Sri Lanka 12: Kandy

Well, today was the bus ride I thought we might not walk away from.

We got up pretty early this morning, figuring out that, the earlier you get on a bus on a weekday, the less crowded it (generally) is.  We had some short eats at Mango Mango, maybe walking through their doors when they weren’t open (big sign said opens at 7, sign on door said 8, but they still served us), checked out of the CLN guest house (another winner) and then we found the bus to Kandy.

The red one.

I figured out today that the red buses with “SLTB” are the “public” buses (Sri Lankan Transport Board) and, from prior observations, seem to have been the “crazier” ones when it came to driving.  Today, we were on one and, my goodness, it was a ride and a half.  Lots of swinging in and out of traffic, taking blind corners, passing on hills – all the things you know you’re not supposed to do in Canada, but that you see happen everywhere else on the planet.  It was nuts, but eventually, we got to our destination.

Kandy is home to the “Tooth Relic”, a tooth that Buddha left behind in his funeral pyre in 483 BCand smuggled to Sri Lanka some 800 years late.  It started off at Anuradhapura and moved around due to war and politics before finally landing in Kandy, then being taken to India, then back to Kandy.

So, this is one of the holiest sights in Buddhism.  BUT, right around the corner from us, was an interesting sight in and of itself – Helga’s Folly.  The sign leading up to it says it’s one of the most extraordinary hotels in the world, and yeah, I’d agree.  For $200 a night, you can stay in a massive hotel with some old-time elegance, mixed in with Alice In Wonderland paintings, walls covered with deer heads and mirror shards, dozens of paintings of Helga (the owner), along with newspaper clippings of her and her husband, plastic Halloween skeletons, Sigiriyan-style paintings of women, paintings that look like they came from a random vendor in Kandy with names like “Tamil Worker” or “Kandyan Soldier”…  It’s insane, but I mean that in the best possible way.  The best part, though, was Helga was there, wandering around with her cane and huge glasses, acting the hostess for anybody who would sit down for a drink.  An absolutely trippy experience.

From there, we wandered down the hill and started our stroll down Kandy’s man-made lake.  The temple itself has a high security presence, and was actually bombed in 1998, with large parts of the temple being damaged.  Wandering around the inside, you never actually see the tooth – it’s kept in a series of Russian doll-style golden containers that are shaped like a series of dagobas, which is then kept behind a gilded door.  People line up in front of the tooth, offering flowers and prayers, with some laying on the floor near the back wall, chanting and praying for an indeterminable amount of time. It is a really special sight.

The grounds of the Temple feature a pair of museums.  One is dedicated to the tooth itself, and one of its keepers actually took Daina and I to a few windows where we could take pictures of the lake and the temple from not usually seen viewpoints.  Thinking we should give him a tip, we handed him 50 rupees, and he seemed genuinely shocked – took us around out of the goodness of his heart!  Good for him!

The other museum is the World Buddhism Museum, which features displays on how Buddhism has spread all around Asia.  Really fascinating to see how the same religion is represented just a few countries over.

We wandered out of the Temple and into the Devale area, which features temples that were devoted to followers of Buddha who were also protectors of Sri Lanka.  Nearby, we grabbed some food at the Olde Empire Cafe, which reminded me of what a cafe from the old British Empire might look like, if it was painted up with some Miami-style paint.  Good, but pricey, food, but since hadn’t eaten since Mango Mango, it was delicious.  Bank stop, Cargill stop, then a walk around the other side of the lake just in time to catch the sunset.  

We’re going to be here for a few days, but Kandy has lots of things to see around it, so we won’t be lsot for things to do.

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