Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sri Lanka - day 4

Our morning started with a guided walk to the Mahaweli river, which was near our AirBnB. The 335-km-long Mahaweli is the longest river in Sri Lanka and considered by many as its lifeline.

As we walked, our hostess told us a bit about her hometown Kandy. We didn't know that it is also home to famous cricketers like Murali and Sangakkara. With its elevation of 500 metres above sea level, Kandy was much cooler than the places we had experienced so far.

It was a scenic walk, with lots of interesting trees on the way. That was actually what enticed my dad into joining the walk. Mom and my mom-in-law had decided to stay back and have chai.

These upside-down bellflowers were quite fascinating to look at.

Dad had to take a picture with a tree, of course.

Ant hills were a really common sight all over Sri Lanka.

Soon, we had reached the river. What a gorgeous sight!

We had to climb down this path to get closer to the river.

Our hostess took this photo of us by the riverside.

When we got back, we had the most sumptuous breakfast spread waiting for us, all cooked by our hostess' mother. She also conducted a guided tour of her kitchen garden, which delighted my dad. 

The kitchen area had a list of all the countries that they had hosted travellers from, and surprisingly, we were the first group from Singapore! 

We checked out after breakfast and made our way to explore Kandy, which also happens to be the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings. The highlight of Kandy is Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic -- the tooth temple -- and that's what got Kandy into the World Heritage Site list. According to legend, when Buddha died in 543 BC, his body was cremated in a sandalwood pyre. His disciple Khema retrieved his left canine tooth from the funeral pyre and gave it to King Brahmadatte for veneration. The relic was kept in the city of Dantapuri (modern Puri in Odisha). 

Over time, the belief grew that whoever possessed the tooth relic had the divine right to rule that land. Numerous wars were fought over it. You can say that the kings fought tooth and nail over it. As the seat of the kingdom moved from city to city, the relic moved along with it and a new palace was built each time to enshrine it. Finally, it was brought to Kandy, where it now resides in the Temple of the Tooth Relic. 

I thought the temple would be an interesting place for us to visit, but then I read the reviews and changed my mind. Though the heavily guarded room that houses the tooth is open to visitors, they don't actually get to see the tooth. It's kept in a gold casket, containing a series of six caskets of diminishing size. You literally get to just walk past the biggest casket, jostling with a thousand other people. It reminded me of Tirupati, and not in a good way. We asked the seniors if they wanted to go inside, but they were also not very keen. So we decided to simply drive past the temple but not go inside. 

We drove past the Kandy Lake too.

Next, we headed to the Kandy Viewpoint -- a popular spot for getting a bird's-eye-view of the city, the lake and temples. 

Gorgeous view

Seriously... couldn't get enough of the view.

Toots admires the view. (No, actually I only took this photo because I had done her hair that morning and wanted her to see how the side French braid looked. Hehe!)

Family shot 

Xena and grandma admire the view.

These masks, known as raksha masks, are a common sight in Sri Lanka. They are believed to ward off evil and and bring good luck and prosperity. According to legend, Sri Lanka was once ruled by a race of rakshashas (demons) with Ravana as their king. Rakshashas were believed to have the ability to assume various forms, which are depicted by these masks.

Next, we headed to see the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue, situated on a hill about 1 km from the city. The white, towering 88-foot statue can be seen from anywhere though.  

The majestic statue looking over the city of Kandy

We make our way up the steps leading to the statue...

...pausing to pose. (On hindsight, aren't we supposed to never have our backs towards the Buddha? Yikes!)

Xena with her grandparents

A stunning shot by Toots

There was a giant poster with information about the statue.

Inside, there were many statues of Buddha. Here, Mom prays to one of them.

A carving depicting the Buddha and his disciples

A peepul tree with a Buddha statue adorned the premises. Incidentally, as a kid, I'd seen the original Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, under which Buddha is said to have gotten enlightenment.

Another peepul tree and Buddha statue -- a miniature one -- outside the temple bookshop 

We climbed up more stairs to get to the topmost part. It was beautiful and breezy.

We saw a kite flying in the sky. It was the perfect weather for kite-flying.

Next, we started our drive towards our next destination -- Nuwara Eliya. It was to be a longish drive, about 3 hours or so, but we had plenty to see on the way and got off multiple times. This reminds me, our driver's favourite phrase was 'on the way, sir!' Anytime we asked him the whereabouts of any location in our list, he'd smile and assure us with a 'on the way, sir!' True to his word, he did show us a lot of things 'on the way, sir'!

Our route had a few waterfalls. We saw most of them from the car.

Our next stop was the Sri Bhakta Hanuman temple, built by the Chinmaya Mission in 1999. The area is believed to be where Hanuman landed when he came to Sri Lanka in search of Sita. The temple houses an 18-foot-tall statue of Hanuman.

As we parked, we saw a whole line of young devotees crossing to get to the temple.

The procession marches inside, singing and playing music.

We went inside the temple, but photography wasn't allowed so I couldn't click any. I was also chided by a priest for not having my hair tied up, so I had to quickly fish out a rubber band from my bag and do the necessary. Oh boy. 

It's a beautiful location and from the temple, you can see the entire Kotamale valley. 

The temple was surrounded by the most beautiful rose plants.

Gorgeous view

Next to the temple is the Annapurni vegetarian restaurant, also run by the Chinmaya Mission. We had a buffet lunch there. There was also a bookshop near the temple, where Dad bought a book on the Ramayana.

Viv poses in front of what I believe are the Ramboda waterfalls, which were 'on the way, sir'.

Soon, we had reached Nuwara Eliya, which really excited me as I was looking forward to some 'winter'. Known to be the coolest place in Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya is at an altitude of 1868 metres above sea level. It is also considered to be the most important location for tea production in Sri Lanka. Predictably, we started our exploration of Nuwara Eliya with a tour of the Bluefield Tea Gardens. 

Our guide, a sweet but no-nonsense lady in a sari, took us through each stage of tea production in the factory. 

Hilarious signs inside the factory

After the tour, we proceeded to their cafe for a complimentary tea-tasting session.

Samples of the gazillions of types of tea were on display. There was also a tea shop but the prices were exorbitant. Our driver had also advised us against buying tea at such places.

Group photo time!

The backdrop was exquisite so we took many, many photos!

Including some crazy jump shots!

It was a very scenic area with lots of flowers...

...and unique plants

There was even a playground where Xena spent quite some time playing. Soon, we got back in the van and headed towards our accommodation. 

On the way, we passed the Nuwara Eliya post office. The two-storey red brick building was constructed in 1894 by the British. We couldn't believe that a post office could be so beautiful!

By the time we arrived at our accommodation, it was almost dark and we were feeling C-O-L-D! It was 17 degrees! The floor of our cosy little house was ice-cold as we stepped on it. Loved it!

Click here for Sri Lanka - day 5.



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