Taking the train through the lush verdant landscape of Sri Lanka's Hill Country is a classic experience not to miss. Coming off another red-eye flight, as tired and jetlagged as we were, Keenan and I stayed awake to enjoy the scenery of rice paddies, manicured tea gardens, and mist-clad hills. The 2.5 hr train journey from Colombo to Kandy (Rs 330/Rs 220/Rs 150 for 1st/2nd/3rd class) was a spectacular one. An impressive engineering feat as the train ascends slowly, climbing 1400 ft along the ledges and through tunnels of mountainous hills.
Alighting at Kandy train station, the tuk tuk took us to our guesthouse, Villa Sandalwood, up in the hills where we literally crashed out until dinner. We felt somewhat guilty that we skipped visiting the Peradeniya Royal Botanic Gardens in favour of sleep, but we needed the extra rest after a long day of volunteering on Christmas Day followed by the lengthy layover in Bahrain. That evening, we had dinner of rice and curry at the guesthouse at the rooftop terrace. The food was freshly prepared but it lacked some serious heat that we were expecting from traditional Sri Lankan cooking. Up in the hills, we loved the fresh clean air as well as the 360 views of the gorgeous countryside.
The next day, bright and early, we were off to explore Kandy. Once the capital of Sri Lanka for two centuries until 1815, the sweet-sounding name of Kandy derives from Kanda Uda Pasrata which means mountainous district. Our first stop was to visit the famous Temple of the Tooth, which is considered one of the most important Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka, holding the sacred tooth of Buddha. Suffering from a bomb attack by the Tamil Tigers in the later 90s, the entire complex is gated off and security is tight in which all visitors are subject to bag searches and metal detectors.
Inside the temple, the morning puja just finished and people bearing the lotus flower as offerings were praying and chanting. Around the temple complex, there is also the Sri Dalada Museum dedicated to the Tooth Relic as well as the Raja Tusker Museum, a memorial for Sri Lanka's most famous elephant who often carried the Tooth Relic casket during the famous festival of Esala Perhera. I was told that the evening puja (6pm) at the Temple of the Tooth is quite atmospheric so be sure to time your visit to the Temple in the early evening before dinner. The Temple of the Tooth also holds historic significance as the location where the last Kandyan chief handed over power to the British Empire in 1815.
Enroute to lunch at the Muslim Kandy Hotel, we visited the four devales of Kandy, or temple complexes, each dedicated to a different god - Natha, Pattini, Vishnu, and Kataragama, and the Anglican St. Paul's Church built for homesick and nostalgic Britons. After hot and fiery Sri Lankan rice and curry lunch, we took a leisurely walk around Kandy's landmark lake and to several viewpoints off the south side of the kake. As Sri Lanka's second city, Kandy is surprisingly small. We were able to walk most of the city including the perimeter of the lake in few hours.
Being in the famous Ceylon tea growing region, we stopped for afternoon tea at Senani Restauarant. It was overrun with tourists but had lovely views of the lake and city. Overall, Kandy was the perfect introduction to Sri Lanka's fascinating culture, history, and religion, and the ideal gateway to explore the beautiful Hill Country.
Next up: day trip to Sigiriya and Dambulla.