Spice and Herbal Garden Tour in Sri Lanka – To Go or To Not Go

Spice and herbal garden in Sri Lanka. Exotic it sounds, all right. But for a garden lover like me, it was a must-see. Nay, must-visit. Jayanta found and planned for one enroute Kandy from Habarana. And so, post our Dambulla Cave Temple tour (Read about: Dambulla Cave Temple Tour), we stopped at one for a 30 minute tour.

The road is lined with gardens that allow visitors to take a tour. In fact, the garden are pretty organised, with most of its staff leading separate groups through numerous shurbs and trees and climbers, briefing you about their flowers and fruits, and their medicinal quality. Remember, this is just a portion of the garden, where they have every variety in clusters. 30 minutes is more than enough to get you acquainted to the turmeric, ginger, vanilla, neem plants. Most importantly, they make medicines out of the roots, leaves, stems, flowers, fruits of these plants. And as you walk along, you almost find a cure to migrane, high cholesterol, diabetes, body pains, bone pains, acne, even hair-removal creams! All ayurvedic, mind you. No chemicals. We were impressed.

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Once the tour is over, your guide takes you for a free massage with the oils that they make from the garden’s spices. It’s free. You can leave any amount as tips once your massage is done. Mostly, they take your back and arms to give you that ‘spa treatment’. Its in the open, mind you, with other visitors around you. And hence, completely safe. The one we got, father daughter and me, were truly wonderful…our backs felt new all over again….

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Most spice and herbal gardens in Sri Lanka also have a shop from where they sell all the medicines they showed you during the tour. Take our warning, do not get carried away by the stock they have displayed out there. Pick the ones you really need. For, most items are priced on the higher side. We picked up quite a few bottles, like the sandalwood oil (why did I pick that from Sri Lanka when our country has them too? Shopaholic us!), an oil for insect bites which is really really effective, some spices (again, not necessary if you are an Indian) and a concoction for cholesterol that cost a bomb! We haven’t opened the bottle even now. A completely unnecessary buy!

Spice Garden Tour in Sri Lanka (4)

Finally, to answer my own question —- Are the Spice and Herbal Gardens in Sri Lanka worth your time? Well, here is as honest as I can get with the response — If you are an Indian, you probably can give it a miss since all of those spices and medicinal plants are known to us, India and Sri Lanka being tropical countries with similar vegetation. In fact, Sri Lanka’s vegetation resembles Kerala so much that you’d be forgiven if you get the ‘Kerala feeling’ when in Sri Lanka. Having said this, the products are good. As long as you don’t lose your head and buy over-priced items that might not be necessary, a tour of the spice and herbal garden will not do any harm. Gives you just that much more experience and perspective…

Our next pit stop was for lunch. And then, another round of mindless shopping at the factory outlet of Noritake, one of the best crockery and cutlery stores in the world! Post on that misadventure coming soon….

P.S:  For a complete Sri Lanka itinerary and tour details, read — Best Itinerary & Blogs for Sri Lanka Road Trip

Tour of Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka

We went to the Dambulla Cave Temple on our way from Habarana to Kandy. It is another of those temples that is located on top of a rock that required climbing for about 15-20 minutes. Surprisingly, despite having trekked all the way up to Sigiriya (Read: Tour of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka) the previous evening, our legs weren’t sore. And we happily climbed the Dambulla rock. It helped that it was raining that day…with the heat and humidity at bay, and the passing clouds creating drama around the cave’s skies, we soaked into the beauty around us, and in no time, reached up…

To think that I got a little scared by the gigantic golden Buddha at the foothill, wondering if the temple up there would also be so loud! On the contrary, here was a piece of heritage. Lined with five cases that house more than 150 statues of Buddha and many paintings and murals, the temple complex is more than 2000 years old. Extremely well maintained and clean, you will not mind walking bare-feet around the complex ad in the shrine rooms.

It was appalling, however, to find tourists taking photographs using flash inside the shrine rooms where flash-photography is forbidden. They didn’t care the CCTV cameras fitted inside. Neither do the temple authorities do enough to stop such blatant disregard of the rules and regulations of the temple. Made me wonder, if the same tourists could do the same thing, in a western country! No they wouldn’t!

