Sri Lanka 9 – Galle

Galle is best known among photographic circles for the “stilt fishermen.” These are subsistence fishermen who sit for hours on stilts in the shallow surf, casting their lines for palm-sized fish.  There used to be hundreds of men making a living this way, but the tsunami of 2004 killed off most of the fish, and they are only now starting to return. There are a couple of spots along the coast where men sit on stilts solely for the purpose of charging a fee for photographing them. Our guide took us to the last group of men who actually fish for a living.

We visited this site three times — twice at sunset and once at sunrise.  The scenes above were mostly taken as long exposures, giving the dreamy image of the ocean as the surf ebbs and flows.

While the stilt fishermen were the reason for visiting Galle, we did some other exploring around town.  While most of the group visited an old fort, I decided to watch a cricket game instead (upper-left), since I had never seen one before. We visited a small cinnamon-making demonstration where the owner also showed us how to make frond roof thatches (upper-right and middle-right).  We also had a chance to witness people repairing a colorful boat (middle-left), and fishing out of small outrigger boats (middle and lower-right).

This brings us to the end of our Sri Lanka tour. As always, Mehmet Özbalci put together a first-rate trip, even though this was advertised as a scouting trip, where he was exploring the best places to go for future tours.  Tomorrow we fly to Tehran, Iran, where we will again follow Mehmet for another two weeks.  Stay tuned!

Sri Lanka 8 – Yala National Park

We did a total of two game drives at Yala National Park, famed primarily for the 25 – 30 leopards that live there, which is the highest density in the world.

The driver and naturalist guide were quite excited that we saw more than one leopard, as this was unusual. This was another park where there were way too many jeeps all chasing the same scene though, meaning we had to wait in line for more than an hour before it was our turn to view the target leopards.

We did spot a leopard on each drive, mostly deep in the brush, out of reach of our cameras.  We were even lucky enough to see a leopard make a fresh kill of a small boar.  The kill itself was little more than a leap of spots in the brush, followed by a brief flurry of activity out of sight other than a shaking of the underbrush. The leopard could then be seen dragging his new kill to where he chose to eat his meal (bottom).

We told our driver that we also wanted to see elephants, after waiting in line for two hours to see a leopard on one of the drives.  He laughed, and insisted people only come to this park to see the leopards.  We finally convinced him to try, which resulted in the images above.  There were water buffalo in the same pond as the elephants, including the one shown center with one missing horn — presumably from some battle it survived.

There were also a small smattering of other animals, including a boar similar to the one the leopard was dining on (upper-left), spotted deer (center), and an unusual sighting of an elk (lower-right).

Sri Lanka 7 – Kataragama

The first unique stop today was at the side of the road, where we found a dozen trees completely filled with the biggest fruit bats we have ever seen, with a wingspan of 120 cm (48 inches!).  In fact, we were told these were some of the biggest bats in the world. These bats are also known as flying foxes. Though they fly, they are not considered to be birds.

Most were sleeping (center), as bats are prone to do during the day.  Every so often though, one would fly from one tree to another, as we tried to catch photographs of them in flight.  There were several egrets that joined the party, as  captured in the bottom image, when it decided to leave the tree.

Later, we walked to the Temple of Kataragama, which is an important religious site for Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. Enroute to the ceremony, we saw an elephant in a river getting a bath (left-center).  Many in the village were also in the river, bathing themselves, washing clothes, or simply cooling off. Sri Lanka is always hot and humid year-round, varying by only a few degrees in all seasons, so the river is a pleasant place to escape the weather.

As we proceeded further towards the temple, an unusual parade came down the street behind us. It was composed of only seven people.  Two were carrying semi-circular arches over their heads (bottom-left).  One was carrying a baby, and the others were beating on drums.

After the parade, Mehmet (our guide) tried to ask one of dancers to pose (middle-right), but was not able to get his request understood.  A bit later, we talked to the mother (center person in image bottom-left, and bottom-right holding the baby) and asked about the purpose of the parade and prayer.  We were told that the baby had open heart surgery at the age of 6 months.  That was 6 months ago, and the parade and prayer were to thank their gods that the baby was alive, and to ask for his continued health.

Along the way to the temple, the streets were lined with vendors selling fruits in colorful displays, and often pre-packaged on plates. Other vendors sold lotus flowers.  These were all intended to be purchased, and then offered to the gods at the temple.

When we finally reached the temple, we saw a line of men holding plates of food, most likely purchased from the vendors above, to be given to the priest as an offering to their gods.  The elephant that had been washed in the river earlier also made an appearance (upper-left). A monk was blessing people on the second floor (upper right).

Sri Lanka 6 – Uda Walave

Our first stop today was at a Hindu temple, Seetha Amman Hindu Temple, a colorful temple right on the side of the road.

Mehmet asked our local guide to track down the resident priest we had seen earlier, who agreed to come up and let us photograph him.  The priest was very handsome and charismatic, and was performing rituals for many visitors. Burt and Evelyn walked away with red dots on their forehead.

