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Sri Lanka - Exploring Colonial Kandy

16th February 2012

I'm writing my blog under a Bodi Tree, in the botanical gardens in Kandy, which are completely beautiful... a bit of well needed peace and quiet after a few solid days of Buddha spotting, elephant riding, Lion Rock climbing, and ancient ruin cycling. And torrential rain.

We drove through a solid mass of cloud to arrive at our chalet (ok, "chalet" may be overselling it a little bit) in the tea plantations of the Knuckles Mountains, the "world's end" views obscured in their entirety (maybe the end of the world had already happened and we'd missed it). Only the worst kind of masochists would have gone for our planned walk in these conditions and apparently (thankfully) none of our group fell into this category, so we hunkered down for the night in our simple mountain home, ate fantastically well and drank the beer supplies dry, listening to the rain. Which continued all night long. The conditions we woke up to before sunrise the next morning were no improvement on last nights, so we waited it out and as if by magic (over the tallest pile of chapatis anyone has ever seen for breakfast) the cloud started dissolving and revealing snippets of the stunning peaks and waterfalls to us. It was a brilliant cloud burlesque show, cheeky flashes of "what we could have won"... So we headed out, and straight into a high water mark of leeches. The ground was boiling with them. But the views, we all decided, once the offending creatures had been found, wrestled with and then removed, were absolutely worth the pints of blood we had all probably donated to pay for them. And that says a lot for the view.

We arrived in Kandy with time enough for ayeverdic massages, before we ventured out - again in the rain - to see the evening puja ceremony at The Temple Of The Tooth. Our guide had every other one of his tombstone teeth missing, a brilliant irony that seemingly escaped him but kept us smiling through most of the tour. (In fact, come to think of it, most of the guides I saw there had the same dental characteristics... Maybe that was a requisite of the job?) The atmosphere was fantastic... incense and Jasmine blossom offerings, temple drumming and chanting being broadcast from the inner sanctum over the whole town we approached. Walking through the garden complex in the dark as we were leaving, there was a lone monk sitting cross-legged under a tree, the curve of its trunk forming a naga head above him, perfectly protecting him from the rain; a living embodiment of every Buddha we had just seen.

The botanical gardens are home to (if this is an exaggeration, it's not too big a one) hundreds of thousands of fruit bats, agitated in the heat of the day and flying between the pine trees to try to cool off. The recent downpours had created an amazing halo effect around the sun and as the bats flew across it, it illuminated their wings like a Da Vinci blueprint - you could see every bone and vein in perfect silhouette. The path beneath then was covered in guano and very slippery, so I cut across the grass and immediately came within a couple of paces of a 5ft long pit viper.

So, we're leaving the tranquility (aside from the bats. And the snakes) of the gardens to the hundreds of discreetly canoodling young couples, and heading back to town for a wander around the lakeshore. And a G&T sundowner on the terrace. It feels like the right thing to do in ever so colonial Kandy.

Kat Hart

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