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Ayubowan!

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Ayubowan! ( A form of greeting, much closer to ‘Hello’ or ‘Namastey’).

There’s a land blessed with aquamarine beaches, excellent ancient history, centuries old architectural marvels, immense natural beauty of the hills, amazing hospitality, culture and sumptuous food. On the first look this land looks puny, located in the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. But it give us more as we dive in! Yes, I am talking about Sri Lanka; the special land where ancient history blends so well with modernity without a crease!

The day began with a walk into the largest fish market in Lanka; the Negombo fish market. As the day dawned, shop owners were prepping up their little shops, displaying their catch from the early morning, cats waking up from their slumbers and a tub of live crabs being cranky, cackling to get out!

Eeek! live crabs

Eeek! live crabs

 

A bunch of big fishes are transfected to be sold

A bunch of big fishes are transferred to be sold

 

Fishing it out!

Some customers have come earlier bargaining a good price for the fishes displayed. A fisherman chops up the large tuna and packs it up into black polythene bags. Just behind him, the sea is calm, occasionally waves roaring big.

 

A find vendor sits in front of his catch

A find vendor sits in front of his catch

Moving into the town of Negombo, I stop for a light breakfast; fish dumpings, onion buns, aaloo stuff buns and fish+ egg bun downed over a pack of Milo drink, from Perera and Sons, a snackery that has a number of branches all over Sri Lanka.

light breakfast – Fish dumping and fish+egg rolls

From Negombo, we move towards one of the prime attractions of this country, that always shows up in tourism blogs and photos of Lanka; The Pinnawala Elephant orphanage. This orphanage caters to elephants who have been mistreated, injured and aims at the wellbeing of these gentle giants as they show up generously in the cultural fabric of Lanka. Spread over a vast land, this centre offers elephants a lovely loving home, with proper food, medication, the Oya river for bathing and fun, and enormous funds from well-wishers. As I look on, smaller elephants play with onlookers, seeking attention with trunks and their gimmicks! Some smaller elephants roll over in the muddy river, and defecate directly on. A few chew on palm leaves as baby elephants attract attention of every animal lover around! Just being cute as they are!

The Oya River and the elephants

 

Attention seeker

Attention seeker

Elephant galore

Elephant galore

A tiny fellow

A tiny fellow

A tourist gets up close with a tusker

 

A good one and half hours spent with these beautiful creatures gave me an opportunity to understand why Srilankan culture has such high values of this animals. And yet, we see them being rides to the tourists, being paraded for the fancy of the foreigners on many occasions. However, I hope that the condition of these animals improve everywhere in the world.

Off Pinnawala, the ancient Rock temple of Dambulla was not so far away. The rock temple is very interesting as it is said to have been built in the first century BC. With beautiful architecture, statues and paintings inside, the cave temple is a place of worship, pilgrimage, and tourist interest. A huge golden Buddha statue sits high just at the entrance. Owing to the extreme ancient art inside, photography is not allowed inside the temple.

The Golden stupa of Dambulla

The Golden stupa of Dambulla

From in front of the Dambulla Temple

From in front of the Dambulla Temple

However, the cave temple is beautifully lit with lamps, surrounded by a number of ancient paintings on the walls, apart from centuries old statues of Buddha and his disciples.

Off Dambulla, as we move towards Sigriya town, the sun lends its last few rays of the day; leaving back the twilight. Sigriya comes in, as a smaller town, with winding roads between lush green landscape and a fortress in the far, my destination for tomorrow.

Sigriya fort is a rock fort and a finest example of ancient art and architecture. This is a UNESCO heritage site as of now and the maintenance of this art is well done! The fort is built on a huge rock with grooves and cuts that serve as steps, and a treasure of ancient paintings on the inside walls. A flight of over 300 steps serve to take one to the top of the fort. Young kids to senior citizens, everyone shows equal enthusiasm to climb up the fort. The fort is surrounded by shrines amidst lust green trees and shrubs. Macaque monkeys jump on the trees and shrines, with little ones tightly hugging their bellies.

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Climbing atop Sigriya

Climbing atop Sigriya

Paintings in Sigriya fort – dating back to 1st BC

 

 

Paintings in Sigriya fort – dating back to 1st BC

 

Ancient fountains and great baths just like the Harappan ones are constructed on the front garden of Sigriya fortress. From atop the fortress, at a height of 660 feet from the ground, a major part of Sigriya town and Dambulla statue can be seen.  It’s a beautiful view and that’s the highlight of this enormous climb.

