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My initial interactions with Hyderabad were pure business and I had missed out on many attractions suggested by my colleagues as the best places to visit in Hyderabad. But this time, I made sure that I took out time, just to explore the marvels of this historic city, lovingly called as ‘City of the Nizams’. An evergrowing IT hub, Hyderabad is not only developing as a hi-tech commercial hotspot but interestingly is also investing heavily to preserve its heritage buildings and treasures of the yesteryears. A true amalgamation of cultures and religions is evident as you step into any part of the city where different communities have lived together in harmony for centuries. And if you are a history lover, then this heritage city is an absolute culture dose that you shouldn’t miss while exploring South India. While the city needs more time to be seen completely for those who do not have the luxury of more than 2-3 days in Hyderabad, here is our recommendation on places to visit in Hyderabad.

The ruins of the Golconda Golconda

The tales of Golconda takes one through many centuries and even more ruling dynasties. Not many know that the Golconda fort still houses a Hindu temple dedicated to Goddess Jagadamba, near the top of the mountains surrounded by the ruins of the fort. According to folklore, a shepherd boy had discovered a statue of God on top of the hill and a temple was built. The fort was later built first with mud and came to be known as Golla Konda meaning ‘shepherd’s hill’ in Telegu, the local language. The mud fort was expanded and reinforced significantly by Kakatiyas and then by Bahmani and Qutb Shahi Sultans.

The army mosque and barracks

The kings of Qutb Shahi dynasty made Golconda their capital and introduced many architectural secrets inside the walls of this massive fort. The history of Golconda fort and the city of Hyderabad can be known by attending the Light and Sound show that takes place every evening amidst the ruins of the fort. It is one of the best places to visit in Hyderabad in the evening to get a sneak peek into the rich past of the fort and the enthralling legends surrounding it. Golconda was the crowning glory of Hyderabad and probably one of the most mysterious stories about Hyderabad is the way the city was named.

The gardens where diamond traders would sit for king and queen’s selection

Bhagmati was a Telugu courtesan in the Sultan’s court. It is believed that the young prince, Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah fell in love with her. Despite tough opposition from the Sultan, they continued to meet in secret. Bhagmati lived in a village by a river which flooded due to heavy rains. As per the locals, the prince swam across the river and rescued the lady. Seeing this the sultan’s heart melted and he accepted their love. Quli Qutb Shah succeeded to the throne in his teens and later married Bhagmati. Some say that he named his capital city Bhagyanar after his lady love and renamed the city to Hyderabad when Bhagmati converted to Islam and accepted the name Hyder Mahal. It is difficult to separate legend from facts in this story, however, it does reflect the spirit of Hyderabad, which seems to stand above the differences often created by minds.

The setting sun at Golconda

Inside Golconda, as you walk through the paths and gardens that once were evergreen, it is difficult not to wonder how glorious the fortress would have been in its time. The diamond mines of Golconda have produced many world famous diamonds like Kohinoor, Hope diamond and Dariainoor but lay abandoned today.

The queen chambers in Golconda Fort

The fort has a treasure of acoustic tricks that helped in the security and communication through the thick walls of the court. The greatest minds have failed to explain how sound travels the way it does in Golconda. A clap under the dome of the entry gate can be heard at the top in Bala Hisar pavilion, which is more than a kilometer away and 400 ft high. In the Queen’s chambers, a whisper through one wall can be heard clearly on the other side. A small snap of fingers can echo through a hall and cause a strong reverberation. And if this is not mysterious enough, peep through the tunnel that connects Golconda to Qutb Shahi Tombs complex.

The royal bath Qutb Shahi Tombs

‘How interesting can tombs be, right ?’  Your answer may differ once you visit the Qutb Shahi Tombs in Hyderabad. The beautifully landscaped gardens of Ibrahim Bagh envelopes 40 mausoleums, 23 mosques and a hammam. The complex is an epitome of calmness with timeless domed structures adorned with intricate carvings and grand mausoleums built in remembrance of the kings who truly served their people.

Every ruler from the Qutb Shahi dynasty who ruled Hyderabad is buried here except the last one. Interestingly, once a sultan was coronated, he started building his tomb and hence each tomb reflects its owners’ artistic and architectural preferences. One of the most distinctive tombs is that of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of Hyderabad. Not only is it the largest, but the ceramic work on the dome and below is being restored. The mausoleums have an amalgamation of various architectural styles taken from Persia, Hindu, Pathan and Deccan and are a treat for any architecture lover.

The Qutb Shahi Tombs are another addition to the list of best places to visit in Hyderabad in the evening. At sunset, the golden glow against the backdrop of the domes and minarets creates a magical scene, one that still reminisces about the legacy of Hyderabad.

Chowmahalla Palace

The best place to visit in Hyderabad to get a glimpse into the royal life of Nizams is undebatably the Chowmahalla Palace. The palace that is an iconic landmark in the city, has been restored into a museum now. It used to serve as the Nizam’s royal residence and durbar and still manages to create nostalgia of the bygone era. The magnificent Khilwat Mubarak, the grand pillared durbar hall is where the Nizam held his court. The marble platform in the center of the room is where the Takht-e-Nishan or the royal seat was laid and the room looks spectacular with its 19 grand chandeliers made from Belgian crystals.

Khilwat Mubarak and the clock tower

The grandeur and opulence of the Nizams are displayed through the other halls in the palace where various items from the Nizam’s collection are displayed. Handcrafted furniture with intricate craftsmanship, ceramic-ware, valuables gifted to the Nizams, royal dresses, weapons, and armory, etc adorn the showcases and walls of the adjoining rooms that do seem to take you back in time. Interestingly, the clock on top of the Khilwat Darwaza overlooking Khilwat Mubarak and the Bara Imam corridors still works. I wonder what tales it would tell if it could talk, having witnessed Hyderabad’s transformation from the city of Nizams into a high-tech IT hub.

The grand durbar hall

Behind the grand durbar lie the four palaces, Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal, which contribute to the name Chowmahalla meaning ‘Four palaces’. The highlight of this section, however, is the Buggy Khana which houses Nizam’s collection of regal buggies and vintage cars.

