In the heart of hill country – Kandy

As we set a 7am alarm at midnight after a very long day of international travelling we wondered if we were being a bit too optimistic, but we really wanted to make the 8:30am train to Kandy.

It turned out no alarm was needed, our bodies were tired but too confused to sleep properly and so we’d each woken every hour and by 6am were wide awake, albeit not inclined to move.

Marie’s colleague had recommended a place he stayed at when he extended a work trip at his own cost. A simple but really nice tidy room with great bathroom, good wifi and in a quiet area. We were stoked to have it booked for our return to Colombo.

While not our main destination Sri Lanka was somewhere we both wanted to go, and it fit with the rest of our trip – not just because it was on the way – but because it would give us an opportunity to get our traveller heads on and get back into the flow. The tradeoff was limited time. We’d carved out a week, but to see all we wanted we needed 2 or 3. So we prioritised seeing the historical sights, and came up with the idea of a loop trip which distance wise was perfectly manageable but we knew taking public transport would eat into our time a lot. So the plan was to get out of the city as fast as we could and spend some time there at the end when we had no sense of urgency.

As we stepped out of our accommodation a tuk-tuk driver down the deserted street waved, we waved back. He asked for a fair price to the train station so we didn’t even bother to haggle. We whizzed through the early morning backstreets with grins as big as Cheshire cats. We like to be able to smell, taste and feel the air. The temperature was perfect, Marie took the credit – she doesn’t think air con is healthy in hot climates, we freeze ourselves and then wonder why our bodies really cant handle the heat. So to acclimatise she’d set the air con to 27C overnight and only when she woke sweating did it get turned down to 25C.

We knew we were approaching the train station, the roads got busier and pollution hung in the air and eventually we joined the chaos.

It didn’t take long to find the right ticket window and to our surprise even though it served first and second class tickets the queue was small so we quickly had them purchased and joined the masses on the platform. A helpful man showed us which part of the platform to stand. We people watched and Emma scored some salted nuts in lieu of breakfast.

We knew it was a free for all in the non-reserved classes and it seems that only first class could be reserved and we’d gone for second class. As the time our train was due approached our helpful guy made sure we were positioned correctly. It was only as the train pulled in and guys were jumping on it before it even stopped we realised just how much of a free for all it was.

It was a total scrum. People were pushing and jumping over each other to get a seat. Given we’d been lined up with a door we got seats, not by a window but across the aisle from each other. It might only have cost 190 rupees a ticket (less than NZ$2) but it was a 2.5 hr journey and hot and crowded, so we were grateful to have them.

It was a relief when we finally pulled off and the air started to circulate through the open windows. Both of our seatmates were chatty, which was both a blessing and a curse as the noise of the train made it challenging to have a conversation. The train was really noisy and bumpy and at times pretty warm and in our tired states it was pretty challenging for the first hour and we started to wonder if we’re getting a bit old for this travelling thing, but then somehow you ease into the flow and remember that the discomfort is all part of the journey, and so very worth it.

The view changed constantly – the settlements on the outskirts of the city into rice paddies and palm trees, into hill country stations and mountains.

When we arrived we were touted for a taxi, we wanted a tuk-tuk because they’re cheaper and just as effective, so after a little negotiating we agreed on the car for the same price. We’d picked somewhere out of the guidebook to head to and were duly delivered at the door. The rooms they had free didn’t really appeal so Marie got left with the rucksacks while Emma went up and down the road to scope other options. She wasn’t happy when she finished as the best value room was still the first place and the street was on a steep hill so she was hot and tired.

After checking in we had some lunch at the hotel because we were tired and starving having missed breakfast. The restaurant was open sided and on the second floor so we had a fabulous breeze. We needed it when the bill arrived, we’d had the most basic food, with tea and a cold drink and the price was almost as much as our room. We decided we were finding somewhere else for dinner.

Kandy is famous for being home to Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. It’s housed in the unimaginatively named Temple of the Sacred Tooth. We decided to walk there as the temperature was a perfect 25C with a light breeze, and we thoroughly enjoyed stretching our legs down the hill and as we took a jaunt around the lake to the temple.

The temple is in a complex that also has museums, shrines and smaller temples. It was really busy as it was a Saturday. It was pleasant enough, there was nothing really special about it though. The World Buddhism museum was pretty interesting, it has exhibits on Buddhism for each country it is a notable religion in and it was quite fascinating. All up though we weren’t too convinced it was worth the hefty entrance fee. We thought the temples and shrines just outside the main complex were some of the most interesting.

We found a cafe for a tea and juice stop then scoped out a restaurant for dinner before having a walk round some of the streets. We found a supermarket and stocked up on water and juice before catching a tuk tuk back to our digs.

After freshening up we headed back out for dinner. This time we’d picked well and it did the traditional Sri Lankan meal of 5 different types of curries, rice and a poppadum and great juices, all for a sensible price.

When we got back to our digs it was super noisy, like up there with the noisiest places we’ve stayed. We thought we were in for a rough night but Marie couldn’t keep her eyes open come 9pm. She put one ear plug in and promptly slept till 4am. Emma didn’t do quite that well but needless to say surprisingly it wasn’t a problem.

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