We’ve only been in this country for three or four days, but it’s an easy country to love so far. Women in brilliant gold embellished saris walk under the shade of parasols. Piles of tropical fruits and bright fabrics line the market stalls while hawkers yell and ring bells to entice you into their shops. Tuk-tuks putter past tangerine robed monks and Buddha statues. Heavy wood furniture and antiques line restaurant walls while a tiny Sri Lankan waiter impeccably dressed in white polishes china for $3 meals. Curry and spice smells emanate from every corner. It is truly candy for the senses.
After a very delayed flight from Jakarta, we landed near the capitol city of Colombo at 11pm in a sleepy haze, found a guest house nearby and early the next morning made our way to the train station via a combination of tuk-tuks and busses. Sri Lanka with its Dutch and English colonial past, retained a very impressive railway infrastructure for such a small developing country. We were hoping for first class tickets for the train from Colombo to Kandy, but alas, only second class was available so this made for a very exciting entry to the train.
Standing on the platform, before we could even see the train, the crowd became oddly agitated and within seconds the rail platform was transformed as dozens of Sri Lankans vied to be first onto the train, as there is no assigned seating. Of course we suspected something like this would occur, but the speed and the magnitude of the transformation still surprised us. We thought our plan was solid, with Katy using her excellent strength to size ratio as our lead to grab us a pair of seats, while Chris dealt with the surfboards. However, despite Katy’s best efforts, tiny grandmothers, kids, gentlemen in suits and women in saris pushed and shoved their way past her and into the train and we were left laughing with small shelf to lean on in the galley. The scenery is quite spectacular, of course we are still in the tropics so it is very green but much more rugged and untamed than we expected. It was a great experience, hanging out the door of the moving train with the locals, as we flew down the tracks into a beautiful country, images from an exotic movie imprinted on us.
We arrived in the bustling hill town of Kandy, loaded our luggage into and onto a little three wheeled tuk-tuk, destination: lunch. After a delicious lunch of all things, Chinese food, we set up at an inexpensive guesthouse for $7/night, instantly welcomed by kids, grandmothers, cousins and a friendly mop looking dog named Bruno. Apparently Bruno is well loved by the monks and has been known to attend evening prayers at the temple.
Sri Lanka is a primarily Buddhist country and Kandy houses several temples including the main attraction which is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Yep, the left canine of the Buddha is housed in the sprawling temple, and no you don’t actually get to see it because it is housed in an altar in a closed gilded room guarded by monks. Nonetheless, we enjoyed strolling the grounds with our audio guides (love those) with the hordes of school children on field trips and the devote pilgrims. This is an important pilgrimage for Sri Lankan buddhists and a very important part of Sri Lankan history and culture. For dinner we enjoyed our first real Sri Lankan meal which means, you guessed it – curry. Yep, it was spicy and good, and pretty much lit Chris on fire.
Kandy is quite refreshing. After two months in Indo its great to be back in a country that values pedestrian friendly avenues and the aesthetically pleasing city with a small picturesque lake is much appreciated. The climate is also very enjoyable with mild temperatures and near constant breezes. When we tire of walking, the tuk-tuk rides are just a blast, an open air combo of motorcycle and very small car. They are the perfect taxi vehicle, and impressively 1 out of 7 of all Sri Lankans own one. And for a reported $3500 USD, its Chris’ big ticket item on his Christmas list for this year.
An unusual hazard in Kandy are the cheeky monkeys which stalk the tourist path around the lake. Again lucky for Chris, he has Katy here to protect him. What a sight, watching Katy swing our bag of lunch goodies at the “attacking” monkeys. She transformed into an aggressive and ominous sight, tucked low, swinging the bag of groceries with both arms extended, all the while the monkeys scrambling and squawking. True this is the same woman and same species that posed for cute dinner photos just a few days ago, but how quickly that can change. Luckily all involved avoided injuries, we did not lose any of our groceries, and entertainment was enjoyed by everyone, including the locals.