Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Elephant Nature Park

(pictures by chris writing by otis)

During our trip to Thailand, we went to an elephant sanctuary about 1 1/2 hours north of Chiang Mai for two days. The first day, we got there in a white van. The first thing we did was feed the elephants cucumber and watermelon, which they preferred the latter. 
A basket of cucumbers, squash and watermelons, which the elephants particularly enjoy

Treat time is a good way to introduce the elephants to the new batch of tourists

Next we had lunch, and we were shown to our room. They gave us a few hours to settle in, then we went for a walk and gave the elephants a bath in a river! 

ENP was also a home to remarkable spiders

This one was high up so its hard to see, but it was bigger than your hand
Between meals and treats, elephants eat the leaves off of corn stocks that are delivered in big trucks

While the elephants are distracted with roughage is a good time to observe

The elephants only eat the leaves, they throw the stalks aside for the water buffalo

Elephants are rough and scratchy - notice that this one lost her ear somewhere along the line

Some of these elephants have suffered bad injuries, especially if they were employed in logging, and a number of them were blind. Despite all that, many of them live to be very old. The oldest ENP elephant is over 90.

After that we went to a little cat conservation area that one of our group members found out about from one of our group titled: "Cat Kingdom" which I particularly enjoyed. After a solid 1/2 hour of cat-petting, our family ate dinner, got presents from a gift shop, and went to bed. 
A Cat Kingdom resident

A Cat Kingdom resident and aficionado
The next day, we got up early to eat breakfast, than went for a walk in the sanctuary, checking out some dogs (they had a "Dog Kingdom" too) and older elephants along the way. 

Dogs like pets

They adopt these dogs out around the world, if we were heading back to the US, we could have volunteered our luggage space to get an adopted dog to its new family

Hella puppies

We had lunch early, and bathed another elephant. You do this by basically throwing giant buckets of water at them, while the elephants eat watermelon. I crossed the river, which was hard because the current was so strong while we were bathing the elephants. 
This is how we do it

Then we made rice balls for the old elephants that we saw that morning, because they have a hard time chewing watermelon. 
Combine ingredients

Form the balls 
The finished product

We saw how the elephants keep cool by throwing mud on themselves to block the sun. 
Elephants like mud

Applying elephant sunblock

After one last trip to both the Cat and Dog kingdoms, we were on our way back from the best experience we've had in Thailand so far! We hope to have even more fun times yet to come!
Our multi-national group

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sri Lanka Wrap-Up Video

(By Chris)

Hello everyone! Here's a movie I made to wrap up our month (almost!) in Sri Lanka, I hope you enjoy it (almost!) as much as I enjoyed making it:

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle Part 2 - Sigiriya & Anuradhapura

(by Chris!)

Otis takes in the view from the Sigiriya guardhouse
One of the biggest tourist draws in Sri Lanka, which (like everything else here apart from Colombo, I'd never heard of a year ago) is the Cultural Triangle. The points on the triangle are Kandy to the south, Polonnaruwa to the east and Anuradhapura to the west. Each of these three locations was a Sri Lankan capital at one point: Anuradhapura from about 400 BC to 993 AD, Polonnaruwa from 993 AD to 1284 and Kandy from 1473 to 1815. Each city housed (or houses!) the tooth relic and each is a UNESCO world heritage site. Inside the triangle are two more UNESCO cultural world heritage sites, Dambulla Cave Temple and Sigiriya Rock.

Sri Lanka is roughly the size of West Virginia, so that's a lot of culture in a relatively small space, and if you're a tourist looking for some Sri Lankan culture, its a hell of a triangle to visit. In our last post, Jen wrote about our visit to Dambulla and Polonnaruwa, and in the post before I had written about Kandy, so that leaves just Sigiriya and Anuradhapura before our long meander through Sri Lanka was finally over.
The Lion Rock looms in the mist

Sigiriya Rock

Jen needed a down day, so Otis and I headed to Sigiriya Rock, which to me is the ultimate expression of something I very much admire about ancient Sri Lanka. When these guys found an awesome place in the jungle to make a fort, the jumped in with both feet and made an AWESOME fort. I didn't know that when I was ten, I was an ancient Sri Lankan, but there you go.

A misty view of Sigiriya's outer moat

To beat the heat, you have to get to Sigiriya early, Otis walks past the sleepy resident dogs

I love the boulder garden

Sigiriya was a fortress city built in the late 5th century on top of a 650' rock. That's pretty impressive, since the sides of the rock range from sheer to overhanging, but that wasn't all - they also made a series of fountains down below, and a boulder garden in between. On the final approach to the top, they carved a massive gate where one must pass between two gargantuan lion's paws before reaching the citadel.
Otis and I pose at the Lion's Gate

Apparently, they also frescoed almost the entire face of the rock, and visitors now can view (but not photograph) paintings preserved by an overhang and behind the mirror wall, a wall that keeps you from falling off and which features graffiti from as along ago as the 8th century.