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Tips for the Dambulla Cave Temple Tour:

  1. Tickets are sold at a counter right at the entrance..
  2. Dambulla Cave Temple, as the name suggests, is a religious site. This means, you need to adhere to a dress code that includes wearing dresses that cover women’s arms and legs. Men cannot wear shorts to the temple.
  3. Wear good walking shoes. Told you, you have to climb the rock which, in some places, have no stairs cut in them and you have to trek up. Extremely exciting…
  4. The shrine rooms are rich in history. Hence, strongly recommend you to avail the services of a guide.
  5. The complete tour takes about an hour, and hence, you needn’t carry snacks. But do carry enough water. We got rains and hence, weren’t thirsty…
  6. Double-check with your little one if he/she can make it to the top. Ours was super excited, took the umbrella as her walking stick and led us up!

After the Dambulla Cave Temple tour, our next stop was that for the Spice & Herbal Garden tour along the Habarana-Kandy road. Read about it here — Spice & Herbal Garden tour in Srilanka

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    P.S:  For a complete Sri Lanka itinerary and tour details, read — Best Itinerary & Blogs for Sri Lanka Road Trip

Tour of Sigiriya, the ancient city of Sri Lanka

The Sigiriya rock, perhaps, is the mascot of Sri Lanka. It is a UNESCO heritage site, and certainly, one of the most visited in Sri Lanka. You see its photographs everywhere in the country, starting from the immigration section of the airport.

We had scheduled our Sigiriya tour for the afternoon. After an enriching tour of the Polonnaruwa Ruins (Read: Polonnaruwa Ruins Tour) in the morning, and after lunch at one of the many restaurants on the way, we headed for the ancient Sigiriya city. Driving past extremely dense woods and on and off rains, we reached Sigiriya by 3 in the afternoon. That’s good timing, said our guide, Shushanta.

The ancient citadel of Sigiriya is located atop a massive rock some 200 meters high. The ground below starts with a moat built for the protection of the royal citadel, and opens into a sprawling, layered garden where we found a deer grazing in the woods at the far end. Green, and line with stairs at every interval, the walk up to the foot of the rock from the main gate can take a good 30 min depending upon your speed and your desire to stop by at everything beautiful you see around you…

Well, the most beautiful is actually in front of you – the overwhelming rock itself. A flight of stairs, numbering about 1200, take you all the way to the top. Somewhere halfway, you stop by a wall with beautiful hand-painted frescos that are very similar to the ones we have in the Ajanta Caves in India. And then there is the Mirror Wall too, an extremely polished wall with religious verses inscribed in it.

You climb yet more stairs to reach a little clearing that is famous for the gate that has the lion’s feet on either side. Try to beat the crowd at the stairs to take a good photo of the place…we managed to, some bit. By now, you are on the final leg of the stair climbing…a few more, and you reach the top of the rock. The view below is striking. On a clear day, you can see the faraway hills. We got strong winds and fog…that was beautiful too in its own way.

Coming down doesn’t take time…but mind your knees as you hurry down…

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Tips for the Sigiriya Tour:

  1. Tickets are sold at a counter right at the entrance..
  2. Unlike Anuradhapura (Read: Anuradhapura Tour) and Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya is not a religious site. This means, no dress code.
  3. Wear good walking shoes. Told you about the 1200 stairs you will need to conquer to reach the top!
  4. The ruins are rich in history. Hence, strongly recommend you to avail the services of a guide.
  5. Carry snacks and enough water. The day we went to Sigiriya, it was drizzling off and on. And so, were saved by the wrath of the sun. Needless to mention, on sunny days, it will be very hot. Hence, wear enough sunscreen….and carry umbrellas, be it for the sun or the rains…
  6. Double-check with your little one if he/she can make it to the top. Ours was super excited, took the umbrella as her walking stick and led us up!

P.S:  For a complete Sri Lanka itinerary and tour details, read — Best Itinerary & Blogs for Sri Lanka Road Trip

Go Hopping Heritage Houses in Goa

I dread the usual Goa’s beach and beer stories. Which is why I always protest the ‘Goa-plan’ mooted by the daughter and the father at home. But for this Easter weekend, there wasn’t any other option — by the time my leaves got approved, flight and hotel rates had touched the stratosphere! The writing on the wall was clear — if you want to go out of Mumbai, Goa is the only option!

