This posts details our second location for the week Mitch and I spent in Sri Lanka. You can read about our first few days in Colombo here.
After our two nights in Colombo, Mitch and I ventured to Kandy on a beautiful train ride. I really loved watching the countryside and getting glimpses of the towns and villages that we passed. We paid a little bit extra for first class tickets on the express train, which meant comfy seats, air-conditioning, and stops in only a few towns. Otherwise, we would have been looking at wooden benches, assuming we could get seats at all, and a much slower journey. The view as we climbed through the hills was really beautiful.
We had a bit of an issue with the guesthouse where we’d planned to stay on one of the hills overlooking Kandy, so we ended up at a place by the lake. Kandy is very a small town and feels that way. Most restaurants and shops close quite early and it is rather challenging to find anywhere that serves alcohol. Rough Guides had warned us that this would be the case and they were right! We enjoyed a walk through town on our way to find lunch.
The main attraction within Kandy itself is the Temple of the Tooth, which contains a tooth relic from the Buddha. I first learned about Buddhist relics when I visited Hong Kong about a year ago. While seeing the tooth itself is off limits, as is photography for most of the temple and the temple’s museums, the architecture itself was really enjoyable.
In a coffee shop later on, Mitch and I decided we wanted to spend the following day exploring the hills around Kandy. We made a few calls and ended up booking a tour to hike Knuckles Range under the guidance of Ravi Desappriya (his website is here though we contacted him by phone), recommended by the Rough Guides book.
The sunset around the lake that night was really pretty:
Ravi and a fellow guide picked us up early the following morning and we joined two other couples, one about our age and the other a bit older. All four of them lived in London, but one was originally from Hungary. All were very well traveled, and my own experiences paled in comparison to some of their adventures. Travelers are probably my favorite people. Everyone is friendly and open-minded, everyone has a story to tell, everyone asks questions, and everyone is eager to learn. We all had a lot of fun on our trek, which started with a drive of about an hour and a half into the mountains. We drove through tea plantations and small towns, stopping once to pick up the lunches that we would take into the Knuckles with us, once to enjoy an absolutely delicious breakfast and tea at a dingy family eating house that I wouldn’t have even noticed on my own, and once to buy bananas from a market that we passed.
Once we arrived at Knuckles Ridge, the sun was fully up and it was hot, much hotter than it had been when we started. We began at the foothills of a tea plantation . . .
. . . and then ventured into the Knuckles.
While I initially wished I was wearing leggings, I ended up quite happy with my shorts. The guides taught us about the plants we saw and bird calls we heard as we hiked. They were also instrumental in helping us pick off the leeches that we found everywhere on the path. Everyone was in socks and running shoes except for me (I had my favorite pair of Tevas, of course) but it didn’t seem to make a difference. The guy in our group who got it the worst was wearing running shoes without socks, but everyone shook leeches out of their shoes and socks at least once. Those little buggers are clingy and not very friendly! The scenery, however, more than made up for the discomfort.
We stopped for lunch after about three hours of walking and then headed back down a slightly different path towards the residential areas of the tea plantations. Mitch and I had a really fantastic experience visiting tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia in December 2014 and I’ve loved them ever since. You can read about that trip here and see loads of pictures of the tea plantations. It’s a little different from what we saw in Sri Lanka:
The path guided us towards a waterfall and natural pool, which reminded me of Letchworth State Park (take a look here) back in Upstate New York. This waterfall was a lot smaller than the gorges at Letchworth, but it was so peaceful to sit on the rocks in this beautiful environment with my feet in the water.
We were quite tired when we got back in the evening and more than happy to have an early dinner and head off to bed. Although we knew we had a long day of travel to look forward to the next day, Mitch still got up to go for a run in the cool morning air so I took a walk around the artificial lake in the center of Kandy. The lake was created in 1807 using forced labor on what used to be rice paddies, according to Rough Guides. It’s amazing how much beauty is a result of blood. History is the best!
Finding breakfast that morning was a bit of a challenge because it was New Year’s Eve and a lot of restaurants were closed. However, by that point we understood enough about Sri Lankan food and etiquette to sort out food and coffee at the two options available. It helps that it has never been easier to be a vegetarian and travel. That is very challenging here in Southeast Asia, but Buddhism in Sri Lanka means that vegetarianism is encouraged. Every local restaurant that we checked out, as well as many fusion and Western places, had vegetarian friendly menus and it was great!
We had a really positive experience during our time in Kandy and I’m really glad that we did. Everyone who we talked to prior to arranging our trip was adamant that we visit and they were right. In the future, I’d do what one of the couples we met on our hike had done. They landed in Colombo and immediately made their way to Kandy, planning to spend a couple days there and then hike Adam’s Peak and World’s End, both of which are located further south than Kandy in hill country. It would be lovely to spend more time in that area in the future.
After Kandy, it took us a tuk tuk, a train, a taxi, a bus, and another tuk tuk to make it to our next (and ultimately favorite) destination – Galle! Look out for that post soon.