” (friendship betrayal). So it turned out that the person chanting was trying to ask forgiveness for betraying a friend or something of that sort.

We then had a chance to interview a Buddhist monk at the temple regarding Buddhist philosophy of human harmony and co-existence. My fingers are itching to quote the monk’s words here, but I’m controlling the itch to leave a chance for you to watch and listen to those words in our film “United Colours of Humanity”.

We were accompanied for the whole day by Mr Sri Lal De Silva, who guided us through the temples and told us a lot about Buddhism and the philosophy behind it. We did record his conversation also for our film. He is an interesting character. He used to work for the Sri Lankan Airlines, some twenty years back. Then he retired, took a golden handshake and dedicated his life to helping others. How does he do that? Well he chants, for the good of other people. Heals the sick and suffering and has very interesting ideas about life and afterlife and human harmony and other such things. One thing, which I liked in his conversation, was: “We make our own heaven and hell, with our own deeds, right here on this earth”.

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I guess he was right about the deeds and their impact on human existence. One thing I learned here in Sri Lanka, talking to people of different ethnic origin and different beliefs is that life is worth living peacefully and life should be lived and not passed thinking of something called the afterlife, which none of us has ever seen or witnessed.

So let’s live another day in peace and do all that we can to achieve peace for the future of mankind!

Well my dear readers, don’t think that I don’t know how to spell “Candy”, but this ” Kandy ” is different. This Kandy translates into tea. Well I’m not trying to be mysterious. Kandy is the region in Sri Lanka where most of the tea states are located.
The reason for this concentration of tea states in the area can readily be understood once you get to this place. It is something of a hill spot in tropical Sri Lanka. Weather is all together different from most of the tropical Sri Lanka: low clouds, lower temperatures, abundent rainfall and everything else that is needed to grow the finest tea in the world.
Once you get close to Kandy area, you start witnessing tea plantations, just like you see rice paddies everywhere else in Sri Lanka. The only difference probably is that tea plantations are more nicely kept and present a more pleasant view than the rice paddies.
On our way to the Blue Field tea plantation and factory, we witnessed all the famous tea brands along the road. We picked the Blue Field tea plantation because of two reasons: first of all our local guide Siri recommended it as one of the ost friendly plantations for visitors and secondly because I like Blue Field tea more than any other tea.

One more very nice place on the way to the tea plantations is the elephant orphanage. This place in fact is no orphanage, but more of an elephant park. I don’t need to explain what you will see there. I believe the name says it all. So if you are an elephant lover, start out from Colombo or Negombo at around 7 in the morning and you will have enough time to stop at the place on your way to witnessing the growth of the finest in the world tea.
I already told you why we opted for Blue Field plantation, but if you don’t have the same reasons of skipping Kandy on the way, you can visit the tea museum as well. Museums are nice places and when I say tea museum, I guess you can understand what you will see there.
Getting to the Blue Field plantation, we first took a tour of the factory. We were shown around by a very nice, polite and knowledgable guide, whose name I unfortunately forgot, but for the reference I am posting her photo here.

Then we came to know about the sorts and sorting. It was another discovery to know that the large leaf tea was the lightest, whereas the dust 1, which is used for tea bags was the strongest. I always thought that the dust was the lightest. But even not being strong the large leaf tea is the most fragrent. Tea is sorted into categories called OP, BOP, Pekoe, dust and so on. What is “Pekoe”? Well this is some sort of unit used by the tea industry.
Then we had a chance to see tea plucking and the process before the leaves reach the factory.

After seeing all of that processing, we had a nice chat with the manager of the Blue Field tea plantation and factory. He explained a lot of things about tea and the Sri Lankan society. But all of that will only be in our documentary. So to know the secrets you’ll have to watch our video materials.

We had a nice cup of finely made Blue Field tea, enjoyed the scenery and the ambiance and then left the cooler part of heaven to go to the Adam’s peak. We needed to get to the Adam’s peak in the night, so that we could climb up before sunrise. Why? Well once again you’ll see it on the screen.
Stay with us and you’ll have your piece of heaven through my writing and the photo materials.
Keep visiting the site and enjoy the joy ride!