Nizam’s Museum

Mostly missed out on the regular tourist circuit, the Nizam’s museum is housed inside the Purani Haveli and displays many of the treasures of the last Nizam’s household. Estimated to be the richest man in the world during his time, Osman Ali Khan Bahadur Asaf Jah VII, was the last Nizam of the Princely State of Hyderabad and his net worth was reported to be at US$2 billion in the early 1940s.

As you walk the rooms, you will find many historical pieces like the like letter boxes made of gold and silver, personal belongings studded with diamonds and pearls and a golden throne that belonged to the last Nizam. The museum came into limelight when the golden tiffin box decorated with diamonds and rubies was stolen.  It was stolen along with two gold cups and saucers in 2018. The thieves claimed that they wanted a taste of the Nizam’s luxury and dined in the gold tiffin every day while it was in their possession. But before the thieves could sell these invaluable items in the black market at an estimated price of 40-50 crores, they were arrested and the treasures were restored back to the museum.

The Nizam’s gold tiffin that was stolen

The museum also holds the world’s largest wardrobe. The sixth Nizam, Mehboob Ali Khan was quite fond of his dresses and never wore a dress twice. And to store all these dresses, he had a dedicated 240ft long walk-in wardrobe, covering the complete right wing of his palace.

Charminar & Mecca Masjid
Charminar to Hyderabad is what Eiffel Tower to Paris. Ask any Hyderabadi and you will surely see the pride in his eyes when he talks about Charminar. Built in 1591-92, the monument was planned to be the centerpiece of the city and is believed to have been made as a tribute to Allah.
The iconic Charminar
It is said that the city was under the attack of Cholera, a deadly disease. The Sultan, Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah had prayed to god to stop the plague and vowed to build a mosque in the heart of the city. Charminar was built as a masjid to commemorate the eradication of Cholera and the old city of Hyderabad was designed around it. Locals believe there was an underground tunnel that connected Golconda Fort and Charminar however has not yet been found.
The view from Charminar
As you look from the balcony of Charminar, you will see the bustling lanes connecting bazaars and muhallas all around. Historical landmarks like the Mecca Masjid, Char Kaman and the old hospital buildings add to the heritage scene of Charminar. The Mecca Masjid is one of the largest mosques in India and was commissioned by Quli Qutb Shah. It is said that the bricks were made from soil brought from Mecca, Islamic holy site and hence the name. The masjid also contains the tombs of the Nizams dynasty except for the first and last Nizam.
Mecca Masjid
It is quite difficult to walk through the lanes of old Hyderabad city without actually coming across a building or a mosque that has a bit of history attached to it. Although many of these heritage buildings are in dire need of maintenance, the rustic beauty of such localities does take one down a path of nostalgia.
Wondering where to stay in Hyderabad? Read about our experience at Holiday Inn Express, Banjara Hills here

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Largely known as the ‘City of Nizams’, Hyderabad is a city steeped in history. This was my second trip to the mesmerizing city which represents the perfect amalgamation of the old worldly charms and modern times. Infact, Hyderabad teaches us how different communities can live together in harmony without conflicts based on religion. And as happy I was, to be back to explore more of this wonderful city, I was excited about my stay at Holiday Inn Express Hyderabad, Banjara Hills. This part of Hyderabad was new to me and I was looking forward to exploring more.

Qutb Shahi Tombs near Golconda Fort Holiday Inn Express – The Concept

Holiday Inn Express is a new vector of the Holiday Inn chain under the InterContinental Hotels Group family of brands. The concept of the hotels and the brand is- Stay Smart, rest, and recharge at Holiday Inn Express while getting a little work done. The rooms are priced in mid-range and offer everything you need and nothing you don’t. The service provided is efficient and hassle-free to ensure that guests have a comfortable stay.

Welcome and Check-In

As I stepped out of the airport, I was pleasantly surprised by a placard with my name and was ushered into the hotel car. No time was wasted as we hit the road connecting Rajiv Gandhi airport to Banjara Hills. After about 40 minutes of drive through the expressways and the old parts of the city, we were greeted by malls and upmarket restaurants of Banjara Hills. I passed an exquisite jewelry showroom and couldn’t help noticing the beautiful pearl and stone studded necklace displayed. And as my mind escaped to the thoughts of Nizam’s jewel collection, the car took a turn and drove behind the showroom to drop me at the reception of Holiday Inn Express Hyderabad.

The lobby is located on the second floor and after a quick scan of my bags, I was led there. As the lift doors opened, I stepped into an energetic room with walls adorning the sketches of Hyderabad’s famous monuments. The lobby opened into the dining space that had a great open view of the adjoining street. The check-in was truly express and I was happy to observe that I was surrounded by a team of smiling staff making me feel right at home.

The Room

My favorites in the room were the super comfy bed and the large HD TV right in front of it. Sometimes that’s all you need after a tiring day! The room is quite smartly designed with an integrated sitting area and the restrooms are carved out of the bedroom. It has all the facilities like a small fridge, locker, toiletries, etc that one would need while staying in a hotel. While the hotel is branded as an economy range hotel, the ambiance and decor of the rooms exuberate comfort and luxury. They have express room service and hence on days when you do not feel like stepping out of the room, just order at your room and enjoy your fresh meal.

The Food

The food served from the kitchen of Holiday Inn Express Hyderabad, Banjara Hills is fresh and delicious. The breakfast buffet may not seem very grand, but it is just right. You will find enough varieties of dishes to ensure you have a hearty breakfast. There are many options available for vegetarians and non-vegetarian travelers. And in case you are looking for anything else, don’t hesitate to ask the staff.

During lunch and dinner, you can order your choice from an expansive menu as A la carte. My recommendation would be the tasteful juicy kebabs for starters and the ‘dabbawala’ dishes for the main course. The unique ‘dabbawala’ meals are served inside colorful tiffin boxes and consist of a delicious vegetarian or non-vegetarian gravy with the bread of your choice.

The overall experience

I really enjoyed my stay with Holiday Inn Express Hyderabad, Banjara Hills. I found it to be a perfect base to explore the city sights and spend the evening hanging out with friends in Banjara Hills. The locality feels safe and you can be out late in the night without worrying. Even though the hotel is more popular as a business hotel, it can also be a great option for a short staycation with family. Most importantly the staff is very welcoming and will go out of their way to make your business or leisure trip a success.

