We spent four days last week in Kandy, a city in the mountains of central Sri Lanka, staying with a group of Buddhist monks and their tortoises at a former pilgrims’ guesthouse near the centre of the city.
It always seems that we are drawn to more ‘real’ places without even meaning to; more or less all the other guesthouses in the guidebook were in the hills around the city, which were perhaps more picturesque (and expensive) but also were just that… A bunch of guesthouses in the hills, full of tourists and needing a Tuk Tuk to get into the city.
Our position was great, it meant that we could get up and walk out of our quiet sanctuary into the crazy streets, to find breakfast in a basic but amazing cafe surrounded by Sri Lankans chatting, shouting and gobbling their food before work. The egg paratha with coconut sambol, dhal and a cup of sweet milk tea was particularly special. We went there two days in a row.
There was also a fantastic bakery/restaurant just down the street where we ate lots of snacks, I think the Sinhala for that is whadi (at least that’s how it sounds), and rice and curry. They had a premixed version of milk tea with sugar which was actually very tasty and we kept coming back to them for a shot of that! Their wifi was also pretty handy for calling home even if the insane bus horns were pretty disruptive… Sorry parents!
Kandy city is dominated by a man made lake, which was lovely and cool to walk around, with a fair amount of wildlife. The central market was pretty hectic, but interesting and full of friendly people. We also found a busy vegetable market which was lovely because no one batted an eyelid that we were there, they just wanted to buy their groceries. The Kandy City Centre shopping mall, however was a generic modern box with what felt like more security guards than customers and snooty, pretentious shops, one of which told us that the quickest they could do our laundry in was four days. We found someone who did it in under 24 hours!
We also saw some traditional Kandyan dancing, we say it was traditional as that’s what we were told but it was VERY touristy, literally a school hall full of white people flashing their cameras at the costumes. Luckily we were at the front, so this wasn’t too intrusive for us, and the show was very entertaining even if it was a bit fake and the dancers sometimes seemed to be winging it!
The organised chaos of Asian cities is mesmerising and overwhelming in a good way, it makes you focus on the immediate and live in the moment, if only for a few days or hours. Kandy definitely evoked this feeling. It is small enough to get to know fairly quickly and it is lovely to walk around the lake, amongst the tree laden mountains.