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Sri Lanka Stimulating the Senses

by Ollie Barstow on 19 April 2012, 11:04AM Sri Lanka Stimulating the Senses

A fiery sunset dips beneath the emerald hills of Sri Lanka's central mountainous region, the breathtaking peacefulness interrupted only by the distant gargle of tuk-tuks, the chant of prayer and animals chattering to one another.

The distinctive summer smell of bonfire wafts across windless skies to create an eerie mist that paints the hills milky in the impending dusk.

At this moment, my senses are being teased, my eyes peering into the abyss of the valley as light creeps below the horizon, my ears tuned to the echoed sounds of native wildlife and my nose twitching at the freshness of my countryside setting.

I take a deep breath as I savour this fantasy-cum-reality and consider how, at this exact moment, I would rather be nowhere else…

A holiday to Sri Lanka is inspiration for the soul, the epic natural splendour, the charm of its traditions and the richness of its culture successfully establishing it as a holiday destination conjured in the dreams of those less fortunate than I am at this particular moment.

My four day endeavour begins at Sri Lanka’s heart in Kandy, a city that has long seduced visitors with its blend of beauty, history and character.

The journey alone, from the entry point at Colombo Airport to Kandy, is one that evokes emotions, the three hour taxi ride cutting a picturesque, albeit fairly treacherous, route to the very centre of the large island. Offering a glimpse at the greater countryside of Sri Lanka, something those that keep their destination within a modest distance to the airport will likely miss, you are struck by the rich palette of colours that line the roadside.

Verdant greenery stretches beyond the length of my eye-line, the bold hues of the shops and stalls that beckoningmy attention as I valiantly attempt to register the scenes blurring past at 50mph. Lorries, cars, buses and tuk-tuks weave amongst each other, jostling for position on the mountain roads in an attempt to nudge ahead, an exercise that becomes increasingly fevered as we begin our ascent through the meandering roads on entry to Kandy.

The conclusion of my lively journey is marked by the proud proclamation of Kandy as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a status immediately in evidence as I make my first stop at the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden. My leisurely stroll beneath the canopies provide a momentary respite from the warming rays of the sun, though my pace picks up when I realise much of the ‘canopy’ actually consists of thousands of fruit bats, the nocturnal creatures dozing precariously above me.

Taking in the sights around me, I marvel at the bold colours of the flourishing flora bursting around me, while my precarious route across a rather bouncy bridge is rewarded with some superb views of the river.

Assuming a perch in one of the many tuk-tuks that vie for your custom the moment you cast an investigative glance towards the road, I take numerous deep breaths as Anura, my tour guide for the day, slaloms through the dense traffic, showing remarkable spatial awareness as he skips between substantially larger vehicles. He maintains the conversation over the wheeze of the motorbike engine, but I’m more preoccupied by my jangled nerves…

Ascending a hill that leaves the tuk-tuk breathless as it contends with the steep incline (and my substantial ballast), our first stop brings us to Bahirawakanda Temple, the site of a huge statue of Buddha that presides over the city.

Looking on as sienna-robed monks shuffle across the foreground of the ivory structure, the site is perhaps best enjoyed for its magnificent vistas over Kandy, a paint box of summer hues that offer arguably the finest photographic opportunities across the entire city.

Impressive it may be, but Bahirawakanda isn’t Kandy’s most revered attraction. Instead, Kandy’s redeeming site is the sacred ‘Temple of the Tooth’, a venerable landmark that homes the tooth said to have belonged to Buddha. Though the tooth itself is not on display, its significance goes beyond mere sightseeing, as locals come every day to pray in the beautiful temple, distinguished by its intricate detailing and grandeur.

Indeed, witnessing the daily ritual in such a sacred setting is a stirring experience, even if my concentration is diverted by my keenness not to disturb anyone as I tiptoe barefoot through the intricately decorated temple.

Similarly striking is the setting on the fringes of Kandy Lake, the stillness at odds to the hive of activity that surrounds it, from the mantras of those working on the market stalls, to the persistent impatience of car horns.

Relinquishing my tuk-tuk for a couple of hours, allowing Anura a chance to put his feet up and snooze away the afternoon warmth, I assume foot power to stroll through the city centre. Though Kandy is perhaps better described as a ‘town’ than a ‘city’, the centre warrants a fairly lengthy time to explore, though I find myself marvelling more at the sporadic placement of historic statues or installations amidst the more modern shops.

Awakening Anura From his slumber, we head off for the final stop of my Kandy tour at the city’s ‘cultural centre’ to enjoy a performance of traditional Sri Lankan dancing, Ignoring my raised eyebrow of uncertainty, Anura assured me the performance is a worthwhile experience, explaining its legacy and its importance to the culture of Kandy.

Suitably convinced, I settle in and allow myself to be dazzled by the intricacies of the various dances that are endemic to Sri Lanka. Indeed, as the dancers perform backflips, pirouette inside some unfathomable costumes and delicately balance spinning discs, I am impressed by the spectacle, even before a handful of the more foolhardy performers begin leisurely walking over hot coals and swallowing fire, smiling gleefully as they do so.

Wearily climbing back into my tuk-tuk, I am too tired to worry about the perils of my return to the hotel, allowing me to reflect on Kandy as a fine example of what Sri Lanka has to offer.

Indeed, while the country is synonymous with the golden sands of its Indian Ocean fringed resorts, Kandy is an opportunity to experience a richer flavour of Sri Lanka’s tradition. While Kandy is perhaps a place to ‘do’ rather than merely ‘relax’, for a better reflection of what Sri Lanka is, this is where you come to invigorate every sense.

Back on the balcony of my cosy guest house, I glance across the vista as the colours melt into the navy cloak of darkness. Taking a deep breath and blinking once as if to create a snapshot for my mind, I retreat to my room in preparation for my return journey to Colombo, by train this time.

Even the next morning as the train rolls into the station, I am considering whether to prolong my stay in Kandy, if for no other reason than to continue my scenery-inspired detox… But Sri Lanka’s beaches are calling me and I cannot possibly ignore them...


To be continued…


To find yourself on a paradisiacal holiday of a lifetime in Sri Lanka and see many of the sights mentioned above, Book a Sri Lanka tour with Travelbag today!

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