Charminar Places to visit nearby

Here is a list of places that you can visit in a couple of days in Hyderabad –

  • Charminar
  • Golconda
  • Qutb Shahi Tombs
  • Salar Jung Museum
  • Chowmahalla Palace
  • Nizam’s Museum in Old Haveli
  • Hussain Sagar Lake
  • Mecca Masjid
  • Birla temple
  • Lumbini Gardens
The ruins of the Golconda

I was hosted by Holiday Inn Express Hyderabad, Banjara Hills however all views and opinions expressed are mine.

The post Holiday Inn Express Hyderabad, Banjara Hills : A perfect mix of business and leisure appeared first on MySoulTravels.

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Have you ever been in the middle of a long layover and been bored to death? Well, you aren’t alone. Layovers can be dreadfully boring especially if you have many hours to kill without an actual plan. It can get frustrating for us, waiting for long hours stuck at the airport, so imagine how it may feel for kids. With quite a lot of experience in creatively killing time at the airport that too with a toddler, here are our top tip.

Shop and dine

Well, this is the most common thing we all do to pass time at the airport and it actually works when you have a shorter stop. While airport shopping can be a little expensive, the duty-free stores can be a shopper’s paradise.

Sightseeing & small city tours

If your passport and visa allow it, just get out there and explore the city or take a food tour. Many airports offer free city tours and it can be perfect to discover a new city. Even if you have not really planned it and your flight has got delayed, you could always hail a taxi or use public transport to visit nearby attractions.

Enjoy cool amenities at the airport

Some airports offer freebies to travelers to keep them entertained like San Francisco’s free yoga studio. Many other airports have seriously cool amenities like drinks on the go, brewery tour, golf, rooftop pool at a small fee. I love airports that focus on entertaining kids as well and Vancouver Aquarium’s major exhibit which includes a 30,000-gallon tank featuring 5,000 ocean animals is my personal favorite.

Catch up on a latest series or binge watch your favorite shows

With free wi-fi for a couple of hours or more, you can always stream your preferred entertainment on Netflix or some other content platform. You could also download stuff on your laptop or Ipad. We always have a bunch of downloaded cartoons and rhymes on our phones and Ipad. And for me, in the good old-fashioned way, it’s generally a book that saves the day.

Relax at the Airport Lounge

If you have a couple of hours in hand and don’t feel like moving around too much, you can always get a little more comfortable in an airport lounge. Most of them include more comfortable seating areas, free WiFi, and free snacks and drinks. If you are a frequent flyer, you could also get a priority pass that gives access to more than 1000 airport lounges around the world.

Book a hotel room

This is the best for families especially with young kids who need to wait for long hours for their connecting flights. You could book a hotel close by to the airport or even check-in into the airport hotel as many airports nowadays have an in-house hotel. Some airports also have sleeping booths and pods just incase you do not want to book a room.

Sometimes a long layover doesn’t have to be boring at all. We had once planned for a 42-hour long layover and really enjoyed it by checking into a luxury hotel and exploring the city. Read more about our trip to Melaka.

So if you are traveling to, say, New York and you are looking for cheap flights to New York, just check the time for a stopover and pick the flight with adequate hours in the connecting city. So, if you plan well, a layover can be a lot of fun.

Have you spent an interesting layover in an airport? We would love to hear about it…

The post How to survive long layovers appeared first on MySoulTravels.

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Australia is a vast country with a varied landscape full of tropical reefs, sunny beaches and amazing wildlife. It can actually get a bit overwhelming planning a perfect trip to the Aussie Land with family and visiting places which touches different elements. But in my experience, Australia is a perfect destination to plan a trip with family even with young kids and here is how to experience the best of Australia.

Choosing the right flight

When you are travelling over long distances with kids, it’s best to choose a flight which can help you manage layovers and accommodate jet lag better. Most flights from US and UK have a stopover at either Middle East or in Asia and Dubai or Malaysia can be a good option for a layover. We found a hidden gem on our layover in Malaysia called Melaka, an old port city known as the heritage capital of Malaysia. Incase you are planning to fly long hours without a stop, you should definitely keep the first two days of your trip lighter so that you give some time to the kids to recover from jet lag. Here are some tips on how to manage jet lag fatigue in kids.                         

Top Kid-Friendly Places to visit in Australia

Sydney is the best place to begin your Australian adventure. Australia’s largest city, it is famous for it’s metropolitan life and photogenic waterways sprawling with many attractions that are a hit with young minds. Visiting the Sydney Opera House, Harbor Bridge, ferries to close by beaches and neighbourhoods and walking tours are just a few ways to enjoy this glamorous city. The Royal Botanical Gardens and Taronga Zoo are a must day trip to keep the young ones entertained and engaged. And the best way to end the day would be a sunset cruise on the harbour followed by drinks and dinner with a beachside setting in a multicuisine café in the harbour.

On the other hand, Melbourne, the melting pot of culture, art and cuisines, offers a more relaxed atmosphere and a shopping experience like none other. You can enjoy the marvellous views of the city on a sunrise balloon ride and dine at the European style bars and street side cafés. The Melbourne Museum is a favourite amongst history lovers and you could enjoy a cute little penguin parade at St Kilda or Phillip Island.

A two-hour drive from Sydney is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Blue Mountains. The rugged mountainous region is a popular destination for rock climbers and hikers. Also, a perfect place for families due to its scenic skyway and railway, you must visit it to get up close and personal with Kangaroos, Koalas, Wallabies and Wombats, always a hit with the kids! Here is a guide on how to explore more of this National park and the surrounding valley.

No holiday in Australia is complete without visiting the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef that’s made up of 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands. Cairns, a short flight from Sydney is the gateway to this fascinating natural wonder and the Daintree Rainforest. There are many day trips from Cairns that help you explore the reef through snorkelling and scuba diving.

You could also head out on a road trip through the very scenic coastal road from Cairns to Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation. Road trips with young kids are easier when you are prepared well. With the luxury of time and easy stopovers it a great way to enjoy the natural beauty and offbeat charm a new country has to offer. Here are some tips on how to plan a road trip with kids.

