Kiss from a rose in Kandy

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Asia » Sri Lanka » Central Province » Kandy
March 10th 2017
Published: April 26th 2017
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Today we were travelling north-east from Colombo to Kandy– Ren’s birth place.

We woke early at 4:30am, as our train to Kandy was leaving from the Colombo Fort Railway Station at 7am. We’d slept well and felt refreshed – our jet lag was gradually disappearing, thanks in part to our incredibly relaxing hotel (Taru Villas Lake Lodge) in Kollupitiya. We checked out around 6am, and Saman (the affable and ever reliable three-wheeler driver we’d used in Colombo) was waiting for us. Armed with fresh breakfast parcels (egg sandwiches and bananas) from the hotel kitchen, we headed to the railway station. It was disappointing to see a betting shop open at such an early hour, but I imagine if you have nothing, the prospect of winning something must be very alluring.

We arrived at the station, made our way to Platform 2 and sat in the open air with throngs of other travellers, most of whom were locals. As our train roared in to the station we deftly navigated the masses, boarded our carriage and secured our seats. Despite Sri Lanka’s infamous inability to keep and manage time, we lurched from the platform at 7am on the dot. We rocked and swayed out of Colombo, cutting our way through cramped high rise flats and decrepit slums that so often surround the outskirts of metropolitan railway stations.

We were served breakfast almost immediately, which comprised a bottle of water, chicken and cheese croissant, pastry with savoury potato filling, a chocolate cupcake and a caramel lolly. We were also served a cup of steaming hot tea, which was almost impossible to drink for two reasons – it was scalding hot and the train was lurching from side to side. However, I really enjoyed it when it cooled down. I love train travel – the movement is so calming and relaxing. I even enjoyed the cartoon (Turbo: the fastest snail in the world) which was playing on the giant screen at the front of the carriage…

The built up suburbs and slums eventually gave way to lush green foliage, rice fields and palm forests. The greenery was broken every now and again as we passed through small villages and larger towns. Even though the train was an express (meaning it travelled directly to Kandy without stopping), we did stop briefly at Gampaha and a few unnamed villages in the highlands.

After about an hour the landscape began to change, with hills rising on each side of the train. We also began to shadow a river which we followed for a good part of the trip. The hills got higher, the river got wider and the dwellings became more and more basic. Coconut trees, banana trees and rubber plantations began to dot the landscape. While it didn’t feel like we were climbing, we were slowly ascending into Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, with mountains appearing on the horizon.

We found ourselves cutting through hills, and the flat agricultural fields gave way to tiered fields. We also began to pass through long dark tunnels. We enjoyed incredible views as we chugged through the steep mountain slopes, peering down at the valley floor below us. As the train slowed through the outskirts of Kandy, the lush country side gave way to ubiquitous decrepit dwellings and slums that are so often built right up to the rail tracks (as they were in Colombo).

We arrived in Kandy at 9:30am and navigated our way out of the station with hordes of other people who were desperately escaping their trains and pouring onto the crowded streets of this bustling city. After turning down a few dodgy three-wheeler (motorised tricycle with a passenger cabin, also called tri-shaws or tuk-tuks) drivers, we eventually found a driver offering a decent fare. We crammed into the back of his three-wheeler with our packs and began the manic journey around Kandy Lake to our hotel – Viyana Boutique.

On arrival we discovered our room wasn’t quite ready. However, we settled in the very comfortable reception area and enjoyed a fresh guava juice, which was very refreshing. We’d barely had time to log into the free Wi-Fi and check email before our room was ready. We couldn’t believe the view of the lake as we walked in – the room was incredible!

With three days ahead of us, we had the luxury of semi-unpacking. After we’d organised ourselves and our packs we walked into Kandy by following the lake’s edge. The main street (Dalada Veediya) was manic and almost impossible to navigate. The sheer mass of people on the footpaths was incredible, and the traffic noise was deafening. This was not what I’d expected to find in Kandy, as my expectations were based on the memories of a seven year old girl. Ren was also shocked at the congested streets – it wasn’t her memory of Kandy at all.