During the fortress climb

During the fortress climb

After Sigriya being hungry was beyond doubt. So, I head over to a cozy lunch shack for an authentic Srilankan lunch. For a meagre amount of 250/- Srilankan rupee, I get a good mount of white rice, sided by fresh vegetable curries including dal, spinach, bottle gourd and a fine slice of fish. It’s sumptuous and so nutritious, all made on a coconut base.  The food so has similar flavours as that of Malayali food, that I just feel right at home!

The yummy lunch of rice, fresh dal, bottle gourd curry, spicy fish! Mmm

The yummy lunch of rice, fresh dal, bottle gourd curry, spicy fish! Mmm

Polonnurawa ancient city was my destination after the fabulous meal as the city of the Polunnaru kingdom is much talked about for its art and architectural beauty. As a world heritage site, this city is constituted by architectural relics over an area of 10 kilometres in periphery. Stupas, minarets, palaces, halls, temples, statues and mini-fortresses make this site as impressive as it claims. Neatly manicured shrubs adorn the gardens in front of these buildings.  Monkeys thrive alongside komodo dragons who bask in the sun on the lawns.

Palace - Polonnaruwa

Palace – Polonnaruwa

Ruins- polonnaruwa

Ruins- polonnaruwa

Ancient Polonnaruwa city and its ruins

 

 

Stupa ruins- Polonnaruwa

Stupa ruins- Polonnaruwa

Ancient Polonnaruwa city and its ruins

Ancient Polonnaruwa city and its ruins

Some tourists can access cycles to roam around the ancient city, thereby reducing their carbon footprints. Hawkers and shop keepers sell SriLankan masks, stone statues and fresh king coconuts. I bargain for an exquisite art piece made of clay, make my purchase and carefully toss it into my bag.

Curios on display

Curios on display

Kandy is located amidst the hills of the Kandy plateu located in the central region of SriLanka. As the second largest town, this city boasts of lakes and gardens topped with a great hill view. Slightly cold the city is, during mornings, but by the evenings, its charm just doubles. Neat roads and shopping malls, hemmed by tradition, temples and restaurants are the main attractions of this city for a foreigner.

Kandy Lake  in the evenings

Kandy Lake in the evenings

 

City of Kandy

City of Kandy

 

 

The Temple of the Tooth Relic

The Temple of the Tooth Relic

 

Kandy City

Kandy City

 

The sumptuous meal at Kandy Muslim Hotel

The sumptuous meal at Kandy Muslim Hotel

From Kandy, Nuwara eliya is a couple of miles away. Called the tea-garden and Little England of SriLanka, this hill town was a much coveted town for the British rulers, after they were tired of the hot climate, throughout the rest of the country. With a picturesque landscape and chilly climate, Nuwara Eliya is a sought after destination for the honeymooners in Lanka.

The hills of Nuwara Eliya

The hills of Nuwara Eliya

Lake Gregory Park with Swan Boats for a short ride in the waters

Lake Gregory Park with Swan Boats for a short ride in the waters

The well kept Nuwara Eliya Gregory Park

The well kept Nuwara Eliya Gregory Park

A dad takes the photo of his princess on a horse

A dad takes the photo of his princess on a horse

 

Lake Gregory park is a great place to sip up the essence and beauty of the place during evenings. Small restaurants serve the tourists on the sides of this park. Horses trot around with customers on its back, through the green lawns. A bunch of people play golf not so far away. As the sun sets, the weather becomes cooler, the lake less bustling with swan boats and Nuwara Eliya’s mountains go to sleep.

Nuwara Eliya’s famous tea plantations have been making tea ever since the British set foot on this town. The tea from Nuwara Eliya is branded as Ceylon tea, to be exported and consumed all over the world. The very expensive white tea is also cultivated on these hills. I have a cuppa fresh brew from the Blue field tea factory with a wedge of squeezed lemon, to indulge myself in some shopping of exquisite tea produce.

The Blue Field Tea factory

The Blue Field Tea factory

Hot Cuppa!

Hot Cuppa!