How to get around

With large distances to cover, many travellers prefer airlines to save on time and effort. However, flights are mostly expensive unless you book them way ahead of time or under some promotional sale. Another way to travel the countryside is to take trains and enjoy the scenic route. A popular way to travel is taking public buses or renting cars which comes out to be much more budget friendly.

Kid-Friendly Accommodation

To enjoy the best of Australia with family, look for accommodations that are kid-friendly. Australia offers a range of family-friendly stays including family hotels and apartments. Many hotels in Australia may not have breakfast included and its best to inquire beforehand. We always prefer rooms with a nearby park and local supermarket around so that our toddler doesn’t feel too restricted.

We used KAYAK to check out hotels while planning our trip to Australia and would totally recommend it. I love the data points and trends that the website provides, regarding room availability and pricing. You could also compare the prices with other hotel booking platforms and this makes travel planning much easier.

The post How to experience the best of Australia with family appeared first on MySoulTravels.

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Sri Lanka is nature’s best-kept secret when it comes to wildlife. While most of us would associate animal safaris with Africa but Sri Lanka does boast of some great safaris in the spectacular national parks spread across the island. Sri Lanka has the highest density of wild Asian elephants worldwide and each national park has its own set of frequently spotted animals and birds. If you are considering the southern part of Sri Lanka and want to enjoy watching elephants in the wild without too many tourists around, then Udawalawe National Park is where you should be heading.

Being the third most visited national park in Sri Lanka, Udawalawe National Park is located about 200 kilometers from Colombo. The park was initially constructed as a refuge for elephants who were displaced when the Udawalawe reservoir was constructed. It is believed that about 300-400 elephants live in and around this National Park making it one of the best parks to observe herds of elephants. The park is also home to many endemic species of birds and the reservoir attracts a lot of migratory birds and migratory birds.

The heart of this national park is the reservoir that not only creates a beautiful backdrop along with the distant mountains but is also the meeting point for the animals and birds, early morning and in the evening. Rustic dusty tracks from the entrance led us to the sudden calming view of the reservoir as we were driven in our mighty safari jeep. The unsteady roads are surrounded by bushes and trees and are perfect hiding spots to avoid the heat of the day.

We saw quite a few peacocks, snakes, eagles along the road before spotted our first herd of the day. An elephant family with two large animals and two baby ones just crossed the road in front of us to reach a small puddle of water. While we were awed by their magnanimity and beauty, they seemed to be quite indifferent to us, carrying on with their usual business. Realizing the sheer fact that we were surrounded by such large and some very dangerous animals suddenly made the journey even more thrilling.

Our next stop was the reservoir where we saw a group of crocodiles basking in the sun. A treasure trove of wildlife wonders, we could see flocks of cormorants, the Spot-billed Pelican, Asian open-bill, Black-headed Ibis and Eurasian spoonbill in and around the water. There were a variety of eagles flying overhead the large herd of water buffalos that was grazing near the waterbody. The sight looked right out of an animal documentary except that we did not get to see any leopard chases. We were, however, lucky to see another herd of elephants coming out of the nearby bushes to drink water at the lake.

The safari in Udawalawe National Park is short and sweet. The best time to visit is early morning or early evening when you should be able to see herds of animals coming out to the reservoir. Apart from elephants, the park is also famous for leopards, deer, jackals, wild boars and monkeys.

Our Safari was custom-made and by the time we were finished with it, we had a head full of memories that will be cherished for a lifetime especially by our son. For travelers like us, the excitement of traveling begins from the day of researching for unique experiences till we’ve actually experienced the activity in a destination. We will never forget this experience which we booked via a platform called Klook, that offers travelers a seamless way to discover and book popular attractions besides, tours, local transportation, best foods and must-eats, and unique experiences around the world. If you’re an enthusiast traveler and would like to experience this enthralling trip or similar, you can check out www.klook.com or their app (Android/iOS).
Here’s how you can save INR 100 on a purchase worth INR 2000
* Users shall save the promo code in their KLOOK account on or before 31st October 2018
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* KLOOK reserves the right to suspend, cancel or modify the promotion at any time without prior notice.

The post Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka : An offbeat experience appeared first on MySoulTravels.

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Traveling through Sri Lanka, the one thing that stands is the warmth of hospitality. Sri Lankans are very friendly and will do almost anything to show you the best of their country. We were helped numerous times by total strangers and there was a sense of eagerness across to make us feel welcome and comfortable. Sri Lankans love kids and if you are traveling with young kids, be prepared for a lot of attention and friendly chats.

Visiting Galle was no different but the best part of our trip there was our stay in Why House, a luxury family boutique hotel in Galle. An oasis of tranquility, the property spreads across 3 acres, surrounded by paddy fields and jungles. Being so close to nature, it has an easy and laid-back vibe, giving you a feeling of stepping into a retreat the moment you enter. While I was still adjusting my eyes to the serenity of the colonial style bungalows set in picturesque gardens after a drive through the bustling streets of Galle town, the Why House team reached the gates to welcome us. The whole team led by Henrietta exemplifies Sri Lankan hospitality. Always smiling and ready to help, Henrietta and her team are experts in making your family holiday a wonderful experience with their eye to detail and genuine care.

Why ‘Why House’?

I was quite curious to know more about the name of the hotel and it does have an unusual story behind it. The hotel is privately owned by a British architect who was on his first trip to Sri Lanka when things weren’t going exactly smooth. He wondered why Sri Lanka but he found a good deal on a piece of land and bought it. He built the main house and some smaller villas but still wondered why this house and why this adventure. And in resonance with the same sentiment that he felt at the beginning of this journey, the owner named his hotel ‘Why House’.

Why House, is located at a walkable distance from the beach and about 15-20 minutes away from the UNESCO world heritage site of Galle Fort. It is a family oriented hotel and has a beautiful pool and wonderful lush grounds to keep the kids engaged and busy. The rooms come with a private terrace that overlooks the gardens. The main house and the garden pavilion is also where you would most likely find Nigella and Tigga the hotel pet dogs. Nigella, the resident Dachshund is lovingly called Jelly and is a hit with kids.