We took a few photos of the lake and then slowly made our way down the heaving Dalada Veediya to the Kandy Clock Tower. We picked up some drinks and snacks from Cargills Food City, but the fish smell within the local supermarket was so intense that we had to escape – fast! Unfortunately, the checkouts were crammed full of people and the service was slow (but very friendly), so we held our breath and only just managed to scramble out onto the footpath into the warm humid air. Cargills was the best place in town to buy Lion beer, and I was already dreading having to go back in. 😞

We made our way back around the lake’s edge to our hotel, where we sat and munched on the tasty ‘devilled manioc chips’ we’d picked up from Cargills. Our room was on the third floor, so we watched the relentless traffic underneath us and the beautiful lake in front of us. We caught up on our writing and relaxed as the wildest of storms erupted overhead. Thunder rumbled and roared while lightning flashed through the sky, and we simply sat in wonder at this incredible spectacle of nature.

Ren’s uncle Sara and aunty Ruba dropped by in the early evening to say hello and discuss our plans for the next few days. We sat, talked and laughed in the hotel lobby, reminiscing about old times in Kandy when Ren and her siblings (Ralph and Romany) were young children. After bestowing us with two amazing gifts (a garnet necklace for Ren and diamond cufflinks for me), they drove us into the city centre of Kandy and dropped us off at Captains Table (Devon Restaurant) for dinner. The place looked like it was closed, but we climbed upstairs through a lot of closed shops and found a brightly lit open dining area with a lot of family groups sitting at tables. We ordered naan with egg curry and masala dahl curry, and it was fantastic. The egg curry had ginger through it, and it was hands down one of the best egg curries I’ve had.

We finished our meal, made our way downstairs and found ourselves standing on a surprisingly calm and uncrowded Dalada Veediya. After a warning from Ren’s uncle that the lake isn’t safe at night, we negotiated a good fare with a three-wheeler driver and zoomed back around the lake to our hotel. After climbing the three flights of stairs to our room, we were exhausted. Ren crashed straight away, while I caught up on my writing and relaxed into the night with a Lion beer from Cargills. It had been a long day, and we were meeting Ren’s uncle the next day for a tour of the family’s old haunts.

We woke early at 5:30am, as we wanted to walk around Kandy Lake before breakfast. We caught up on our notes and then headed out into the Kandy mist, stopping to take photos whenever we found enough light. By pure chance, we met Ren’s uncle Martin on the way back to our hotel. We chatted for a while, asked a few passers-by to take photos of the three of us standing beside the lake, and then organised a catch up for the next day.

When we got back to the hotel we sat down to a Sri Lankan breakfast of pol roti (coconut roti) with fish curry, dahl (lentil curry), pol sambol (shredded coconut with onions, chilli and lime) and katta sambol (salty chilli and lime paste). It was delicious, and the fruit platter, pineapple juice and pots of tea that came with it were very welcome, as we were thirsty from our early morning walk.

After breakfast, Ren’s uncle Sara picked us up for a tour of Kandy. We first drove to Trinity College and visited the first house in which Ren lived. The open air Trinity Chapel was amazing, and it was incredible to think this was Ren’s playground for the first few years of her life. We walked past her old house, then wandered through the school grounds and buildings. We then travelled to St Anthony’s Cathedral in Kandy’s city centre, the church in which Ren was baptised. Sara managed to get us in, and apart from the current priest (who Sara knew), we had the place to ourselves.

We then drove up to the Bahirawakanda Buddhist Statue (Sri Maha Bodhi Maha Vihara), which we had been calling the Big Buddha since arriving in Kandy. It is perched on a hill overlooking Kandy, and the view from the top was incredible. On the down side, the early afternoon sun was sweltering, and the requirement to remove our footwear was problematic, as the concrete was searing hot. Our feet were burning by the time we’d climbed the last few steps to the statue, so we needed to desperately seek out shade.

After a memorable morning of sightseeing and reminiscing, Sara dropped us at the Old Empire Cafe in the city centre for lunch. I opted for the home-style porridge with fruit and treacle, while Ren had the Empire Classic Sri Lankan chicken curry and rice. I ordered a fresh lime soda and Ren had a fresh ginger beer, and we finished the meal with a Ceylon chai and jaggery (Sri Lankan palm sugar) ice cream, which was delicious. Feeling suitably rejuvenated after lunch, we made our way back around the lake’s edge to our hotel, as Sara was picking us up for dinner. We also needed to get back before the afternoon rain set in!