White water rafting at Kitugala is a not to miss adventure at Srilanka. The Kelani river is a fast moving river with frequent gush of water through wedges of huge rocks here there on the fast riverbed. A trivial fact learnt here: the movie, ‘The Bridge on the river Kwai’ was shot from over this river, the highlight being the wooden bridge over this river, Kelani!

 

After the extremely engaging and fun White water rafting

After the extremely engaging and fun White water rafting

Winding down the hairpin curves of Nuwara Eliya, moving down to the plains of Tissamaharama which hosts the huge lake of Tissa was a pleasant change. After the Tissa river comes the towns of Akuressa and the seaport of Galle. Galle calls itself the Dutch town after the colonization by the Dutch.  The famous fort of Galle is situated here from atop which one could see the panorama of the town of Galle.

Galle - Fort

Galle – Fort

The Tissa Lake

The Tissa Lake

At Hummanaya

At Hummanaya

Drying the fish

Drying the fish

... and it's fried!

… and it’s fried!

From the town of Galle, the beach town of Hikkaduwa is not so far away. Hikkaduwa is one of the most famous beaches of the world, for its surf scene, after Arugam Bay. Hikkaduwa is a clean, blue beach, much like any other beach in SriLanka. Hemmed with coconut trees, the shallow beach is a great place for enthusiasts to surf. Little kids play in the gushing waves. A few youngsters play volleyball on the beach sand.

Bentota Beach

Bentota Beach

 

The calm beach front of Hikkaduwa

The calm beach front of Hikkaduwa

 

A kid runs to fetch his treasure

A kid runs to fetch his treasure

 

Boats wades lazily as the evening closes

Boats wades lazily as the evening closes

 

The Orange of the skies

The Orange of the skies

Boats are latched to the beach by anchors. As the sun sets, the rays lend an orange color to the sky, the water, the sands silhouetting the people and boats. The aquamarine water turns into a steady red, and the wind blows harder. The beach tide rises, as though to close the day.

The boats are waiting…

During nights the same wind rushes into the beach street, lightly swaying the colourful beach- clothes on sale in the shops dotted along the beach road. Music rises with flavorful aromas of great food in the making.

Yummy tasty date lunch

Windchimes cling and drums play, welcoming the night. I swoon, looking at the moon, rising over the dark cold beach. The waves are welcoming me, I know.

The beachside shacks of Hikkaduwa

 

Oh, SriLanka! What Magic you have in your hands!

 

highly expressive, roaring appetite for books, food and design; have occasional bouts of flippancy to all things needed. Always hungry for Biryani. Nomad. Binger. Lover.

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Top 5 USA cities to enjoy this summer

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The United States is a country full of contrasts, with diverse and interesting cities.

The United States is very coarse. It has a lot of natural wonders, populous cities and interesting corners. There are so many that it is impossible to highlight them all. Although, depending on the time of year, it is preferable to visit some cities than others, depending on your own interests and the experience you want to fulfil.

Together with the eDreams experts (about eDreams), we have prepared a list of the 5 most highly recommended cities if you travel to USA this summer. Would you like to know them all?

  1. New York

We can’t start the ranking any other way, as New York is perfect to enjoy the whole year round. A cosmopolitan city where millions of people coexist, both citizens and tourists. Its exit to the sea and the districts located in the surrounding islands make of it a place full of character. It is perfect to visit skyscrapers, especially if you approach Manhattan, a shopping and business center par excellence. Places like the Rockefeller Center, the Empire State or the space once occupied by the Twin Towers, one of the most traumatic episodes of modern history, where today, you can visit a memorial honouring the attack victims.

Walking through Central Park is one of the most beautiful memories to enjoy there. And if you want to take some time out by the beach, New York has one in every single district. Coney Island in Brooklyn offers a view from the sensational promenade. Although Long Beach is also a good choice, with miles of white sand, you should know that they charge an entry fee.

  1. Miami

Of all the destinations you can visit in the United States, Miami may be the most familiar. Latin culture lives on every corner, offering visitors fascinating beaches, a varied cuisine and all kinds of shows and entertainment. And If you like beach tourism, seafood and fish dishes, water sports and spanish-speaking world areas, don’t forget to visit it.