Chekhov was not wrong about the beauty and we witnessed it ourselves. Well Chekhov was in Colombo in the early 19th century but a piece of memory of his visit is still preserved in Colombo.
On our second day to Colombo, we had plans to visit the university of Colombo to meet prof. Hettige, who heads the department of sociology. Our interview with prof Hettige was very informative, but it has nothing to do with what I’m going to tell you today.
After meeting everyone at the university we had to go to the Grand Oriental Hotel, where Anton Chekhov stayed during his visit in the early 19th century. The hotel has preserved his suite in the exact shape as it was back then (Although they have an LCD TV in the room, which I believe could not have been a part of the interior in the 19th century).
As soon as you enter the lobby you will see a statue of Chekhov to your left, with a memorial plate stating that he had lived in this hotel during his visit. We came up to the receptionist and as soon as we mentioned the word “Chekhov” he readily called a hotel staff and sent us with him to the suite.
As we got out of the elevator, I felt like going back in time. I imagined myself walking through the corridor with Chekhov, who for me is one of the greatest short story writers of all times. we walked through, me and Anton pavelevich talking about his impressions about Ceylon and he very benevolently told me how astonished he was by the beauty of the land and the hospitality and calmness of the people. Talking about all of this we reached the door of his suite and as soon as the door opened I experienced a time jump. I entered the 19th century Grand oriental suite and saw the table where Anton Pavelevich sat writing his story “Guseev” and the bed where he slept in the night and the window through which he looked at the Colombo harbour and the city. I saw the telephone set (which I believe couldn’t have been functional in 1802) on the side table along the bed. I was offered a chair and I sat for a few moments in the company of Chekhov, before I was asked by Wasif to vacate the room so that he could record the interior for the film.
I came out of Chekhov’s room with a heavy heart, because we had to leave and I didn’t know if I would ever see Chekhov again.
As we got out of the hotel it was raining heavily and we were forced to run to the vehicle and cancelling any other planned activities return to our hotel in Negombo.
Coming back to Negombo, we decided to go take a swim in the rain. I mean not bathing in the rain but swimming in the Indian Ocean under the rain. It was a fun experience, because first of all the beach was vacant and secondly the wave height was more than ordinary. It was fun floating on those waves.
After the swim we sat in front of the hotel and ordered King Coconut.

Well it might sound a little too fancy, but in fact it is just an unripe coconut with an opening on top to insert a straw and to drink the coconut milk (which is also refferred to as coconut water). This was the first time for Vera and Wasif to drink this water. Well what Vera thought about the taste is not writtable. Wasif as usual couldn’t gulp anything new..
That evening we decided to take dinner at the hotel and why? Well it was because of the same rain, which did not stop since the day. By the way some words about the rain that I’m mentioning here all the time. Earlier the rainy season started in Sri Lanka in May and ended somewhere in the end of August, rarely extending into September. But now since the 2004 Tsunami there are two rainy seasons. We got stuck with the second rainy season, which starts in the mid of October and goes on till the end of December. So for those of you who want to come to sunny Sri Lanka, the best time is from January to April and then August through early Ocotber. Otherwise you will be forced to sit by the beach under the shade and drink King Coconuts.
Others who prefer a little bit of alcohol instead of coconut water, there is this Lion beer; very local and very strong. The bottle size is 0.63 liters and the real alcohol content is quite different from the one stated on the label.

Other stronger drink option is the Sri Lankan Coconut Araak (I don’t even know how to classify it. Either it is a rum or a liquor or some sort of coconut vodka). Araak is not expensive and has a good taste. If you will be in Sri Lanka and if you like to check the local alcohol Araak is the best option.
Tomorrow will be a hectic day for us. We are starting out too early and our trip will take us to Kandy, to the tea plantations and then to the Adam’s peak, where we will climb up in the night. Why in the night? Well you’ll have to read my account of the trip to know that.
So Stay with us and enjoy the joy ride!
See you next time with tea.

Getting up early the next morning, we succeeded in shooting the sunrise, which was all so important for our work. While the sun was making its way up the horizon, we took a quick swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, along the Northern edge of Negombo.