When Sara picked us up, the rain was teaming down and causing traffic chaos throughout Kandy. We navigated the narrow roads of Kandy’s outer suburbs to Sara and Ruba’s house, which had incredible views of Kandy’s surrounding hills. We enjoyed sandwiches, vadai (lentil flour doughnuts) and tea, and we met Brownie (the dog) before heading out to the Mahaweli Reach Hotel to enjoy an amazing buffet dinner with Sara’s brother Raja. Confronted with cuisine choices that would challenge the hungriest of travellers, I opted for naan with crab curry, vegetable curry, dahl, brinjal moju (fried eggplant pickle), pol sambol and a selection of condiments, followed by curd and treacle. Sara had generously organised a bottle of rose for the table after discovering my fondness for wine (which I hadn’t tasted since arriving in Sri Lanka). Sara, Ruba and Raja shared fond memories of Kandy over dinner, and they also shared stories of the civil war. The devastating impact of racial prejudice slithering its way through families was difficult to hear and comprehend, as was the forgiveness that has been extended by those who suffered at the hands of faceless mobs.

After bidding farewell to Raja at Mahaweli Reach, Sara and Ruba drove us back to our hotel. We said a sad goodbye and trudged up to our room – we’d really enjoyed our time with them in Kandy. We were exhausted from a long travel day, so I quickly caught up on my travel notes before crashing at midnight.

We woke early at 5:30am and spent a few hours charging our cameras and iPads while we relaxed in the room. We enjoyed another amazing Sri Lankan breakfast in the hotel’s ground floor dining room, this time opting for string hoppers (steamed vermicelli-like rice noodles) with fish curry, dahl and pol sambol, along with a fresh fruit platter, watermelon juice and a large pot of tea.

After breakfast we jumped into a three-wheeler and made our way around the lake and through the city centre to Udawattakele Sanctuary, where we rambled along beautiful forest paths which we had almost entirely to ourselves. We saw two wild pigs and countless monkeys, and we loved the peaceful ambiance of the shady forest. It was such a tranquil escape from the madness and mayhem of Kandy’s city centre. We arrived back at the sanctuary’s main entrance and continued walking down into Kandy, passing Trinity College on the way.

The midday sun was searing as we navigated the crowded streets of the city centre, making our way to the Kandyan Muslim Hotel for lunch. On arrival we were escorted to a table and handed a menu by an austere looking old man with a short grey beard and few remaining teeth. We ordered egg rolls, fish pan rolls (filled and rolled up crepes, that are crumbed and fried) and beef samosas, along with a lime soda for me and a falooda (cold milk with rose syrup, basil seeds and jelly) for Ren. The rolls and samosas arrived together on a battered silver plate, and they were exceptional. The drinks arrived on another battered silver plate, and they were the best we’d had since arriving in Sri Lanka. We finished the meal with some pulled tea, which was amazing. If the chance arises, we’ll definitely be coming back to this place!

We finished our meal, stepped out onto the bustling Dalada Veediya and walked a short distance to the clock tower, as we wanted to take a few photos of the city landmark with a blue sky background (rather than the overcast skies that had pervaded our photos since arriving in Kandy). We then made our way to Cargills to pick up some snacks, including three packets of ‘devilled manioc chips’ that we were well and truly addicted to.

We strolled back to the hotel along the lake’s edge, mingling with throngs of locals who were out in the sunshine enjoying a stifling Sunday afternoon. We were exhausted from our morning of walking, so we settled in our comfy room and caught up on our writing as we gazed out over the lake.

We had arranged to meet Ren’s uncle Martin for dinner at Hotel Thilanka, which was close to where we were staying. We strode up the steep Kandy hills to the hotel in the balmy night air, and we were fairly exhausted by the time we arrived. We met Martin and enjoyed panoramic views of Kandy from the hotel’s open restaurant area before settling at a table. We opted for the buffet, and I feasted on chapatti (Indian flat read) with chicken curry, vegetable curry, kottu roti (roti chopped up and stir fried with eggs and vegetables), devilled potato (a spicy stir-fried dish) and pol sambol. I finished the meal with steamed pudding, curd with treacle and a pot of tea.

