67 days travelling and we have fallen in love with Sri Lanka.
27th November 2018
After spending time relaxing in the jungle retreat of Ella, it was time for us to head off to Kandy – Sri Lanka’s second largest city. We had an early morning train, which left just after 7am and would take approximately 6 hours. Our host had forgotten to give us the bananas we asked for the previous evening and just before we boarded the train he came running, bananas in hand. We had managed to pre-book second class seats through our previous hotel and bizarrely our tickets included an extra 2 seats. I’m not sure why they thought we needed 4 in total and it turned out to be a completely unnecessary, what with the spacious and sparsely populated carriage, but at least we could spread out a bit. The journey itself was probably the most enjoyable and scenic during our whole time in Sri Lanka and we spent a lot of time with our heads stuck out of the large windows, watching the gorgeous countryside zip by. We didn’t test our luck by hanging out any of the open doors and left that to the more daring (or possibly just foolish) travellers.
Once we arrived in Kandy, we were met at the station by a cheerful man whose guest house would be our home for the next 4 nights. We were very glad he’d come to pick us up, as it turns out his house was at the top of a pretty steep 2km climb. According to him it was only a short walk to town, but neither of us had any intention of taking him up on that during our stay. The house itself was lovely and spacious, and home to our hosts and their three teenage children (and sausage dog/Rottweiler mix puppy – a rather odd combination that we actually quite liked). They immediately got to work preparing a delicious traditional Sri Lankan meal for our lunch, including pumpkin curry, roasted potatoes and curried lentils. We’d had barely anything to eat on the journey up to Kandy (I don’t think we will ever learn), so we wolfed it down in no time at all. We could definitely get used to all this delicious home cooked food.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing at the house and socialising with our hosts. We got to sample more of their wonderful home cooking that evening, where I tried a popular dish called string hoppers (small bundles of rice noodles) for the first time. They were an instant hit, although my wife wasn’t convinced. She absolutely despises anything noodle related and despite my best efforts, she wasn’t having any of it. We had an early start planned for the next day, so headed to bed for some much needed sleep.
28th November 2018
Today we decided to visit the famous Sigiriya Rock, which was a two hour drive from our guest house. Knowing this was one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area and keen to beat the crowds, we had the taxi pick us up at 5am so we could get there for when it opened. Groaning as our alarms went off at 4.30am, we hauled ourselves out of bed and managed to bundle ourselves into the car just in time. Our host had been kind enough to wake up early to make us a packed breakfast – coconut roti for me and vegetable sandwiches for my wife, which we were very grateful for.
Looking out of the car windows, we realised it wasn’t quite the sunny, clear day we were hoping for to scale a 200m high rock. Sure enough, within 15 minutes of being in the car, the heavens opened and pretty much stayed that way for our entire journey. Luckily the rain had eased off by the time we reached our destination, but with rain clouds hanging ominously above, we grabbed our umbrellas and headed inside.
The site itself is not only home to the famous rock, which dominates the view as you enter the area (as long as there are no clouds), but also many archeological remains around the site. We took a while exploring these, including a couple of temples situated near cave entrances and a pretty lake with large carved boulders surrounding it.
We then made the long climb up towards the top of the rock, first up towards the base of the rock where we were greeted by a huge carving of a lion in the rock face and finally around the edge of the rock to the remains of the fortress on top. Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t do terribly well with heights and this was no exception. I was sweating buckets and my legs had turned to jelly as we made our way up the steps which had been nailed precariously into the side of the rock. My wife kept stopping to admire the views on the way up and I had to leave her behind and power on – if I dwelled on it too long I’d have never made it to the top. It made us laugh considering it was hardly that high or scary in the grand scheme of things. Usually the view from the top provides stunning panoramic views of the countryside surrounding it, but due to the weather that day we could only see grey clouds. A couple of minutes after reaching the top, the heavens opened again – lucky we had our umbrellas with us.
