There’s More to Life than Kandy!

I’m glad I went to Kandy because, well, everyone goes to Kandy and I’d feel like I’d missed out if I hadn’t.

If I’m perfectly honest though, Kandy was a bit crap. I’m glad we only had one full day there.

And Kandy was so damn hot. Too hot. We couldn’t stand it; we had to keep stopping for a ginger beer. And, compared with the pace of life we’d adjusted to so quickly during our first few days in the country, spent mostly in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, Kandy was just too busy.

I’ll concede that as far as big cities go Kandy was reasonably pretty, but it was so chockablock full of traffic that it was difficult to notice.

Despite having spent relatively little time in Kandy, I do have a few separate posts to share with you about the place, which are already written and are waiting to be published.

But today I’m going to give you my overview of Kandy and our itinerary for the couple of days that we were there.

how i devised my sri lanka itinerary

Heat exhaustion at Kandy Lake

Poya Day

We were in Kandy for Poya Day. This is the most holy day of the month and is celebrated at full moon.

On Poya Day, devout Buddhists (which describes much of Sri Lanka’s population) dress in white and make a pilgrimage to their temple of choice with offerings of flowers and fruit. For the monkeys and the wasps it’s like Christmas Day!

Poya Day is not a celebration in the party sense; it is a solemn day devoted to prayer. Alcohol and meat are not consumed on this day and many people don’t work.

Kandy

People making their way to the temple on Poya Day

When I was planning this trip to Sri Lanka it was very hard for me to find out exactly what to expect on Poya Day: would the buses be running? Would there be taxis? Would we be able to find accommodation?

The answer to all is yes.

But I didn’t know this at the time and so I had it very clear that we would stay in one place on this day: I didn’t want to be moving from one place to another trying to find transport and accommodation.

On the other hand I wanted us to stay in a place where we might be able to witness some of the ritual which, as far as I am aware, is unique to Sri Lanka.

And so we timed our trip to be in Kandy on Poya Day, having arrived the previous day from Habarana via Dambulla.

Considering that Kandy is home of the Temple of the Tooth, one of Sri Lanka’s most important places of worship, I figured there might be a lot of pilgrims staying in the city and therefore decided to book accommodation in advance. With the exception of our first night in Colombo, this was the only time we booked a guesthouse in advance.

We were pleased with the guesthouse and I’ll tell you more about it next time in case you are looking for a good place to stay in Kandy.

Our Itinerary in Kandy

Very briefly, this was our itinerary in Kandy:

22/01/2016
15:30 Arrival in Kandy by public bus from Dambulla
Tuk tuk from Goods Shed via train station to Lake Front Homestay – 200rs
16:45 Walk along Kandy Lake to YMBA to watch Kandyan dances, meeting the “fire-eater” along the way
17:30-19:00 Kandyan dances at YMBA – 1,000rs each
19:00 Dinner in Kandy centre at Sri Ramya as recommended by guesthouse owner – 1,200rs
21:00 Stroll back to guesthouse enjoying Kandy Lake by night and bed.

23/01/2016 – POYA DAY
09:00 Picked up by Anas the tuk tuk driver to do “dodgy dealings”, to visit train station again and to drop us in centre – 200rs
10:00 Breakfast at Muslim Hotel – 700rs
Walk to Temple of the Tooth to watch locals bringing their offerings
12:30 Visit the three devales: Vishnu, Pattini and Natha
13:00 Visit Kandy Garrison Cemetery – 90rs tip/donation
Cake and tea at The Bakehouse – 420rs
Walk right around Kandy Lake and then back to guesthouse to rest.
19:00 Dinner at The Devon Restaurant – 1,430rs.

24/01/2016
08:00 check out of Lake Front Homestay -5,000rs for two nights
Tuk tuk to train station – 200rs
8:47 Train to Hatton – 110rs each

And that was our entire stay in Kandy: short and sweet (like Kandy). Sorry, couldn’t resist.

As you can see, our only full day in Kandy was spent exploring the local attractions such as the Temple of the Tooth and the nearby devales.

The Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

We didn’t have it clear whether or not we would pay the exorbitant fee to visit the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. We were a bit templed out and entrance-fee’d out from our previous few days exploring Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. We were feeling a bit lazy and it was hot hot hot.

I had read many contrasting blogs written by people that had been to the Temple of the Tooth, by people that had decided not to and by people that had, but wished they hadn’t bothered.

(Read other people’s experiences at the Temple of the Tooth: Mark in Sri Lanka; 20 Years Hence; and Where’s Phil – I also have more if you are interested.)

The Temple of the Tooth is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous Buddhist temples owing to the prestigious responsibility it has of guarding the Buddha’s tooth.

When Buddha died and was cremated, one of his disciples recovered one of his teeth supposedly, and it was kept as a sacred relic. It was brought to Sri Lanka in the hair of a princess (as all the best teeth are). It was said that whoever had the tooth had the right to rule, and therefore, it was sought after by all those wishing to be in power. The tooth passed through many hands over the centuries and finally ended up in Kandy. In fact, Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings.