We made plans to travel with Martin to Bogawantalawa the following day, then slowly made our way back down the hill to our hotel in darkness. It had been a dry day in Kandy, as the sale of alcohol is banned during Full Moon Poya Day (a public holiday in Sri Lanka). I was very relieved to discover that we wouldn’t be hitting another Full Moon Poya Day on this trip!

With a long travel day to Bogawantalawa and then on to Negombo the following day, we crashed at 11pm.

Sadly we missed out on our last fabulous breakfast at Taru Villas Lake Lodge in Colombo, as we were up at 4:30am to catch a 7am train to Kandy. However, as we piled into Saman’s three-wheeler (motorised tricycle with a passenger cabin, also called tri-shaws or tuk-tuks) at 6am, the night porter handed us two packed takeaway breakfasts. 😊

The ride to Colombo’s Fort Station was quick in the still sparse morning traffic. Colombo’s Fort Railway Station is the centre of Sri Lanka’s railway network and apparently hasn’t changed much since it first opened in 1908. The station was much smaller than I imagined it would be, but was already quite busy at 6:15am. We knew that the train to Kandy left from Platform 2, but it took a few minutes to figure out where it was, as it was around the corner and not in the expected spot in relation to other platforms.

We had pre-booked Exporail train tickets before we left home. Exporail is a private company that runs one carriage on selected government Sri Lanka Railways trains. It offers aircon, Wi-Fi and catering. Sadly, the advertised open air viewing platform attached to the carriage wasn’t in operation that morning.

The train trip was comfortable, and my vegetarian breakfast of a cheese croissant, potato patty and chocolate cupcake was better than expected. The piping hot cup of sweet tea was delicious and very welcome, but hard to drink on a bouncy train.

When we lived in Sri Lanka, every one of my childhood Christmases was spent in Colombo with my Grandma and Mum’s family. I think I have vague memories of catching the train between the two cities… However, I’m not sure if they are real memories or ones formed as a result of family stories.

The train trip was fabulous, and it was fascinating to watch the changing scenery from unplanned city outskirts to rural farms and rice fields. As we journeyed higher into the hill country, the farms were increasingly terraced, the coconut plantations changed to forests thick with mahogany and the occasional rubber plantation. I had read that the right side of the train had better views closer to Kandy, and how right that tip was! The train hugged the side of mountains on tracks carved out of solid rock, and the vista of valleys spread out to the side of us was simply breathtaking.

Even though my memories of the actual train trips between Colombo and Kandy are hazy, when we reached Kandy Train Station I recognised it immediately – low, wide white buildings that sat at an angle to the road with a small double drive way. It’s funny that my brain has retained an image of this particular building.

Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second-largest city after Colombo, and like its bigger sibling, it’s a sprawling city that can’t be judged purely on its slightly drab and renovated city centre. Having said that, despite the crowds and noise, I liked the central area which holds the much visited Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth), the Kandy Lake, crumbling colonial architecture, frenetic streets and the bustling market. However, we found that the real soul of the place was in its surrounding hills and around the quieter parts of the lake.

Our cute little hotel – Viyana Boutique Hotel, with just 10 rooms, was set on a hairpin bend on the eastern banks of the lake. We checked in at 10am and were lucky to get our room early. Our suite overlooked the lake, it was on the third floor and had the best balcony for people and lake watching. Being a very new hotel, I had expected teething problems. However, our entire experience was a positive one.

After a quick regroup, a phone call to my Uncle Sara (who we would meet later as he was at work) and a quick brunch of egg sandwiches from our Taru Villas Lake Lodge packed breakfast, we set off to walk around the lake to the central city area. We walked past the Dalada Maligawa which was teeming with busloads of pilgrims, including hordes and hordes of school kids. Kandy is home to the last Sinhalese Kingdom, and remains an important place of Sinhalese and Buddhist culture.

We then stopped to admire the old Queen’s Hotel, a major landmark and icon of the city. It was one of the few buildings I remembered well. We kept walking down the main street Dalada Veediya to the Kandy Clock Tower that I also remembered, as it was near a library my Dad used to take me to.

