Although it sounds a little silly, the panorama car is not a bad deal, and it only costs an extra 0.50USD. Honestly, I spent most of the ride up with my head out the window, which I could have done just as well in second or third class, but it was nice to have the big picture window out the back showing us where we had gone. The first hour or more took us through the flatland surrounding Colombo before taking a steep ascent into the hills. The tracks run through a number of small villages and past some stupas and the like, but perhaps the most interesting sight is all the people walking along the tracks. You can see school children, farm workers, tradesmen, etc. Quite cool. Along the way, the sky burst out into a heavy rain which added to the depth of the whole scene.
More than the city itself, the purpose of visiting Kandy is to stay in the surrounding hills. Karu arranged a place with a perfect view over the city and its man-made lake below. McLeod Inn had only four rooms and I stayed in room number one for the next two nights. After a simple dinner of rice and curry, a sat on the balcony reading for a while before the lights went out for the night.
Like some of the temples in Thailand and elsewhere, the Buddhist temple in Kandy claims to have actual personal effects from the original Buddha himself, Sidhartha Gautama. And despite the fact that Buddha told his people not to hold idols and worship any particular superior being, there is a built an
impressive temple in Kandy to house the Tooth Relic, which has been the national pride of Sri Lanka since it was brought here a couple thousand years ago. The Portugese say they destroyed it in an effort to stamp-out non-Christian religions, but the Sri Lankans claim that the stolen version was a fake. At any rate, the box that it is kept in, as well as the cool temple surrounding the box, are
still admired by thousands of Buddhists each year. Further, when the Tamil Tigers (Hindus, mind you) wanted to attract attention to their secession cause, they tried to bomb this temple a couple years ago thereby killing a few and ten people and also causing a change in the security measures at the temple. Anyway, despite all this nonsense, the Temple of the Tooth Relic is THE sight to see in Kandy. And while you are there, stop by the Tusker museum on the grounds. It houses the embalmed remains of the elephant who loyally carried the Tooth Relic through many parades over this fifty year career.
This one is kind of like the orang utan rehab center I visited last year in Borneo. Over sixty elephants roam somewhat freely across the impressive grounds here as the government tries to prepare these orphans for life as workers or circus performers or the like. The highlight here is not watching the babies drink liter after liter of fortified milk, but later watching the whole gang rumble across the road and down a path to the nearby river. And, of course, someone had the business acumen to put in a big buffet restaurant overlooking the river so that you can take your lunch while the elephants take their bath. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.
Shopping and Souvenirs
Other things to see and do in Kandy revolve a bit around commercial enterprises, even if they are based on a history of genuine craftsmanship. I was shown the herb garden and the Batik fabric shop. Both are actually really informative and quite fascinating if you have never made a tie-died t-shirt or seen where cinnamon comes from. The problem is that they make it very difficult to leave without buying something.
After the herb garden experience, I was a little leery of the chance to see authentic Kandy dances performed on a stage at the YMBA. But, it's the YMBA (for young Buddhist men) and the dance masks I had seen at the museum in Colombo had me intrigued. I was very delighted to find that this little performance is easily one of the highlights of my visit. The house was packed with tourists even thought they do this performance every day. The group starts off with an intense drum number before they bring in the dancers. Then they go through about a dozen different songs and styles which are all described on a little leaflet that you received on arrival. The guy next to me and I were intrigued by the one older man in the group. Aside from this sixty-somethng the average age of the group of fifteen was probably twenty. The man did not lack enthusiam, but he had trouble keeping up with his yonger breatheren now and then. Overall, the whole thing was quite entertaining and a true must-see for any trip to the area.
The final big sight of my visit to the area was the former royal garden at Perdeniya which is now open to the public. Again a botanical garden is not something I would normally visit on trip overseas, but this one is worth the time. I was especially interested in the bamboo collection including the Giant Burmese bamboo and various decorative Chinese bamboos. Aside from being a good place for a nice long walk, this garden is a great place to watch bats in flight. I don't think this was planned into the program, but the park has become home to more than a thousand bats which hang from the tallest tree limbs and screech back and forth at each other all day long. Very fun to watch.