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Sri Lanka 2

After a few days based in Colombo, I headed for Kandy. This is Sri Lanka’s second city and is located towards the centre of the island in the mountainous area. It is now very much a city that is geared for tourism, and hotels and attractions are numerous. It is elevated at 450m above sea level, and the climate is cooler than that of the seaside towns. Kandy is in a tropical rainforest area and there is quite high humidity.

I don’t think I mentioned it earlier, but July is one of the wet monsoon months and I had experienced daily downpours that typically lasted half an hour and then dried up. There were two or three of them every day, and all the locals carried umbrellas whereas we t-shirted tourists scuttled for the nearest shelter and stayed there, no matter how inappropriate a place it might have been until the rain had passed.

Having read up on the history, when the Portuguese and Dutch were in Sri Lanka from the 1500s onwards they went inland relatively rarely so Kandy remained an independent kingdom. Only in the early 1800s when the British turned up and ousted the Dutch did expeditionary forces make a determined effort to capture the highland areas and eventually in 1818 the Kandayans were beaten and subjugated into the British Empire. Regrettably the Brits of the day were no better than anyone else and raped and pillaged shamelessly, leaving the Kandayans in similar deprivation as they had left other parts of the island and, no doubt, around the rest of the empire. Nowadays Kandy is a peaceable city and welcomes tourists, even British, with open arms.


Temple detail, Kandy

There is a lovely lake in the centre of the city, man-made by damming a flattish area and this has been the centre of the city for over 200 years. As well as being picturesque it has a curious history. The last king of Kandy (a wonderful title for a film) was clearly a bit of a bampot and with the British starting to sniff around the island and its interior, he decided to ignore the threat and instead convert his low lying paddyfields into an ornamental lake by constructing a dam and roadway across it. His advisors (100 of them) suggested he build fortifications and defences instead to protect the kingdom and city. The king took exception to this advice and had them all impaled on stakes along the roadway. Unsurprisingly his subjects didn’t put up much of a fight when the long awaited invasion came.



Around the lake are some beautiful buildings, the loveliest of which the Temple of the Relic of the Tooth. Herein lies a tooth of Lord Buddha, and it is one of the holiest sites in the Bhuddist faith, with thousands of pilgrims coming here every year; and in late July there is a fantastic looking (I saw some pictures) elephant pageant when the box containing the tooth is taken out and paraded around the city by the monks. It would have been great to see it, but I wouldn’t have been able to find accommodation at that time. And talking of accommodation, I stayed in another budget hotel, but this time unfortunately shared my room with a large family of mosquitos who were clearly delighted to be presented with such a white dinner. Fortunately central Sri Lanka is malaria free, but never before have I had so many bites.

Although in the centre of the island, Kandy is but the gateway to the high mountains, and one of the best ways to see them is by train. The line from Kandy to Ella climbs up from 450m, to the summit at 1,898m (6,226 feet) above sea level, before descending towards Ella then the terminus at Badulla. To put that in perspective, the summit is nearly twice the height of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. From the line there are grand vistas of the Sri Lankan peaks, the highest of which is Pidurutalagala at 2,524m, followed by the better known Adam’s Peak at 2,243m. But for me the real beauty of the journey was travelling through mile after mile of tea plantation groves (gardens). As a tea lover, and an appreciator of scenic railways, this was the highlight of my holiday. And talking of tea, how refreshing newly brewed tea is at altitude on a tea estate. Mmmmmmmm.


A tea garden

There is an upland plateau known as Horton Plains, and this is a national park at an altitude of around 2,200m. I took a tuk-tuk from Ohiya station and spent a few hours wandering around there. As well as a haven for SL flora and fauna it has waterfalls, pools and paths. One trail leads to “World’s End”, which is a cliff face with an outlook towards the south east and on a good day the sea is visible in the distance. I had picked a bad day and when I reached the edge all could see was cloud. Ach well. To misquote Robert Louis Stevenson, it was better to travel in hope than to arrive. It was purely coincidence that I had come here and only later did I pair this experience with that earlier this year to the “Edge of the World” in Saudi.


Horton Plain trail sign

I made my way back to Kandy by joining a “mixed” train, this being a combination of passenger and freight wagons. On this occasion three oil tankers and a parcels van were marshalled between the loco and the three passenger coaches. End to end, from Badulla to Kandy, this must be one of the slowest long distance trains in the world. This train is timed for 11h45m and covers a route distance of 173km (equivalent Glasgow to Carlisle). That’s an average speed of 14 km/h or 9 mph. No wonder I was the only passenger on it for any distance, all the others hopped on and off after a few stops.  


Mixed train

Then it was back to Colombo for a day then I flew back to Saudi via Dubai. The Emirates flight was routed via Male (Maldives) so I suppose I can say I have been there, but it doesn’t really count as I wasn’t allowed off the plane, and it was dark too. The connecting flight on Fly Dubai from DXB to RUH was a farce, eight hours delay and I won’t bore you with that tedium.

Sri Lanka, Kandy and its highlands are now one of my favourite places to have visited, and I’d love to go back, taking Elaine with me. What would I do differently? A hotel in Kandy with more stars and fewer mosquitos for a start. But I’d also book a safari to one of the national parks where jaguar, elephant and other exotic animals roam freely (all the (few) elephants I saw were working beasts but they still looked magnificent). And if anyone wants a cheap washing machine, just let me know!

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