From my TOI blog : Freeze Frame
From Galle to Kandy took the most part of day six and by the time we had started climbing the hilly terrain, the late December afternoon had mellowed into a cooler twilight – the Red Palm that had welcomed us into the country now peeped out of almost everyone’s gardens alongside exotic orchids, erum lilies & lush foliage. Once on Main Street, Kandy, we eagerly kept an eye out for the hotel we were supposed to stay in for the next two days. The ever smiling Nandana, our new driver, and his cousin, Lakshana aka Lucky, corrected our perceptions and informed us that we were still in Kandy and another hour and half away from the hotel. Our travel agency had ‘forgotten’ to inform us that the hotel was in Gampola, a town 25km from Kandy, atop an isolated hill. Trust me, the first ride to the hotel, on a pitch dark road that kept winding up precariously around sharp bends raised several critical questions in both the adults’ minds, which we didn’t dare ask in front of the 10-yr old who sat snuggled up between us. But the last few bends were so treacherous that I couldn’t keep my fear of heights under control any more and blurted out, ‘God, this is scary. Even if we manage to reach the hotel, how on earth are we going to scale this for the next two days?’ My brave little R wrapped her small fingers tightly around my clenched fist and said in a tiny yet trying to sound reassuring voice, ‘Don’t worry, Mama, even I’m scared’. If Kandy is the Shimla of Srilanka, evidently Nuwara Eliya is supposed to be the Switzerland of Srilanka, but we wouldn’t know that, not at least on this trip. ‘No hotels are available,’ was what our travel agent had informed us before we had left Mumbai and now sitting in Kandy, barely a couple of hours away from the fragrant tea gardens, all we could do was to utter the choiest expletives under our breath for trusting the premium international travel agency in Bandra that had made us believe they had our best interests at heart. But we had no option but to swallow our anguish. Looking out of the French windows of our ‘deluxe suite’ the following morning, which yet again left much to be desired, we found nature had conspired to put many of the misgivings to rest: the early morning fog was swirling up from the valley beneath as a small train chugged its way up a hill through the the trees and the first few birds had started to venture out in ones and twos in the light rain that had begun falling the night before. So what were we to see in Kandy? ‘The Temple of the Tooth Relic, Botanical Garden, Kandy Royal Palace, mask and batik shopping and Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage’, rambled Lucky almost as if he was talking in his sleep. ‘Today Pinnawala and Botanical Garden; tomorrow, at 10, sharp, Temple of Tooth Relic’. And like good children, later in the day, we allowed ourselves to be led through the meandering pathways of the botanical gardens before we got an opportunity to ‘shake a trunk’ with the pachyderms of Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, many of whom had been orphaned during the Tsunami. R came away proud of having ‘bottle-fed’ a baby elephant! The following morning, the Bee, R and I, climbed into Nandana’s big van along with our family of two ‘pregnant’ strolleys, a laundry bag full of red palm saplings, some Srilankan wood carvings, a few masks and countless nick-nacks, the purchasing of which, got us late and took away from us the opportunity of entering the sanctum sanctorum of the hallowed Temple of the Tooth relic, which is thought to house a tooth of the Holy Buddha (and you would have thought the guides would have known the timings of the temple!). Quite disappointed with the morning, we set out for Dambula, our first stop in the Srilankan cultural heritage triangle that boasted of a spectacular Buddhist monastery carved in the rock 160m above its surrounding plains. Dating back to the second century BC, Dambula is still very much functional as a monastry. To our astonishment, we found that this magnificient world heritage site hosts 153 statues of Lord Buddha, 3 statues of Srilankan kings and several statues of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in 5 key caves. For once, our expectations weren’t belied. The photographs in the Srilankan tourism brochures did justice to what was there before us. So, that evening, tired though we were, there were no misgivings in our mind about ploughing on to our next hotel – a beautiful Lake Resort, which we were told offered the finest in Srilankan hospitality. But that, we soon realised, is after you reached the hotel. Lest you think I am needlessly complaining, here is what happened: the rains had started falling from the night before; not a torrential downpour or heavy rain; a steady drizzle, that had gathered momentum through the day, but which gave no indication that the droplets had gathered momentum to form a huge force of water that had overflowed the embankments of the Lake Kandalama or Lake Amaya and had swept away part of the road. The near absolute darkness of the Srilankan bush had hidden this little secret from us until we very nearly drove into it. We realised the ‘depth’ of situation only after the van had screeched to a halt at a slope on the unpaved road, a few meters from a stream of gushing water, that had come into sight because of the highbeam of our van. Not another soul had stirred on that road on that night till we turned around and hit another highway again. Strange, if you consider that we had been on the phone with the front desk twenty times to a dozen in the past hour to seek directions to the hotel and the ‘near incident’ took place barely a couple of kilometres from the hotel. What surprised us even more was that our driver and navigator who appeared to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown a couple of minutes ago, seemed wonderfully composed and dismissive when confronted with what had very nearly happened at the hotel. ‘Happened? Sir, but nothing really happened. You are all here aren’t you?’ We jolly well were. But that, we went on to learn, was part of the joie-de-vivre of the Srilankan psyche. A beautiful country, once torn apart by war, the Srilankans had grown to appreciate the good things in life and ignore much that could or would worry them. For us denizens of Maximum City, however, it left us as Commander Bond might aver, ‘shaken and not ‘stirred’.
To be concluded…
Picture courtesy : Sukanti Ghosh