Monday, March 30, 2009

The Streets of Kandy

Breakfasted on the terrace; all very pleasant.  The view was initially obscured by mist (smog?) but that slowly cleared as we ate.  We checked-out and met Maliq for a 9am run down into Kandy.  He’d stayed with his family rather than in the staff quarters; he didn’t say why, but I wandered at the quality of the spaces for the workers.

We had decided to take a walk around central Kandy to get a feel for the place as so far we haven’t really been out of our fully-catered hotel/tour guide bubble.  We started by walking around the lake, which was teaming with fish (and fishing birds!) and the occasional turtle, then ventured into the central streets of town.  It was more relaxed than I had expected; as virtually the only white tourists around I’d expected to be mobbed by beggars, hawkers and scams.  We did okay though, attracting some attention but all of it easy enough to disengage.  Mark had described the Sri Lankans along the lines of not having extremes of caste or wealth found elsewhere in South Asia and we found that to be true; there were beggars but no-one appeared to be starving and everyone was friendly enough.

After our walk around the lake, we were in need of refreshment so we picked a small bakery at random and bought some cream sodas.  They had seating on the first floor which opened out onto a balcony overlooking the street.  We sat in the shade and watched the world go by.  Central Kandy was colourful, noisy and bustling with people.   Brett observed a sign advertising a dental technician who also specialised in brasswork and curios and we decided that the combination didn’t inspire confidence in us wussy westerners.

Wandering the streets and alleyways I spotted an ornate gateway and we went in to take a look.  It turned out to be co-located Buddhist and Hindu temples (A religious mall, as Brett put it) which was a delightful oasis of calm and (almost) quiet in the centre of town.  Brett paid 500 Rupees (£3) for a blessing from a monk who had had his photo taken with the Dalai Lama.  (He was a little worried he’d been had afterwards though and described the white string bracelet they had tied around his wrist as his ‘rube bracelet’.  I had noticed our waiter last night wearing the same bracelet, so thought it was probably as genuine as such things go.)  Eventually though we retrieved our sandals, ducked the guy who’d followed us around trying to be our guide, and returned to the streets.

It wasn’t clear whether it was a market day or not, but there were plenty of vegetable sellers with their wares laid out on the pavement.  I found it invigorating and could have wandered for hours just taking it all in but we were now in need of a toilet break so headed into a new shopping centre that looked a good bet.  It had the facilities we needed, but was so new that only the supermarket and a couple of banks had yet moved in.  We went in to the supermarket to look for electrolyte drinks for me (John H had reminded me on Facebook that this could be the cause of my malaise) and came out with batteries and ice cream cubes – as you do.

We’d had about enough by now though and were ready to move on.  When I pulled out my phone to call Maliq I saw that I had three missed calls from him – it turned out that he had been getting worried as we’d been gone for two and a half hours.  It seems he hadn’t thought we’d last that long.  He doesn’t seem to be accustomed to travellers being as independent as we want to be.

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