Dodging the crazy traffic in Kandy

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March 8th 2019
Published: March 22nd 2019
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We had a very stressful journey to Kandy from Sigiriya - the road was very busy and we came close to having a couple of accidents. In Dambulla there is a very large wholesale produce market and the road to Kandy was clogged with trucks overloaded with sacks of vegetables, plus the usual tuk tuks heedlessly weaving around the traffic and the buses which had absolutely no regard for fellow road users. We were very thankful when Saman stopped at a big Hindu temple in Matale, halfway to Kandy. We needed a coffee desperately....

The Sri Muthumariamman Thevasthanam (try pronouncing that.. ) was a very colourful Hindu temple. The large interior had a central altar and the area surrounding the altar was full of ceremonial objects and small chariots used in an annual festival. As with most Hindu temples it had a large decorated tower above one of the gates. This particular tower (Gopuram) is one of the largest in Sri Lanka and is covered in 1008 statues of Hindu gods or deities.

Having explored the temple we went off in search of a coffee. The main highway passed through the city and it was very busy and noisy but we soon found a bakery with aircon and a toilet. Fortified we returned to the car and faced the chaos on the road again. Before reaching Kandy we stopped at one of the many spice gardens An interesting tour followed, unsuccessfully, by the expected hard sell at the end. We knew the prices would be high when the first thing he said was ‘we have visa’.

Saman took us to a guest house in the hills which surround Kandy. On the edge of the hill country, Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second largest city. The city is built around a lake and set on a plateau surrounded by mountains. The region is renowned for both it’s spice farms and tea plantations.

One of the main tourist and religious sites in the city is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic - a tooth of the Buddha. It was supposedly snatched from the flames of Buddha’s funeral pyre in 483 BC and smuggled into Sri Lanka in the 4th century in the hair of a princess. Sri Lankan Buddhists believe that they must visit this shrine at least once in their lifetime as worshipping there increases their good karma.

We arrived in Kandy on Friday and knew that the temple would be much busier next day so asked Saman to take us into the city soon after we had settled into our guest house. We left him snoozing in the car outside the Kandy Cultural Centre - his suggestion as it was next to the temple and at the venue of a cultural performance we were attending that evening. It was hours before the performance but he was happy as he said it would be impossible to park the car anywhere near the place later in the day. Central Kandy is situated around a small lake with the temple positioned on the edge of the lake. They are currently repainting the wall which surrounds the lake and repaving many other areas as well.

The afternoon was spent wandering the shopping streets and the lakeside. The city streets were really busy but had a great vibe. Visited one of the many juice bars where you sit on chairs along the walls as you quickly drink your juice. Your not encouraged to linger but the fruit salad we had there was cheap, plentiful and freshly chopped. Also found a cafe with strong coffee, a bit of a rarity in this tea drinking nation.

We returned to the cultural centre late afternoon to watch a cultural performance of traditional dance and music. We thoroughly enjoyed the hour long entertainment. The main instruments were drums and the dancers wore the most amazing costumes. The men, in particular, had beautiful silver chest decorations and elaborate earrings. Wonderful costumes, unlike any I had seen before. They finished the dance outside with fire walking. Probably one of the better value things we had done in Sri Lanka.

After the concert we walked along the edge of the lake to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Jerry had wisely purchased tickets earlier in the day from a ticket vending machine in the grounds. We deposited our shoes in the shoe storage booth and walked towards the main door of the temple. The central building housing the tooth is covered with a gold roof. The site is now UNESCO listed and was once the Royal Palace complex, which explains why the temple doesn’t look a traditional Buddhist temple.

We entered through a painted arched
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth RelicThe Temple of the Sacred Tooth RelicThe Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

The tooth is kept in the gold topped building
tunnel to the sound of the temple drummers. These drummers constantly play in front of the doors to the lower chamber where the relic is kept one floor higher in the upper chamber. The golden doors of the downstairs chamber opened periodically allowing us to see the many elephant tusks in the room. The stairs to the upper chamber were lined with devotees waiting to see the golden Dagoba containing the tooth. This chamber is only opened three times a day, during the main puja (prayer offerings). We were there for the final puja which is held daily from 6.30pm until 8pm.

It was very busy and there were so many people (tourists mainly) fighting to take photos as the doors opened. Total bedlam. Again thousands of flowers were being placed in trays in front of the shrine.

Another queue was waiting to be allowed to walk past the open door to view the golden Dagoba. The tooth is actually enclosed in a series of seven gold and jewel encrusted caskets. The door was only open for a couple of minutes in a fifteen minute period so the queue was moving very slowly.

I pushed my way out of the crowd and headed back down the stairs to look at the many smaller shrines scattered throughout the complex. Half an hour later I went back upstairs and found most tourists had left so was able to take a photo of the tooth casket. The queue of worshippers though was much longer. We returned to Saman and back to our guesthouse for dinner.

In the morning Saman drove us through the crazy traffic of the central city to the Botanic Gardens. It took us half an hour to drive four kilometres... The Peradeniya Botanic Gardens were wonderful - full of stunning mature trees from all over the world, including some very large gums from Australia. The gardens were green and shady and we spent a very enjoyable couple of hours there. Lots of monkeys in the trees and Jerry was thrilled to see a beautiful kingfisher.

Saman then dropped us back near the lake so we could explore the shops. We visited the local market, always full of colour and smells, before walking around the lake. We bought an icecream - probably not the cleverest idea as the paths around the lake were swarming with monkeys.

An enjoyable afternoon followed wandering the narrow lanes and checking out the architecture, again the usual mishmash of different cultures. The streets were incredibly busy and choked with traffic and fumes. Another fruit salad and coffee before we found St Paul’s Church, built in 1843 for the British troops based nearby. We also explored the tombstones in the British Garrison Cemetery, a well maintained cemetery above the temple. The headstones told the sad story of how young most of the people buried here were when they died.

It started to rain heavily later in the afternoon and we were conveniently standing outside the Pizza Hunt when it began. A pizza and entertainment by a group of Sri Lankan men singing South American songs followed. Saman told us later it was quite common here for groups of musicians to play music in Pizza Huts here. They earn their living by customer donations.

We were planning on spending the evening in the city but we were hot and tired by then so decided to catch a tuktuk back to our guesthouse. However first we walked back through the Temple complex towards the lake and were so pleased we had visited the day before. We couldn’t believe how long the queue was to get into the temple - the day before we had just walked in without queuing outside. The crowd inside would have been horrendous.

We survived the rather scary tuktuk drive back up into the hills. Road rules are non existent here - as a passenger it’s just easier to close your eyes, cross your fingers and hope for the best. I suspect that is what most of the bus drivers do too...

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 27


Fruit stall at the marketsFruit stall at the markets
Fruit stall at the markets

They eat a lot of bananas here...
Lovely rooftops in KandyLovely rooftops in Kandy
Lovely rooftops in Kandy

Presumably the British influence

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