There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Friday, 23 January 2015

Kandy and Around: Part 6 of Sri Lanka, Isle of Serendip

Our hotel was a popular venue for weddings; there were two every day we were there. They monopolised the lift in the morning transporting stuff up to the fourth floor function room and again in the evening bringing it down again. A wedding is not complete without traditional dancers, their costumes covered in little cymbals so they tinkle as they walk.

Ravi was a little late, caught up in traffic, so we watched the wedding preparations; elaborate items of furniture wrapped in polythene were being delivered by van while the dancers waited patiently in the lobby.

Wedding dancers waiting patiently in the hotel lobby, Kandy
We expected our first visit to be to the Botanical Gardens, but on the way Ravi drove us over the hill into the next section of the city, the summit giving a fine view of the lake and the Temple of the Tooth (see yesterday's post), Kandy’s ceremonial centre, and of the huge white Bahiravakanda Buddha who has overlooked Kandy for the last 25 years (see tomorrow's post).

The lake and the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy
That was not the only interruption. Marco Polo wrote that Sri Lanka was home to the world’s best sapphires, topazes and amethysts. Today they still claim the finest sapphires and also produce a wide range of precious and semi-precious stones, so Ravi thought it would be appropriate to visit a gem museum.

The Bahiravakanda Buddha looks down over the city of Kandy
In an upmarket jeweller’s near the top of the hill we were shown a short film about gem mining. A pit two or three metres deep is dug by hand at a likely looking spot, shored up with timber and 'waterproofed' with ferns. The chances of being buried alive in such a crudely dug hole looked alarmingly high. Excess water is pumped out and the stones and gravel at the bottom are hauled up in baskets and washed. Like gold, the gemstones are separated from the dross by panning. It takes a sharp and experienced eye to tell a rough gem from a worthless pebble, as we realised when we saw their exhibition of gemstones in their natural state.

We went through to the workshop where craftsmen were making intricate settings of gold and silver for the stones. Some of the work was very beautiful and, no doubt, would be seriously expensive. Then we entered the glittering sales room. We had no intention of buying, but despite ourselves we became involved in some serious bargaining; by the nature of it nothing was cheap, but we eventually bought a sapphire studded pendant at a reasonable price.

Jeweller's Kandy
The Botanical Gardens are at Peradeniya, to the west of the city. Ravi dropped us off at the entrance and told us to call him when we had finished. We have been to botanical gardens before and expected we would call him sooner rather than later. We were wrong.

Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy
 Perhaps it was the lush tropical setting which allows plants from all over the world to thrive, perhaps it was the colours, perhaps it was the poor maps which resulted in us making discoveries in places we had not intended to go, but the whole place was a delight. It is a story best told in pictures. We saw more different bamboos than I had ever thought existed...

Bamboo, Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy
.....a pond full of water lilies,.....

Water Lilies, Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy
.....and the spectacular orchid house.....

Orchid, Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy
......(worth two pictures)....
Another orchid, Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy
.......and the collection of palms.

Palm, Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy
Finally we had a good look at the coco-de-mers. The fruit of this endangered species is an oddly shaped double coconut. Its botanical name is lodoicea maldivica, though it was previously known as lodoicea callypige. Callypige is formally translated as 'beautiful buttocks', though 'nice arse' (said in the voice of Leslie Philips) better captures the spirit. The husks were highly prized around the Indian Ocean as a cure-all and by European gentlemen in the 17th century as decorative objects. They were found almost exclusively washed up on the shores of the Maldives, hence the botanical name, but legend had it that the palms from which they came grew on the bottom of the sea and the ripe fruit fell upwards to the surface. The truth is only a little more prosaic. They grow only on a couple of small islands in the Seychelles which were uninhabited and undiscovered until the 19th century.  They found that the ‘beautiful buttocks’ grow only on the female plants while the male plants have distinctly phallic catkins. This led to a wealth of lurid legends and coco-de-mer being no longer marketed as a cure-all, but as an aphrodisiac.

Coco-de-mer, Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy
but I cannot spot any beautiful buttocks here
We did not call Ravi until well after twelve. We had inadvertently established a pattern of eating lunch closer to three o’clock than one so we  set off straight away on the ‘temple loop’, which makes a good day trip for those who wish to do it on foot, or a good way of ensuring a late lunch for those with a car.

Some 10 km out of Kandy is Galadeniya, a temple built in 1344 on a rock outcrop. The friendly young man in the ticket office was working on watercolours of the site, which consists of an Indian style temple, and a white subsidiary shrine surmounted by a small dagoba covered with a roof. We had seen dagobas with pillars that once supported roofs, but this was the first with its roof intact.
Subsidiary shrine and roofed dagoba (and lily pond)
Walking onto the rock we quickly realised we had a problem and stepped smartly into the shade of the shrine’s doorway. Though shoes may not be worn around temples, socks are tolerated and we had come prepared. The cruciform shrine has, we discovered, a Buddha image in each wing.

