Well not really. It’s not quite the green and pleasant place I had wanted it to be. It’s one of those places I remember seeing on the world map in my bedroom as a kid and wondering what it might be like. Over the years I probably built a picture in my mind of lush bush surrounding a quaint old colonial town. Not really much like that. Kandy was the kingdom that for centuries successfully fought off the Portuguese and the Dutch invaders, only to finally succumb to the British in the mid-19th Century. There is certainly pleasant countryside surrounding it but it brims with stinky traffic. Not on an Indian scale mind you. Sri Lanka has been comparatively mild compared with India. There is not the dreadful polluted air and manic traffic zooming around amidst odious mounds of thoughtlessly strewn rubbish. It has been a treat to smell things here – fresh air, hints of flowers. The traffic here is said by all guidebooks to be manic and lawless. But again, compared with India it is positively tame. The roads are generally well kept with all the white lines in place and there is far, far less of the eternal rubbish that despoils beautiful India. This is meant as a statement about some of the immediate and largely superficial differences between the two countries. I could not be said to be anything but an admirer of the chaos and swarm of humanity that characterises India and have blathered on about this at some length before. But India does take it toll on the senses in many ways and a brief respite is not such a bad thing. At this point, after a short foray further north to various ruins and things, Kandy has been where I have spent the last two days. It is something of a permanent traffic jam which does greatly detract from its charm. There are glimpses of what it has been and probably can be at times as you look over the lake into the green hills behind. But sadly, it hasn’t quite matched my preconception. But I’m not going to complain as it is pleasant, nonetheless.
Colombo was an immediate contrast to previous months as the streets were well paved and the rubbish piles relatively well contained. I found it a bit souless really. Not a particularly interesting city but I don’t think it is really fair to judge places in this way. There is a lot of development going on in the old Fort area which makes for some pleasant walking but has probably diluted some of the old charm of the place.
I have probably seen enough of temples for the time being despite some of these being quite striking. We didn’t really have time to explore the ruins of Anuradhapura and learnt on that visit the first problem of temple visiting here – hot feet. The sun that beats down makes the ground so hot, walking through them impossible at times. The answer is to take a pair of socks that makes it a bit more bearable. We then went south to stay at Sigiriya, home of the famous rock fortress. Too famous as it turns out. It is a tourist cliché here and if the climb to the top in unpleasant temperatures wasn’t enough then the crowds detracted from it as an impressive site. See the photos of the crowd waiting to go up the stairway. I imagine at the right time it would be magical but we didn’t see it at its best. I tend to grin and bear the heat a bit but it does make some of the trip quite hard. The ruins at Polonnaruwa were very impressive both in their scale and the attractive setting that surrounds them. I had thought to leave a visit to them off the itinerary at one point but was rewarded for the effort. “Effort” may not be the right word. We caved into pressure and went with a car and driver here. Public transport is not the greatest and the cost of taking individual cars from place to place was pretty much the same or more than hiring our own driver for much of the time we were here. It is hardly my usual style of travel but you can get used to it. At least it is to our own timetable and itinerary. The sweat factor very much in play and the increasing oppressive heat can make sightseeing tortuous at times. But I have persisted and the sweat-dripped climb to the top of Sigiriya rock was the dedicated labour of a long-term traveller. This was even more heroic given the unexpected violent vomiting I had experienced at breakfast that morning. For some reason a glass of freshly prepared pineapple juice seemed to induce it. I brushed it aside and persevered nonetheless. It is otherwise refreshing that my battered legs and foot survived the climb with no problem. It is a great relief to me that the foot that I almost cut in two before embarking on this journey has proved to be pretty much problem free. While my reconstructed toe has no power of its own, it neatly and agreeably falls into step with the rest of my foot and causes me no bother.
So today we headed higher through the tea plantations and gorgeous green foliage interspersed with colourful flowers that are part and parcel of the tropical highlands. Another day up here and it’s off to the hotter lowlands and coast.
I’ve added some photos here. But there are more to come.