KandyDecember 15, 2016 in Sri Lanka
So after the rough ride we basically threw ourselves off the train at Kandy train station. Not exaggerating when I say 'throw', the crowds were terrible and pushing to get on without letting us off first, the trains are also raised very high. So after passing the smaller bags through the open window to Phil, I had to throw myself into the crowd as the only way to exit. Yes I crushed some people but hey if they won't wait what can I do!? Unfortunately the concept of patience and queuing is lost here, especially when it comes to the fight for best seats, not that there were any...
As we left the station we weren't in the best mood for the usual tuktuk drivers games. We knew the price it should be to take us to our guesthouse so we held our ground. Some drivers didn't take too well to this but we moved on and found a young lad who did it for the accurate price (half what the others said).
Upon arriving at our guesthouse it was like an oasis. A kind lady greeted us and took us upstairs where there was a gardened covered balcony right outside our room. It was quiet, even on a main road and was a lovely escape.
We went to a hotel restaurant two houses away which was recommended (described as clean so I'll take that) and we actually had this amazing Chinese feast, which definitely made us feel more human. As we felt dead, the rest of the day was to chill and recover from the full on travelling experience.
The next day we were refreshed and went out to experience the city. Only a 10 minute walk away was Kandy lake, the centrepiece of the area and next to it The Temple of the Tooth, one of the main sacred Buddhist templates in the world.
As we walked towards the entrance there was a large crowd gathering where we wanted to go. As I looked through to see what was happening I was met with an armed guard with a machine gun... so we will be waiting here I thought.
I realised behind him was a red carpet and suddenly an onslaught of photographers and video cameramen came running down following a police escort and a blacked out car. Clearly someone very important was arriving. We watched him and a huge entourage walk down and wave at us all and go through a traditional ceremony and into the temple. Shortly after we were allowed through to buy our tickets (somewhat overpriced ticket considering locals are allowed in for free) and then wait again out in the sun. Even locals were fainting around us so it was a tough 20 minute wait or so! But finally we went in, along with crowds of Sri Lankans with flowers to offer. To be honest it was pretty mad being pushed along somewhat like cattle, and we were glad to be outside the back of the temple to get some air and explore at our own pace. The main draw of this temple is the 'tooth' of the Buddha which is housed here in a gold casket, and is one of the most precious relics to Buddhists. I saw it for a maximum of 3 seconds before being forced to move on. Maybe it was just a bad day to visit.
After we explored the whole site we went for a leisurely lunch at a lovely cafe just outside the temple, where we even indulged on ice cream sundaes. We wanted a treat after feeling somewhat disappointed with our temple experience. Afterwards we went for a wonder around the lake which was pleasant and saw a surprising amount of wildlife including a huge monitor lizard sunning itself on the edge of the water 1m from us.
Off a side street is the Garrison cemetery which was recommended to visit. After strolling around the caretaker who has worked there for 20 years started telling us the stories of some of the people buried there, and wow were they fascinating. To a point where we've looked up these people since. Whether it was the last British colonial man to be killed by a wild elephant, to the millionaire robbed by Sri Lankas 'Robin Hood' who then gave his wealth out to the poor in the mountains, there were quite some interesting tales. Prince Charles went to visit this cemetery in the nounties and he was still gushing about that visit which was sweet.
After we left the cemetery it was a short walk back to the lake and to the red cross hall for a cultural show we had booked tickets for. Kandy is known for these dance shows so we knew we had to see one.
The show itself was very good with impressive costumes and performances. But at the end was even more impressive when they brought out hot coals and men starting walking bare foot across them as well as eating fire. Besides being covered in ash it was quite a thing to see. We still don't know how they did it.
The next day we decided to have a leisurely start and went to the outskirts of the city to Kandy's famed botanical gardens, and the largest in Asia. To be honest we weren't expecting much but boy were we wrong. I've never been to gardens more stunning and varied. They had different sections from the Orchid house to the spice garden and each one was in a class of it's own. The colours and smells everywhere was amazing and so luscious. As well as being immaculately matained. As we walked around there was also plenty of animals, lots of monkies which Phil happily walked through as a huge group passed by, and giant flying fox bats hanging from the fern trees. This only added to the amazing nature around.
Another thing that happened is a group of some sort of summer school approached us. Now we are quite used to be stopped and asked for photos, especially tall blond haired Phil which is of extra excitement to the locals. But this was different as it was a range of schoolchildren of different ages learning English, and they desperately wanted to practise. We had all the questions like what are our favourite hobbies and so on, it was really quite adorable and we were happy to stop and chat. However it started to go a little bit awkward when they insisted we sing a song, which we begrudgingly did (we sang Jingle Bells) but then they kept pushing for us to dance too. I wanted to point over to the actual monkies in the park and tell them to ask them to perform instead. But i restrained these thoughts and grabbed Phils phone, knowing that he would give in wanting to please them and I better get the video going!
Well let's just say it may be one of the most awkward but hilarious moments of my entire life. A school girl sang this slow independence song and Phil was just wiggling about with this 7 year old boy, then burst into the robot moves, because what else could you do!? No one really knew what was happening but I was genuinely shaking with laughter. In fact shortly after when Phil signalled he really wanted to leave now (bless him) I was hunched over crying in hysterics watching the video back. Sorry to say folks Phil has banned anyone from viewing this...currently. It took a while to get over this encounter but then we went back to exploring the gardens and stayed there for hours.
We got the bus back and was dropped right outside the prison on a hill so we could see in. To say it was grim is an understatement. If anyone watched the TV show 'Prison Break' think about SONA.. it is just like that, horrendous.
Now we were very tired and hot and needed an escape, so upon a recommendation from a fellow traveller we ducked into a plush shopping mall just off the lake. It had an impressive food hall with food from all over the world and we tucked in. Sri Lankan food is great but nice to have a change from rice and curry sometimes, and it was delicious. We then indulged in some fancy ice creams and suddenly we felt recuperated. We strolled back to our guesthouse and relaxed ready for another full day of travelling the next day, to go North and do some more ancient temple exploring.