The streets were smaller, more crowded and much louder than I remembered them. We fought our way through the manic mess and sought out a Cargills Food City supermarket to buy some drinks and snacks. I couldn't find the guava or mango juice I was after, so settled for some Lion ginger beer, mango nectar and spicy manioc (cassava) chips. My most favourite type of chips! Andrew was sent downstairs into a dungeon of a liquor store for his Lion beers. Why are liquor stores so hidden and barricaded over here? They are clearly to be seen as a thing of shame and not part of everyday culture.

On our walk back home it started drizzling, and later that afternoon the heavens absolutely opened up and we watched a spectacularly loud lightning and thunderstorm sweep over the lake. It was beautiful to watch from the comfort of our bed, and I was grateful that we hadn’t delayed our explorations and got stuck in the storm like some poor sodden souls we saw walking past our hotel.

That evening we caught up briefly with my Aunty Ruba (Dad's younger sister) and Uncle Sara at our hotel. I hadn't seen Aunty Ruba since 1999 and Uncle Sara since about 1985. Andrew had heard so many stories about our childhood with them, and I was glad he could finally meet them.

Uncle Sara dropped us off at Captains Table, which is part of the Devons Complex. Even though we hadn’t eaten much that day, we were surprisingly not hungry and only ordered a light meal of egg curry and masala dahl with naans. It was a great meal and probably the best egg curry I've ever tasted. We caught a three-wheeler back to the hotel, as it was still raining and parts of the walk around the lake were quite dark. By this stage I barely had the energy for a shower before I passed out. We'd been up since 4:30am.

We woke up at 5:30am and I couldn't believe the traffic around the lake was already quite heavy, and on a Saturday at that. We left at 7am to walk around the lake, and as we walked we watched the beautiful mist that was shrouding the lake and surrounding hills start to lift when a very bright morning sun broke through the clouds.

The lake is artificial and was built by slave labour in 1807 by the last ruler of the Kingdom of Kandy – Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. Dad used to narrate the many myths and legends about the lake and the small island in the middle. The king is rumoured to have buried 100 of his disgruntled advisors in the lake bed, and the Royal Summer House on the small island was apparently used to house the king’s harem, which he accessed via a secret tunnel from the Palace across the road. Of course, now I realise that Dad was only highlighting parts of the history lessons that would have piqued the interest of our young minds. 😊

Our aim was to walk around the lake before it got too hot, and we were joined by joggers, fast walkers and people hurrying to work. The 3.5km circuit is a beautiful walk, with most of it under shady trees. However, the footpaths weren't well maintained and there were pockets of very fishy smells where the cormorants and storks had chosen to nest. It was still a very enjoyable walk and one we hoped to repeat many times while we were in Kandy. I loved the very distinct decorative white walakulu bamma (clouds wall) around part of the lake, and it was a treat walking past the imposing Dalada Maligawa in that quiet morning light before the pilgrims had started streaming into the temple.

While admiring the parts of the Maligawa we could see through the fenced off area, I saw someone waving at us and was astonished that it was my Uncle Martin who lives in Melbourne. I knew he was in Kandy at the same time we were and we had made tentative plans to catch up, but what were the chances of bumping into someone we knew in a city of more than one million people?

After making plans to see Uncle Martin again the next day, we walked back to the hotel and were quite ravenous for breakfast. While the breakfast was no match for the one at Taru Villas Lake Lodge (where we’d just stayed in Colombo), it was still really good. It started with a tropical fruit platter and pineapple juice, followed by pol roti (Sri Lankan coconut roti), fish curry, dahl (lentil curry), pol sambol (shredded coconut with onions, chilli and lime) and katta sambol (salty chilli and lime paste), all accompanied by pots of tea. We were planning a day of sightseeing, so the big breakfast was essential. 😊

Uncle Sara picked us up at 11am to show us around Kandy and take me down memory lane. The first stop, on our request, was the Trinity College campus where I was born and lived for the first seven years of my life before we left for Nigeria. We visited our old house and surrounds, and spent time in the beautiful chapel that was a constant backdrop to my childhood.

