December 31, 2011

2011 - The year that was

2011 has been a rather quiet year on this blog – a record low number of posts, 89 including this round-up post! I attribute it to laziness, and lack of diligence in keeping track of day-to-day happenings :-)

Looking back at 2011, it seemed we had a blast as we went for many outings and short holidays :-)
• Revisited KL Bird Park with the kids.
• Took the girls to Sunway Lagoon, courtesy of Citibank.
• Visited FGS Dong Zhen after a hiatus of several years.
• Organized a Cuti-cuti Pahang with mum, younger sis, and the kids.
• Took the girls for a short holiday at Impiana Cherating.
• Rounded up the year with a fantastic family trip to Sri Lanka.

I travel quite a bit for work, but this year, the travelling seemed more than usual.
• Finally got the chance to step foot in Jakarta, not once, not twice, but three times within the same year, for work.
• Revisited Prague and Amsterdam.
• And while in Amsterdam, got a chance to visit Keukenhoff, on its very first day of opening in 2011.
• Went for a short working trip to Hong Kong.
• For the first time in my life, I saw dolphins and whales in the wild.

On the domestic front,
• Mum appeared on an Astro CNY promotional ad.
• Had the scare of my life when Yiu Yiu bumped her head and suffered a deep gash on her forehead.
• Yiu Yiu attended quite a few of her classmates’ birthday parties. I suppose many parents took the trouble to organize the parties as this is the last year the children are together in kindergarten.
• I took the effort to organize some token of appreciation for Yiu Yiu’s kindy teachers during Teacher’s Day and year end party, the first and last time I did so in her kindergarten years.
• Enrolled Yiu Yiu into a hip hop dance class at her request.
• Had my first ever (I think) mother daughter outing with Yiu Yiu on her birthday.
• And the event of the year is definitely Yiu Yiu’s graduating from kindy. In a few days time, my (not so little) girl will begin a new chapter in her life as a primary school student. There’ll be new routines and new challenges, and I hope we will take these changes into our stride.

And this is what the man of the house got for the three ladies in his life as a New Year gift :-)

Wishing everyone a Blessed 2012.

December 30, 2011

Girls on the plane

Yiu Yiu was looking forward to riding on the plane, and enjoyed herself much.

Yan Yan, on the other hand, was terrified by the noise at the tarmac, and screamed her lungs out while boarding.  She kept crying and pleading “I want to go home, I want to go home!”  Poor dear.  Once inside the plane, thankfully, she got calmer.  She didn’t fuss at all on the flight back, because an aerobridge was provided at Bandaranaike Airport and we were not exposed exposed to the noisy tarmac.

We were also well prepared with lots of snacks, Milo and a portable DVD player (and hubby's iPhone) to keep them entertained.

 Munching on snacks

The portable DVD player and iPhone that got us through the flights and the long car journeys

December 29, 2011

Day 8: Dambulla – Negombo

We took it easy and had a leisurely breakfast before checking out at about 10am and embarked on the 3.5hr journey to Negombo.  After checking into the Silver Sands Resort, we took a walk along the road which is a tourist area and randomly chose a restaurant for lunch.

Then we headed to the city centre, but there wasn’t much to see, save for a few churches, as Negombo has a large Christian population, due to its Dutch heritage.

St. Mary's Church

St. Sebastian's Church

We spent the rest of the afternoon by the beach.

Yiu Yiu can't wait to get to the beach

She really loves the water...

 ...while Yan Yan was contented just playing sand

Our last sunset in Sri Lanka...till we meet again!

After dinner consisting of fried rice and noodles, garlic fried chicken with rice, and beef curry with rice, I stayed back at the hotel with Yan Yan as she was getting sleepy, while the rest took a walk outside the hotel for some last minute souvenir shopping.

That was the end of our 9D/8N trip to Sri Lanka, and we left the hotel at 5.30am the next morning to catch our 8.15am flight back to KL.