Well then, made it clear to the hubby and the daughter that there had to be more to this trip than just the beaches, beer bottles and fishes. They were OK with anything as long as it’s Goa! And so, we drove off…for a good 13 hours…to reach India’s perennial ‘Holiday State’!

For our stay, we had signed up Vivenda DosPalhacos, a heritage homestay (Read: Review of Vivenda ). I asked Simon, its owner, if he could suggest to us any beautiful and quaint church, not much frequented by tourists, a quiet place, and others such. Sensing our love for ‘not the usual itinerary’, he advised us to go visit heritage homes instead, adding that they were magnificent, rich in history and that, they didn’t figure on a regular tourist’s itinerary. Better still, Simon told us that one of the heritage houses served an elaborate 5-course Goa-Portuguese lunch if you booked in advance. Did we need any further details? Nah! We were sold. He called up the owner to book a table for 3 for the next day. And with that, we went heritage house-hopping in Goa….

Figueiredo Mansion in Loutolim: The Figueiredo Mansion is located deep inside the Loutolim village. That was a good 45 km drive from Majorda where we were staying. Good news is, feed Loutolim in your phone, and you will reach the Loutolim Church past paddy fields and hamlets across a good stretch of road with almost no traffic. Once at the Church, stop to ask any local passer-by for the exact road, and be surprised how you are directed right to the mansion’s gates by smiling locals.

Grand by all accounts, we stood outside the ‘mansion’ gates for a while, admiring the tall windows and the flight of stairs, even as we wondered what lay inside. Once inside, Catherine, the grand-daughter of theFigueiredo family came out to say hello and showed us to the waiting room past the library. Granny will join us in a while, she said. That 10-15 minute wait gave us the time to peek into the garden from the little balcony, study the photographs kept here and there, admire the pieces of furniture, the massive doors…and think to yourself what stories must this mansion own too. That is for Maria to tell you. Maria LourdesFigueiredo de Albuquerque. Vibrant, bubbling with the stories of a different era, looking stunning in her crisp shirt and black trouser, matching earrings, silver-grey hair brushed back, red lipstick, Maria took us around her majestic home talking about every room, every piece of furniture, painting, flower vase, crockery set. Pride and authority that comes from years of living a fine life, and with the memory of an elephant, Maria told us how her ancestors build the house, how Indira Gandhi and subsequent governments have expressed the desire to take over the property, how various museums around the world have wanted to buy a chest or a bone-China set…the lady doesn’t tire. Deeply grateful that she gave us the time and allowed us to take photos (with a strict instruction to not click individual pieces lest they should attract cheats and thugs), we left leaving a modest amount in the donation box and taking with us a rich tale of the house…

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A section of the Figueiredo Mansion has been turned into an inn called, Old Heritage Inn. Here are the contact details should you want to stay here. Further, considering her age, it would be nice if you called her in advance to confirm if you’d want a tour of her mansion.

Palacio do Deao Mansion in Quepem: Our next heritage stop was the Palacio do Deao, a mansion built in the late 18th century by the Portuguese noble man, who first built a chapel where the house stands now, and then went on to build a Church, thereby paving the way for the Quepem township. A charming one-storeyed mansion set in a sprawling garden, it had fallen into complete ruins until Ruben Vasco da Gama and his wife restored the house and its ornamental garden three years ago, and opened it to public for viewing as well as for a 5-course Goa-Portuguese lunch in its beautiful patio.

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Ruben showed us the house while speaking effusively about its history and all what it took to restore it to its past glory. From the ‘pre-restoration’ photos, you can tell the amount of work that had gone into repairing not only the house, but also the garden. Filled with flowering trees and birds, the ornamental garden of Palacio is supposedly the only ornamental garden in Goa. We strolled around admiring the balustrades, stone bird bath, the many layers until we were ushered in for lunch. Prepared by Mrs Gama herself, this was really an elaborate affair what with the Kokam sherbet (they have an alcoholic option), soup, 3-4 starters comprising prawns, crabs etc, salads, main course comprising fish, breads, vegetables, and then a choice of desserts. Took us about a good two hours to wrap up the spread….and then, wereloathe to drive back 45 kms back to Vivenda. We got back, hit the bed and dozed off for the rest of the afternoon. There’s no way you can dodge the overpowering sleep after dining at the Palacio!

