I departed for Kandy via train the following morning–I was generally trying to avoid buses by this point but the train to Kandy is well known for being a lovely ride through tea country. The nice husband from the hotel gave me a ride down to the train station for free.
I mentioned earlier that Lonely Planet claims that you can reserve a seat in second class seating (first class was sold out days earlier and you can only purchase the tickets at your departure train station making it effectively impossible to reserve if you’re only in town for short stay). This is yet another instance where the second class reservations proved to be a myth. Fortunately, the train was not very full that morning so I managed to snag a window seat.
The train station:
The inside of the trains, as you can see the seats are reasonably comfortable with lots of leg room. My huge backpack fit easily on the rack above:
I wish I had more photos taken through the big doors for the train ride because the scenery was really quite nice. You go through hours and hours of hillside tea country with a stunning array of greens. However, there was a group of German students who plopped themselves at the doors and hogged them for the entire 7.5 hour journey, without even the smallest break. I managed to take this one shot near the end of the trip once they had gotten off the train. Really quite annoying.
I finally arrived in Kandy very late in the afternoon. I was rather surprised that it took nearly eight hours to get to Kandy from Ella because it is at most 150 km away. On the ride to my hotel the cab driver told me that the bus from Ella to Kandy only takes 2.5 hours so taking the train really does amount to taking the scenic route. That being said, the train ride was worthwhile, you’ll just have to consider the ride as your main activity for the day.
Kandy Lake is in the centre of the town. Walking around it is pleasant enough but for the immense amount of traffic on the road immediately next to it. I recommend wearing a pair of ear buds so that you employ music to drown out the traffic. Once you do that, walking around the lake is very nice, especially in the evening when the weather cools down and you get a bit of a breeze.
That night I had dinner at a restaurant called the Slightly Chill Lounge. It’s a great little restaurant with a huge terrace overlooking the city. The place is owned by a British fellow and his Chinese wife. But the best thing about the place is that it is a great restaurant to meet fellow travelers. I challenge you to sit at the bar without having multiple friendly strangers strike up a conversation. On my first night there, I met a group of very fun Australian girls and we closed down the bar chatting (in Sri Lanka that means 11:00 pm) We would meet up again at the same place the following night, and while I was waiting for them to arrive I befriended yet another group of people. As I said, it’s a great place to meet people. The food is decent enough (I’d recommend their eggplant dish) but the charm of the place is really the view and the people you meet.
In the morning, I went out to explore the city for my one full day in the place. My destination was on the other side of the lake so I started the morning with a nice little walk around the lake. As a side note, you can rent peddle boats on the lake, but unfortunately they only allow you to explore about 1/4 of the lake with them (i.e. they want to keep you in visual distance) which is why I didn’t bother.
The most famous site in the city is the Buddhist Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Sri Dalada Maligawa. As the name would suggest, the temple is said to contain one of Buddha’s teeth. It is said that the tooth was retrieved from the cremation ashes of Buddha by one of his disciples, and it was then taken to Dantapuri in modern Odisha, India. After the tooth was brought to Sri Lanka during a period of political strife in India, the tooth was kept in the various changing capitals of the Kingdom, going from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, then to Dambadeniya. During this period, a king’s ability to safeguard the relic became a symbol of the right to rule the kingdom. The relic was brought to Kandy sometime between 1592 and 1603, where it has remained since, aside form a brief stint when the Portuguese took it away, but it was quickly returned.
The temple is the brown roof that you see in the middle-right of the shot. There is a courtyard at the centre of the building that appears in front of it, surrounding the temple. The temple is very dark relative to the bright sunlight so the contrast between dark and light was too brutal inside to be able to take a proper shot. This is the best that I could do, a shot from the outside:
There are a number of other temples, stuppas and religious structures inside the complex. Worshipers lighting butter candles:
To the immediate west of the complex is St. Paul’s Church, built by the British between 1843 and 1848:
A dog looking aloof by the side of the lake:
I had lunch at an excellent restaurant near the complex called The Empire Cafe. It wasn’t particularly cheap but the food was very good and the seating on the small patio was nice. Believe it or not, this is also the only restaurant in all of Sri Lanka where I got a good pot of tea, brewed with actual loose tea leaves. It’s a historic building dating back to the 1890’s so it’s worth checking out the inside but I found the seating in there too stuffy, especially in the heat.
My activity for the afternoon was to head up to the Ceylon Tea Museum which is housed in an old tea factory at the top of one of the hills. The building doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s really nice on the inside with big ceilings, lots of open spaces and beautiful wooden floors. The museum houses old equipment for processing tea and it sets out the history of the tea industry in Sri Lanka. On the top floor you can also sample some teas, and on the floor below that they have a wide selection of teas available for purchase. In my experience the best tea I checked out was at those stores, though it isn’t cheap at all. Frankly, for the money you’re better off going with Darjeeling tea. The museum is quite a distance away so you will want to take a tuk tuk on the way up at least. I walked about half way down and even though it was quite pretty, I eventually gave up and took a tuk tuk for the rest of the way down.
As another side note, on the way up, the friendly tuk tuk drive let me drive the tuk tuk most of the way up. I can drive stick no problem, but apparently that skill does not automatically transfer to being able to work a clutch on a motorbike. A pathetic ride to say the least. The museum:
I’ll leave you with some photos from my walk down: