Well, this day got away from us a bit. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in a bit of a tiring one.
Kandy has a few interesting sights outside of the city centre. There’s the Perediniya Botanical Gardens, which dates back hundreds of years; three beautiful old temples; and the Ceylon Tea Museum. They’re all “accessible” by public transit, but we were a bit leery of that due to the time it would take and the fact that Daina hadn’t fully recovered from lunch at the Kandy Muslim Hotel. So, tuk tuk.
Deciding on where to go was a bit of a hassle. We had planned the temple run today, then the Gardens and Tea Museum tomorrow, but then we found out that the Tea Museum was closed on poya (full moon) days, of which tomorrow is one. So, we figured we’d do the two more touristy sites today and leave the temples for tomorrow.
Now, here’s where going guesthouse versus hotel-ish gets you a different experience. In Polonnaruwa at Luxman, or Dambulla at CLN, the owners/managers had friends who were tuk tuk drivers, and as a result, we got some reasonable prices when it came to getting to and from places. Here, I think they just called the general tuk tuk line and we got a guy who would take us to the Gardens and Tea Museum for 2000 rupees, which seemed like a lot. After all, somebody here had told us getting around to all the sites (temples included) would cost 2500, and the LP quoted closer to 3000, so 2000 for two didn’t quite sit. But, we took it on the faith of the hotel and went for a ride.
As we were getting in to the tuk tuk, pretty sure our driver said we could see the three temples for “no charge”, which I took as “I’ll throw them into the day for free”. We said we’d think on it and get back to it later.
I’ve talked a few times about the kind of crazy that passes for driving in Sri Lanka. Well, today, it was in full force, not just with our driver, but with everybody on the road. Two lane roads turned into three lanes, shoulders turned into roads, horns turned into force fields that somehow, somehow, prevented crashes. Traffic was horrible, and in Canada, it would have constituted a jam. Here, it was a challenge.
We rolled into Peredeniya and had a couple of hours to walk around. They are the largest botanical gardens in Sri Lanka and easily match any gardens you could find in the world. There are lanes lined with various palms and spruce, a giant fig and giant coconut tree, a fantastic orchid house, a wonderful flower garden, a little suspension bridge, and plants from all over the world. If you’re into beautiful gardens, it’s definitely for you, though if you’re not, the $10 price tag might be a bit much. Still, you can easily spend two hours or more wandering around (or lounging around) the gardens.
As we were walking out, D and I talked about the option of adding the temples to the day. We figured “why not”, as it would save us spending an extra 2000 rupees the next day, so we went back into the tuk tuk, ready to change plans.
At this point, the tuk tuk driver explained that the temples were freeto go in, but he wouldn’t add them on for no extra charge. In fact, he wanted another 1500. I was a bit miffed by this, because I knew he was inflating things by quite a bit, so I managed to talk him down to 2700, which was still under what would have been budgeted for the two days, so I was pretty happy. We started to drive to our first temple, and soon we were stopped as he said “Here is the tea factory.”
It was a tea factory. It wasn’t the Tea Museum, which I knew existed on the hills around Kandy. I walked in and a lovely lady said “Hello, would you like to look around the factory?” Ordinarily, if I had just wandered into this place on my own, I would have said “Sure!” However, since this guy had already been a bit shifty regarding prices, I wasn’t buying. I had been doing some research on the Ceylon Tea Museum that morning, which I still had on my iPhone, so I showed him that page and he looked at me and said “Oh, yes, but the Ceylon is very far away. The other side of Kandy.” I didn’t skip a beat and said, “Yeah, I know, and it’s what we agreed on this morning.” He slunk back into the tuk tuk and we kept going.
It’s gets interesting when you’ve set up a tour with a driver you’re no longer a huge fan of. You can’t really ditch him and find somebody else (unless you feel like you’re in danger, in which case, get out), because where are you going to find that next person, how much are you going to pay the first one, etc. Devil you know, you know? You have to walk that line of “I know you just tried to trick me, but now take me where we’re supposed to go and I’ll forget all about that.” Still, I was keeping an eye on the street signs to make sure we were actually getting to the temple we were supposed to go to.
Fortunately, we did. First up was Gadaladeniya temple, a 14thcentury temple with a fantastic seated Buddha and a very distinct dagoba-type structure with eight carved elephants, four Buddhas, and three stupas. 300 rupees for the entry, which was handled by a nice man who showed us his original art of the temple. Next stop was Lankatilaka, which is prominently featured on a beautiful hill and the 500 rupee bill… which we got back in change, after paying another 600 rupees for admission.
Now, we had the “warning” of the guard in Trincomalee to not pay the monk at the temple near the Fort, and this guy did have two printed “brochures” with a “tear away” section at the bottom. Plus, he had the keys that would actually let us into the shrines. And, checking Lonely Planet, all the temples did have some sort of admission fees. Again, though, where did this “no charge” thing come from?
Still, the shrine inside was impressive, with a 700 year old Buddha, carvings, paintings, elephant tusks. So, worth it.
After that, we made our way to Embekka temple, which had some beautiful wood carvings and, this time, a confirmed 300 rupee entry fee. After that, we were off to the Tea Museum.
As we knew, the ride to the Tea Museum involved a drive back through Kandy, which was made extra crazy due to the fact that several Sri Lankan political hopefuls had descended on the city, which had tied up traffic like crazy. This is where our driver started to earn a bit more respect from us, as he really managed to work his way around the traffic in a way that might not have been legal or even safe, but we got where we needed to go. Could have just been that he was tired of driving us around all day, but either way, we managed to fight our way out of the madhouse.
The Ceylon Tea Museum exists in a different world than the rest of Kandy, well above the hills that surround the city, but far enough away from it to make you feel like you’re somewhere else. I didn’t know what to expect, not being a tea aficionado, couldn’t really speak to the quality of the information or the tour. It was neat, and I guess if you’re being a Sri Lankan completest, you’ve got to see how tea gets made. You get a free cup at the top, which was delicious, and it’s almost worth it for the very overwrought British narrator who goes over the history of tea on the island, the “hand wringing” that happened in the early days of the tea industry, or how tea was often used to “ease social intercourse.” Phrasing, buddy.
By this point, it was 4 o’clock, and our half-day had turned into a real day. We got our tuk tuk driver to drop us at Olde Empire, because lunch had consisted of some 25 rupee cream buns we picked up at a temple, so time to splurge. We gave him a decent tip, because even though he was being shady, he did fit a lot into the day, so why not leave it with some decent karma.
So we’re left with little to do tomorrow, aside from figuring out a train to Nuwara Eliya and seeing a Kandyan Dance Performance in the evening. On the downward slide of the vacation, though – we’re more than half way done – that’s not a bad thing.