2017 - Sri Lanka Road Trip

24 February 2017    Mirissa to Kandy, Sri Lanka
Suranga, our tuk-tuk driver, arrived at 08:00 and whisked us off to Matara.  There was a slight delay when he was pulled over for speeding and had to pay a fine, which I think was about 1,500 rupees (£7.50) – a lot less than the UK fine of £100 plus three penalty points.  At Matara, we boarded a very nice air-conditioned bus to Colombo, which cost 510 Rupees each - the trip took 2½ hours.

The bus dropped us off at the bus station in Colombo, where we boarded a local bus going to Kandy.  This was a bone-rattler and was jam packed for most of the trip – Glenys ended up sitting on a lift-up seat in the corridor.  The bus was so full that we were passing money and tickets between the conductor and the passengers behind us.  We were relieved to arrive in the bus station in Kandy after three hours.

Jam packed Sri Lankan bus

We caught a tuk-tuk up to the Royal Tourist Lodge, which has four rooms and is run by an elderly couple who were very friendly.  The room was good with air-conditioning and a TV, so we collapsed and chilled for a couple of hours, before walking down the hill to have a look around the town. 

As we were walking past the lake, we were joined by an elderly gentleman, dressed all in white, who struck up a conversation with me. He told me that he was a school teacher and was going to see the Kandy Dancing show because today was a Hindu holiday called Maha Shivaratri, which was why he, and lots of other people, were dressed all in white.  

Sri Lanka is notorious for scams, with people constantly trying to extract money from tourists, so I was a little wary, but he seemed like a nice guy and I couldn’t see any downside.  We walked along with him and, thinking that the Kandy Dancing show would be a special event because of Maha Shivaratri, we went along with him. 

However, it was just the normal tourist show; my “friend” no doubt received a commission on our tickets; and he also asked for a small donation “for the children”.  I gave him 100 rupees (£0.50) because he’d been entertaining.  The Kandy Dancing Show was okay, with some good costumes and lots of loud drumming and Indian Flute wailing, but I wouldn’t go again.

Back at the Guest House, we had our first home cooked Sri Lankan meal - Rice and Curry with a chicken curry and four vegetable curries. It was nice, but a bit bland.  We had to ask for chili paste to tart it up.  They obviously produce bland food for the tourists - from now on we’ll be asking for our meal to be spicy.  

25 February 2017    Kandy, Sri Lanka
The Guest House prepared us a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast, which consisted of spicy grated coconut, boiled egg in a yellow curry and some coconut roti bread. It was accompanied by a nice pot of Sri Lankan tea.  The owner of the guest house used to be a Manager of a tea plantation and gave us a blend of Broken Pekoe grade Sri Lanka tea.

Wood Carver

Glenys had a master plan to go for a morning hike to visit three temples and then have lunch back in Kandy.  Unfortunately, it took us 20 minutes to walk into town; then 30 minutes to find a bus to take us to the village of Embekka; then the bus didn’t leave for 50 minutes; and then then bus journey took one hour and 10 minutes; so it was just before midday before we stepped off the bus. 

However, it was an interesting morning of watching local Sri Lankan life.  The bus station was absolutely manic with hundreds of buses going to and fro, with horns blaring and conductors shouting.  We’d been told that we needed to catch a No.643 bus, but there was no logic to the bus stands - the numbers along each platform seemed to be random. Nonetheless, everyone was very friendly and we were slowly directed closer and closer to our bus.

It was a little depressing to have to sit on the cramped local bus for 50 minutes, waiting for it to leave, but after our lengthy search for the bus, we dared not leave our seats.  By the time that the bus left, there were a dozen people standing in the aisle.  The bus seats are obviously designed for Sri Lankans, who have a smaller stature than us Europeans, so it was a cramped, bouncy journey up narrow, winding roads, but the scenery was magnificent.

It was a short walk to the first temple, and halfway we came across a small wood carving workshop, where we chatted to the owner and (of course) were invited into his small shop to have a look around.  He had a good line of patter, so Glenys was eventually persuaded to buy a small Wooden Plate with a strange carving of a lion with an elephant’s trunk, which is a mythical creature called Gaja Sinha.  It’s a bit weird, but Glenys liked it and it only cost £7.50 (negotiated down from £10 – we’re so soft.)  

Glenys checking out a Stupa

Five minutes later, we finally made it to the Embekka Devalaya temple, which was built in the 14th century.  This Buddhist temple is dedicated to the worship of King Mahasen, who was proclaimed a deity in 300 a.d.  (I don’t quite understand this because Buddhists don’t have gods, but who am I to question…) The main attraction is the Drummers' Hall, which has dozens of wood carvings on its ornate pillars.  I’m afraid that we’ve seen too many wonderful temples in other places in Asia, so it seemed a little unexciting to me. 

We turned left out of the main gate of the temple and walked up the steep hill, past an impressively large mosque for such a small village, so I think that this area must be a Muslim enclave.  On the bus out of Kandy, I was surprised to see relatively large number of Muslim women - some of the ladies were wearing full length, black Burqas, complete with net veils and black gloves, which seems a little extreme in a place where Islam is a minority religion.  I believe that 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, with 12% Hindu, 9% Christian and only 10% Muslim.   

It took us 20 minutes to walk to the Lankatilaka Vihara temple, where we were faced with a very steep set of steps, cut out of the rock, up to the temple on top of the hill.  This is another Buddhist temple built in the 14th Century, which is an impressive building. There are some interesting architectural features, plus the Buddha & Wall Paintings inside the temple are good.

We walked through the temple complex and onto the main access road, turning left and heading towards the road between Embekka and Pilimathawala which was a pleasant walk where foreigners are unusual.  The land was mostly rice paddy fields with odd patches of taro and other crops.  We strolled past small stores selling a plethora of goods with everyone staring at us, but giving a beaming smile when we said hello.  It’s nice not being asked for money all the time.  

Sri Lankan kids love cricket

Cricket is a popular activity with the kids and we were invited to join in with a couple of games, but politely refused – I’m rubbish at batting and didn’t want to shame the God-like status of English Cricket.  We had a little incident at one game.  After declining to join in, the next ball was smacked resoundingly in our direction. I had my camera in my right hand, but just managed to get my left hand to the ball.  Unfortunately, I didn’t expect it to be a tennis ball and it bounced out of my grip.  The players cheered anyway, impressed that I nearly caught it.  Phew! English honour barely intact, we ran away.

During the day, we had to pay 300 rupees (£1.50) for each person at each temple, so we decided that we didn’t want to pay to see another small 14th century Buddhist temple and gave the Gadaladeniya Viharaya temple a miss. Apparently the central temple building is unique being built entirely of sculptured granite and houses a Buddha, which is significantly different from others from the same period. (Yawn!)

We walked down to the main road and quickly caught a bus back to Kandy.   After a quick shower we walked to town, where we went to the White House restaurant.  It was very clean and westernised, but they didn’t sell beer and the food was very mediocre, too salty and bland – give it a miss.