Remember, you need to book in advance if you want to have luch at the Palacio. Here are the contact details  — +91 (0)832 266 4029
+91 98 2317 5639, E-mail: gama.ruben@gmail.com

Vivenda Dos Palhacos — A Heritage Homestay in Goa

Vivenda Dos Palhacos. Nestled in the coconut groves of Majorda village in Goa, it took us more than 20 minutes to locate the place that night after our 14-hour drive from Mumbai. After two calls to Simon, the owner of Vivenda, and help from one of their staff, we reached Vivenda only to realise we had driven past it sometime back. That, more or less, gave us the gist about the place. Unassuming, quiet, blends with its surroundings, homely – just what we wanted!

Simon was waiting for us at the porch. Hearty handshakes and the usual round of introductions done, he asked us in for a drink. We wanted to wash up first. And so he directed his staff to show us to our room. We were booked in Vivenda for 3 nights. Of them, for the first night, we had been assigned Darjeeling, the once garage now turned into a ‘duplex’ room. Interesting? Well, Yes. The room’s wall is lined with tin plates, the type people have on their roofs; the bathroom door has iron chains for a curtain; the bed stand is made with steel balls. Very very interesting…unlike anything we had seen before. The room is perfect for a family with 2 children…the two beds on the ‘mezzanine’ floor makes it just so exciting for little kids…

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Once in the main house, we were amazed by its beauty. If a book lover, the first thing you will notice are the many book shelves everywhere, in every room, every corner. Almost as if the entire house is made of them. As you explore the house some more, you understand the reason. This is Goa…you are supposed to make time wait when here…and treat yourself to the books you had been long promising to yourself when back in the city. Claim any corner of this sprawling house and sit down with a glass or a cup, as the choice may be, and the book of your choice. They have books of every genre, taste. No way you won’t find one that you’d like to start immediately. If I had known this before, I wouldn’t have carried my book from Mumbai…

Besides the books, Vivenda also has an enviable collection of furniture and photographs. You will find here, an olden day fridge, where one manually kept blocks of ice on one side for the food on the other side; a candle-stand kept right at the entrance that has wax drooping from all sides making it all so vintage; strong iron high-chairs in the outside verandah that once must have been in barber shops; a table in the porch of Darjeeling made of a sewing machine; a table made with a wooden barrel in the verandah on the courtyard — no end to discovering here….

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And then there are the two dogs, Jigglers and Kitten, who exemplify Goan lifestyle. They park themselves in your feet and sleep, be it when you are dining or reading a book or lounging at the pool. O yes, the pool. A Grecian pool with an sparkling white arc in the far end, and surrounded by lillies, anthuriums, a mango tree and many coconut trees, it adds to your resolve to stay lazy….and simply lounge around….or take a dip…or sun-bathe…or read…or day-dream….or fall asleep…

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Both Simon and Charlottle hail from Kolkata and have lived in Tamil Nadu too, before moving in to Goa. This explains the names of the rooms – Darjeeling, Alipur, Konnagar, Ballygunj, Madras (no, they haven’t changed it to Chennai here!), Ooty etc. When it got vacant the next morning, we moved in to the room called Madras in the afternoon. And fell in love with it immediately. Correction. I fell in love with its bathroom – the bathing area has no roof and looks into a big magnolia tree in full bloom. Flowers from the tree line up the bathroom and fills it with a sweet fragrance. Come to wash your feet under the shower tap in the night, look up at the sky, and you will find the moon between the coconut leaves and the magnolia tree giving you light! Tell me, why wouldn’t I give it my heart?

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Food at Vivenda Dos Palhacos is just as good as the house itself. Breakfast used to be a hearty affair with a full-fledged English spread. Although we never had lunch and dinner in the house, the menu, usually a 4-course meal, would entice us nonetheless.

