! Grey couldn’t believe that I’d managed to get seats and on the best side of the carriage for the trip over the mountainsJ. This was a true scenic trip, the big diesel engine, people hanging from the doors, tea plantations, mountains, waterfalls – truly an amazing train ride. Often we weren’t travelling at more than 15kph (it is mostly uphill with a very old locomotive), but it gave you chance to really take in the scenery.
Arrive in Kandy and head straight to the Sharon Inn, which was recommended in Rough Guide – bit pricey, but only 500 rupees more than the grotty ones down the road and we weren’t disappointed. Cotton sheets, excellent mosquito net, our own balcony looking out over the gardens and Kandy Lake and very cold beers. We eat in the hotel on the first night as the rice and curry are supposed to be the best in Kandy and we weren’t disappointed – chicken curry and 14 vegetables curries and dhal – a taste sensation.
Next day, we hire a driver and air-con van for a trip to Pinnewalla Elephant Sanctuary. On the way, we stop and at Ayurveda herb garden, where we learn a bit about the healing herbs and get a free face massage and Grey had a neck /back massage and I had a foot massage – very nice
! We arrived at the Pinnewalla just as the elephants were crossing the main road to go to the river for their daily bath. There were about 40 or so, including some tiny baby ones and one who only had 3 legs, as he had stepped on a land mine and lost one – poor thing. We watched then having their bath for an hour or so, then stood by the side of the road to watch them head home. I know elephants are big, but when they are less than a metre away from you, looking directly at you with their beady little eye, they seem even bigger. I took loads of photos – got a bit carried away! Next stop, was the Botanic Gardens – lots of huge trees and bushes that young courting couples were hiding behind (obviously snogging!). We were laughing about just how many of them were hidden away, when we noticed a man in uniform with a whistle and another couple of men walking towards us. He started blowing his whistle and shouting at all the young couples to come out from behind the trees – we called them the “Kissing Police”, so funny as all the couples came out with heads down trying to pretend they weren’t kissing. There were loads though! Devilled Chicken for dinner (spicy) and home for a final beer before, what is getting to be a regular occurrence, bed at 9pm! Next day we wander around Kandy Lake and visit the Temple of the Tooth (Buddhist), which is where the Buddha’s tooth is kept in a golden casket inside 6 other golden caskets. You couldn’t even see the silver doors to the chamber where the tooth is kept, as there is a huge curtain covering it up, which was a big disappointment and shored up Graham’s view that the tooth was a bit dodgy anyway! (he reckons it was a buffalo tooth as described by the only western man to ever see it!) Found a great restaurant for more rice and curry for lunch – there are very few restaurants in Kandy. IN the evening, we go to the Arts Association building to watch some traditional Kandy drumming and dancing
. It was rather touristy (packed with package tourists), but was a cheap way to spend an hour. Head to our favourite bar (“The Pub”) again, which is has a first floor balcony where we can watch all the madness that is Kandy. There is also a big hotel called The Queens, which is in an old colonial building, which has a really old bar attached – all wood and old bottles of spirits – which makes you think you are in an old London hotel bar – mad!
The touts in Kandy were well-dodgy (flim-flams as Grey called them). We had them pretending to be from our hotel (but they couldn’t tell us which hotel), we had a little group of them following us up the road, (that is until Grey pulled me to one side and stared at them as they passed us – bit scarey in a dark, busy city where everything is a bit weird anyway) and just being general nuisances trying to get us to take tours with them / buy rubbish tourist tat / gems etc. They are all looking for the package holiday tourists, who seem to splash money around willy-nilly, paying hugely inflated prices, but once we told them we were staying in a guest house rather than one of the posh resort hotels, they soon realised we were skint and tight, and left us alone.
Had enough of Kandy after 3 nights / 2 days and so head to the train station for the train to the hill country and Ella. We met a really lovely couple on this ride – Dexter and Janet – and we whiled away the journey talking about our travel experiences and comparing notes – we had a great time chatting with them. It’s funny how you can really connect to people very quickly when travelling independently; I suppose shared experience and an enthusiasm for travel make a common topic straight away. I did embarrass myself a bit though, when I told them we had been buying various medicines / antibiotics etc to self-medicate while we were away and then an hour or so later Janet told us she was a GP – whoops! I suppose I should have asked her for advice on what other medicines we should be carrying!
Next day, we get a taxi back to Colombo to get a train up north to Kandy. It was pretty painless getting the tickets (2nd class, £1.20, 4.5 hours) and finding the platform. There were already quite a few people waiting on the platform and we realised straight away that there is no correlation between tickets sold and seats available and with a 4 hour + journey ahead, we wanted a seat. So, Grey to the rucksacks and I took the day bags and prepared to jump on to bags a couple of seats. Well, I know they don’t queue like us Brits, but it was a free-for-all! Before the train had even stopped, blokes were all elbows to jump on. I waited patiently for it to stop, grabbing the hand rail to stop people pushing in from and it was then like a rugby scrum – mental. I couldn’t compete and stood back to let the 'gentlemen’ on, then jumped on myself. Luckily there was the bloke umming and ahhing about whether to save his seat for his mate or whether to move down the carriage, so I jumped in behind him and put our bags on the seat – they’re mine now matey