Kandy, man!

Day 5 – Kandy


Like it or loathe it, whatever your view of Kandy it can flip in a heartbeat. An 8 hour train from Galle (2 less than the journey that got us to Sri Lanka) does sensitise a person to the tribulations inevitable to unplanned travel but nonetheless our first evening in the spiritual capital was one of extraordinary frustration and rare anger. We searched first for the £3.50 a night guesthouse run by Burmese monks. Alas no trace could be found on its supposed road or in people’s local knowledge. We entered into the familiar tug of war with a tuk-tuk driver over where we wanted to go and where he wanted to take us. We checked into a mosquito-ridden guesthouse where the beer had run out by the ‘charming’ ethnic music being played in the garden most certainly had not. I don’t know if it was a man or a woman that ran the place but I do know he/she had a mightily impressive afro. Over a bottle of Coke we began talking to a well travelled Serb whose interest s clearly lay in the seedier side of South East Asian countries. After giving enthusiastically non-committal responses to his request to travel with us we retired to our malarial shoebox, sorry, room.
The morning brought a triumvirate of challenges, those being finding new lodgings, obtaining Indian visas and locating a bar to watch the cricket. Fruitless searches in the hills for a YMCA that existed only on a map left us desperate enough to ask a tuk-tuk driver for his recommendations. His drive back into the hills from which we had just descended was brought to a halt by already brittle tempers snapping in the back seat. His English deserted him just as ours reached full pitch. He stopped to pick up a friend ostensibly for advice, in reality probably for protection. The new guy secured us a ‘good deal’ (Sri Lankan for ‘bad deal’) in otherwise pleasant accommodation next to Kandy lake. The priciest place so far but it did boast paper in the toilet and a monkey in the garden. The staff at the Indian visa office had been given a day’s holiday due to the aforementioned country’s presence in the cricket world cup final but a sign on the closed door advised us of the preliminary paperwork we needed to complete. The forms being online there began a hunt for access. We completed the laborious details required for entry to India (Father’s favourite colour?) quickly and accurately with my addition of ‘Afghanistan’ as Mrs. Hartles’ second nationality being the only black mark.
Forms done, passport photos taken, the world cup final was about to start. The Sri Lankans made a good total (imagine this in Richie Benaud’s voice) but studied Indian hitting overcame them to the despair of our fellow patrons in ‘The Pub’. Our own beer total was no less impressive and we did nothing to dispel the English stereotype of inveterate drunkards, sorry England. Still, we were in better nick than most of the natives who ere clearly lacking our match practise.
Sunday brought sights. The Temple of the Tooth contains the aforementioned item retrieved from the Buddha’s funeral pyre and smuggled into Sri Lanka many moons ago. Or at least it is reputed to ‘cause ain’t nobody allowed to see it. An underwhelming experience shoulder to shoulder with visitors all to see a venerated box. Afterwards, I questioned the worth of visiting these famous places. What exactly am I getting from these experiences? An identical picture and a tick off a mental checklist, resolved to think harder about this in the future. A trek to the top of a hill overlooking Kandy provided a more rewarding experience despite the sun beating down on our already pinkened brows. We stood next to the giant Buddha and surveyed the teeming city as once Hilary surveyed the Himalaya (I may overstate slightly).
After tucking into our most authentic (menu in Sinhala or Tamil, your choice!) and extensive meal to date at the bottom of the hill we tukked it to the Peredeniya Gardens with little else to do. But what a highlight! Green and serene and a perfect tonic. Palm-lined avenues and orchid houses were a blessed break from the dusts and the car horns that we left at the gate. A massively broad tree shrieked with the sound of bird call. That is what we though until a jagged outline of leather cut through the sky above and the hanging brown leaves at the top began to writhe. Bats were suddenly all about, swooping this way and that in their hundreds. With the thre3at of rain in the air we returned to Kandy town heartened by nature’s uplifting touch.

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