Because of shoddy roads and slow buses, distances in Sri Lanka can be deceiving. When we looked at the map and saw that Matale was just twelve miles north of Kandy, and Ridigama another eleven miles from there, we thought: easy day trip. We’d probably be back home in time for lunch. Oh, poor fools! Poor, optimistic fools!
Just behind the Temple of the Tooth are a couple museums which might be worth a visit, depending on the degree to which looking at piles of old stuff turns your crank. The Archaeological Museum, hosted in the former King’s Palace, and the adjacent National Museum are stuffed to the gills with artifacts and treasures from days long gone by.
The Casamara doesn’t look like much from the outside but is the tallest building in its immediate vicinity and makes good use of its height with a top-floor bar. The view of Kandy is different from here, less romantic and more lively, because you’re in the middle of the city. Though the tuk-tuk-clogged chaos of the streets can be stressful when you’re down in it, it provides endless entertainment from above.
According to popular belief, Kandy is protected by four gods, each with its own temple in the city center. These devales are special temples dedicated to a specific god, besides Buddha. Vishnu, Kataragama, Pattini and Natha. On one busy afternoon, we visited all of them. Yeah, we got that temple fever.
The giant white Buddha which sits atop Bahirawakanda hill is visible from all over Kandy, and a visit, whether by tuk-tuk or foot, is worth the effort for an unbeatable view. From atop Bahirawakanda, the city and its lake are laid out beautifully before you, and you’ll feel secure underneath the big Buddha’s benevolent, protecting presence. You might need the protection more than you realize. The spot on which you’re standing has an evil past…
I was a little agitated by the $10 entry fee for the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, but it didn’t take me long after entering to realize that it was money well-spent. Peradeniya’s are the most fantastic botanic gardens I’ve ever seen. Trees the size of sky-scrapers, flower bushes exploding in incredible color, giant palm trees that bloom just once in 45 years, and cannon ball trees with heavy round fruits were just some of the highlights. I’ve never been so bowled over by botany.
After a morning marked by clouds and humidity, it finally started to rain yesterday afternoon. We didn’t mind much. A nice shower provides a welcome breath of fresh air here in Kandy, and we were safe under the roof of our porch. But creatures who live out in the open don’t much appreciate the rain. They’re forced to seek shelter, and our veranda seems to be an irresistible refuge. It’s monkey time!
Nearby the Temple of the Tooth is the International Museum of World Buddhism. Hosted in the former High Court building, this comprehensive study of Buddhism throughout Asia only opened in May, 2011, and has rooms dedicated to sixteen nations, from China to the Maldives.
Though our initial stop in Sri Lanka was Colombo, we only spent a few days there, saving the first extended stay of our 91-day itinerary for Kandy. Strategically situated high in the hill country, almost exactly in the middle of the island, Kandy was the last bastion of Sri Lankan independence during the colonial period. Today, the smallish city of just over a hundred thousand pulses with life and a heavy tourist presence, for which it can thank its unique culture, history and unbelievable natural beauty.
The slow-moving, three-hour journey from Colombo to Kandy is one of the most spectacular train rides we’ve ever taken. The track leaves the smoggy metropolis quickly behind, and travels inland through regions of increasing beauty and altitude, until arriving at Sri Lanka’s hilltop jewel, Kandy. Throughout the ride, we were captivated by the ever-changing landscape, and spent the trip poking our heads out open windows, or hanging carefree from the doors like the feckless punks we are (or, would like to be).