Even though the temple is entirely dedicated to the Buddha’s tooth, when you visit the temple you don’t actually get to see the tooth. What they do is, during daily prayers (puja) and all day on Poya Day, they allow visitors to view the golden case which holds the tooth. Exciting times, huh?

So you’ll see why we were not really sure if we needed to part with a substantial amount of money for the pleasure of seeing something that looked identical to what was offered on every market stall in the area.

theres more to life than kandy

The Temple of the Tooth

The Temple on Poya Day

Having not much else to do, we followed the stream of people gravitating towards the temple. There were queues at the entrances to the grounds where people waited to go through small huts, having their persons and their bags searched. We went through and enjoyed watching the white-clad masses walking reverentially towards the temple entrance, carefully carrying their offerings and trying to avoid the swarms of wasps they were attracting.

There were cordons and temporary entrances set up like you’d see at a concert or a busy airport security queue.

There were shoes everywhere; people just removed their shoes and abandoned them before hopping over the scorching floor tiles to the next queue. Seeing no other alternative, we did the same.

We went through the entrance after being subjected to another search. The atmosphere was very solemn but there was still a buzz of anticipation like at a rock concert before the main star comes on. And, this being Sri Lanka, the crush of people stuck together like a sweaty mass as they were sucked slowly through the bottleneck entrance (there’s no such thing as personal space in Sri Lanka).

So we’d been through the entrance to the main grounds, waited to be searched again before going through the next entrance, had been pushed and squeezed through the actual temple entrance… Each time we went through an entrance we thought we were there. But no, we were just closer to the next entrance.

We waited, moving inch by inch up a flight of stairs. By this time we were dying of heat, fed up of wasps and were starting to realise this might not have been the best plan. But this was a one-way surge and there was no way of going back.

Kandy

Did I mention it was busy at the Temple of the Tooth on Poya Day?

So we kept going and finally arrived at another entrance (surprise, surprise). But this one was different. This one had a temple official directing people.

As we looked around we realised we were the only westerners and the only people not dressed head to toe in white. In other words, we stuck out like a sore thumb. Trying to blend in was useless.

As soon as we got to the door, we knew our journey was over.

“You two,” came the familiar cry. “Over here. Tickets.”

Of course, in all our going-with-the-flow, we hadn’t even thought to stop by the ticket entrance and buy a ticket. Why would we? No one else was. This excuse wouldn’t wash of course as we were foreigners and everyone we’d been following was non-foreign. We’d seen enough anyway. We didn’t want to stump up 2,000rs (13€) to stand in more queues so we were ushered out of a back door and turfed back out onto the street.

Then we just had to get back into the grounds to find our shoes…

Kandy Devales

We contented ourselves by exploring the devales, the (free) minor shrines around the temple where different ceremonies were being conducted and which were also crammed full of people dressed in white. (How did they stay so clean? We were grubby, filthy and sweaty by now.)

If, like us, you’re not keen to pay such an entrance fee to the Temple of the Tooth, do stop at the devales, which are like mini-temples and are just as authentic.

Read here another family’s experience at Kandy’s devales for more information.

Kandy Garrison Cemetery

Toni surprised me when he said he fancied seeing the Kandy Garrison Cemetery but I’m glad he did.

Kandy

The gatehouse at Kandy Garrison Cemetery

From the Temple of the Tooth we walked through the crowds along the lake to the back of the temple and up the hill to the Garrison Cemetery.

The cemetery contains the graves of the mostly British people that died in colonial times in Kandy from diseases such as dysentery and jungle fever.

Most of the graves are of children or young adults that couldn’t survive Sri Lanka’s harsh climate and succumbed to the deadly diseases way before their time.

It sounds like a depressing place, but we were met by the caretaker of the cemetery and he gave us quite a tour through history. Not that we could understand much of what he said!

The caretaker was a young boy – he looked about sixteen! I guess he was older, but who knows? His thick accent made understanding him extremely difficult, but his enthusiasm was second to none. He took us around the graves that he considered most interesting and told us about the people that occupied them. It wasn’t a gruesome, horrifying story about their deaths, but rather an uplifting account of their achievements in life.

I’m not one of those morbid grave-visitors, but this was a very interesting visit. And it was free. We just left a donation and a tip for our enthusiastic guide.

Kandy Lake

.By this time we were so exhausted from the heat that all we could think about was finding somewhere for an ice cold ginger beer. And then another. And then a slice of cake at the Bakehouse…

Then, with our last dregs of energy, we forced ourselves to walk around Kandy Lake looking for monitor lizards. Which we didn’t find. We did find a few small turtles though.

Trying to snap a turtle in Kandy Lake

Trying to catch the turtles on camera!

And then we absolutely had to go back to our room, switch on the fan and rest!

Did I mention it was hot in Kandy?

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About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....

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