Kandy for me, was a necessary stop over between Polonnaruwa and Nuwara Eliya. I had no real interest in the place, or its surrounding area, although reading up on it, I found there was enough to keep me entertained. Kandy is everything you’d expect the highlands not to be: noisy, busy and manic. No tea plantations were in sight, but emerald rolling hills and banana trees surrounded the calming lake that centres the booming city. Rather than the small town ambiance which you expect in the highlands and will make you pause and reflect, Kandy is a city. Pharmacy’s line next to shopkeepers selling long branches of bananas, and tailors scrutinize seams endlessly in fabric retailers. Large department stores stand next to supermarkets, which adds to the heightened feeling of business and the rush around you. Beggars are on every street corner, not even batting an eyelid when donating some money, just staring blankly ahead.
Kandy is a collision of tourists on family holidays, backpackers and locals. Prices vary depending on your habits but they are marginally more expensive than the ancient cities. Stroll around the lake taking in all the different forms of bird life floating above you, but watch out for their dangerous droppings as well!
Head to the temple complex where you can catch a glimpse of the casket which holds the Sacred Tooth of the Relic. No teeth poses outside the temple please, this sight is a symbol of Sri Lanka’s ferocious endeavour to keep the sacred tooth from invaders and dentists, a metaphor for their love of Buddha. From here, explore Alut Maligawa, a shrine nearby with a number of holy and beautiful Buddha statues. Whilst in the area, check out the World Buddhism Museum– where you can learn about Buddhism and the impact it has- on a larger scale. If you are more interested in the study of Buddhism and the religion, head over to the British Publication Society, where helpful monks will happily give you free information on the topic.
Evenings can be spent watching Kandyan dancers at Kandy Lake Club for 500 rupees, which is supposedly highly entertaining- as I was repeatedly told by those trying to sell me tickets. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see them who due to a stomach bug. But I did visit Kandy Private Hospital, where I was seen by a man who’d spent some time in Middlesex and proceeded to tell me about his experiences in England whilst prodding my abdominal. The nurses are dressed head to toe in white, with socks pulled up, neat pinafores and tidy hair nets. A sight in itself.
A sight around Kandy which many tourists visit is the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, although it receives much criticism. Before it was well known, its moral intentions were straightforward- of conservation and protection of the elephants. Now, the boundaries are blurred as it has become more of a petting zoo than an orphanage. Hearing mixed reviews of the place, and experiencing my fair share of ill treatment towards elephants in Thailand- I went against visiting the orphanage, planning, if I really wanted to see elephants, to see them in their natural habitat in a national park.
Be careful in Kandy, as here I found the largest number of people trying to scam me in Sri Lanka, so far. Tuk tuk drivers want to be your tour guide and when hearing of your recent visits to their tour destinations, call you a liar and a bad person. Old men hang around the lake pretending to be collecting money for an orphanage, tricking tourists of their money for his own welfare, and young men hang around the lake immediately preying on solo women. (I was taking a picture of the lake and a man started asking where I was going, if he could take me there, and if I was travelling alone- I immediately told him I knew the way and fabricated a lie about my boyfriend waiting at a restaurant for me). At night, I advise solo woman travellers to hire a tuk tuk, no matter how short the distance is.
Travelling solo in Sri Lanka is abnormal. You only cross paths with families, backpacking couples and occasionally a group of friends. In the week I have been here, I can count on one hand solo travellers I have seen, and only two of those were other women. (I do think the beaches might be a little different but only marginally). Sri Lanka is expensive and although seemingly an island full of places off the beaten track, very rarely is there something there. There is very little adventure and exploration to be had, mainly the vast amount of beaches to alternate between. Buses drive through ghost towns and the only really distinctly different places are the ancient cities and the highlands in relation to the surrounding beaches. Although, who can complain about an island full of endless beaches waiting to be sunbathed on?