The Facilities

Time seems to stand still in Why House with a breezy atmosphere and a slight hint of British Ceylon. The colonial-style main house reminds of the British Bungalows often seen in erstwhile cantonment areas with lush green lawns and gardens around. The suites in the main house are spacious with waiting rooms and grand en-suite bathrooms. The terraces are perfect to relax and read or spend some time chatting with new friends. I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy it was to meet and get to know other guests. Every evening, it felt like a dinner party and catching up with old friends from different countries. And the kids seemed to have formed their own party.

There is plenty to do yet not do in Why House if you are seeking a relaxing holiday. The large pool and the loungers around give a beach-like ambiance and the pool has a sand-hued bottom. Ayurvedic and Aromatherapy massages can be booked in the massage pavilion set amongst the lush gardens. You could also request a cooking demo to learn how to cook popular Sri Lankan dishes like curry and hoppers. Generally once a week, there is a cultural show organized in the evening with music, dancers, traditional costumes, fire breathers, tumblers followed by a traditional Sri Lankan dinner. We were lucky that the show was organized during our stay and the show is a cultural delight. The dinner was also very interesting as you could create your own hoppers with various fillings and curry. A very unique and quite tasty twist to the traditional flavors of Sri Lanka!

What to See

Why House can be a good base to visit Galle Fort and nearby spots. The beaches on the south coast are very scenic and popular beaches like Matara, Tangalle, Mirrissa and Unawatuna can be covered as day trips. The hotel also arranges safari trips to Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Park.

Galle Fort

We had planned our trip to Galle basically to visit and explore Galle Fort for a couple of days but in addition, we loved our time at Why House. It proved to be the perfect place to rejuvenate and socialise after a tiring day of safari or a walking tour of Galle Fort.

We were hosted by Why House for a couple of days during our trip to Galle and nearby places.

The post Why House, Galle : Sri Lankan hospitality at its best! appeared first on MySoulTravels.

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While doing my research to plan our trip to Sri Lanka, I thought Sigiriya Lion Rock was one of the most intriguing places in the cultural triangle. The origin of the lion rock is wrapped up in legends and mysterious. Some say that Sigiriya was originally known as Alakamandava (the City of the Gods) that was built by Ravana’s father. As per Ramayana (a famous Indian epic), Ravana was the ruler of Sri Lanka who kidnaps Rama’s wife and brings her to Sri Lanka. Being quite familiar to the stories in Ramayana and how the tale unfolds in Sri Lanka, it was quite interesting to note key differences in the Indian version and the Lankan version of the epic.

But history tells the tale of a king called Kashyapa who killed his own father and snatched the kingdom from his brother’s grasp. Having conquered Sri Lanka in 477 BC, Kashyapa moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya and built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya as a fortress and a pleasure palace.

The dream palace is said to have been an architectural marvel visible from miles away. The rock was a picture gallery with hundreds of beautiful frescoes painted on its surface and had an elaborate labyrinth of palaces, gardens and moats surrounding it from below. But this grand dream is also believed to have been the king’s pride and folly. When King Kashyapa was finally defeated by his brother, Mogallana, Sigiriya Lion rock and complex was converted into a Buddhist monastery, which survived until the 13th or 14th century.

Sigiriya Lion Rock, the first glace

The Sigiriya Lion rock of today is a UNESCO world heritage site that has stood the test of time. A unique structure that suddenly rises through a forest touching almost 200 meters in height is a landmark frequented by mountain climbers, history buffs and art lovers. Reaching here is easy if you are staying around Sigiriya or Dambulla else a day trip from Kandy or Colombo is also possible. With kids, we recommend staying near the cultural triangle in Sri Lanka if you are planning to climb the Sigiriya Lion Rock.

Entrance and Time

The entrance fee is relatively high at $30 for foreign tourist and is half for SAARC country members. However, a well planned and executed trip to Sigiriya is worth the entrance fee. Sigiriya Museum is a good starting or ending point and is a must stop to understand the history and culture behind this place better.

The remaining foundation of the palace on the top, which can be reached after climbing 1200 steps. Can you imagine how glorious it would have looked in its time!

When traveling with a family that includes young kids or senior citizens, the first question that probably comes to mind is if the climb is doable. In my view, the climb is not a walk in the park but can be managed if the person is fit and strong-willed. We saw quite a few couples who were senior citizens and were climbing along with us. If the climb gets tiring or fear of height sets in, it’s better to slow down and pace out the climb into sections. The climb has stone steps, iron spiral staircase and ramps and it’s better to take your time and enjoy the view as you climb. The last bit of the climb is quite steep and could seem difficult for people with vertigo. Do watch out for “guides” who provide assistance in climbing or help with young kids for a small payment.

The upward climb from the lion’s paw

The best time to beat the heat and the crowd while climbing Sigiriya rock is early morning or around sunset. The complex opens at 7 am and we recommend starting your climb before 9 am so that you can skip the tour bus groups. In the evening,  starting between 3 pm – 4 pm should give you enough time to hike and then enjoy the sunset.

Up in the Air Pidurangala Rock, Another hiking option to view Sigiriya Lion rock from an alternate angle

The journey up to the top where the fortress existed is an adventure in itself. In addition to the panoramic views of the surrounding, the pathway takes you through what remains of the gallery of the frescoes and the mirror wall. The frescoes are paintings of ladies offering flowers and are believed to be either ladies of the King’s court or ladies participating in religious performances. The mirror wall is like a graffiti wall with writings from travelers visiting as early as 8th century.

Source: Pixabay

Another distinctive feature is the giant lion paws that remain, leading to the top. These are enough to let you imagine how magnanimous the complete lion would have looked, guarding the entrance to the citadel. The stairs are believed to have started at the lion’s paws entering through the mouth to the top. The lion symbolized Buddha who was the lion of Sakya clan whose words were as powerful as the lion’s roar.

The top of the Sigiriya Lion Rock is a flat plateau offering breathtaking views of the garden galleries below and forests beyond. The joy of reaching the top and the gorgeous views combined to make me understand a bit more about the king who fantasized to build his empire in the clouds. After spending some time looking around at the ruins of the palace foundations and witnessing one of the most beautiful sunsets, we headed back.

What Next?