The chapel was even more gorgeous and special than I remembered it being. As a child I had no idea of its architectural significance or constructional singularity. However, I did remember that the three murals by David Paynter were significant because he painted the biblical figures with Sri Lankan faces and brown skin. We then walked through the Upper School, reminiscing about Dad and my brother’s time in those buildings.

Next we visited St Anthony’s Cathedral, which was our family’s parish church and where I was baptised. The church was closed, but Uncle Sara did some fast talking to a young priest who let us in through the back entrance. I have never been privy to that part of a church before, and it was very odd entering by crossing the altar! Uncle Sara also knew Father Bala, the parish priest who eventually came out to say hello to us. We figured out that he had been a newly ordained priest while my family were parishioners there.

Uncle Sara then drove us to the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue, which is the ‘Big Buddha’ of Kandy that can be seen from most points in the city. The drive took us past the Asgiriya Stadium which hosted all Trinity College’s games, matches and junior school sports meets. By now the day had warmed up and it turned out to be the worst time to visit the Big Buddha. We had to remove our shoes at the entrance to the monument and then navigate super-hot stone steps and a concrete walkway to reach the upper floor that thankfully had some shade (and a cooler floor to stand on). We attempted to climb the stairwell behind the statue but it was closed off at the very top. We walked around the statue and we weren’t even half way around when I started melting! Uncle Sara has a good and sense of humour and suggested that the marketing team had missed an opportunity to sell the experience as a unique chance to try Sri Lankan fire walking. He wasn’t far wrong, my feet definitely felt slightly burnt and tender for the rest of the day. As a tourist attraction I’d say it’s not very well run at all and lacks basic maintenance, although we managed to get a few fabulous photos of the city from that high vantage point.

Uncle Sara dropped us off in town while he attended to some business, and made plans to pick us up for dinner. We had read that the Old Empire Cafe was a good place for light lunches, so we made our way over. It’s in a very cute laneway one street back from the lake, and right next to the Maligawa. I ordered the rice and curry meal and Andrew opted for the home-style porridge with fruit and treacle, and we cooled down with a much needed freshly made cold lime juice and ginger beer. The curries included a chicken curry, carrot curry, brinjal moju (fried eggplant pickle), gotukola sambol (pennywort salad with shredded coconut, green chillies, onions, lime and salt), pol sambol and pappadums. For dessert we shared a house made Ceylon chai and jaggery (Sri Lankan palm sugar) ice cream, and it was one of the yummiest ice creams I've had in a long time.

We walked back to the hotel just before the heavens opened and poured volumes of rain on the city – the very punctual afternoon thunderstorm at 3pm. We napped and relaxed until Uncle Sara picked us up at 5.30pm and drove us to their house in Katugastota, not far from their old house by the river that I knew so well as a child. Aunty Ruba’s garden was very beautiful and clearly a labour of love. We had a lovely afternoon tea with ulundu vadais (lentil flour doughnuts) and sandwiches as we caught up on old stories and watched the surrounding hills light up with the setting sun. I can only imagine how beautiful that view would have been without the heavy grey rain filter we were viewing it through.

We eventually left for dinner at the Mahaweli Reach Hotel (where Uncle Sara works), to the dismay of their old dog Brownie who stood at the gate and howled his little heart out when we left. It was lovely that Uncle Raja (Uncle Sara’s brother) could join us. I hadn’t seen Uncle Raja since I was about 5 or 6 and it was so good to hear of his travels over the years, and of his life now that he is back in Sri Lanka. We also talked about the civil war that had directly affected them, their families and friends. It was hard to hear of such atrocities, so I can only imagine how hard it would be to remember them and talk of it.

The hotel is a sprawling complex that sits right on the Mahaweli Ganga (the biggest river in Sri Lanka, and one that snakes around three sides of the city). The hotel had a slight touch of the loungey 70s, helped very much by a crooning hotel singer. The dinner buffet at the hotel was more than extensive and to be honest I tried so many dishes, I lost track of everything I ate. But I do remember that a couple of return trips were made to the dessert station. 😊

We said goodbye to Uncle Raja, and Uncle Sara and Aunty Ruba were very kind to drive us back to the city in a heavy rain storm after dinner. We arrived at the hotel at 10:30pm and crashed very heavily again. I can’t remember much after the tiring climb up to our third floor room. In fact, I slept so heavily that I didn’t hear the thunder or the traffic noise that night.