A picture of the frescoes I took from Wikipedia - you're not allowed to photograph them, even without flash

I recommend Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, highly - just the geology and the view of it are amazing, and the history of it is easy to understand and imagining what the city was like in its heyday is really not that hard. For evocativeness, its hard to beat seeing the holds carved into the rock and wondering just how anyone made it to the top alive before the advent of metal stairs.

Getting hot, Otis explores the citadel 
The views up here can be pretty vertiginous. I'm sure glad we went early, because it was already HOT!


Anuradhapura is probably the ancient site most prominently featured in guidebooks and airport posters, but I found it less easy to process and understand than Polonnaruwa or Sigiriya. At this point too, we were pretty burned out, and we had moved from our comfy niche at The Other Corner to a less pampering guesthouse in modern Anuradhapura.

Everywhere in Anuradhapura was very old. Our guide was always saying "This is the oldest X in Sri Lanka!"

This is part of the same temple complex as the reclining Buddha above, the Anuradhapurans also had an appreciation for using boulders to enhance their buildings

The first Dagoba in Sri Lanka! The Dagobas are not hollow. Inside are just millions of bricks

Crowds gather around the sacred bo tree, said to be over 2,000 years old

Another oldest dagga in Sri Lanka - this one was at one point the largest brick structure in the word.

The following pictures are from a complex near the brown dagoba where thousands of monks were housed

I believe another reliquary where Buddha's tooth once resided. A lot of Anuradhapura never really passed out of use, so some very ancient sites still seem new, because they never passed into disrepair

If I recall correctly, this sarcophageal looking thing was a bath where they'd pour oil on you.

Noting the moonstone

Jen and I pose above a particularly notable moonstone

One of the things the Anuradhapurans were very good at was hydrology, this reservoir was built 2,000 years ago

Even with a friendly and enthusiastic tuktuk driver, I, personally, didn't even know when it was we had entered inside the park. Overheated and tired, all I can really tell you is that a long time ago, a king and a LOT of monks lived on this site, and they built a sprawling city and some very big dagobas. I was happy to get on the fast(ish) bus back to Negombo and the flight to Thailand.

our patient and understanding tuktuk guide

Our lift back to Negombo

Sri Lanka has a lot to recommend it, but next time, I think I would try to do less and stay in one place more. Give me more of the beach, more of the mountains and maybe a bit less running around.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sri Lanka: Ancient Cities and Temples Part 1

Leaving Kandy, we set off for the area in central Sri Lanka called the Cultural Triangle. We were about to pack in major culture: visits to ancient temples and ruins while in this area of the island. 

We were heading to Habarana. On our way there, we stopped at the Cave Temples (and the GIANT gold Buddha at their base) in Dambulla. These are a series of ancient temples carved into a giant rock. There are at least one hundred statutes of Buddha and incredibly intricate, detailed and beautiful artwork.

At Dambulla entrance

Many monkeys 
Reclining Buddha
This is inside the cave temples, after the long walk up the trail

Each mudra has different symbolism

Reclining Buddhas tend to refer to his death or dying

The cave Buddhas are all gilt, and surrounded by painted decorations

Amazing artwork

 The cave temples were one of my favorite things to see in Sri Lanka even though we didn't spend as much time there as we might have liked. They are quiet, stunning and engender a sense of reflection. Otis spent our visit with our car and driver and when we returned he was playing ball over the fence with some kids. 

Upon arrival at The Other Corner, we strolled over the suspension bridge and entered the grounds. It was really pleasant -- well tended grounds, a nice pool and a vegetable garden. We had wonderful meals there and really enjoyed our stay. It was very quiet with only a few other guests so we had the run of the place.

The Other Corner guest house was reached over an Indiana Jones bridge

We set off the next day for the ancient ruined city of Polonnaruwa, the capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to 13th centuries. We first stopped at the museum which gave us an overview and housed some interesting artifacts. We then moved on to go out and explore the ruins, including the castle complex, the hospital complex, multiple temples and monks' quarters. It was fascinating...well, to Chris and me it was. It was hot and Otis preferred staying with our car and driver and re-reading a book he'd already read.

Walking toward the Royal Palace

The gate to the Royal Palace, operating at its height at about 1150 AD

This building originally had seven stories

Many of the buildings here have rows of bas-relief carvings, rich with meaning

I think this is the council chamber - knowing what all these things are is kind of hard without a guide

A moonstone, these are set in front of a lot of doors

One of the many reilquaries in the Sacred Quadrangle.

Polonnaruwa Vatadage

A big  and very old dagoba

A less common monkey, the Hanuman (or grey) langur

Statue of King Parakramabahu


Satmahal Prasada

At Kiri Vihara
We loved our day out in the ruins. We were excited about visiting the next set of ruins in another ancient royal city, Anuradhapura!