December 28, 2011

Day 7: Dambulla – Anuradhapura – Polonnaruwa (Part 2)

We ended our visit to Anuradhapura at about 1pm, and our next destination was supposed to be Mihintale, but the guide suggested we visit Polonnaruwa instead.  The plan was to visit Polonnaruwa on Day 8, before making our way back to Negombo for our early morning flight on Day 9.  However, our guide was concerned that we might reach Negombo very late.  I’m not sure why – perhaps he was worried about us driving the long distance in the dark.  Against my better judgment, we agreed anyhow and drove 2hr to Polonnaruwa, stopping along the way for lunch.

By the time we reached Polonnaruwa, it was already 4pm, and we had only 2 hour to see Polonnaruwa before it got dark so to my utter regret and dismay, we had to rush from one site to another.

Anyway, Polonnaruwa became the capital of Sri Lanka following the decline of Anuradhapura.  As with Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa had its vast irrigation network with reservoirs that look like natural in-land seas to irrigate rice fields during the dry season.  Among the main tourist attractions at Polonnaruwa, a  UNESCO World Heritage Site, are preserved ruins of magnificent royal palaces, enormous Buddhist temples and intact monumental statues carved from solid rock boulders.

We started with a short tour of the Polonnaruwa Visitor Information Centre and Museum.  With a huge scale model of the site, it brings Polonnaruwa's palaces and temples to life.

At the present city of Polonnaruwa itself is the largest (23sqkm) ancient irrigation reservoir called Parakrama Samudra (Sea of Parakrama), a lovely, shimmering expanse of water.  It has been restored more or less in its original form, with a bund of about 13km long and 12m high.

Standing close to the shore of the great man-made lake are the ruins of Potgul Vihara Monastery.  Rather than a place of worship or meditation, it is thought to have been instead used to store sacred books.  It is surrounded by ruins of a number of residential cells housing monks looking after this oldest library complex in Sri Lanka.

North of Potgul Vihara stands a 11.5-feet high granite statue.  This is believed to be a rock sculpture of King Parakramabahu the Great but some scholars believe that it represents a sage.

Within the ramparts of the Royal Citadel are the ruins of the great King Parakramabahu’s (1153 – 1186 AD) palace, the Council Chamber and the Royal Bath.  According to historical records the King's Palace had been seven stories high with a thousand chambers.  The remains of three stories and a few of the chambers can be seen.  Around the palace, ruins of many buildings are seen, which may have been used as places for rituals, as well as housing for palace aides and storage. 

The Council Chamber where the King met his ministers is situated a few metres away in front of the palace.  It is an impressive building with fine stone carvings.

Kumara Pokuna (Royal Bathing Pool) is situated outside the rampart with a flight of steps leading to it.  The communal pool where the ladies of the court took their evening baths, is made of stone and was fed with water from the stream which runs through the palace grounds.  A nearby pavilion housed the changing area.

The Dalada Maluva (Sacred Quadrangle) stands within its own rectangle of walls, guarding the richest collection of ancient buildings in any of Sri Lanka's ruined capitals.  Within the quadrangle are temples built by different kings to house the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha – Atadage built by King Vijayabahu the Great (1055 – 1110 AD), Vatadage built by King Parakramabahu the Great (1153 - 1186 AD) and Hatadage built by King Nissankamala (1187 – 1196 AD).

Atadage: this oldest building in the Sacred Quadrangle was a two-storied building.  The upper floor, housing the relic, was made of timber and covered in clay tiles.

Vatadage: a circular building some 18m in diameter, with four entrances leading to a central dagoba (shrine) which houses four seated Buddha images.

Hatadage: it is said that it is called Hatadage because it was built within sixty (hata) hours.  It was a two storied building with the Tooth Relic housed on the upper floor.

Another important building is the Nissamka-Lata Mandapa, with its creeper-like lotus pillars.  This pavilion was built by King Nissankamala in the 12th century for the chanting of religious texts.

The Galpotha (Stone Book) is a 9m x 4.3m stone carving of a palm leaf book used to record Buddhist texts and royal genealogies.  The inscriptions therein records the achievements of King Nissankamala – among other things the King's invasion of India.

At the southwest corner of the Quadrangle is the Thuparama, one of the best preserved image houses and the only monument in Polonnaruwa to survive with its roof intact.  There are indications that there had been a giant seated Buddha image inside, but only the large seat now remains.

