Tag Archives: Kandy

On the train from Kandy to Galle

There is no direct train from Kandy to Galle. The quickest route is via Colombo, where you change train.  Both legs of the journey are very scenic, although different: the first one through mountains while the second one follows the coastline.
I took the Intercity train from Kandy to Colombo at 6:15am and was pleasantly surprised to realise that my 1st class ticket (Rs 800, bought two days in advance) entitled me to a seat in the observation car, the one at the rear of the train, with a large window looking back along the tracks.
The train travelled at snail pace, rolling and rattling through the mountains, with amazing views of the tropical forest wrapped in the morning mist. Every now and then, short tunnels interrupted the view. School kids and workers would sometime appear out of nowhere and cross the tracks as soon as the train was gone.
The mist gave an almost magical touch to the landscape and I watched the scenery in awe.

We arrived at Colombo Fort railway station just before 9am, after almost three hours.
Colombo Fort was bustling with energy and was as chaotic as ever. I bought a 2nd class ticket to Galle (Rs 180) and waited for my train to arrive.

At 10:45am the slightly grubby train started its journey south, following the coastline so closely that for the first hour I could almost touch the ocean. I had managed to get a window seat and could really enjoy the amazing sea view: miles of blue waters, sand and palm trees. Villages and towns were dotted along the railway line, and villagers seemed to enjoy watching the trains go past.

We made it to Galle in just over two hours. The whole journey from Kandy to Colombo took almost 7 hours but I really enjoyed it!

Around Kandy

When I booked my few nights’ stay in Kandy, I was planning to use this city as a base to explore central Sri Lanka and especially the “postcard-ready” tea plantations. You can imagine my disappointment when I realised that the distances involved were a little too much for this poor plan…
Still keen on making the most of my time there, I visited the local tourist office to see what the nearby area had to offer.

The following morning at 7:30am I got picked up at my guesthouse, having arranged a half day tuk tuk tour (Rs 3,000) aimed at covering some of the main tourist destinations (or should I call them “tourist traps”?) located within easy reach from Kandy.
So this is where I went:

#Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
I was given a choice between this orphanage, about 40Km from Kandy, and the Elephant Millenium Foundation located nearby. I chose the former for no particular reason. But while this was once an orphanage, I gather that nowadays all new elephants are born on site. The whole thing seems to have become mainly an expensive tourist attraction (Rs 2,500 the entrance fee for foreigners).
The bottle feeding of the baby elephants is similar to what you see in zoos, feeding fruits to the adult elephants cost you extra money. The walk to the river and the opportunity to watch the elephants bathing were more interesting, though. And on the way back to the car park I stopped in one of the shops and learnt how elephant dung can be turned into paper (of course they then tried and sell me souvenirs made of “elephant paper”…).

#Geragama Tea Factory and Plantations
As a surrogate for a visit to the main tea plantations of Sri Lanka, which I didn’t have time to reach, I went to see this tea factory and annexed plantations. The tour of the factory showed us the various machines involved in the process of turning tea leaves into the little bits that end up in our tea cups. I was surprised to learn about the differences between the various types/grades of Ceylon black tea. Golden tips and silver tips being the best ones, apparently. The tour finished with a free cup of tea and the opportunity to buy some freshly packaged tea, something that my tuk tuk driver didn’t miss out on.

#Spice Garden
There are dozens of these dotted along the road between Kandy and Pinnawala. Guides will show you around the garden, give you some information on the health benefits of various plants and herbs (“this is like natural insulin”, “this plant is good for headaches when you work on a computer all day” and so on), then sit you down and start their sales pitch. It all ends in the shop where you can buy some of the products derived from plants. While it’s certainly interesting, I found the whole thing once again mainly a tourist trap. But I bought some chilli powder as souvenir.

Despite my general comment on the sights above being a bit of tourist traps, it was still good to get out of Kandy and see more of the country!

The old capital: Kandy

Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka and the last capital of the ancient King’s era. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, this is where the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – one of the most sacred places in the Buddhist world – is. With a large lake in the centre of the city, and surrounded by beautiful hills with lush vegetation, Kandy is also quite different from the rest of Sri Lanka I visited.

"Sri Lanka" Kandy

With a lot of time on my hands, I decided to explore the city at slow pace and savour what it had to offer. Starting from the central market. I am totally fascinated by markets and their energy, and spend hours just watching people selling food of any sorts. The market in Kandy was colourful, full of life and chaotic, as you would expect. I loved it.

Next was the lake, which is artificial and was created in 1807. I walked its whole perimeter, stopping every now and then to take photos. The nicest view is from its northern end, and one late afternoon I sat there for a long time waiting for sunset and hoping in an amazing one. It wasn’t amazing but the view over the lake was stunning anyway.

But the main draw in Kandy is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, or Sri Dalada Maligawa, which houses the relic tooth of the Buddha. Built in the 17th and 18th century, and partially reconstructed after the bombings in 1998, the entire temple complex includes the main temple and several other shrines, covering a large area – I spent over 2.5 hours exploring it all.

As you leave the temple area, do not miss the opportunity to discover more of this city: at the Kandy Cultural Centre you will have the opportunity to see artists in action, while walking the side streets in the city centre is an opportunity to see some nice local shops and observe street life!

A visit to Kandy is not complete without watching an evening performance of Kandyan Dance, characterised by elaborate costumes, amazing dance moves and show-stopping stunts. There are three venues for this, and I chose the Kandy Lake Club as it was supposed to have the best costumes. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed! Check the photos out.