I am going to describe my experiences during my trip to India and Sri Lanka for three years and to different countries in South East Asia for 7.5 months and also to countries in south and central America for six months.
My purpose from these trips in spite of limitation of my visas was to visit the most remote places and villages where there were difficult to reach even for its own people to get acquainted with their custom and culture and also its nature.
I have tried as much as possible to explain what I've seen or felt in spite of little time that I had and I have collected documentary photos and information to share with those who are interested in knowing different people and their culture.
Siamak Khosravi Kamrani
Travelling to different places in the world to see and to get acquainted with different people, their culture, and visiting historical and natural monuments of different parts of the world made us more determined to take car cameras and achieve our goals which seemed very difficult at the beginning.
We all know that tourism and travelling is not easy at the present time, especially for Iranians’. The two main difficulties are getting visas for several months and also transferring money. Due to sanctions, none of Iranian credit cards is valid out of Iran. The only way we could afford our expenses was to rent our apartment and also to depend on our family's financial support. For this we should express our gratitude to them and hope that our projects would become an honor for them in future.
There were three other friends: Saad Moghadam, Behnam baghaeian and Farshid Farzin who were also interested in truism and accompanied us in our first trip to India, where everyone was so eager to visit. We all wanted to see this country of Gods and myths where is known as the most democratic place in the world.
We had planned to go to Pakistan first and then go to India from there, on fortunately in Indian Embassy there were several people who were not warmly welcomed by the staff. We realized that they give only a visa of one month to Iranians and after each trip you could not apply for six months for another visa. It was very discouraging since we had planned for six months but with lots of efforts at last we could get a visa for six months which made us so happy.
We got our tickets from Emirate Company for 8/October/2006which enabled us to go to Sri Lanka first and get a visa for a month for that country which made us happier since we had a chance to visit there too.
We went to Omidwar Brothers Museum which belongs to Iranian globe-trotters and got their telephone numbers and got in contact with them and they gave us a time to visit them.
Mr. Jesus Omidwar gave us advices which were really helpful. The most important and useful advice was to have a strong goal, a close relationship with people and to respect their culture, religion and custom.
Provision for our Trip
To provide what we needed for our trip and due to the lack of foreign products, we had to purchase Iranian products’ and since we had to carry everything in our back pack, we did our shopping with scrutiny and at last Mahtab’s was 15-16 kilos and Siamak’s 24-25 beside our bay of camera which was 5-6 kilos. We also had to wear trip shoes which were Gore-Tex.
We also decided not to take any sleeping bag and tent because of the tropical climate.
Beginning of the trip
We were getting more excited as we were getting closer to our departure. There were many of our friends beside our families in the airport .we were thinking that in our twenties we are leaving our country to go and visit other part of the world.
We stayed in Dubai Airport with 47 million passengers for 3 hours before we go to Colombo in Sri Lanka. We had heard a lot about this airportand to see it we thought it was very modern and crowded.
We saw passengers with different races, colors and costumes who had pat away their back pack and were waiting for their flights.
There were many restaurants and coffee shops which were tempting us to go but because of financial matters we decided not to enter any of them. We got on board and reached Colombo Airport which comparing to Dubai’s it was very primitive and simple. We were so glad to see this country without any difficulty in getting a visa and what interested us a lot was their costume, height and color of their skin.
Outside the airport, there were many tourism agencies and after some thinking we rented a car with a driver who would take us for the following nine days and nights to different cities in this country. We wished we could spend a whole month in Sir Lank’s different cities but because of our limited time for India we only spend la days in there.
When we left the airport, we left Colombo hoping we could visit it in our trip back. In Sri Lanka we saw big yellow coconuts and a vendor whom with a motorcycle was selling them. He cut two of them which we had bought with something like a big knife and made us drink the milk of it. Then he made something like a spoon from its skin and taught us to cut the inside with it and eat them.
Departure for historic Anuradhapura
Our next trip was Anuradhapura which was situated in the north part of the country.It was strange to us to see the steering wheel on the left of the car and driving according to this fact. We saw grand statues of stone gods on top of green mountains.
We passed through tropical woods and under a raining sky and before stopping in front of a small shop we saw the largest rainbow in our life.
The shop contained different kinds of banana, mango, avocado and cooked corn. The owner of the shop showed us a newspaper which said there are more than 30 kinds of bananas with different prices and tastes. We decided in order to save our money to eat some of these fruits instead of having lunch. We ate avocado for the first time. The people there would cut it into half and put some brown sugar inside of it before eating.
