The guide books all tell the unsuspecting traveler that they must take the train to Kandy. They entice us with tales of First Class observation car travel and spectacular views as one rises into the hill country and leaves the hustle and bustle of Colombo behind. I fell for it.
It only cost $11.79 for the ticket which I booked through a travel agent outside the train station the day before my scheduled departure from Colombo. We arrived at 7 the next morning…me with a pack on my back and a hat on my head ready for the next phase of the Sri Lankan adventure. As I arrived I happened to notice that armed soldiers were standing at all the entrances to the train station…hmm…how odd. Not so odd it seems, as the railroad went on strike that morning.
I immediately thought of Laurel & Hardy…this is another fine mess I’m in. It was not so bad really because within 15 minutes a private car and driver were engaged for the trip. The price jumped to $35 a person but it was worth every penny. Our driver drove us around to several different hotels once we were in Kandy so we could find a long term rental and overall was very helpful, friendly and a reasonably good English speaker.
Yesterday in the local English language paper the “Daily News” I saw a picture of the Kandy to Colombo train broken down and the passengers all hoofing it down the track baggage in hand. They had to walk 3 Km to where they could get a bus to move on. Ah, the joys of travel!
Kandy sits in a basin. The hills surrounding the center of the city have hotels, guest houses and private homes overlooking the main attraction of the town…The Sacred Tooth Temple and the Kandy Lake. Because my friend Paula and I were planning on staying here a month I had envisioned renting a bike and using it to tool around the small city every day. Unfortunately, I did not know that aside from the relatively small area of flat land in the center of town everything is on the sides of steep hillsides… Another fine mess I’m in. Well no matter, there are lots of 3 wheel tuk tuk’s around for very little money and most of the time we can walk.
I have a bit of a problem with Kandy…of course it is entirely my problem. The problem being…I’m spending 30 days in a 4 day town. This is compounded by the fact that after the first 4 days it started to rain and has done so every day since.
The Sacred Tooth Temple is the big draw here in Kandy. It is the most venerated temple in all of Sri Lanka…floods of pilgrims traverse the temple grounds, elephants wander around, hundreds of monkeys loiter around waiting to snatch a bag out of someone’s hand if it contains some fruit, chanting is broadcast from loudspeakers, cymbals clang and drums bang…all because one of Buddha’s teeth is lodged within.
I have suggested to some of the locals that this would be a great place to hold Orthodontist Conventions. Great tie in and it would be good for the local businesses catering to tourist. I don’t think they get it…I’m met with scowls’ It was the same years ago when I suggested to the monks at a Trappist monastery to put a slogan “Saints preserve us” on the jams they sold…again with the scowls. Perhaps marketing is not my forte.
Beside the temple is a large man-made lake created by the last King of the Kingdom of Kandy before the British conquered the region and dispatched the king to India in 1815. It is a lovely little lake set in the middle of town and filled with water fowl and fish. In the middle of the lake a charming island landscaped with palm trees and bamboo that once housed the Queens summer palace while directly across from it on the edge of the lake is the queen’s bath house. A pleasant tree lined walkway surrounds the lake and is perfect for a morning stroll and some bird watching.
The small town of 100,000 has a busy commercial district filled with people each day, a multi story market offering both food and clothing and as is typical of Asia street vendors of every description.
As I have said it is a perfect 4 day town on the way to the tea plantations and the national parks set in the hills. Be sure to visit…but not for long.