Figuring the view could only get better, we waited it out for a few minutes to see if the rain might clear and luckily it did just that. Although it wasn’t an entirely clear view, it was definitely an improvement. Despite the weather, it was still incredibly impressive and worth the climb. We even popped back down to the entrance of the park to get a better shot of the rock from a distance, which had been surrounded by cloud when we first arrived. I only posted a picture of it being obscured by a cloud as it makes me laugh (story of our lives), but really suggest you take the time to look at some pictures of it on a perfect day.
On our way back from Sigiriya, we stopped off quickly to look at the golden Buddha temple and got a few mandatory photos outside before heading back into Kandy for lunch. We decided to eat at the Empire Cafe in the city centre which served pleasant food, if a little pricey. We then went back to the guest house to relax for the rest of the day. Dinner that evening was more delicious traditional food and we were introduced to a dish called pittu, which is steamed rice flour mixed with grated coconut and served with curry. For dessert, they add coconut milk and sugar instead of curry – we may have been a bit heavy handed on the sugar. I was in food heaven, it just couldn’t get any better than this.
29th November 2018
Our third day in Kandy was another early start, as we had a busy morning planned. Luckily today we had enough time to enjoy a home cooked breakfast at our guest house before heading off to visit the Botanical Gardens to the west of the city. The gardens have been around for at least 250 years and are home to a wide variety of plants and flowers, including a large collection of orchids. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the huge, immaculate gardens, taking in as much as we could in the time we had. We even saw some mischievous monkeys fighting over some water bottles clearly stolen moments earlier from an unsuspecting visitor and enjoyed a quick drink overlooking the sprawling lawns. My favourite was the windswept trees that arched back on themselves.
After being reunited with our tuk tuk driver, who we had hired for the morning, we made our way to one of the few tea factories in the area to see how tea is produced. We were shown around by a lovely lady who told us the process of collecting the tea leaves all the way through to the packaging. We never realised there were so many different types of tea leaves and the different levels of quality associated with them – spoiler alert, us Brits drink the dribs and drabs. We finished our tour with a complimentary cup of tea each and the chance to purchase some of the local tea. One of the drawbacks of travelling for so long on a budget means things like this often have to fall by the wayside, so we made a small donation to the factory instead and went on our way.
Our final stop for the day was a quick visit to the impressive Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue which overlooks Kandy lake from a hilltop. The statue stands at 88 feet high and we were able to climb nearly all the way to the top of the statue to see beautiful panoramic views of Kandy in the afternoon sunshine.
After a busy few hours we headed off for a late lunch at Cafe Secret Alley back in town which served lovely fresh vegetarian food, before heading back to our guest house to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing. That evening we ate with our host again, who happened to have some of their friends over for dinner too. We spent the evening discussing everything from Brexit (still a sore subject) to cricket (which we know nothing about) with them and finished the evening with a traditional Sri Lankan board game – which my wife lost, much to her horror.
30th November 2018
Our last day in Kandy was very relaxed. We had seen most of the tourist attractions in the area we were interested in, so decided to have a walk around Kandy lake in the sunshine and soak up the atmosphere of the city. On our walk we spotted several large lizards sunbathing on the banks of the lake and a pelican like bird eyeing up a large pool of fish in the shallows.
We spent the afternoon cafe hopping from the hippie vegetarian Cafe Banana Chill to the modern Italian coffee house Buono, savouring the food and coffee as we went. For our last dinner in Kandy, we had a simple meal of potato curry and fried rice (most Sri Lankan meals seem to include at least 6 or 7 dishes) which our host was kind enough to serve us on our balcony overlooking the town. Aware that we had an extremely early start for our train down south (we’d have to be waking up around 3.30am) we climbed into bed as early as we could.
Until next time.
P.S. String hoppers (Idiyappam) are now my absolute favourite food, it’s so nice to be able to eat something like that being coeliac.