As we drove along the road, we saw some buffalo carts working in a rice paddy below.  We immediately pulled over, and spent the next half hour photographing them, while the cart drivers cooperated by showing them working, as well as posing them for us. The experience was the hi-light of today’s drive enroute to our next hotel Many other buses driving along the road also stopped to see what we were up to.

In the afternoon, we went to the Usa Walawe National Park, which is mostly known for elephants. There are not many predators, so the elephants ignored our jeeps, which were numerous.

However, there were also a few birds and one crocodile that were close enough to spend time with.

Sri Lanka 5 – Nuwara Eliya

We passed briefly through Nuwara Elija, stopping first at a Buddhist temple, where we watched a priest bless offerings of the worshippers (center).

A stop at two tea plantations gave us a chance to see premium Sri Lankan tea being harvested.

Our most interesting stop of the day was at a tiny village, for a rest stop.  The children were home from school, and flocked out to greet us.  Many were wearing white cotton gloves (top row).  Due to the language barrier, we were never able to discover why they wore them, but it appeared to be nothing more than a fashion accessory that they enjoyed showing off.

The adults in this village were just as welcoming as the children, with many willing to pose for us in front of their homes.  One woman invited the group to her home, and Mehmet (our tour leader) got her contact information, so that he can visit this same village on his future tours here. Rich is seen showing a photo to one of the villager women, bottom-left.

Sri Lanka 4 – Kandy

We returned to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic before dawn to capture the blue hour, and the colors of the temple just as the sun was rising (upper-left and lower-right).  We then entered the temple to photograph the morning prayer ceremony.  As we were leaving, we noticed some women dressed to welcome a wedding couple (middle-left).

After breakfast, we went to the Kandy Railway Station with colorful antiquated cars. There were plenty of photo opportunities with people looking out of the windows, for the cooler air while waiting for their train to depart.

A few blocks from the train station was a typical Sri Lankan market.  We love to explore these, for the variety of colors, exotic foods, and for scenes of people going about their daily routine of preparing and buying their food for home. The butchers were particularly interesting, and you could definitely smell the unrefrigerated meats. A unique aspect of this market was that most of the vendors were men.

We visited a local home for a traditional home-cooked meal, cooked over a wood stove (upper row).  As we waited for the meal to be ready, we sat outside in the cool breeze, and of course, captured images of ourselves.  Middle-right shows Sue and Beverly enjoying a laugh.  Bottom-left is Evelyn (reflected off a glass coffee table), and I am bottom-right.  Both of us are seen with our cameras, which sometimes seem like they are surgically attached…

We finished our stay in Kandy with a traditional cultural dance performance at the Kandy Lake Club.  The show is visually quite stimulating and the costumes were beautiful. Prior to the show, three of the performers posed for us (upper row).  The dance show was rather enjoyable, with some fire dances (bottom row), and ended with the performers walking over hot coals.

Sri Lanka 3 – enroute to Kandy

We started today with a stop at the golden temple of Dambulla.  Throughout Sri Lanka are huge statues of Buddha, but this is easily one of the largest, as seen above.  To the right, there appears to be a long line of monks walking in a line to give offerings to Buddha.  Upon closer inspection though, you can see that they are actually well worn statues themselves (bottom-middle). The black spots under the Buddha’s chin are wasps nests (top and bottom-left).

We then toured the nearby cave temples of Dambulla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site comprises of 5 caves, each with ornate statues, and well worth the 300-steps climb to the top.

Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160 m over the surrounding plains. There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area, though five compose the most famous, as shown above. These caves date back to the first century BC, with a total of 153 Buddha statues and 23,000 sq ft of murals.

While driving to our next destination of Kandy, we stopped at another Hindu temple.  These are always ornately decorated with colorful renditions of the many gods of this religion.

We happened upon a Sri Lankan wedding as it was concluding, and were able to see the couple’s family gathered for their group photo session (middle). The father of the groom was a friend of our local guide, and he gave us permission to take photos.

We finished in Kandy at the sacred Temple of the Sacred Relic Tooth of Buddha, another World Heritage Site. The golden-roofed temple houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic, a tooth of the Buddha which is housed in a gold casket.

We were able to photograph people worshipping here, including a monk leading a prayer chant (lower-left).  Throughout Sri Lanka, and Thailand before, we found that people seemed to have no problem with our cameras being present during worship.

Sri Lanka 2 – Habarana

We drove most of yesterday, enroute to Habarana. Our first stop was the fishing town of Negomo, where they dry fish on the beach. We spent a couple hours watching the colorful fishing boats (top row), the men hauling in the catch and dumping it on bamboo carpets (bottom-left), and the workers organizing them to dry (center).