  1. Las Vegas

Sin City is located in the middle of the desert, like an oasis rising up purely for the purpose of fun. Casinos, amusement parks and entertainment from morning to night is what you can expect in this city. There are also restaurants run by famous chefs, such as the popular TV chef Gordon Ramsay.

Although it is well known for the addictive gaming atmosphere filling the whole city, truth is that in Las Vegas there are spaces for everyone. Do not be afraid to travel with your family, because it has a huge leisure offer for all ages and interests.

  1. Orlando

Talking about family entertainment, Orlando is one of the top cities to travel with children in summertime. Completely understandable If you are planning to visit Walt Disney World, which have turned the area into a pilgrimage center for those wanting to live the magic of fairy tales and get to know their favorite characters. Although Orlando is not just Disney. There, you can also visit the Sea World Aquatic Zoo and the Universal Studios theme park. In less than an hour traveling you can visit Cape Canaveral, a living history of the space race, and the Cocoa Beach coast, which has become to be named the beach of Orlando.

  1. Los Angeles

The second largest city in the USA, only just surpassed by New York, it has everything you need to enjoy yourself. Beach and mountains, skyscrapers and cinema studios. In fact, this is where the vast majority of Hollywood stars reside, and travel guides make sure to remind you in all the recommended tours. Seeing the Hollywood sign crowning the mountain is something you can do from any city corner. Although the ideal plan is to get close to Hollywood Boulevard, where you can find the best viewpoint. You can also enjoy legendary walks, such as walking along Santa Monica Pier or bathing in Malibu beach.

Plenty to discover

These 5 cities are ideal if you want to travel to the United States this summer. Each of them offer a totally different view of the country. Therefore, USA is a territory full of contrasts, so you can travel there again and again without ever repeating the same experience.

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Barcelona, the top-3 ‘MICE’ tourism destination of the world

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Barcelona MICE TOurism

Corporative tourism —also known as ‘MICE’ tourism mobilized around 18,000 million euros in 2016 in Spain. According to the Spanish Convention Bureau, the number of events, conventions and meetings in Spain has increased by 16%, while the MICE sector worldwide will grow by more than 5% in the next years. The country ranks 13th worldwide in a market led by China and the US, but Barcelona and Madrid are in the Top 10 of the favorite European cities to organize congresses and events.

What is MICE tourism?

The acronym MICE stands for meetings, incentives, conferencing & exhibitions. It is a niche area of tourism that is focused around the planning and booking of groups for large events, conferences or seminar. A top class MICE event organised to showcase your products, build new client relationships, host a company event or to reward your employees for their hard work is an investment and usually it’s one to remember.

The players in the MICE field include corporate meeting planners, meetings and convention departments of hotels, conference centers or cruise ships, food and beverage managers, logistics firms, private tour operators and transfer companies, incentive houses, professional trade organizations, tourism boards, tourism trade associations, and travel-selling professionals. Destinations often market themselves as MICE locations and bid for events through their convention and visitor bureaus. They might be able to offer subsidies to attract large events because of the increased revenue the visitors provide through their economic impact on the host location.

Barcelona, ​​the best city in Spain to celebrate events and conferences

The good position of Barcelona as a destination of congresses and meetings is increasingly more evident and, recently, the Catalan capital has been placed in third position in the prestigious world ranking drawn up by the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) to establish which are the most relevant cities and states in MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions), and it is placed ahead of other very important destinations in the sector such as Vienna or London. The Catalan city was hot on the heels of the first two in the ranking —Berlin and Paris — and acts as a pole of attraction to boost the organisation of events all over Catalonia.

The offering to organize events and congresses in the city is wide thanks to the presence of companies such as Eventos Barcelona, an event management agency in Barcelona specializing in artistic and technical production of events for companies, meetings, incentive travels, conventions or gala dinners.

During 2017, Barcelona hosted 2,134 congresses and conventions —10.5% more than in 2016. More than 675,000 delegates participated in these events, and their economic impact in the city is estimated at 1,850€. Throughout 2017, Barcelona obtained the best results since it entered in the MICE tourism industry, increasing its benefits 21% more than the previous year, as reported by the Turisme de Barcelona consortium. The last six months were a little weaker due to the effects of the attack of August 17th and the independence mobilizations of October 1st, but thanks to the entrance of the summer season the city has returned againt to the highest level.

