Day 7, Tuesday 10 March
Today will be a day of transition so we need to pack everything again. Our breakfast today proves inconsistency as there is a better selection than yesterday with plenty of choice with pancake, chapati, dal and sambal added to toast, jam, coffee and fruit. We hit the road as soon as we are ready. I shouldn’t need to mention the fact but our driver seems to conveniently forget things. Little extras that would enhance the tour experience which I am used to with independent travel just don’t seem to happen. What is possible, however, are opportunities to ravage further my depleted funds.
Ranweli Spice Garden……..
On the way to Kandy, our next destination, our driver stops at the Ranweli Spice Garden. The visit follows the usual pattern. A guide shows us some examples in the garden of herbs and spices, then follows that up with a list of products that can be made from these natural plants for medicinal, therapeutic use as well as in cooking. The list is almost endless covering many common ailments which can be treated in this way which is for many a powerful sales pitch. We next head to the retail shop where there is a good display but certainly marked up for the tourist trade. I make a small purchase with only culinary use in mind. I probably would have paid a similar price in the UK.
The road to Kandy is busy compounded by the conditions. The main roads are not even up to B grade in the UK with average speeds around half you would expect. Progress is slow around Kandy itself, our driver pressing on well outside the city again. When we arrive at accommodation, I’m not happy and request we be nearer the city. I just don’t want to be so dependent on the driver, I just need some more space. Concerns raised; the driver agrees to find somewhere nearer the town but arriving at alternative accommodation doesn’t really solve the problem.
Kandy is located around the lake with hills and mountains on all sides. This is quite isolated at the top of a bank so the area impractical for me to walk around. The hotel is well past its prime and doesn’t have a fridge or even bottled water supplied; real backpacker style. I could do with a break and suggest to the driver that I will put up with the room tonight but that’s it. It’s still early afternoon but there are domestic issues to sort out leaving not much time before we agree to go out at 4.30pm. We obviously don’t feel settled here.
Money Spinning Ideas……..
For the afternoon into evening there is a plan. We’re told of a traditional dance show in Kandy but as with almost everything else it’s not free. Again, we’re not that interested to be led around like cattle to every money-spinning venue that Sri Lanka can come up with. How is it that in Thailand we can go a whole day visiting historic, cultural, natural and other attractions without needing shed loads of cash? Don’t get me wrong; many would gladly pay for this entertainment. I’m just pointing out the fact. I wonder if our diver is curious as to why we’re not taking full advantage of his services but then why should he care?
One attraction is not to be missed in Kandy tonight but it’s now too early. In the meantime, we may as well find out what else Kandy is famous for.
Misleadingly described as a gems museum we enter an establishment that is clearly a gems broker rather than a museum. Understandably, the owner is there trying to secure a sale. How do I wriggle out of this one, I wonder? On the plus side, I learn that Sri Lanka, or more specifically in the mountains of Ratnapura (city of gems), there are extraction operations to deliver sapphires to the gems trade. Katoon, of course, loves every example she sees but shuffles her way towards the door knowing that gems are not what we’ve come for.
Sri Lanka’s gem industry has a very long and colorful history. Sri Lanka was affectionately known as Ratna-Dweepa which means Gem Island. The name is a reflection of its natural wealth. Marco Polo wrote that the island had the best sapphires, topazes, amethysts, and other gems in the world. Ptolemy, the 2nd century astronomer recorded that beryl and sapphire were the mainstay of Sri Lanka’s gem industry. Records from sailors that visited the island states that they brought back “jewels of Serendib”. Serendib was the ancient name given to the island by middle – eastern and Persian traders that crossed the Indian Ocean to trade gems from Sri Lanka to the East during the 4th and 5th century.
Sri Lanka, geologically speaking is an extremely old country. Ninety percent of the rocks of the island are of Precambrian age, 560 million to 2,400 million years ago. The gems form in sedimentary residual gem deposits, eluvial deposits, metamorphic deposits, skarn and calcium-rich rocks. Nearly all the gem formations in Sri Lanka are located in the central high-grade metamorphic terrain of the Highland Complex. The gem deposits are classified as sedimentary, metamorphic and magmatic; the sedimentary types being the most abundant. The mineralogy of the gem deposits varies widely with, among others, corundum (sapphire, ruby), chrysoberyl, beryl, spinel, topaz, zircon, tourmaline and garnet being common.
