Taking the Train to Kandy
Sri Lanka. The teardrop shaped country off of India had never really been on my radar until another PiA fellow went and posted photos. It looked lovely and a quick Google search showed $160 round-trip tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. I didn’t know much about Sri Lanka except that it was a former British colony named Ceylon, there had been a long-running civil war that had only ended a few years ago, and that singer M.I.A. had roots there. And so, Chloe and I decided on a whim that we should go and see it all for ourselves. This was my first trip to South Asia and I don’t think I could have asked for a better introduction. We arrived early in the morning and immediately took a cab to the train station. Our first destination: the city of Kandy, located in the Hill Country.
We sat in the second-class train car for four hours. Vendors walked up and down the aisles touting fried snacks and fruits as we passed through a lush green landscape. We arrived in Kandy on a Sunday and grabbed a bajaj. By 6 p.m. the city was eerily quiet. The next morning when we walked into town, the hustle and bustle was in full swing. We watched men chatting in traditional sarongs in front of Kandy Lake — a natural point of orientation for the city. The lake was constructed in 1807 by the last king of Kandy. Lonely Planet notes that people who objected to working on the project, “were ruthlessly put to death on stakes in the lake bed.” Gulp.
The British colonial legacy is still apparent throughout the parts of Sri Lanka we traveled in. The Queen’s Hotel sits opposite of Kandy Lake:
Kandy is the capital of Sinhalese culture and people from all over Sri Lanka come here to visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. One of Buddah’s teeth is housed in this temple. The tooth has many tales and legends associated with it. The British respected this temple and knew that people saw it as an important symbol, some even believing whoever had control over the tooth had the right to rule Sri Lanka.
People were praying and leaving beautiful flower offerings throughout the temple.
We stopped at the Sri Dalada Museum to see old documents, letters, and photos concerning the temple. There were also photographs of the 1998 bombing of the front entrance that was orchestrated by the Tamil Tigers during the war.
Girls stroll through the complex in old-school British-style uniforms:
We walked through the old British cemetery in town and it seemed to be the preferred napping place for local dogs:
Below is photo of an old clock tower in town with a bajaj speeding by. Bajaj, (this is the brand name of the Indian company that makes them) sometimes also known as tuk-tuk, are found throughout Sri Lanka. I found it fairly easy to bargain in Sri Lanka with bajaj drivers and vendors. People were friendly and spoke good English. From other travelers we spoke with, everyone made it seem as though Sri Lanka is the best calm introduction to South Asia and if you want a crazier rhythm, India isn’t too far away.
We spent a good part of our days here wandering the city. It was an eclectic mix of different types of architecture reflecting the mix of different religions, cultures and the foreigners who passed through.
Where to Stay: We stayed at Forest Glen Guesthouse (150/6, Lady Gordon’s Drive, Kandy, 222 2239). The guesthouse was about a 10-minute walk into town and was located up in the hills surrounded by greenery. Be warned the dinner here is very pricey. But the best part? Monkeys emerged from the surrounding forest and paid us a visit:
Those first few days in Sri Lanka I felt great. But soon I would be limping and smelling like curry oil…more to come.