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Choose Vivenda Dos Palhacos if you like style, heritage and quiet…

(PS: Vivienda Dos Palhacos is a 5-minute away from the pristine Majorda Beach )

Another homestay, this time near Palolem Beach, is the Oceanic. Though not heritage, the place is certainly quiet and extremely homely. Read about it here — Oceanic near Palolem Beach, Goa

 

Tour of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Polonnaruwa, just like Anuradhapura (Read — Tour of Anuradhapura), is another of Sri Lanka’s most famous royal ancient towns. About 50 kms away from Habarana where we were staying (Read Review of Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana), we started off soon after breakfast since we also wanted to go to Sigiriya in the evening.

Polonnaruwa ruins is spread across sprawling grounds, extremely green and extremely well maintained. Here, amongst the ruins of the temples, libraries, baths, courts and courtyards, get a glimpse of life inPolonnaruwa under the rulers of the 9th century. Stories and folklore that have flowed through centuries not only take you back to that era, but also impress you by the scale of discipline and planning that went into making the Polonnaruwa town. The manmade lake, Parakrama Samudra, the many canals tell tales of how the farming community was helped by their rulers; the many temples, once again, reinforce how deeply religious people had been in those days.

Just like the town of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, too is scattered over a huge area. The tour of the complete ruins easily take about 3-4 hours, depending on your levels of interest and curiosity. The tour starts with a visit to the state-run archaeological museum that houses relics of that era, as well as stories of every site in the ruins. Give it a careful reading, for all of those come live when you are at the ruins.

We started off with the much revered statue of King Parakramabahu, a little beyond the lake, and then went deep to the Gal Vihara – the place that houses two statues of Lord Buddha, one standing and one, lying down; Kumara Pokuna, the bath; Thuparama, the library;  Shiva Dewalya and Hatadage; the towering Lankatilaka Temple; the Satmahal Prasada and more. The ruins captivate you like no other. Its layers of history, its many generations of folklore and the picturesque sites can bind you to hours of story-telling and romancing with the camera……

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Musts for the Polonnaruwa Ruins Tour:

  1. Get your tickets from the Museum.
  2. Like in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa too is deeply religious. And hence, you will have to adhere to the dress code — for women, arms, legs and necklines need to be covered; no shorts for men. Children are exempted.
  3. Wear good walking shoes since you will need to walk a lot even when your car drops and picks you from point to point.
  4. The ruins are rich in history. Hence, strongly recommend you to avail the services of a guide.
  5. Carry snacks and enough water. The day we went to Polonnaruwa, it was drizzling and raining by turns. But we figured that on sunny days, it will be very hot. Hence, wear enough sunscreen….and carry umbrellas, be it for the sun or the rains…
  6. We also saw many tourists going about the sites in bicycles. Should you be keen to do that, suggest you enquire at your hotel, and not take one at the sites where the rent could be exorbitant.

For a complete itinerary for a Sri Lanka trip, read — Best Itinerary and Blogs for a Sri Lanka Road Trip

Tour of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Tour of Anuradhapura, one of Sri Lanka’s most famous ancient towns, will need an entire day. Hence, schedule accordingly. The town is famous for its many many Buddhist Stupas. Hopping from one to the other easily takes about 4-5 hours. Now, we were staying at the Cinnamon in Habarana (Review of Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana). This meant a 2 and half hour drive one way. That’s about 5 hours of driving. Which is why, scheduling one full day is necessary.

The tour generally  starts from the Anuradhapura Museum and takes you through eleven places of interest. They are – Jethawanaramaya, one of the highest stupas in the world; Kuttam Pokuna, bathing tanks of Busshist monks; Samadji Statue, where the Buddha can be seen sitting in meditation; Abayagiriya, the second oldest stupa in Anuradhapura; Moonstones, an exquisite scroll of Buddhist teachings and beliefs; Lankaramaya, a majestic white stupa with pillars running around it; Thuparamaya, the first Buddhist building in Anuradhapura; Ruwanwaliseya, another white stupa dating back to the 1st century BC; Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the Bodhi tree with a temple; Mirisawetiya, a stupa built by a king who saw miracle happening in front of his eyes; Isurumuniya, a vihara situate above a cliff and connected to a cave, this is the best of them all; Lowamahapaya, also known as the Brazen Palace; Mihintalaya, a monastic city of caves, temples and ruins.

