We have had a few days without internet access so we are getting a bit behind with the blog, sorry about that. We will try and catch up now so stand by for several new posts!
After our adventures in Habarana it was time to move on to Kandy, cultural and spiritual centre of Sri Lanka. We broke the journey at Dambulla where we visited the Buddhist cave temple (what do you know, it was at the top of a steep staircase…). A series of caves in the rock feature statues of Buddha and remarkable frescoes telling the story of his arrival in Sri Lanka, the earliest of these cave temples dates from the 1st century BC and the caves have been sacred to Buddhists continually since then. Each of the caves was established at a different time and this is reflected in the materials and styles used to create the statues and the style of the paintings.
Next stop was a spice garden along the road to Kandy; we were shown round by a guide who showed us a wide variety of trees and plants and explained their uses both culinary and medicinal. The gardens also supported the Ayurveda system which harnesses the power of plants to promote health and wellbeing, needless to say we were tempted to buy some samples to bring home – we will see how they work! Before we left we were given a cup of spiced tea and a complimentary back massage with Ayurvedic red oil.
We continued our journey into the high country and the tea plantations, we drove through the city and on to our hotel which was about 17km further on up in the hills. The road up to Ellerton Bungalow was incredibly rough and Odi did a great job just getting us there, he had been once before and said the road had deteriorated a lot since then, it would have been a challenge in a 4×4 but in a Hyundai saloon it was almost impossible. When we finally arrived the owner said “oh, you shouldn’t have used that road, it is in the process of being widened and improved and is almost impassable, you should have used the other road”. What a shame they didn’t put a sign at the bottom of the road to tell us that!! Ellerton was once a plantation owners’ bungalow and is now run as a luxury guest house with eight bedrooms spread between the bungalow and two new villas in the grounds. We had a room in a villa with a balcony looking straight down a forested valley. When we checked in we were asked if we would like the curry menu or non-curry menu for dinner, curry of course, we were then served afternoon tea and cake on our balcony while we took in the view and the cooler, clear air. Dinner was served on an outdoor terrace at 19.30. Before that we met the other guests in the lounge for pre-dinner drinks (alcohol and soft drinks were included in the room rate which was a bit of a novelty, gin and tonic all round thank you very much). The lounge was all chintz sofas and English foxhunting prints, we had some very well to do fellow guests, it was a bit like waking up at a country house weekend in the 50’s.
The following day, Thursday, we headed back down the ‘other’ road to visit Kandy, the road was much better but by no means perfect. Odi dropped us at the Botanic Gardens and headed off to find a tyre centre, we had had a puncture in Habarana and although the spare wheel had been quickly fitted (by the tyre specialists 20m back from the place the tyre went!) Odi was keen to get a new tyre fitted before we drove much further. After a couple of very enjoyable hours in the gardens we met up again and headed into Kandy. Friday was a full moon festival day and the start of a holiday weekend so Kandy was particularly busy, cars, tuk-tuks, scooters and people everywhere, in addition most of the roads in the centre of town had been dug up so traffic was moving really slowly, none-the-less Odi managed to get us to everywhere we wanted to see. We walked part way around the lake at the centre of town; visited a jewellery workshop and showroom where I very nearly bought a silver and sapphire bangle until the price inexplicably went up 600% at the end of the negotiation. Odi was disgusted when he heard and made a point of speaking to the manager before we left accusing him of bringing Sri Lanka into disrepute and threatening to take his customers elsewhere in the future. We also went to a cultural show in the afternoon and saw demonstrations of traditional Sri Lankan music and dance and fire walking.
The jewel in Kandy’s crown is the Temple of the Tooth, an extremely sacred temple housing the Buddha’s tooth relic, people come from all over the world to make offerings to the relic and it is a very popular tourist stop too. Three times a day the inner temple is opened so visitors can view the ornate gold reliquary housing the tooth; Odi was keen for us to see this at night so we arrived at the temple at 18.00, left our shoes at the gate and headed inside. The temple was absolutely packed with people but Odi demonstrated an uncanny knack of getting all three of us to the front of the queues without upsetting anyone. We saw the monks bring offerings of food to Buddha and went upstairs to see the reliquary and a library housing ancient Buddhist texts. Once again Odi’s explanations helped us understand and appreciate what we were seeing.
Finally, our sightseeing day done, we had dinner in town in a restaurant projecting very old music videos onto the back wall, Tie a Yellow Ribbon, Love Potion Lumber 9, Lola, and Knights in White Satin, all a bit odd, but good fun. Although we had told the team at Ellerton we would be back later when we arrived at 22.15 the place was locked down and in complete darkness, we had to rouse the night watchman to unchain the gate and let us in, we felt like naughty kids coming home after curfew.
We had an extra day at Ellerton and as it was a festival day we decided to stay at the hotel and take advantage of the beautiful location, swimming pool fed by spring water from the local borehole and the free gin and tonics. It was good to relax after a hectic few days of travelling and sight-seeing and set us up for what was to come next.