We were up bright and early at 5:30am, and we were down in the dining room at 7:30am. Breakfast started with a tropical fruit platter and watermelon juice, followed by string hoppers (steamed vermicelli-like rice noodles), fish curry, dahl and pol sambol, again accompanied by pots of tea.

We had planned to spend some hours walking in the Udawattakele Sanctuary that morning. A part of the Udawattakele forest backed onto our old house in the Trinity College campus, and as children we often walked through the forest to the ponds in the centre of the sanctuary. Udawattakele was part of the royal grounds during the Kandyan Kingdom – it sits on a hill above the lake and old Royal Palace and contains a few Buddhist monasteries and shrines. We caught a three-wheeler to the main gated entrance near the Tapovanaya Monastery, which is just past the Trinity College junior school oval. It was walkable from the hotel, but it was steeply uphill and we’d left our start a bit late, and it was already hot at 9:30am.

We bought our tickets and started the Lover’s Walk at the Royal Pond. For the first kilometre or so we only saw two other people. I was surprised that such an oasis of green on the doorstep of a hectic city wasn't busier on a Sunday. The forest smells took me right back to my childhood – a particular smell of a damp muddy earth understory, fresh greenness of the very tall canopy, and hints of sweet overripe jackfruit. The forest was full of lianas vines, ivy and mahogany trees whose large fallen leaves carpeted the whole walk. On a particularly quiet part of the walk, we saw a massive wild pig and her piglets among a troupe of reddish-brown toque macaque monkeys (the most common of the four primates found in Sri Lanka). Neither seemed to bother the other, and it was lovely to stop and watch them for a while.

We walked a 3km circuit to a viewing point overlooking the Maligawa and Kandy town. The walk was a lovely tranquil experience apart from the constant echo of distant chatter from the houses and temples that ringed the forest. I have to mention that the map we were provided with at the ticket office was less than useful – the signs in the forest had no relation to the markings on the map, and on a few occasions we had to guess our way at forks in the road.

As we were heading to the park gates, a very large troupe of toque macaque monkeys seemed to materialise out of nowhere and run past us. It was a bit disconcerting until we realised that we were of no interest to them as they rushed towards the gate with urgency. At this point we also realised that some {swear word deleted} tourists were handing out food to the wild monkeys. What is wrong with these {swear word deleted} people? Seriously? So in a repeat of some South-East Asian countries, it won’t be long before these macaques associate all people with food and turn nasty and vicious. It made me really angry. And sadly, not ten minutes before I had been telling Andrew how nice it was to walk among wild monkeys who were calm and not agitated at the mere sight of us. {More swear words deleted}.

We walked back to town via the Trinity Junior school, and through a hot and humid city centre to the Kandy Muslim Hotel for short eats (an umbrella term for Sri Lankan fried or baked snacks) for lunch. In Sri Lanka the term hotel is also used to refer to small local eateries, and this one was a cheap and cheerful place, but we had heard good things about the food. We ordered fish pan rolls (filled and rolled up crepes, that are crumbed and fried), egg rolls and beef samosas. Andrew had a couple of lime sodas to quench his thirst, but I couldn’t go past ordering a falooda (cold milk with rose syrup, basil seeds and jelly), and it was the best falooda I've ever had. We then had some sweet tea (the pulled frothy kind) to finish a quick but delicious meal.

We headed back the hotel via Cargills Food City to stock up on more spicy manioc chips (which I had correctly predicted we would get addicted to!), some lemon puff biscuits I remembered from my childhood, and some cold drinks. Unfortunately, Andrew couldn't buy any beers as it was Sunday and also a Poya Day (the monthly full moon Buddhist holiday). It was a pity we hadn’t realised this before and stocked up.

It was nice to finally drag myself upstairs into the cool interior of our hotel room. We spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on notes, regrouping, planning and napping. It had been a busy five days since we landed in Sri Lanka, and I was happy to have some downtime that afternoon.