Residual deposits are mainly found in flood plains of rivers and streams. The metamorphic types of gems constitute 90% of the gem deposits in Sri Lanka. It has been estimated that nearly 25% of the total land area of Sri Lanka is potentially gem-bearing, making Sri Lanka one of the countries with the highest density of gem deposits compared to its landmass.
Oak Ray Woodcarving Centre…….. source.
Finally extricating ourselves from a predicament, we find ourselves in a similar situation at an outlet nearby, which produces quality woodcarvings from trees found in local forests. Here again there is temptation put before us but on a more modest scale. The number and variety of woodcarvings is incredible but yet again, hands stay wedged in pockets.
The work shop is located close to the showrooms to demonstrate to visitors how to make natural colors using different woods and adding them the natural ingredients of lime, bee honey, juices made from different crushed leaves, sugar, and iodine etc., and how the same methods had been used in ancient Sri Lanka to paint ancient frescos which have lasted for centuries without any changes in its colours, resisting all kinds of weather conditions.
Another of the downsides of using a guide is that we’re not really sure where we are but it’s likely given the size to be one of the Oak Ray woodcarving centres.
The last two attractions having been successfully negotiated at no cost; we now head to the most iconic attraction in Kandy where paying a fee is unavoidable.
Tooth Relic Temple……..
Our arrival at the Tooth Relic Temple at 6.30pm is for a reason. At the ticket counter there is a fee for foreigners of 1,500 rupees. However, I note that Katoon can get a concession at 1,000 rupees. Visitors from both Thailand and Myanmar can get a discount, presumably as they have the ancient Theravada Buddhism as their core religion. However, these visitors have to provide their passports. It’s a pretty arbitrary concession actually since many Thais from the southern provinces are Moslems. For local people, however, entry is free.
Inside the temple it is really congested as visitors file passed important historic artifacts. Then there is a pause. Not all visitors are aware of what will happen next and some foreigners leave the building. A congregation then builds up around the main vault waiting in eager expectation. At 7.20pm to the beating of drums, the vault is opened and worshipers begin to file past the door opening passing on their offerings. The opportunity lasts just 10 minutes and I retreat to get a better glimpse of the interior of the vault. In view is a golden urn bedecked with jewels. It is said to contain one of Lord Buddha's teeth. The awesome moment is soon over and the door locked shut. The urn is so valuable that the vault is only opened twice a day, in the early morning at now in the evening.
To get some idea as to why this site is so sacred, one has to remember that while the Buddha wasn’t born here, he visited Sri Lanka several times and his philosophy took hold. Unlike India where the main religion reverted to Hinduism, Buddhism remained stong as in does today in Sri Lanka, a country that has practiced it far longer than any other; most of the 2,500 years since Buddha was alive. As someone who has spent a great deal of time visiting Buddhist temples in Thailand, it’s incredible that I cannot trace Buddhism there back beyond the 7th Century.
As a final thought, not intending to push theology that far, I note there are numerous tooth relic temples in Thailand, Myanmar and elsewhere. Should I turn to science instead to determine how many teeth the Buddha would have had? Well, whatever the truth, I’m pleased to have been a witness to an important piece of history today.
Obviously now we need to get back to the hotel but miss the opportunity to take a meal in Kandy where there are so many options. Instead, without further instructions our driver head back to the hotel where the only option is to take dinner on the terrace. It proves to be a big mistake. The food is awful and you can’t even get a chilled bottle of water. Back at the room there are no drinking glasses and the toilet struggles to remove solid waste. We also learn to improvise since they only have the old-style electricity sockets. Well, in my opinion they should have demolished it years ago.
Clearly now there will be some tension as the package we signed up to is only delivering the attractions on the main tourist trail, most of which are costing more money then I allowed for in my budget. At the time of writing this, of course I’m not happy to stay at this hotel a second night. There are two options. I could direct our driver to a hotel in the town where we won’t feel isolated and have better facilities or we could just spend a few hours here then move. While these deliberations are going on, I’m now plastered with insect bites. The package with the agent ends on the 13th when we will be without its services; not a bad thing I’m thinking till we fly back to Bangkok on the 18th. There is even the thought of returning early, perhaps on the 14th. Obviously, I’ve hit a low point here in Kandy when it shouldn’t be like this but the country and its facilities are gradually waring me down. It will take a lot now for me to believe in Sri Lanka.