‘Bleisure’and gastronomy, the key to success in MICE tourism

‘Bleisure’ is the buzzword in corporate tourism. Its name mixes the B of business with the word pleasure —that is, combining business trips with pleasure tourism. Therefore, many events are organized in local destinations and non-conventional spaces. The salons and conventional spaces lose importance against of unusual spaces, which are also more profitable because visitors can enjoy a wider leisure offer (such as spas, cursos de coctelería, showcookings) and team building activities, combining both work and fun in an entertaining and relevant way.

Nowadays, congresses and events want to offer a more friendly, funnier face than the pompous and rigid meetings of yesteryear. The idea is to personalize the experience of a congress with the emotional connection of each assistant thanks to the flexible and dynamic spaces. This emotional connection is achieved by taking care of the details, which is valued above all in the younger generations. Interactive and collaborative activities, non-traditional speakers and sessions with a spirit of commitment rather than instructive are the booming formats.

Gastronomy is another distinguishing factor for MICE events’ success. The youngest attendants to these events –mostly workers under 40 appreciate that the culinary proposals of the events include healthy alternatives, fresh food, fruits and foods that provide energy, instead of unnecessary huge meals full of empty calories. Also, mixing the gastronomic experiences and technology is very helpful. Incorporating innovative cuisine techniques and exotic foods with creative, very ‘instagramable’ preparations, are all a synonym of success. Once again, new technologies provide another guideline on how to succeed in these events.

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Discover natural wonders found nowhere else in the world with a Galapagos Island cruise

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Galapagos Island cruise

If the Galapagos Islands are not on your bucket list yet, then they should be. This unique and beautiful place is home to amazing creatures and scenery you will not find anywhere else on the planet.

And there is really only one way to truly experience the wonder of it all – from the sea. Only that way can you discover all there is to fall in love with.

Experience a real island paradise

Situated around 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, this magnificent archipelago of 19 islands, and many more small islets, is also known as the Enchanted Islands. And for good reason.

Each island is unique and beautiful in it’s own way, whether it has stunning white sandy beaches or dark, forbidding and barren volcanic rocks. Add this to the sapphire blue waters surrounding them, and the abundance of wildlife, and this is something that every visitor will remember for the rest of their lives.

There is nothing else like it, and Galapagos island cruises are just the thing to see it all in it’s full glory, where travellers can enjoy the majesty, the sounds of nature and experience the intimacy of such a special location, with a specialist guide and every need catered for.

It is best to travel at night, making the most of the epic night sky as you have never seen it before, and using the day time to explore the different islands and what they have to offer.

Get up close and personal with nature

The Galapagos Islands themselves, and the surrounded marine reserve, are a perfect melting pot of marine species. Ideally located at the confluence of three ocean currents, with islands created through ongoing volcanic activity, it has allowed flora and fauna to develop in such a way that is simply unique to this area.

It has been called a ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’ due to the species thriving there. So much so, that when Charles Darwin arrived on his ship The Beagle, the things he saw later led to his development of the theory of evolution.

Add all of this to the extreme isolation of the islands, and a lack of natural predators, the wildlife has little fear of inquisitive visitors and are just as likely to observe you as you are them.

Playful sea lions and gigantic and majestic sea tortoises allow humans to get up close is a way you will not find anywhere else. If you have not booked your visit yet, what are you waiting for, a Galapagos cruises last minute trip is one you will never regret.

Check out each island and it’s amazing uniqueness

Each island has its own features and persona.  Take for example Santa Cruz island, which hosts the largest city, Ayora. Here you can visit the Darwin centre and see where the turtles and iguanas come to breed.

Then there is Isabela island – the largest in the archipelago. Formed from five volcanoes, and still active, reaching as high as 1,700 feet, this island is a landscape  of petrified lava, and home to flocks of flamingos and giant tortoises.

Fernandina island is also an active volcano, but you are able to set foot on the island at Punta Espinosa to see many thousands of marine black iguanas warming themselves on the rocks in the sunshine, and red crabs moving about the rock.

Then on the islands with beaches, such as Rabida Island, you get the rare chance to see sea lions in their own habitat, playing with their young, and relaxing.

And this is only a tiny fraction of the things you can see in this beautiful place. Description does not do it justice, it has to be seen and felt to truly appreciate this inspirational location.

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