After the good morning swim and sunrise shooting, we decided to check the Silver Sands breakfast. The breakfast package comprised of mixed fruit juice, eggs (fried or otherwise cooked), toasts with jam and butter and tea or coffee. Well you can call it a standard continental breakfast if you like to and all this cost only US$3.5 per person. If you think that this is expensive, wait till you get to some really expensive place like Singapore for example. The juice was tasty it comprised of coconut, papaya and bananas.
We had ordered a car to take us to Colombo and take us around. The driver came to the hotel at 8:00 am and we set off for the first time to Colombo. I wanted to take the car without the driver, but all those warnings that I had read about regarding traffic in Sri Lanka and all the associated nightmares, forced me to curtail my desire and stick with the driver.
Once we got out of the hotel compound I started noticing the traffic and to tell you the truth, those who write or say that traffic in Sri Lanka is very bad, are either from very small countries where they have very small populations and accordingly very few cars or those people have very narrow exposure. Traffic conditions in Sri Lanka are far better than in UAE or Thailand or Indonesia, let alone countries like India, Bangladesh or Pakistan. Yes there are many vehicles on the road. Yes the roads are narrower than they should be, but speed limits are observed very strictly. Drivers push their brake pedals to let the pedestrians cross and traffic is not at all chaotic. One can drive in Sri Lanka very comfortably, only if one’s eyes and brains tend to remain open and coordinated.
yes sometimes moving objects do pop-up in front of you, but since the speed limits are low there seems to be no problem in stopping for the drivers. Traffic conditions in Colombo are worse than they are in the smaller town of Negombo, but for me as a resident of Lahore, Colombo traffic is something like night time traffic in Lahore.
Enough of the traffic report. We headed first of all to the World Trade Center. I thought that there might be some observation deck at the top floor, from where we could see the whole city and take some real cool shots, but getting to the WTC Colombo we lost our hope of taking a top view of the city.
We went around to the other side of the buildings (WTC) and fixed our camera on the coast near the old cannons installed in front of the old parliament building. the view from there was good and we could get a good panorama of the city. But few minutes later a man came from across the street and asked us if we had permission to film in that area. Upon our inquiry we were told that the place where we were standing was high security area, because the old parliament building now served as the Presidential residence. Well cutting through all the conversation that we had with that guy, which at times was not very pleasant, we moved on.
After twice failing to do what we wanted to do, we decided to head for the Gamgaramaya Buddhist temple. This temple is right in the center of Colombo. For foreigners entry to the temple costs 125LKR and you have to take your shoes off before entering the temple.

Although it is a Buddhist temple, but don’t be surprised to a statue of Ganesh at the entrance. We were surprised in the beginning, but than upon inquiry we were told that since historically Sri Lankan princes, especially Prince vijay, who was a Buddhist, got married to an Indian princess, who was a Hindu, so all the temples built by Vijay contained Hindu deities also for the purpose of the Queen. This started and merged the two religious temples into one. This is a fine example of coexistence, where gods of different beliefs are residing together. This also unites people into one as the Sri Lankan Buddhists don’t feel odd going to Hindu temples just as the Hindus can come to Buddhist temples.
Our next stop in Colombo was the main market. Getting to the market we felt as if we were in Karachi in some place like Zaib-un-Nisa street or Zaitoun area in Cairo. The market is very Indo-Oriental. you have stores selling a lot of tiny-miny stuff in a mix of stores. There is not clear demarcation of products. Prices are fixed so to say and the store keepers are very polite and cultured. Since Sri Lanka is a tourist spot and a lot of foreigners of all creeds and races frequent this place, locals don’t bother the visitors with inquisitive looks, but it is common as in any eastern market to call the customers off the street to buy stuff or to offer services on the sidewalk.
We wanted to go to the Chekhov museum, but unfortunately our driver had no idea about it. so we decided to come another time to Colombo, since it was just 30 odd minutes drive from Negombo, where we were staying. We postponed any further visits till the next day and went eating. Our first option was Perera & Sons. It is something of a local fast food. In fact it is a bakery. Our next option was to go to McDonald’s or KFC. Local food was ok for me, Wasif and Sajjad, but for Vera it was too hot. So we decided to go to KFC and have our lunch there.
Ok, now one thing, which I forgot mentioning earlier are the mosquitoes. They are in abundance in the urban areas. All the hotels have mosquito nets installed over the beds and if you like to sleep with you ocean facing window open, don’t even think about removing the net. Otherwise you might not be recognizable in the morning. Hotels do offer air-conditioned rooms, but hey, coming to tropical islands and sitting behind closed doors and windows and not even feeling that cool breeze, which comes from the ocean, is a little odd if not insane.
Our joy ride continues. Stay with us and we will take you a long way into  the paradise called Sri Lanka.