Finally, in the northeast corner of the Quadrangle are the ruins of Satmahal Prasada.  Unlike the usual rounded stupas of Sri Lanka, the Satmahal Prasada is a six-storey pyramid-like building.  Clearly there has been outside influence and some historians have pointed out the resemblance to the Mahapol Chedi in Northern Thailand.

Gal Vihara or the Rock Temple consists of three impressively large Buddha images carved on a face of a single granite rock about 27m in length and 10m in height at the centre and sloping towards the ends.  These are masterpieces of Buddhist sculpture in Sri Lanka dating back to the 12th century, bringing to life serene facial expressions and graceful flow of the robes.  The standing Buddha on a lotus pedestal is about 7m tall, while the reclining Buddha is 14m in length.

Our last stop was the elegant Lotus Pond.  It was built in the 12th century in the shape of an eight petal lotus flower with four parallel tiers, probably to provide seating to the monks while bathing.

It was already dark by then, so we had to miss a few more sites which I was keen to explore.  I was really upset that we had to rush through this delightful place.  Should not have listened to the guide, should have insisted on visiting this on Day 8 instead!

December 26, 2011

Day 7: Dambulla – Anuradhapura – Polonnaruwa (Part 1)

The plan was to visit Anuradhapura (1.5hr away from Dambulla), an ancient archaeological site, followed by Mihintale about 12km away, the site of introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the year 247 BC.  However, as can be seen from the title of this post, we had a change of plan – more on this later.

Anuradhapura was the seat of the kingdom of Sri Lanka from the middle of the 5th century BC until the 11th century AD.  The kingdom lasted 1400 years until it was invaded by South Indian Chola forces in 1017.  It was a wealthy city which created a unique culture and great civilization, and home to thousands of Bhikkus (buddhist monks) served by a large peasant & merchant population.

Today Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the world’s major archaeological site covering an area of about 40km2, replete with renovated monuments, restored edifices, preserved ruins and historical sites.  Since it is impossible to witness everything Anuradhapura has to offer in a single day, we visited only the major attractions of Anuradhapura.

 Foremost among the numerous historical monuments in Anuradhapura is the Sacred Bo Tree – Sri Maha Bodhi, grown from a branch of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.  It was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC, and is the oldest recorded tree in the world of which the exact age is known.

A mass of stone pillars close to the Sri Maha Bodhi has been identified as the Loha Maha Prasada (Brazen Palace), founded in the 2nd century BC.  It was once home to a community of 1000 Buddhist monks, whose duties included, among numerous others, tending the sacred tree.  In its original glory, it had been a nine story monastery, each floor with 100 rooms, surmounted by a bronze roof, hence the name Brazen Palace.  What remains now is a mass of 1,600 stone pillars standing close to each other.

Several huge dagobas stand majestically in Anuradhapura, having withstood the battering of elements for over fifteen centuries.  A dagoba is a dome enshrining sacred relics or the bodily remains of the Buddha, or articles used by Him like the alms bowl and other objects of veneration.  In other Buddhist cultures around the world, they are known as pagoda (Chinese) or stupa (Indonesia).  What’s unique about these dagobas is that the local townsfolk actually use these ancient temples daily.

Ruwanweli dagoba was built in the 2nd century BC, and was regarded as one of the greatest dagobas in the world, measuring 103m in height with a circumference of 287m.  The dagoba was in a state of disrepair when discovered in the early 20th century and was restored in its present form according to earlier dimensions.  Within the dome in a closed chamber are enshrined sacred relics of Buddha, valuable gems, statues made of gold & various valuable objects.

The Abhayagiri dagoba was the centrepiece of a monastic complex founded in the 1st century BC that subsequently developed into an international institution attracting Buddhist scholars from many countries.  In its original form the dagoba was 115m high but the loss of its pinnacle has now reduced its height to only 75m.

Jetavana dagoba is an enormous brick structure standing in the centre of a large monastic complex, built in the 3rd century AD.  In its original form it would have been 120 metres high, surpassed only by the two great pyramids Khufru & Khafra in Egypt.  It was the world's biggest stupa & is still the tallest & largest brick built monument in the world.