They would cook corn in a big pot and put a piece of salt stone inside of the pot which would make the corn really tasty. After having lunch we started our trip again in spite of being so tired. We saw very primitive buses on our way which seemed like a big piece of iron and they were all made in Tata factory in India.
Rickshaw was the name of a tricycle which was the cheapest transportation means.
One of the other things which was very interesting for us was men and women’s costume. The women would wear a dress which was a piece of material with 3-8 meters which they wrapped around themselves in a special way and their hair usually was long and plat. The men also would wrap a piece of material around their vest which was called Longi, something like the men’s wear in the south of Iran.
We reached Anuradhapura after 7-8 hours of driving near the sunset. This town had a population of 57, 000. We spent the first night in a
Sri Lankian family. The house was a big one which was close to the lake. You could smell the insane and hear the forges and with coconut trees around you which all were creating a pleasant atmosphere. The landlord showed us our room where the beds had a cover to prevent the mosquitos from entering. If the mosquito’s bit you, you would have itching and hurting for a long time. The lizards were longer than what we had seen in our life.
We were about unpacking when the landlady who knew no English came to the room and showed us a menu with foods that we hadn’t heard their names before. Next morning we work up with the bird’s songs and the wind whispering in coconuts tress. There was a big breakfast on the table and the most interesting thing was a big piece of pineapple and on orangish fruit which was called papaya.
Visit to Historical Anuradhapura
After having breakfast, we went to see the historical parts of the city. The road we took was long with canal of water covered with water lilies. This historical area is one of the eight world’s heritage in
Sri Lanka and use to be the capital of the country from 4 B.C. up to century.
In this area, you see one of the oldest tree of the world which is the most sacred to Buddha’s which is called Sri Maha Bodhi or Buddha Tree according to the myths. This gigantic tree which more than two thousand years ago was transferred from Bodhgaya to this city is where Buddha came to enlightment. The tree was covered with little pieces of material which people attach to it, hoping their prayers and wishes would come through. The pilgrims would also light candles in special candle jars which were there.
We should mention that to enter these sacred places you had to take off your shoes and hats. After this place we reached Ruvanvelisay Dogoba which was a gigantic white dome. The building of this dome which was full from inside was built in 140 B.C was decorated from outside with stone statues which looked like elephant’s heads.
Our next visit was to Thuparama Dagoba which is the oldest in
sri lanka. After this place we went to Isurumuniya Vihara temple. Inside this temple, you could see the portraits of gods and saints on the wall. There were also cave – like holes for the guards. An old man who knew English well was explaining and guiding us. He showed us how to present flowers to Buddha statue, explaining some of Buddhism custom. It was interesting that you shouldn’t smell the follower you’re giving to the statue. It was strange to us but we remembered that Mr Omidwar had say to us that you shod respect and observe other people’s custom and religion. Our bare feet were burning from the heat, yet we were enjoying the smell of incense, Jasmine and Lotus which were dedicated to the statue by the visitors.
One of the interesting statues that we saw was a lying Buddha with half – closed eyes which showed him before death according to the myths. There were some holes in another part of the temple where people were throwing coins into them. They believed if the coin went into the hole, it was the sign of good luck and vice versa. The old man explained to us that to have peace of mind and keeping the body balance is essential for throwing the coin in the right place.
We saw a group of men, women and children who were worshiping in front of some Buddha statues. Here for the first time we saw a group of Buddhist monks with shaved heads, bare foot, yellow and dark red clothes whose peace and simplicity was very attractive.
We could hear different birds and see many monkeys and flying eagles in the sky. You could feel this feeling of peace and simplicity among the animals too. We finished our visit to historical Anuradhapura at sunset and went back to where we had stayed.
We had fruits again for dinner which contained avocado with brown sugar, papaya and bananas. After dinner our landlord who was a retired a teacher spoke to us. He said that by renting some rooms in his house he earns some money and said we are the first Iranians that he had seen. We got some useful information about original
Sri Lankan(aborigines) who were living like primitive people in present time there.
Trip to Polonnaruwa
The next morning we went to Polonnaruwa which is also one of the eight world’s heritage in Sri Lanka Island. We started from north to southeastern part of the country.
We saw first a primitive cart which was dragged by two humped caws. It was carrying some wood by a piece of wood which was put bet between the animal’s neck and hump. After that and along the canal we saw men who were washing some elephants they were caring some sticks with an end which looked like an arrow with which they were ordering the angry elephants to sit, sleep or throw water with their trunks.
