A six hour bus journey from Trinco brought us to Kandy, the weather for the entire journey was ghastly. The monsoon had joined forces with a cyclone, bringing a torrent of rain for 36 hours straight.
As we passed through villages and towns the effects of the weather were dramatic, entire fields were under water, homes and temples flooded and lives thrown into chaos. Fortunately, the weather in Kandy was much improved and was akin to an English summer's day, with nothing worse than it being cold with a light drizzle. We jumped in a tuktuk and got to our hotel. We were welcomed with a pot of Ceylon tea and home made cake and as our bodies relaxed from the long journey, we immediately started to feel at home.
We awoke in pitch black, our involuntary afternoon nap extended into early evening. We switched on the bedroom light, bad decision. Within seconds, 20 huge flying insects came seemingly from under the bed or from the wardrobe or through the floorboards. A mild panic seeded in us as the numbers of flying insects grew. We decided the best thing to do was go and find the staff for some help. We left the room and the hallway was in darkness, we groped blindly for the light switch. After a few seconds the hall light was switched on, bad decision. The hallway filled with the flying insects that seemed to be attracted as much to our faces as the lightbulb. One of the guys from the hotel must have heard our distress and quickly came into the hall and switched off the light. The darkness immediately restored order, the insects disappeared and as we stood in the blackness, we wondered if that had really happened. The hotel chap led us through the building to the front door and showed us the extent of the insect invasion. Around every light source from bright streetlights to the ambiently lit path markers thousands of the flying insects swarmed. Now both of the hotel guys were standing with us and they were smiling at our looks of horror and wonder. I can only liken it back to an English summer day when the flying ants hatch and fill the air. Multiply that by 42,895.88% and you may get somewhere near what we were experiencing.
Apparently, about twice or three times a year and after the rains these insects hatch in the millions, fly around manically, shed their wings, mate and die. All within the space of two hours. We went out to get dinner and sure enough by the time we returned, only a few were still bouncing off the lighting outside and the insects in our room were dead.
The following day was a public holiday, we decided to forgo the tuktuk tour and explore on foot. As we left the hotel grounds, the hotel tuk tuk driver called after us for one last go at getting a fare, we explained that we were walking and he seemed so confused at this.
Kandy is a busy town. Possibly the busiest place we've visited so far on our trip. It's mountainous and the roads zigzag lazily around the surrounding hills. It's a very lush place too and with higher than average rain fall, all of the flora does very well. Mango trees flourish by the roadside. The green fruit hangs temptingly within our reach, but unfortunately, it's a little too early in the season and these mangos would only be good for pickling (pickled mango is delicious). We headed first to Kandy lake. This picturesque landmark has a dark history. The lake was created using forced labour in 1807 and was built on a site where paddy fields once were. At the time, 100 of the Sinhalese King's advisors remonstrated with the king advising him that in such tough times, destroying arable land to build a lake might not be a great idea. The king had all 100 advisors impaled.
The walk around the lake was very tranquil despite much of it running alongside a busy road. There were hundreds of fish visible at every point we stopped, they looked a little like carp and they hungrily came to the surface on the off chance we were going to throw some food to them. Occasionally, if we lingered in any particular location for more than a few minutes, a giant fish would rise stealthily from the depths, it's huge rubbery red lips would break the surface like a ninja granny looking for a kiss.
Around the far side it becomes much quieter, the main road snakes away north, and the leafy side road that now runs alongside is lined with governmental buildings and temples. In the trees, fruit bats chatter and on the ground red faced macaques tease and then bully huge, red wattled, Muskovy ducks out of the way to get at the bread and other morsels that have been left by people.
The wildlife around the lake was pretty varied, and also included spectacular water monitor lizards and giant terrapins.
Next to the lake is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. The temple houses a tooth of Buddha that was rescued from the funeral pyre.
The temple complex is the most sacred buddhist site in Sri Lanka. It was beautiful and heavily guarded as today the president and prime minister of Sri Lanka were visiting. There is an old and new shrine. The old shrine is simply exquisite. The intricately painted walls and ceilings were adorned with pictures of flowers and animals endemic to Sri Lanka. The polished tusks of elephants, despite our feelings towards the killing of animals for their body parts, were indeed impressive but left us confused about the Buddhist doctrine of harming no living thing.
The wooden structure was carved so beautifully, down to the finest details of the feathers of the peacocks and the stamens of the flowers. The old, dark wood set in contrast to the vibrant ancient paint.
The new temple has numerous statues of Buddha in various seated poses. We counted 18 statues and along with more polished tusks. The new shrine, while tranquil lacked the grandeur and sheer beauty of the old shrine and we couldn't help feeling that some of the historical importance dissipated within the newer setting.
We walked around the grounds for an hour or so and were given rare access to one of the viewing platforms in the higher reaches of the temple building, we think simply for being polite and saying 'thank you' in Sinhala. It's nice to be nice.
From the temple we headed toward Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha temple. The 80 feet statue sits atop a small mountain (Gnome mountain apparently) and can be seen from pretty much everywhere in Kandy. The weather and daylight were just starting to deteriorate as we started the steep walk up to the temple. The light drizzle cooled our over-heating faces as the exertion began to show. Fortunately, the most arduous stretch was right at the very beginning and soon the gradient eased and we could walk, rather than trudge. The climb took just 15 minutes or so, including stops for photos and so proved far less of a challenge than we anticipated (hoped for). As we turned the final corner, the Buddha statue came back into view in all its magnificence.
We paid a nominal amount to enter and actually, the temple itself was a little disappointing, however at the rear of the statue was a staircase that we were able to ascend, the rain soaked tile steps were treacherously slippery and we used the handrails like parallel bars and our feet doing the bare minimum to support our weight. The very top floor was closed for repairs but the view from the second from top floor was quite spectacular. The town isn't large and from our vantage point we could see everything. The temple, lake, stadium, the surrounding hills were all there to be taken in.
Photos taken and the careful descent made, we walked the rest of the way home. All in we estimated that we must have covered about somewhere around 15kms and all we wanted was dinner and a bed. On our return the hotel tuk tuk driver was waiting in the same spot as we'd seen him earlier. He seemed a little cheered that we had walked back instead of seeking the services of a different driver.
Dinner was superb. The wife of the owner of the hotel does the cooking and she made us a Sri Lankan vegetarian feast. For the two of us she had made 5 different dishes, any one of which would have been enough for us. They included a range of local veggies, a spinachy looking leaf that tasted very similar to mushrooms, probably the second best dal we've ever had (after Terry's Greco-Indian feast), a sweet potato/yam mash. The only negative about the meal was the flavour of the rice, which tasted like it had been cooked in a fart.
The next day we were moving on again. We were headed to Nuwara Eliya for some high altitude trekking and tea plantations.