After a tiring hike, we spent our rest of the evening at Sigiriya Village, a Sri Lankan village themed hotel. The Lobby bar is just perfect to refresh after a tiring day and offers a long list of mocktails and cocktails. Quite aesthetically designed, it brings the old charms of Sri Lanka to the new world.

The hotel creates an authentic Sri Lankan village ambiance with bungalows designed to bring luxury amidst nature. The gardens and the surrounding forests give a sense of staying close to untouched beauty. The main restaurant overlooks the garden and the swimming pool with the background of the Sigiriya Lion rock. Serving continental as well as traditional Sri Lankan cuisine, there are dishes even customized for toddlers and kids. The restaurant staff are friendly and take care of their guests very well even during busy times.

Sigiriya can also be visited as a day trip from Kandy. Read about Kandy, the capital of the hill country and its charm here.

The post Travel Guide to Sigiriya Lion Rock : A palace in the clouds appeared first on MySoulTravels.

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Hambantota is a lesser-known town in the southern coastal belt of Sri Lanka and is generally missed out on travel itineraries. However, in the past, this area was the center of a flourishing civilization and was once the capital of the kingdom. By virtue of being located along the ancient Spice route, the town is rich in heritage and natural beauty. We came across this place while researching about Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa which is the largest luxury resort in Sri Lanka. Spreading across 58 hectares, and overlooking the southern coast of the island,  the resort is a hidden gem in the true sense.

Courtesy: Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort

A trip to Sri Lanka cannot be complete without visiting the wildlife sanctuaries. Sri Lanka has fourteen different national parks with hundreds of species of flora and fauna and has one of the highest rates of biological endemism. We were looking for a base after exploring Sri Lanka’s hill country and to visit the national parks in the South. Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa proved to be the perfect stay for us. The beachfront resort is located close to Yala, Udawalawe and Bundala National Parks and these safaris could be done as day trips. The resort is 20 minutes drive from Mattala International airport and about 4 hours drive from Colombo.

Courtesy: Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort The Check-In

We were welcomed with big smiles and the traditional Sri Lankan greeting “Ayubowan” which means Long Life. The warm hospitality made us feel refreshed after our long journey. Our check-in was quick and we were given a quick intro about the resort and facilities by our host, Ashan. The resort has been very smartly divided into two parts, one for families and the other for couples and honeymooners. The abundance of recreational activities made me realise that the resort is a destination in itself and is one of the best for family time.The resort also has expansive golf grounds and a Chi Ayurveda Spa for relaxation. I was intrigued by the concept of the Artisan Village and made a mental note to visit it as soon as I could. We were delighted to check-in into our premier room with a balcony overlooking the picturesque golf course and the lake. Our toddler was thrilled to find an elephant toy and a storybook kept specially for him.

Exploring the resort and around

Walking down in one of the corridors, somewhere on a board below the resort’s name, I read “Unlock a World of Wonder, where stories unfold and memories are made”. After spending the afternoon exploring the grounds, these words made absolute sense to me. I had been pleasantly surprised quite a few times and couldn’t wait to experience more.

Walawe River Safari

The first thing on our agenda for the evening was a river boat safari down the Walawe river. The river begins from the heights of Adam’s Peak and flows across Sri Lanka. We met our guide, Mr Palinda at the reception and were picked from the resort in a tuktuk. Our guide is also the CSR manager at the resort and we were impressed by the numerous CSR programs that are run by Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort. What’s even more impressive is that the staff has to mandatorily be involved in these programs and guests can volunteer too.
Palinda mentioned that the evening safari is more recommended as one can see the birds flocking and flying back home. The tour was quite educative and our guide proved to have excellent knowledge about the birds and animals inhabiting the river. He was able to spot birds and crocodiles that got missed by our eyes and made the tranquil ride even more interesting.
We docked near the estuary and due to the low tide, we were able to walk to the main beach. The sea though quite rough to swim created a beautiful effect to the scene of setting sun. After sunset, we were heading back and I was in a relaxed mood with the cameras in the bag and that is when a large crocodile decides to show up. While I couldn’t get a neat shot the experience of being so close to the crocodile in the wild is a cherished one.

Kid’s Activities

Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort is extremely kid-friendly. The staff seems to love kids and our son was in his element, getting pampered to the fullest. Sri Lankans love kids and go out of their way to make kids feel comfortable and welcomed.For younger kids, the resort has a comprehensive kids’ club named Cool Zone which includes art workshops, ball pits and activity areas to keep the young ones busy for hours. The kids’ club staff can also babysit your kids for very reasonable charges. For older kids there is a playstation arena and various games like carrom, table tennis and archery. The resort also has a large kid’s pool with water slides and a water park with sprinklers and splashpads. The water park is a hit with kids and most of the parents were struggling to keep their kids out of the pool, just like us.
For young adventurers, the flying trapeze is a great way to learn some new tricks. The instructor is very patient and gives you enough time to prepare yourself before you take the leap. Kids can also try their hand at golf and enjoy a golf cart ride or two. The resort also offers cycling tours to explore the property and neighboring areas.

Recreational Activities for Adults

Even with the immense focus on kids’ activities, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa does not fall short in entertaining the adults. My husband’s favorite was the premier 18-hole set amidst a vast coconut palm plantation, offering spectacular views framed by lakes and the beautiful Indian Ocean. You can also involve your little ones in this golf adventure and the caddies always have smaller golf clubs for kids which I found very thoughtfulThe couple section of the resort has a romantic infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Around the pool are these cozy swings hidden between the trees that ensure your privacy. The beach has these lounges and beach beds overlooking the ocean. If you seek relaxation, Chi Ayurveda Spa is a place of personal peace that offers ancient healing therapies and personalized Ayurveda consultations.

Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort has so many amazing facilities, however, I think the Artisan Village is truly unique. The village is dedicated to preserving and supporting the traditional art forms of Sri Lanka.Every hut is an exhibition of a particular type of art and the local craftsmen create and sell their artwork to the resort. In the evenings you can also attend the regular traditional dance and music performances taking place in the Artisan Village.