Kuttam Pokuna or Twin Ponds are two ritual bathing pools fed by a stream, They were once used by the monks of the monastery. 

There may have been four Buddha images on the four sides of this Bodhi Tree Shrine, but all that’s left is the serene image of the Samadhi Buddha in the meditation posture hewn from a solid rock.

This temple may have been the first to house the sacred Buddha's tooth relic which now resides at The Holy Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.

The picturesque rock temple of  Isurumuniya dates back to the 3rd century BC.  The stone sculptures seen at the temple are considered the most beautiful works of art in Anuradhapura, the most famous being The Lovers, believed to be that of a prince and a low caste maiden whom he loved.  As she was not of royal blood, he was obliged to give up his claim to the throne.

The sculpture, The Lovers, is on the left

December 24, 2011

Day 6: Kandy – Dambulla - Sigiriya

We checked out after breakfast and started the 2hr drive to Dambulla.  Our first stop was the Dambulla Rock Temple, the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site houses a magnificent gallery of Buddha images and wall and ceiling paintings.  Guarding the entrance to the Rock Temple is the Golden Temple, with its massive 30m-high gold plated image of Buddha, and a long row of statues representing monks queueing to pay homage to the Buddha (to the right of the picture).  It now houses the Dambulla museum.

The ascent to the caves, which are on a terrace of a gigantic granite outcrop, consists of about 200 steps on 18 terraces.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site signage (top left), the tiring climb (top centre), view along the climb (bottom left), Yiu Yiu helping mah-mah who has bad knees (right)

Luckily the little one is happy to be carried by our guide, Shakeer on the ascent and descent, otherwise it would be an even more tiring climb for me.

At the highest terrace are five cave temples built into the rock, with its origin going back to the Anuradhapura period (1st century BC).  However due to additions and restorations done by various rulers over the past two thousand years what now remains are mostly the works of the Kandyan period (18th century).

Most impressive is the second and the largest cave, which contains 16 standing & 40 seated statues of Buddha.  Throughout the entire span of rock ceiling & entire width of the rock walls are the finest Buddhist murals in Sri Lanka.  There is also a mini dagoba & a spring which drips its water from a crack in the ceiling, into a huge metal pot which never overflows.

Inside the second cave 

The rock ceilings and walls are painted with intricate patterns of Buddhist images following the natural contours of the rock.

We checked into our hotel, Pelwehara Village Resort, after lunch and spent some time at the pool.

Later in the evening, we headed to the Sigiriya Lion Rock citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Also called Simha-giri (Sinhala: Lion Mountain), it was built by King Kasyapa (Kassapa) (479-497 A.D).  Sigiriya was a well planned royal city meant for the flamboyant king and his court with a palace complex centered around a solitary rock, rising 200m out of the surrounding plains adorned with pleasant and vibrant green tropical vegetation.  The various components of the complex – outer moat, inner moat, water garden, fountain garden, boulder gardens and terrace gardens - were built into the natural landscape.

Clockwise from top left: Outer moat, water garden, terrace garden, the path along the water garden

Boulder garden 

More than 100 meters above the ground level in a natural pocket of the rock, which has been protected for 14 centuries from rain by an overhang, are the celebrated paintings of 5th century AD of bare-breasted court ladies.  It is believed that there were about 500 of such drawings, but only 22 exist due to ravages of time, weather & vandalism.

The Mirror Wall (so called because it had such a sheen), close by on the opposite side of the frescoes, preserves hundreds of oldest known graffiti in the planet.  The graffiti provides linguists with vital insight into the evolution of the written & oral Sinhalese language.

About two-thirds of the way up sits the Lion's Paws, all that is left of a giant brick lion which once sat here.  Mum and I commenced our ascent to the top with a stairway leading between the paws into its mouth, thus deriving its name ("Lion Rock").

On the summit of the Sigiriya rock are the remains of a large palace sprawled over 1.5 hectares with several chambers, a bathing pond and a rock-cut throne.

Mum and I on the last of the 1236 steps of the Sigiriya Rock

We descended the summit at about 6pm, to be greeted by this wonderful orange ball of fire.

 It was a short drive back to the hotel and we ended our day with a buffet dinner.