Kandy is the cultural capital and also the second largest city in Sri Lanka. It was the Kandyan Kings who nurtured and propagated Buddhism together with this town. According to a belief, Buddha’s tooth relic was smuggled from India so as to protect it from the so called evil kings. They believe that the tooth relic brings in prosperity to the land where it is kept.
Tamil is the official language in addition to Sinhala and most of them converse easily in English or Tamil. We were advised in the beginning not to engage in conversation on controversial issues with the natives. There is some amount of mistrust between the Tamils and Sinhalese. At the same time we also found many of the temples being renovated even in lesser Tamil dominant towns.
Sri Lanka has a very good road network through out and reasonably good rail connectivity, of British Era, between major cities. We wanted to feel both the experiences and planned to take up the 3 hour bus journey from Colombo to Kandy, to begin with.
In about an hours time, the bus reached hilly terrain, leaving behind the hot and humid coastal planes. The bus was almost full. A Sri Lankan girl sitting behind me showed the point to get down to reach the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala. It was originally started as an orphanage for elephants and calves that are handicapped by landmine explosion. Now it is one of the biggest centres for Asian Elephants. She also showed us some other points of interest like the rail museum, and the botanical gardens while travelling in the bus. In between an elderly women kept her heavy baggage below the seat of our son, depriving him of the comfortable leg space. Our Son Achu wanted to convey his displeasure but I stared at him to keep quiet.
We had booked a room in “Sevana Lodge” Kandy well in advance. It had basic facilities like airy rooms, good linen, neat toilets and hot water shower. The owner with her family is living downstairs. She has converted the 1st 2nd and 3rd floors into a Guest house.
Auto Rickshaws (Tuk Tuks) are available through out though the cheapest and best mode for local travel is the town buses.
Kandiyan people are beautiful. They are not very fair but have good features possibly due to the traditional classical dance form they practice. We got a glimpse of one such dance in Kandy. It resembled a war dance and had combination of excellent reflexes, songs and rhythm of drums.
Kandy has a beautiful lake in the middle, beside the famous Tooth Relic Temple, (Dalada Maligawa), the most sacred of all the Buddhist centres in the world. The ticket costs SL Rs.1000/- for foreigners and SL Rs.500/- for SAARC country citizens. The Structure was partially damaged once by the LTTE bombers killing eight people.
Sri Lankans are big fans of elephants. Elephant tusks (ivory) are displayed in all Buddhist shrines. The annual festival of the tooth temple (resembling the Dussera of Mysore) and the procession involving elephants and Kandiyan Dancers is world famous.
Sri Lankans have better civic sense compared to Indians. The towns and cities are kept clean. Parts of Kandy town, its junctions, roads, old buildings and sub-ways resemble some unknown town in England or Europe. Yes, the influence of the Colonial past. Unpredictable rains added to the charm.
The second major attraction in Kandy, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradenia, five miles away from the town, is the home for the rarest species of plants in Sri Lanka. Said to have set up in the 13th century by the Kandiyan Kings, this 150 acres garden is a professionally managed centre displaying botanical wealth of Sri Lanka. The creative and scientific method of display of different species is praiseworthy. There are sections allotted for different species having different variants of same species found in the sub continent. One cannot finish the whole area in a day. We spent half a day in the garden. A must visit place in Kandy.
We also visited a hill town, Nuara Elia, located about 70 miles south of Kandy, famous for the tea plantations described as the Switzerland of Sri Lanka. Europeans preferred to stay here for the cool weather. It is also an escape for the Sri Lankans from the scorching heat of Colombo. Paucity of time and non availability of train ticket forced us to reduce the trip to a one day affair hiring a cab, which costed us SL Rs.4000/-. It was school holiday time in Sri Lanka. The hill station has under it a vast area of tea gardens and associated processing centres. A very big lake and a beautiful garden are the major attractions.
We found here a temple dedicated to Goddess Sita (Sita Elia). According our Ramayana, this area should have been Ashok Van. The priest showed us the footprints of Hanuman who landed here in search of mother Sita sitting below a Ashok Tree.
It was great to witness the expertise and professionalism with which the PWD people work here. It took only an hour for them to clear the road block caused by a landside in the Nuwara Elia- Kandy Section. JCBs were being put to use to remove the earth and big cutting machines removing the fallen trees.
While returning from Kandy, we opted for Train Journey. Only 3rd class tickets were available, obviously the cheapest. Train journey offers most of the panoramic view of the hill country. Excellent Sri Lankan Tea and some snacks were provided to us in the train. Overall, the two and half hours train journey from Kandy to Colombo was the highlight of our trip.
Authored by: PN Sampath Kumar,
Cochin Shipyard, Kochi.
Second of the Series
Cochin Shipyard, Kochi.
Second of the Series