Dining and Restaurants

Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort has four restaurants offering local and continental cuisines. The busiest is Bojunhala where the meals are served buffet style. Another interesting experience is taking a culinary journey with Hawker Street style southeast Asian cuisine at Sera restaurant. But my favorite was gazing across the Indian Ocean with a drink at their beautifully breezy lounge.Bojunhala has a special section for kids and the kid’ menu is a hit with the young ones. The Italian nights at Bojunhala has a good variety of Italian dishes. It is also a great place to try some authentic local dishes. We found the spices just right for our palates and there was an excellent array of local dishes every day. The Chefs are proud of their cooking and are more than happy to share the recipes.Our overall experience at Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa was wonderful and we would definitely recommend it to be added as a pitstop when traveling in Sri Lanka.

We were hosted by Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa, Sri Lanka for a couple of days.

The post Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa, Sri Lanka : A destination in itself ! appeared first on MySoulTravels.

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As I stepped out into the balcony and looked at the panoramic views of the city in the light drizzle, I remembered the quote from Lonely Planet “Here’s a city that looks good even when it’s raining.” Kandy in Sri Lanka is known as the capital of the hill country and is the biggest city after Colombo. 

A tranquil morning in the capital of Hill country, Kandy in Sri Lanka

Nestled in the heart of Sri Lanka and surrounded by heavily forested mountains and tea plantations, Kandy is an important religious center for Buddhists. It is the home of an ancient Buddhist relic – a tooth of Buddha himself and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Just a three-hour drive from Colombo, Kandy city can be a good base to visit the cultural triangle and is a must stop on your Sri Lanka itinerary.

The prayer hall in the temple of Sacred Tooth Relic

We spent a couple of days in Kandy and fell in love with the city and its rich culture. Here are our top picks so that you can plan and pace your trip as per your comfort.

Explore the perfectly landscaped lawns at the Royal Botanical Garden

The Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya is the largest botanical garden in Sri Lanka and attracts 2 million visitors annually. The expansive garden was formally established under the British and reserved for royalty only but its initial mentions are found in 14th-century scriptures. We found the 60 hectares garden housing a wide variety of flowering plants, trees and giant bamboo an amazing place to spend the day.

The garden is also a local favorite and you will find many families having picnics and quite a lot of kids running around. We highly recommend visiting this place if you are traveling with kids or if you are a nature lover.

It houses a variety of plants and trees and we found the orchid house, cannonball trees, giant bamboo and royal avenue of palm trees really interesting. This park is so huge and has so many little sections, I am sure you will find your very own favorite spot.

In search of Buddha’s Tooth Relic

There are a lot of stories about Kandy city and how Buddha’s tooth reached here. Kandy was the last kingdom of Sri Lanka, the preceding kingdoms being Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the north. However, due to foreign invasion, the capital was shifted to Kandy from Polonnaruwa and the tooth relic was housed in the King’s palace ground within the royal temple of Kandy. As per the local belief, the one who has this sacred relic is fit to rule the country. The relic has played and still plays a prominent role in the politics and governance of Sri Lanka.

An ongoing ceremony in front of the tooth relic shrine in Kandy

The story behind the Tooth relic is a fascinating one. Legend says that the holy remains from Buddha’s cremations were distributed amongst different kingdoms that sought for it. The relics were then enshrined in Stupas and worshipped. Out of the four tooth relics, this tooth relic was said to be claimed by the Kalinga king from India. But when Kalinga was under attack, the Kalinga king decided to send the tooth relic to his friend, the king of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, to keep it safe. The tooth was smuggled into Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamali, the Kalinga king’s daughter and she hid it in her hair. Our host told us that in Sri Lankan culture, the highest respect is paid to a woman’s head and hair. And thus nobody dared to search the princesses hair.

The remains of the tooth relic shrine in the ancient city of Polonnurawa

History states that everytime the existing capital was invaded, the tooth relic was either shifted or hidden by Buddhist monks as it signifies the continuity of faith and governance. The tooth relic moved from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa and to many other intermediary capitals before taking its final place in the sacred tooth relic shrine in Kandy in Sri Lanka.

The paintings on the entrance ceiling depict the esala perahara festival (Festival of the Tooth) during which the sacred tooth is taken out in procession to pay homage and celebrate.

According to legend, there was once a severe drought. The Tooth Relic was taken out of its shrine and a great procession was held for seven days. This ended the drought and started the tradition of the Perahera Festival which is celebrated annually and the procession begins at Kandy in Sri Lanka.

Visit the temple early morning to beat the crowd or in the evening to witness the ceremony and enjoy the cultural show which takes place every evening. This extravagant show has a snapshot of various dance forms practiced not just in Kandy in Sri Lanka but other parts of Sri Lanka as well.

Spend some time at the Kandy lake

Right next to the sacred tooth relic temple, is the beautiful Kandy Lake. This controversial lake had a lot of attention during while getting built as it is believed to have been built using forced labor and over paddy fields and had no irrigation use. The ruling king, Wickrama Rajasinghe, is said to have created this artificial lake for his pleasure, however, we heard another version of this story. Some say he dreamt of the “sea of milk” with a pot of Amrit (heavenly nectar of immortality) in the center, referred from “samudra manthan” as per Hindu mythology. Considering it divine intervention he aspired to build an artificial lake with a wave-like boundary. The exact position was selected by seeing an auspicious white tortoise between the paddy fields.

Maybe this little guy is the descendant of the great white tortoise!

Apparently, the lake from the royal palace balcony at noon appears to be white due to reflection. Another story says that the island in the lake was meant to be a pleasure garden and was connected to the palace by an underground tunnel.

As mysterious as the origin of the lake is, it is also the house of numerous birds, fishes and animals. The lake is peaceful at any time of the day and taking a walk on the promenade surrounding or a boat ride it is a perfect way to spend an early morning or an evening.

Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue

This place was not part of our itinerary but we were drawn to it as you cannot miss the impressively magnanimous statue of Buddha from any part of the city. The temple and the statue are on top of a small hillock overlooking the city and the panoramic views of the city are not at all disappointing.

Enjoy local food at the historic center of Kandy in Sri Lanka

Kandy city is a terrific example of how history has gradually merged with the modern times. It is very busy and has quite a lot of traffic but walking through the streets you wouldn’t fail to marvel at the old style colonial architecture standing tall with the more recent buildings.

The city center is close to the lake and has a lot of shopping options for all tastes. It also has entertainment options for kids so that they are engaged while parents are busy shopping.