Buddha image in the subsidiary temple
 Crossing the baking rock to the temple we admired the almost circular lily pond in a depression beyond the shrine.

Galadeniya Temple
The temple hides under its (I hope temporary) corrugated iron roof. There is a Buddha image inside (are those eyes to close together?) and a subsidiary shrine to the Hindu God Vishnu.
Buddha image, Galadeniya Temple
 Back at box office we bought one of the young man's watercolours.

The drive to Lankatilake was on minor roads running round the edges of the paddy fields beneath the coconut palms. The bright sun shining on the almost luminous greens of the lush vegetation made this a delightful short trip.

On the minor roads around Kandy
 The Rough Guide describes the approach to Lankatilake as finishing with ‘a magnificent flight of rock cut steps leading precipitously up to the temple...built on a huge rock outcrop’. Ravi parked among a small collection of dwellings, a hamlet rather than a village and we walked past cloves drying on mats outside the houses,.....
Cloves drying, Lankatilake
... approaching a temple on a rocky plateau up a very ordinary flight of concrete steps.

Predictably, the rocks were hot and we deployed our socks. There was no one there to meet us and we thought for once we might get a free look at a temple. Then we walked round the back and discovered it was, despite appearances, the front and there were the rock cut steps leading downwards and, of course, a smiling man ready to accept the usual 300 rupees.

Main Buddha image, Lankatilake
The temple, built in the same year as Galadeniya, originally had four storeys, but the uppermost two collapsed in the 19th century. The tall central shrine contains a large Buddha image and some very Hindu looking gods.

Outside, protected by a fence, is an inscription in Pali (the religious language of Buddhism) on the rock describing the construction of the temple. The view (below) of the temple and inscription (though not, of course, Lynne) can be seen on the 50 rupee banknote.

Lynne, Lankatilake and the Pali inscription (as seen on the 50 Rupee note)
As we drove on to Embekke Devale, the third and last stop on the three temple loop, Ravi stopped to show us the view of Lankatilake we would have had if we had arrived on foot.

The pedestrian approach to Lankatilake
The road to Embekke Devale was as pleasing as the drive to Lankatilake. It was by far the busiest of the three temples and our 300 rupees also hired a self-appointed guide. Outside, the temple is an audience hall, like that at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. As usual in this climate the hall has a roof but no walls.
Audience Hall, Embekke Devale
The wooden pillars, which were brought from another temple, are all carved with different designs. Bhoddhisatvas, dragons, dancers, peacocks wrestlers and even soldiers might be expected, but there is also a depiction of a man on horseback, one of the early Portuguese arrivals on the island.

Soldier, Embekke Devale
 In 1505 a Portuguese fleet reached Sri Lanka and noticed the abundance of cloves and cinnamon. Starting as traders, the Portuguese, in the European style of the age, gradually took over and eventually became the island’s rulers. They were ousted by the Dutch in the early 17th century, who in turn yielded to the British two centuries later. Portuguese rule left little mark on the island except this carving and the hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans who still bear the Portuguese surnames adopted by their ancestors. Sri Lanka has countless da Silva's, Fernandos and Pereiras, including the redoubtable Ravi or, more formally, J.A. Ravindra Perera (a slight spelling change from the Portuguese).

Portuguese gentleman, Embekke Devale

The shrine behind, was of rather less interest, though the door was flanked by a couple of splendid lions

Lions, Embekke Devale
For the by now traditional late lunch Ravi drove us to a large hotel near the botanical gardens. For a set price they offered an elaborate rice and curry buffet and we made the most of it. Unable to get away from weddings in Kandy, we shared the large dining room with one wedding party and encountered a second on leaving. Fortunately no-one chose that afternoon to launch a sea borne invasion of Sri Lanka - most of the country's naval officers were dancing in a car park in Kandy.

We had a stroll in the afternoon, but our corner of Kandy that was not quite urban yet not really rural had little to offer. We failed to find an alternative to the café where we had eaten last night, but after a large and very late lunch we did not want much. Passing a small bakery we dropped in and bought two samosas and two cakes (25 rupees each - dinner for two for 50p) and had a picnic in our room, with the beer from the mini-bar.
Bakery, Kandy

Later we went down to the hotel bar to learn about lemon gin. Sri Lanka distils passable ordinary gin, but they also have a lemon gin similar in concept, I suppose, of our sloe gin. With a sharp citric flavour and not over sweetened as sloe gin sometimes is, it made a pleasant end to the day.

Sri Lanka, The Isle of Serendip

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