With super high levels of humidity and under threat of a storm about to break, we walked to Uncle Martin's hotel for dinner that night. Hotel Thilanka sat directly up the hill behind our hotel, but the road snaked its way around the hill and it ended up being a steep 15 minute climb. It was a lovely catch up with Uncle Martin over a dinner buffet, and it was interesting hearing his thoughts on how Sri Lanka had changed since his childhood and young adulthood. All though dinner I couldn’t help but be amused that we live only an hour flight away from each other in Australia but had flown half way across the world to have dinner together. 😊

That night we packed our bags in preparation for a spontaneous road trip we’d organised with Uncle Martin. Our time in Kandy had come to an end, for this stint anyway. We will be coming back again as we pass through from the cultural triangle to the south coast.

Before we came to Kandy, I had wondered if I would experience any kind of pre-amniotic awakening of the senses. As much as I enjoyed being in Kandy and loved wandering down memory lane, I felt no real homecoming or deep draw to the place. I can see that it is a truly welcoming and gorgeous place to live, and my parents had not been biased when they spoke of how beautiful it was and how happy they had been living here as a young family. However, it was quite clear to me that as much I liked Kandy, now I was just a visitor here. Any connection I once had to this place has long dissipated.

Next we travel west to Negombo via a day trip south to Hatton and Bogawantalawa in the heart of tea country.


26th April 2017

Train Travel
The pictures of you train travel made me feel excellent today.I find train travel really magical, especially on those kind of places hidden in the forest where the time seems it has stopped far away from the hustle and bustle of big cities and modernization. Definitely will have a look to this little island that has got a treasure of places.. Have a good one RenAndrew!!
26th April 2017

Re: Train Travel
Thanks Marcos! Train travel is by far our favourite mode of transport when we travel, and we really enjoyed all the train trips in Sri Lanka. I think you will love it :)
29th April 2017

Just a visitor
I was interested in your comment Ren, even after all those memories you just felt like a visitor. I am now back in UK for the rest of the year and it still feels like home - but then I did live here a lot longer than you did in Sri Lanka. Love both your descriptions of Kandy and look forward to being 'just a visitor' too, one day.
1st May 2017

Re: Just a visitor
The concept of 'home' is so subjective and has always fascinated me...we moved to Melbourne when I was 16 and even though I've come and gone many times over the years - I always get that 'coming home' feeling when I land at Tullamarine Airport. Looking forward to reading about the rest of your blogs as you travel west towards the UK :)
1st May 2017

I have a feeling I'm going to OD on watermelon juice. lol. That train trip sounded great! And the {swear word deleted} tourists must follow you guys around too. Keep 'em coming!
1st May 2017

The watermelon juice was awesome, but the watermelon season was on its way out when we were there... however you could get lucky with mango season, which we sadly missed out on. Highly recommend train trips in Sri Lanka - even though buying tickets from outside the country is a hassle, it's easy enough to do when you get there. Those {swear word deleted} tourists! Don't get me started! :)
4th May 2017

The birth place
Always good to go back and see how you feel about a place from your childhood. Nothing better than the romance of train travel but why do they leave so dang early...just kidding. I'm a morning person and I embrace an early start to the day. Although I vow to change that in retirement. Ren has been away from Kandy a long time so many changes occurred and I can see why you'd feel like a visitor. Good to have family show you around and get their point of view. Happy travels.
5th May 2017

Re: The birth place
Thanks Merry. I'm glad I finally revisited Kandy, and it was so good to see my uncle and aunty. When we travel east, jetlag plays in our favour for those early starts :) But not so much when we travel west at the end of a trip :(
7th May 2017

Kandy looks sweet.
Sorry bad pun, but it does look incredible and it was interesting reading about your return to your childhood school and home. I always believe that the more you travel the more you realise that home is relative and that memories are more solid than places. Kandy Lake and the food looks amazing, and I am glad you warned us about "Poya Day", would need to plan a trip around avoiding that one.
8th May 2017

Re: Kandy looks sweet.
Hi Shelley and Scott, we agree with you 100% about the concept of 'home'. Your tie to your home is such a personal thing, I don't understand how people think one definition should fit all. Haha yes we should have researched Poya Day a bit better before we went there :)

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