Kottu Roti, a local delicacy prepared by chopping and dicing roti, vegetables and meat

Kandy is also a melting pot for different cuisines. If you want to try the Sri Lankan cuisine, do start with hoppers and kottu roti which is their version of snacks or street food. You will also find a lot of continental restaurants and cafes around here. Though a bit touristy, we still recommend visiting Kandy to get a flavour of the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka.

The post Why you must visit Kandy in Sri Lanka appeared first on MySoulTravels.

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I have never met a sunrise I didn’t like. It’s that magical moment when the world is still rising from its dreamy state and reality is just setting in. But the view from our premier suite in Arie Lagoon overlooking the Negombo lagoon was not just another view.

The view from our suite at Arie Lagoon

Waking up early has never been my forte, but somehow that morning in Sri Lanka I was up before dawn. Last evening had been hectic for us as our flight had got delayed and we reached the hotel late at night. However, the staff at Arie Lagoon welcomed us with warm smiles and made sure we had dinner at once and didn’t have to wait for the check-in formalities.

After having our welcome drinks, we were escorted to the pool facing restaurant, Banana Prawn restaurant and found the large dinner spread very pleasing. The name of the restaurant is derived from the special kind of shrimp living in the lagoon.

We stayed in the premier suite which has a spacious sitting area and a private courtyard opening out to the panoramic views of the lagoon. The large bed is super comfy and you can catch the sunrise right from your bed through the large french window. The 52inch LED TV is just an added bonus.

Happiness is finding a comfortable bed at the end of the day Starting off the day

Negombo is a traditional fishing town in Sri Lanka, very close to the international airport and a perfect place to begin or end your holiday in Sri Lanka. Due to the high number of Dutch and Portuguese era churches this town is also known as “Little Rome”. There are also some very old colonial buildings and a 100 km long canal known as the Dutch Canal running through the heart of the city. But the most highlighted attractions in Negombo are the beach and the lagoon and the resort located right between them. While we did not find the beach very interesting with choppy waters, the lagoon is a retreat for nature lovers.

That morning, as I stepped out of the porch onto the lawn, I was greeted by a curious looking chameleon sitting on a nearby plant. He didn’t get scared when I moved closer and posed perfectly as I got a quick shot. I was distracted by some movement on the bank and was thrilled to see a large monitor lizard walking out of the water. It felt quite surreal as the reptile moved in search of food unaware of me and looked so elegant in its natural habitat.

Early morning fishing in the lagoon

A couple of fishermen came by, walking along the bank with a basket net to catch prawns and crabs. While I could not understand them completely, we communicated in sign language. They said they walk down from their village, every morning to catch small prawns and crabs this way before they sail into the lagoon in their fishing boats.

Kid’s Area and the Swimming Pools Kid’s Play Area

After a sumptuous breakfast, we decided to explore the property. The first stop as per my son’s demand was the kid’s play area right outside the restaurant. The weather can get hot very quickly during the day and after a while, we hit the pool.

Arie Lagoon has two swimming pools and the main pool has a kid’s pool and a pool bar. The main pool overlooks a beautiful lawn and the lagoon giving an infinity pool experience.

The Gardens

The immaculately manicured gardens are a sight for sore eyes. The expansive lawns are designed so as to ensure that each room has privacy and a peaceful ambiance. The gardens are also the meeting points for different species of birds and perfect for kids to play around. We could see how hard the staff works to maintain the gardens and the housekeeping staff was always present around.

Restaurant and Food

We dined at the Banana Prawn restaurant which generally serves buffet-style meals. The breakfast consisted of continental as well as Sri Lankan cuisine. Our first experience of Sri Lankan food was great and we found the spiciness just right, very similar to Indian standards of spices. The buffet also had some kid-friendly dishes which is wonderful for families with kids, just like mine.

For lunch, the restaurant was very accommodating to send food to our room as our boy had dozed off early after a busy day in the pool. We tried the Sri Lankan curry rice and the seafood platter and everything was delicious. Special mention to the appetizers which looked like samosas and tasted heavenly.

The resort also has two bars overlooking the lagoon and a pool bar to relax and enjoy. The Crab Claw Bar is just the place to sip some cocktails while enjoying the beautiful sunset as the day winds down.

Our dinner had an extensive spread with quite a lot of non-vegetarian and seafood dishes. The Sri Lankan cuisine was served in traditional clay pots. The Chef mentioned that these clay pots are handcrafted by local village artisans. Cooking food in clay pots is a tradition and has been done for centuries in Sri Lanka giving the food a distinct flavor. I was quite impressed by the large array of desserts. The best way to end a beautiful evening.

Exploring the lagoon

Negombo lagoon is an estuarine lagoon and is fed by some small rivers and the Dutch canal. The lagoon opens into the ocean and has extensive mangrove swamps attracting a lot of water birds and animals. It is also surrounded by villages and has smaller islands within it creating a unique ecosystem. The villages around the lagoon are heavily dependent on it for agriculture and fishing.

The best time for a boat tour of the lagoon is at sunrise or sunset. We were recommended to take the tour at sunrise and the boat picked us up right off the property’s boundary with the lagoon. Since the excursion started quite early in the morning, the hotel team packed us a nice picnic basket.

Our guide gave us a quick overview of the lagoon and how it intertwines with the way of life of people living around it. We met a few fishermen who were just heading out to the sea in their traditional fishing boats and cataraman. The morning sun made a perfect backdrop to the sails of these boats.

As we started approaching the marshy areas, we could see different kind of birds flying around. We were lucky to see Storks, Cormorants, Egrets, Herons, Eagles and Kingfishers. You can enter the mangrove areas in some parts which are filled with monkeys and kids love this part of the tour. We were soon joined by another boat and the kids on that boat as well were very excited seeing the monkeys.

On the way back, I lost myself in the calmness of nature. The boat tour was so relaxing that our little one was also mesmerized by the beautiful sunrise. After a quick breakfast, we headed out into the town to check out the churches and the fish market.

Our guide and boatman from the lagoon excursion tour Our Final Verdict

Arie Lagoon is a beautiful property by the lagoon with its hospitality at the best. True to its name “Arie” which means superior in Greek, the staff goes over and beyond to make your..

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