We now leave the South of Sri Lanka behind, and enter into Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, starting with the city of Kandy.
While Kandy is more well known for the Temple of the Tooth, a world famous pilgrimage site, the city also has plenty of other culture to offer besides being the home to the Lord Buddha’s tooth relic. We actually chose to not visit TotTee (as we liked to call it) in order to avoid the costly entrance fees for tourists, and because we have heard that it is very commercialised. Instead, by recommendation of TravelWorldFamily, we headed next door to see what Kandy’s Devales (and free to enter) temples had to offer.
The first obstacle we had to overcome was making sure we were respectably dressed. While I was fine with my maxi skirt and scarf to cover my shoulders, the gate keepers took one look at Rich’s naked knees and sternly shook their heads.
After some rapid bartering with a street seller, we obtained one sarong. Rich and I clumsily wrapped it around his waist and tucked and folded, just hoping it wouldn’t fall down! Luckily a couple of kind passing men took pity on his wonky appearance and showed us how they do it Sri Lankan style. Dignity regained, we returned to the Devales once more.
Four separate temples make up the Devales, so we gave ourselves a full morning to explore them all. We saw a strange ceremony going on involving two heavily chained elephants, where it looked like people were paying money to touch their children’s heads to the elephants belly. We can’t work out whether elephants are regarded as sacred here or not, but there must be little that’s sadder to see in this world than an elephant with its back knees chained together while people pose, smiling, for photos next to it.
The rest of the Devales were more delightful to us. I watched the ceremonies with curiosity, a gentle murmuring of meditating Buddhists filled the air. A woman invited me to borrow a little of her oil and incense, and she showed me how to light a kind of oil burning candle. We also got gently ushered up a platform to where worshippers were circling a Bo tree that was planted by the last king of Kandy. We were given a small pot of water with a flower floating in it, and walked around the tree, touching it’s overhanging boughs. When we had been around the helpers fed the water to the tree, and then poured what was left of it into our hands and motioned for us to touch it to our lips. It is always so wonderful to be invited into another cultures ceremonies- even if we don’t know what is going on! If anyone can enlighten me, please feel free to comment below! Of course, at the end we had an offerings box pushed towards us, and we parted with a few coins for the experience.
Kandy is full of wonderful cafes, which we delighted in seeking out. Soya Central did the best ice cream in Kandy, and was full of locals catching drops of the pink and white soya cream on their tongues. Each icecream cost only 70Rs (35p!).
There are also plenty of shops to explore. If you search amongst some tat, you can find dozens of curious little shops, with baskets and displays full of battered bronze jewellery, miniature pocket sized Buddhas, healing crystals, and herds of wooden hand-carved elephants.
We went to see some Kandyan dancing one evening, a very bizzare but entertaining experience. A display of traditional festival costume, and ten different dances, with backflips and men spinning faster than I thought was humanly possible. It cost 1000Slr a head for an hour show. Afterwards, there was fire walking and tricks outside.
One last place I must mention is Helga’s Folly, which lies up in the hills looking out over Kandy, about fifteen minutes steep uphill from the lake. Helga’s Folly is a hotel and resturaunt, although many people just visit for a look around. It feels very much like a haunted house, a grotto of eclectic objects and colour, mixed with a splash of old time glamour.
Rich and I went for an evening drink, just as it was getting dark, which probably added to the spookiness! Bats flew in and out of the open doors. Every wall and ceiling was covered in flamboyant frescos- you could look forever and not see it all. Framed newspaper cuttings and faded photos on the walls. Mountains of dripping candle wax. A huge battered grammar phone. Luxurious pillows. Cartoons next to grand masterpeices of still life. A total clash of styles and flavours. As Helga herself says, ‘If I like it, I’ll have it, who cares if it goes’! There is no space for artistic snobbery here.
There is also apparently no space for guests, it seemed deserted when we went, and no surprise at £130 per guest per night- the most pricey hotel in the country- although they do have discounts for artists and writers…!
And so our very brief dash through Kandy comes to an end, and we must carry on the adventure. Next, we are heading deeper into the cultural triangle as we go to Sigiriya, and Lion’s Rock, that is said by many to be the eighth wonder of the world.
I hope you’re all well.
Stay breezey 🙏🏽