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Musts for the Anuradhapura Tour:

  1. Since it is a religious town, you will have to adhere to the dress code.  That’s, for women, arms, legs and necklines need to be covered. Men, too, need to wear trousers and not shorts. Children are exempted from this regulation. However, I took no chances with my 8 year old daughter. Note also, that you will need to walk barefeet at the stupa premises. The premises, however, are extremely well maintained and are spic and span.
  2. Remember, Anuradhapura is a little town. And the Stupas are spread all across. This entails a whole lot of driving from one Stupa to another and also a fair bit of walking. Ensure you are wearing the right shoes.
  3. With so many Stupas and places to see and with years of history associated with the town, you will definitely need a guide for your tour to be worthwhile. Else, you will not be able to sustain your interest and curiosity levels from one to the other. Also ensure you are carrying a map of Anuradhapura. Most hotels have it.
  4. The old town of Anuradhapura is a little away from the new town. This means, by the time you are hungry for lunch, you might be deep inside the old town and perhaps won’t have the time to spare for a sortie to the new town for lunch. What’s more, clean and good restaurants and eating joints are difficult to find in the old town. It therefore makes sense to have your hotel pack some dry lunch for you.
  5. Finally, carry enough snacks and water, and wear enough sunscreen…

    P.S:  For a complete Sri Lanka itinerary and tour details, read — Best Itinerary & Blogs for Sri Lanka Road Trip

Review: Baking Workshops with Sticky Fingerzs, Powai (Mumbai)

She is a Witch. Well, that’s what I call her. And more I call her that, more and more I am convinced she is one — the type who can cast her spell and make anything edible. Nah, anything yumm!

And so, a couple of weeks ago, when I zeroed in on the Flower theme for my daughter’s birthday party in March, I shot her a message at around 9 in the night. Will you be interested to do a cup-cake decorating session for max 20 kids? She shot back a Yes instantly! We got talking but soon came to a hurdle — the cost involved seemed to be somewhat higher than what my budget was. You see, I didn’t want the usual sprinklers etc for the toppings. I wanted the cup-cakes to be well decorated with flowers and leaves with a generous layer of icing covering the top of the cup cake. Went to bed trying to figure out how to beat the cost and yet get what I wanted….

She too must have gone to bed with the same thought. For, first thing the next morning, she sent me a message – I had a dream solution last night….an edible flower vase. And followed it with a barrage of message that explained what exactly she meant. I was sold! That’s an understatement actually. I was jumping with joy, and could tell, she too wanted to run out of her house screaming Eureka..

Over the next two weeks, we finalised the list of things I needed to buy, and those that she’d get. The items were easily available. What’s more, they were exactly what we wanted.

And this is what she created for my daughter’s 8th birthday party celebrations – an edible flower vase activity involving 18 kids over a 20-minute session. She got my daughter’s friends, ranging in age from 7 years to 45 years (!!!) to assemble crumbled chocolate cake, chocolate ganache, fondant sunflowers, edible stones to create magic…

Boy! Was it a hit! The kids, caught in her spell, took every instruction to the tee, poured the crumbled cake into the pots, squealed at the ganache and flowers and had one helluva time making their own flower pots…the edible types…

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And I got what I wanted, a creative, beautiful, meaningful activity for the kids that was in perfect tandem with the party theme!

Meet the Witch

She is Somisra Parker Sengupta, a Powai-based baker, already very popular amongst youngsters and grownups, alike. She holds baking workshops ranging from breads to cakes to cookies and more throughout the year, and has special batches for children during their summer/Diwali/Christmas holidays.

Som Som1

She operates in the name of Sticky Fingerzs. Here’s her contact details:

Phone – 9833065655

Email is – stickyfingers@gmail.com

Sticky Fingers on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/stickyfingerzs

 

Hotel Review: Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana, Sri Lanka

Habarana should be your base if you plan to tour the religious and historical circuit of Sri Lanka comprising the ancient towns of Anuradhapura, Polunuara, Sigiriya and Dogamba. History buffs that we are, we stationed ourselves for 3 nights and 2 days in Habarana’s luxury resort, Cinnamon, to see the towns thorough…