After lunch, we continued on to Anuradhapura, where we photographed the Isurumuniya Temple. King Ravana was born here, and its written history goes back over 5000 years.  Today though, it is most known as having the most colorful reclining Buddha in the world (left column).  At the same historic site was the Ruwanwelisaya Dagoda, with a photogenic circular pool in front of it (middle-right).

Enroute, we saw a rice harvest machine working in a field, so stopped and spent a few minutes capturing it (mostly shot video of it in operation, though upper-right shows Martin, from our group, also photographing the work).

At the end of the first day, we drove to the Sigiriya Rock, which is a huge rock used as the Royal Palace briefly in the 5th Century BC.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was used as the backdrop for a photo session with an elephant, his handler, and a couple of monks, as seen above. Yep, Mehmet hired 2 monks and an elephant, so we could have a foreground.

The next morning, we drove to Polonnaruwa, a historic site of ancient Buddhist temples. It seems that the capital of this island (Ceylon when we were in school, and now Sri Lanka) has had many names and many capitals along the way. This was the capital of during the 10th Century AD, named Nigaril Valanadu at the time.

While we were there, two bus loads of Thai monks arrived. They were religious tourists, studying their Buddhist history, but taking selfies and snapshots of each other like any other group of tourists you will find anywhere in the world.  We find Buddhist monks to not only be colorful and fascinating to photograph, but also extremely polite and tolerant of our cameras.

We completed our time in Habarana with our first game drive in Sri Lanka.  For this drive, we went to Minneriya National Park.  Sri Lanka is mostly famed for its elephants, and this park was a good introduction to them. With only a couple of exceptions (like the monkey upper-left and the egret upper-middle), elephants were the only wildlife in this park.

Unfortunately, it was also overrun with jeeps full of tourists.  Yes, I know we are also tourists, but we are more accustomed to going places mostly devoid of others using their cameras as a hunting tool!  Prior safaris to Tanzania (1991), Zimbabwe (1993), Namibia (2018) and Botswana (2018) all involved jeep treks into forests where we almost never saw another two legged wheeled animal.

The monks in a jeep (upper-right) were interesting, but then we hit… The Line… (lower-right) of some 50 jeeps, which is where we spent most of the “safari,” literally stuck in traffic, since the jeeps were not allowed by park law to more than two wide (to protect the land and reduce the road imprint).

It seems a fitting end to this safari to show how we approached one elephant, with another jeep in front of us.  Moments after this was photographed, the other jeep left, and we got a clear shot of the elephant… and a clear scent too…  From our prior safaris, we recognized the extremely pungent smell of an elephant in musth.  This elephant was the only one we saw with a radio GPS necklace, allowing the park rangers to track it.  The elephant had killed two villagers the prior week, and was being tracked to assure it did not return to another human populated area.

An elephant in heat has a very strong musk smell that is unmistakable.  It also has what appear to be tears under its eyes, but are actually secretions of temporin. Elephant bulls in this condition are extremely aggressive, and need to be avoided at all times…

Sri Lanka 1 – Colombo

NOTE: Starting with the Thailand trip just completed, I have begun limiting each “photo story block” to only seven images.  A few years ago, I was using eleven, but received feedback that the images were too small.  I have since been using nine-photo blocks.  Some people have commented that they read this block on small screen phones, and still could not see much detail.    I would love to hear from you with your opinion on this change — or any other change you feel would help make this blog more readable and/or more interesting.

We have now entered Sri Lanka, on a photo tour led by Mehmet Özbalci, of Fantastic Photo Tours. We first met Mehmet on a tour of Turkey in 2016.  We later traveled with him to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia in 2017.

One of our stops in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, was the Gangaramaya Temple, where we saw the colorful statues typical in Hindi temples. There was also a trio of musicians, one with a flute and two on drums that we  have come to recognize as a traditional arrangement (upper-right).

We also entered the Jami-UI-Alfar Mosque, more commonly called the Red Mosque, where women were only allowed to visit the ground floor (upper-right plus lower-left and lower-center). This is in a very old neighborhood full of shops and still more interesting people (remaining three images above).

In the evening, we walked over to the Seema Malaka temple, which sits on Beira Lake. This temple is used primarily for meditation and rest, rather than worship.

This provides a view of what the inside of the Red Mosque looks like, and it appears to be a fitting conclusion of the Sri Lanka capital post.

Photographer Of The Year 2019

Last month, I was surprised when people started sending me congratulatory email and Face Book messages, as well as congratulating me on the street.  Maybe they were commenting on the photo show Evelyn and I had completed the prior month… but then why the month delay?

To my surprise, I discovered that I had just been voted Best Photographer of 2019 in GringoPost (a daily newsletter in Cuenca, Ecuador, aimed at expats).

The official certificate arrived today, so now I can boast officially!

Thanks to every one who voted for me.

Photo Galleries

At the top of this page is a menu that will take you to a variety of galleries showing our favorite images.

The most recent galleries include our recent trips to India, Dubai, Botswana, Namibia and New England. You can see all our favorite images from our 2018 travel here: