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Hill Country welcomes you

Drive from Negombo to Kandy is around two and a half hours. The road was too much of twists and turns from the start itself. Even in that early hours, we saw that there were heavily armed military officers patrolling in motor cycles. Also, they stopped another van which was going in front of us. Kapu told that, nothing to be scared of and it was a usual procedure there. The road around the airport has been declared as High Security Area, and no vehicle should stop in that area. Else, you can expect army or police coming to you! We Indians have a thought that Sri Lanka (SL) is a war struck country and it is much backward than India. “Misconception”. SL has better infrastructure, at least with their excellent roads and wonderful communication networks. As far as I traveled through SL, all the road, there was not even a small stretch of road which was out of condition and where ever you go, you will be in a 3.5G network.

We were driving on A1 highway which was from Negombo to Kandy. After a place called Kegalle, it will start steep climbs to the hill country. A good thing is, this climb is not as tiresome as our ooty or kodaikanal climbs. The places looked very similar to interior Kerala, like Thodupuzha, Kumali and all! Houses are also in similar style only. Even in away, it felt home!! As time passed, I fell asleep in the van.

When I woke up, we were almost near Kandy. Time was around 5.30am. I saw many hoardings of Lankan Cricket players through out the roads. No wonder most of them were of Muralitharan. He hails from Kandy. We drove past the Kandy Botanical Garden. I did not feel like I am in a hill station for the simple reason, I have seen such good roads only in metro cities in India. And none of Indian metros are on hills. Cleanliness is a big big plus for Kandy. Nearly no air pollution.

Kapu told, he will take us to a place where we can have a bird’s eye view of the town. We started climbing another hill and reached a place call “Arthur’s seat”. From there, we had a nice view of the Tooth Relic Temple and the Kandy Royal Palace as a back drop for the vast lake in front of us. We all got bites from shutter bug and started clicking here and there. We started noticing an interesting thing that, SL had more verities of cars. Especially from that of Toyota and Nissan. We saw a similar car like Nissan Micra in SL and its name there was Nissan March.

Towards east, we could see a huge statue of Lord Buddha, on top of another hill. I have seen that place in “Sancharam” TV show. On the western side, we could see an old building complex which we identified as the tooth relic temple. After spending around 30 minutes there, we went down to the temple. Tooth temple has a two level security checkup. One at the entrance of the compound and next one, just before entering the temple.

A great Kandyan King named Wimaladharmaraja Sooriya I was the one who constructed this temple. Many kings after him, until the last king of Kandy- Wickramaraja Singhe has made more and more beautifications to this temple. This temple an invaluable heritage asset for SriLankan population. And for Kandy, this is part of their life. It is said that, one tooth of Lord Buddha is kept here. This sacred tooth is exhibited once in five years or when the nation is facing big troubles. Every year, in July-August season, there will be an annual festival conducted where the replica of the container of tooth is taken for procession. That is said to be the beauty of Kandy. They exhibit their rich-unbeatable culture. You can see many photos and videos in network regarding this. The festival’s name is “Esala Perahera”.

Entry to this temple for Lankan natives are LKR 10 only. For foreigners, it is LKR 1000. Still there is a discount for those who come from SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), 50%. So, for those who come from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan can get an entry ticket for LKR 500. Condition is, you have to prove your nationality by showing your passport.

We walked to the temple. First step of the temple is a semi-circular, white colored stone with flower design on it. This is called – The Moon Stone. I stepped in to the temple to see that my friends have already arranged for a guide to explain the history and what is what in the temple. A fairly old man who has pretty good command in English explained that, the temple’s real namd is Dalada Maligawa. He started with a short history about the kings of Kandy as well as the bomb blast in 1998 by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE- A Srilankan extremist group which claims for a separate country out of the island, for Tamils. Please refer to wikipedia or other news sites for more details).

First he took us to the main shrine in the center courtyard which was painted in very strong red shades, many murals and patterns. It reminded my the murals of Sri.Padmanabha swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. This shrine has a ‘Dagoba’ which is the replica of the real relic Dagoba. Replica is exhibited every day thrice. Timings are 5:30am-7:30am, 9:30am-11:30am and 5:30pm-7:30pm. Main doors of the shrine were very similar to the one we see in shivite hindu temples. On the top, there will be a dragon face, and flower garland flowing out of its mouth to both sides. We saw a bowl full of water on the left side of the shrine. Chief priest who is staying in the same building will wash his body with this water before entering into the sanctum.

Just opposite to the shrine, there was a little higher platform. Once you climb on it, you can see a ‘chariot seat’ which will be tied to the back of an elephant. This one is used during the annual “Esala Perahera” festival. This chariot seat is made of silver. On the left side, there was another big Dagoba (Stupa) where people were offering flowers and poojas. We walked past to the first floor. Steps were made of wood.

Once we reached the first floor, on the right side we could see many people sitting there and praying. Armed security people were on guards. Should be something special. Guide explained. This is the main shrine which houses “The tooth”. The shrine was completely covered with gold. I also prayed for some selfish concerns and moved forward!

Turned right and could see a curtained shrine. This will be opened only thrice a day, same time as I told earlier. Also there will be the traditional Kandyan drums performance during that time. We climbed down the stairs to reach another side of the temple. We just walked across and again reached the first shrine. ‘Thissa’, our guide took us to the back of the shrine. There was a well lit hall where many people were sitting in meditation. There were a lot of Buddha statues in that hall. Out of those, a few on the dais were quite interesting. A big Buddha statue covered with pure gold, one 3-D Buddha which had some special kind of lighting. Where ver you stand, Buddha’s face will turn to you! Then a marble one, crystal…etc. One rule in this hall is not to show your back to the statues. This rule is mainly because many tourists post for photos along with Buddha as if both were school time friends! You can very well take photos of Buddha there!

We walked out of the temple to reach a small park. This park has a small, roofed platform which housed a big bell (like what KamalHasan will be ringing in Virumandi song) with a long log which is used as the hammer for the bell. This bell will be rung during the time of Esala Perahera. Dalada Maligawa is surrounded by Moats which were more than 10 meters deep, had deadly crocodiles in them. But now, only moat and water is there. No more crocodiles. All these were for the security of the tooth. We paid off the guide LKR 300 and started to the Dalada Maligawa Museum which is located behind the temple, above the meditation hall. Ticket cost LKR 10, and worth was even lesser! Museum had many detailed photographs of the 1998 bomb blast. It also housed some old ornaments, and war implements. Nothing great about it.

We exited to another museum called Royal Palace Museum. Seeing that museum, I was thinking if the kings in Kandy were so poor. It was just like my house in Trivandrum! It was too disappointing to see such a museum. They had a very old building almost 400 years old and a few artifacts, most of them were old build parts. With in 10 mins, we got out of the place.

From there, we went to the hindu temple complex, situated close to the tooth temple. There was a big stupa near the entrance. There were shrines of Hanuman, Katarakama (Subramanian – Kathirkaaman), Devi temples. After all there was an Afro-Lankan tusker. For taking a photo of that elephant, the “Elephant Driver” was asking LKR 100. We just used the Indian brain. We walked away and took a nice photograph with our powerful 12x Optical Zoom of the camera 🙂 We called up our driver who parked his vehicle somewhere away. We started planning the next item in the agenda.

Guess what!