As I said, a luxury resort, Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana,  is set in sprawling grounds, with cottages spread across the entire property. On our first morning there, I went out for a run and found the perimeter to be close to 4kilometers. With marshes in the periphery, a big natural pond in the middle of the resort that had fishes and turtles, and many many trees, the place offers a wonderful opportunity to relax and shed your city-life stress. There is also the pool, of course, if you like to ‘wash away your stress’, much what the husband and the daughter prefers… :-) I am content though with a book, or simply gazing at the landscape and studying the vegetation :-)

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The cottages at the Cinnamon are extremely well appointed, with all the basic facilities and classy pieces of furniture and upholstery. And fresh flowers too. The house-keeping staff are warm and eager to make your stay comfortable and pleasant.

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Food at the Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana, was one of the best in our entire Sri Lanka road trip! Our package included breakfast and dinner for every day of our stay there. They have a massive restaurant with the option of reserving your table by the poolside, and every member of the staff takes personal care to see that they serve you the food you want to have. In our case, we wanted local Sri Lankan food. And we got to taste a wide variety of Sri Lankan dishes and specialities here, be it the Spring Hoppers, Plain/egg/spinach hoppers, Sri Lankan desserts. It’s a buffet both for breakfast and dinner, mind you. So, there is no way you will not get the food of your choice. Their live station churns out some very good meats and fries and soups. I had a ball at the salad counter where I made my own plate with a whole lot of ingredients from nuts to leaves to fruits to dressings. And oh by the way, they have a separate room for desserts. Yup, a separate room! And the spread they keep there will make you long for a separate stomach!

All in all, although an extremely expensive resort, Cinnamon lives up to your expectations. We absolutely loved our stay here….and once again, the food was to kill for…

 

Day 1 Sri Lanka Road Trip — Drive from Negombo to Habarana

Negombo to Habarana is almost a 150 km drive and can take upwards of 4 hours depending on where all you stop.

We had started off from Villa Shade, the homestay near Colombo where we had docked for the night upon landing from India, at around 9 pm. For most part, it is a drive through paddy fields, little hamlets, and busy towns.

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Our driver cum guide, Shushanta, said we’d make a stop at the Pinnawala Elephants Orphanage about an hour and a half’s drive away. By now, I had had enough with the elephant centers around the world – we had been to one in almost every country in the last 3 years — David Shepherd Elephant Centre in Nairobi, Elephant centre in Coorg, Elephant centre in Phuket! As I said, I had had enough! But not the daughter and the husband. They overruled me and strutted off upon reaching Rambukkana.

Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage: From the look of it, it was extremely crowded – the street, the ticket counter. It was bound to be. It was after all 25th Dec, a holiday. One last time I tried to dissuade the duo, but they refused to re-consider. Elephants we have come to see and elephants we shall see, they retorted and went off for the tickets. I, on my part, recovered from a feeble OK and went up to the ticketing area to see if they had anything for disinterested souls like me. Yes, there was —  Sri Lanka’s famous memorabilia store, Laksala. I hovered around the store while Jayant and Niharika, squealed and ogled at elephants eating their lunch and eating veggies off their hands.

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The orphanage is popular with kids and grownup alike (as you can tell from the interest shown by my family) since it offers a whole lot of attractions, such as, bottle feeding thrice a day, bathing in the river twice a day, once in the morning and once, late afternoon. Tickets are fare for Rs 2500 for adults and Rs 1250 for kids. If you belong to one of the SAARC nations, tickets will cost you Rs 700 and Rs 350.

Poo Paper-Making Center: This center is right opposite the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The staff there take you through a tour of the paper-making techniques through the elephant’s poo, and then take you to the adjacent shop where you can buy products made of the paper you just saw being made. Quite an educational tour for kids. It is free and not binding upon you to buy the products. We’d recommend you to go, take a look.

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We stopped by at a nearby joint for a plate of Sri Lankan rice and chicken, and then set off for Habarana. Roads are mostly good, and traffic good too. They hardly honk in Sri Lanka, thereby giving you a peaceful drive…

We reached our hotel in Habarana, Cinnamon, in good time for a tour of the massive place and a dip in its pool. Review of the place follows in the next post.

Travel and food stories from around the world, through the eyes/lenses of a Mumbai-based husband-wife-daughter trio…

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