7- 8 June 2014
Since flights tend to be delayed in China, taking the red-eye ones made the most sense. No PLA troops would be up that late (China closes airspace for military training). I always love leaving a predictable daily rhythm in Beijing to experience something new. My first impression of Sri Lanka is: historically rich and impressive. When I first saw a picture of the giant lion claws and the stairs that leads you up to the royal palace, I imagined myself back in the ancient times…. chilling at the Lion entrance before walking my way up.Damn- hot! I wondered how it looked back centuries ago when instead of only the front claws, lies a great lion that watches on his beloved Kingdom.
I am so going there!
Fishe, that wonderful girl who I met three times in three different cities a year ago also wanted to see the lion rock so what is next? Move your bottom now and set foot in the beautiful island. Fishe met me in Kuala Lumpur before our early morning AirAsia flight to Colombo. All in all, a smooth flight. With a quick visa procedure, we were out of the airport in no time and the locals, being friendly and all, directed us to the special bus which took us straight to Colombo Bus Station.
Sri Lanka’s central province is rich in history. For two girls who go all ga-ga over historical sites, Kandy marked the first stop for our Sri Lanka History Course 101. Second largest city after Colombo and the last capital of the ancient era, Kandy is adorably tucked in the midst of hills and surrounded by something that both Fishe and I are addicted to- tea. Our plan is to head straight to Kandy leave Colombo for later.”Do you want to take the bus?” asked Fishe. “Why?” I asked her
“Well…not everyone like to travel on local buses so I want to make sure that you are ok with it,” she replied.
Such a thoughtful darling …well- there is no better way to travel than to localize it! I can’t wait to get on that bus and make my way to Kandy. Bus stations in Sri Lanka looks confusing at first but the friendly English-speaking locals are always there to help. There is a food stand in every bus station which is convenient for hungry poopoo heads like myself. We got on the bus to kandy and then we hopped off because we were told that tickets cost 155 rupees which is a little over 1 USD.( WHAT!!!!) That can’t be ride. We looked at each other- less than 2 USD for a 4 hour long journey – maybe this isn’t right! After being reassured by several locals, we got on the next one. There are plenty of buses linking Colombo to every city in Sri Lanka so after 5 minutes, the next bus to Kandy pulled up to the aisle.
Before the bus departed, people got on and sold some fruits and snacks then off it went. The 4 hr long bumpy ride was thoroughly enjoyable since we chatted with the locals. They took great care of us and made sure that we felt safe.
We arrived at Kandy Bus Station which is conveniently nested among shops, the clock tower and railway tracks. We walked past a big area with tall grey stone walls and I seriously thought that it’s a major attraction… say a palace on a lake (since there were birds flying above the place). Later on, I was told that it’s actually the prison.
Right in the middle of the hill city and next to the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy Lake was built in the early 1800s by the last King of Kandy. It is often said that the small island in the middle of the lake was the bathroom/summer house for the Royal family and was connected to the palace by a secret tunnel. The King used forced labor to replace the once paddy field with an artificial lake. Although a quiet place to go for a jog these days, one can say that this ornamental lake was the reason for the decline of Kandy and the end of the King’s reign. The Kandyan monarchy need money especially at a time when British and European forces are eyeing the city. However, like the last Dowager of China’s Qing Dynasty Cixi who wasted money building the Summer Palace, this King went ahead and spent a great deal of the national resources on something pathetically trivial. Many of his advisors who voiced their objections were impaled at Kandy Lake. So… this lake is also a massive graveyard where great intellects died just for wanting their King against such a wasteful project. When a ruler is an idiot, any great kingdom and dynasty will fall. The British shortly captured him with great help from his own noblemen who were unhappy with his foolish policies. Way to go King!
After dumping our bags at our hostel which is tucked away on the hill overlooking the lake and the surrounding area ( in the same neighborhood as the Australian Embassy), we rushed off to see an UNESCO WHS Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Tooth Relic. We followed the locals in their white gowns quietly making their way into the holy site. This was perhaps the first time when I visited a major tourist attraction at night. It was magical.
Just as we were about to set foot inside the Temple, a pink lotus caught our eye. We cradled it gently and felt great tranquility. Enclosed by white stones and dating back to the start of the 19th century, lies Kandy’s Royal Palace and the Buddhist Temple. The limestone, ivory, marble and countless other materials added much grace to the breathtaking place. Pilgrims around the world flock to see it. Our timing (~6:40pm) was excellent since along with the locals, we saw the golden casket which was said to contain the tooth relic of the Lord Buddha, smuggled by a Princess who hid it in her hair. Carried by the beating drums from the music performance, we lingered with the people and rested in the hall with the Golden Buddha statue….it was quiet and spiritual especially as I had the honor to watch the locals….deep in their prayers.
Before we left for the temple grounds, we poked our heads into a special library looking/archive room and an old gentleman gestured for us to enter.
“Turn off camera please,” he said before showing us an ancient book. This contains the teachings of Buddhism. He pointed to many other archives and said the words “Precious.” Indeed, considering how we had the chance to look at a tangible artifact written by someone hundreds of years ago. He probably never imagined that one day, many centuries in the future, two curious explorers would attempt to read it.
We briefly looked out into the night from the verandah and saw flickering lights from the coconut oil lamps. Before leaving, we headed towards the lamps located close to the gate which was completely destroyed by civil war. The Temple came under attack twice- the first in 1989 and the other in 1998 by the Tamil Tigers.
Thank Buddha that it still stands today. I walked away finally realizing why this temples holds the biggest clue to why Kandy was the last capital of a Sri Lanka ruled by their own King – and that is the tooth relic since it is said that whoever possess it holds governance of the whole country. No longer the capital of modern Sri Lanka, Kandy will always be that ancient cultural capital…..however, deep in my heart, I know it’s not the only cultural capital. Fishe and I were both ready to be wooed by the cities that we’ll visit in the coming few days.
Random Facts and Observations
- 1 USD is 127.5 rupee
- Sri Lanka’s tourism although not as well developed as some other Asian countries is till nevertheless convenient and well structured. This can be seen in the abundance of information available at airports and other locations. Most importantly, transportation is efficient and tickets are often in the form of a brochure, information pamphlet and free DVDs.
- People are very friendly even the police, the locals smile all the time and men offer their seats to children, women and foreigners.
- Wonderful future potentials and signs of development in tourism ( hotels) as well a business districts and residential blocks ( particularly in Colombo).
- June is the best time to visit Sri Lanka and it’s not peak season
- Small country with the highest biodiversity density in Asia
- Half of the species are endemic
- Rainforest coverage which was around 49% in 1920 had fallen to less than 25% by 2010 (due to urbanization)
- The oldest democracy in Asia
- No military conscription
- Very deadly mossies (mosquitoes)
- India is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner
- National bird is the Sri Lanka jungle fowl, national flower is the blue water lily and the national tree is the Ceylon ironwood
- Volleyball is the national sport not cricket although the latter is more popular
- Sri Lanka respects girl power since it was the first Asian country known to have a female ruler Anula of Anuradhapura (47-42BCCE). She ruled for 5 years and is more well-known for poisoning 5 husbands than anything else.
Picturesque Kandy- you still retain your old world charms and traditions….how splendid can you be?