We learned some new things in that country, we learned that after a short distance there are small temples with statues of gods and other religious symbols. The people who were living close to these temples would worship them by bringing candles, flowers and incense, you could see these temples even in small roads between cities. We saw a statue of elephant god(Ganesh)Who is one of the gods of Hindu religious. The irrigation process in villages was interesting for us. There was no sanitary system of water and people would provide the water by pumping from the wells. We saw a handicraft shop which would sell statues and wooden masks, carved beautifully with skill which were really masterpieces. They let us go and see the process of making these handicrafts. We realized they make the colors in a natural way. For example, they would take a pieces of red wood and turn it to a powder which they poured in a glass of hot water to make red color. Then they would put a knife which was covered by sour lemon inside the glass with red color and changed it to color purple.
The statues and masks represented faces of human and animals. The shopkeeper explained to us that each of these masks represents something. For example if a face was with a peacock it was symbol of good luck. If the face was with a cobra snake, it would represent protection and if the face was surrounded by fire, it would symbolize devil and many other signs.
Thick trees of tropical zone with roots which were coming out of the soil with entangled branches along the canals covered with water lilies were all very beautiful to see. We had studied at school about these things in our geography book and now the many monkey there were telling us how far we’ve got from our country.
In the western part of pan… we saw the biggest handmade reservoir of water which was called Para Karma Samuvay with a capacity of 134 million square meter of water and an area of 25000 acres. It was built in 11th century by the order of Sri Lanka king. We learned that in 11th century the capital of country was transferred from Anuradhapura
to this place. The road we had taken was between this canal and rice paddies and was very beautiful. We saw some women with their Sari dresses who were bating in the water.
Visit to Polonnarywa
Polonnarywa had a population of lo6 thousand when we visit there. This place had become the religious and business center and from 1982 it had become universal heritage by unesco . visitors had to pay 25 dollars to enter this complex which contained the king’s palace, dagobas and many statues with different sizes.
We first saw the king’s palace. The main entrance where the king would receive people had beautiful stone elephants in different positions and stone lions on top of the stairs which represented the palace protectors. The building which had a height of 13-meters height and had seven floors.
There were many vendors who were selling something like a flute and also the ones who were selling ancient coins which they had found after heavy rain in this area. Some of them asked us to give them some of our money because they were collecting money from all over the world which was a lie. We realized later that their money comparing to other countries was so low that even a small coin comparing to rupee was a great amount of money for them.
After visiting this historical place, we reached a temple which according to what local people were saying was for the couples who couldn’t have children. In the center of this temple there was a piece of stone which symbolized man’s penis. They would pour coconut milk on it and the couples would kiss the stone and drink the coconut milk. Para Kambahu 1 we reached the statue of king which was 3.5 meter after the temple. Later on and in the southern part of this complex we came to Potgul Vehera or library of monks where they had used beautiful statues to build it.
The Buddhas used to go there and study holy books and pray in the past. Here we saw a strange tree which was a combination of four tress entangled together.
The next part that we visited was called Tivanka Image House, here we saw a big Buddha statue which shine after lighting a candle because of the quality of the stone that it was made of. On the wall this building you could also see the pictures of gods and saints.
Then we visited Rankot Vehara which was the biggest dagoba of the region with a height of 54 meter. The stone temple of Gal Vihara was the most attractive one because of several Buddha statues in different sizes and positions made of granite. The lying Buddha was 14 meters and the standing one was 7 meters you could see the skill of men in creating these master pieces.
There was a temple in this complex which belonged to Indians. You were not allowed to take photos but taking films was permitted. A stone book by the name of Gol Patha was there with some writing in Sanskrit and Sinhala Which was very important. All the stones in this historical complex were numbered by unesco to be kept safely.
The local people believed that in the time of building this ancient complex in 11th century, the builders discovered a material which would soften the stones to make them easier to work with. We had heard something like this about Chogha Zanbil in Iran which was built 3 thousand years ago.
To see Sigiriya rock with a car which is one of other Sri Lanka’s heritage. Our driver who was scared of elephant’s attack would drive very fast. He was saying that after the sunset, it would be more probable that the elephants would attack us. We could see that around the village the people had put fences to avoid the elephants attack. Near the sunset we reach Sigiriya. A small village with only one thousand populations. At night we decided to walk through the woods for experiencing some excitement but very soon we changed our minds because of the elephants.
In the morning, we could see the beautiful scenery of Sigiriya rock from our room; This ancient rock was the remains of a dead volcano lava three centuries ago. It used to be a sanctuary for recluse monks, the other part that we visited were the Cobra Cave, Royal Gardens, Paintings on the walls which they said belonged to the fifth century. We had to pay 25 dollars for this visit. We saw a travelling vendor who was selling his fish on a tricycle.