Sunday, 24 August 2008

Temples, Mountains and Holy Teeth

Traveling to Kandy was not quite as pleasant as our journey down the southwest coast. The Galle-Colombo leg was smooth enough but just like us, thousands of Sri Lankans were making the pilgrimage to mountainous Kandy for the Perahera. Three hours of sweaty jostling later, we arrived to be promptly searched as we left the railway station. I felt pretty sorry for all the commuters stuck behind the two farrang girls as our giant backpacks were rigorously checked and medication scrutinized. The atmosphere in Kandy couldn’t have been more different to soporific Galle. Traffic screeched past at break-neck speed, the air was heavy with pollution and we were constantly hassled by people wanting our business in some way or another. The number of tourists attending the Perahera has fallen dramatically this year, leaving many guides and shopkeepers desperate to make some money from the few that had ventured to Kandy. We soon tired of being followed down the street by rather threatening tuk tuk drivers, and our polite ‘No’s quickly morphed into more aggressive utterances.

The Perahera itself was truly spectacular. The ten day celebration comprises of a nightly procession, culminating in the Maligawa Tusker carrying the Buddha’s tooth through the city streets from the Temple of the Tooth to Adahanamaluwa. Today the tooth relic stays safely within the Temple and only a replica can be seen for the procession. The big man himself is accompanied by 70-100 other elephants, dressed in velvet clothes and adorned with fairy lights and flowers. They share the streets with a menagerie of whip-crackers, dancers, fire throwers, stilt men and musicians. All manner of bizarre trumpets and pipes were on display, as well as painted dances clad in feathers, bells, tassels, bright silks and, by the end, plenty of sweat! Nearly three hours later the procession had finished and we returned to our room exhausted, narrowly avoiding being followed home.

The oppressive atmosphere was starting to take its toll. The constants hassle of the previous day had turned us into quite the sceptics and made us suspicious of everyone we met. This was further amplified on our ill-advised trip to the bus station to find out bus times for our journey back to the airport via Negombo. When we finally found the correct bus stand, we were told that the bus waiting there was the last to Negombo that day and that we should get on it quickly. This outright lying in order to get our immediate business was just the icing on the cake. We struggled through the mayhem of the bus station (an area the size of a football pitch clogged with hooting buses, fumes and no order whatsoever) and found a suitably up-market hotel to do some investigating for us. Relieved in the knowledge that there were plenty more buses that day, we headed for the quiet solitude of the Temple of the Tooth. The outer chamber was ornately carved and painted with scenes from Siddhartha Gautama’s transformation into Buddha as well as a menagerie of Sri Lankan flora and fauna. Moving upstairs we approached the home of the tooth relic itself. The vestibule was a Russian doll affair of different sized boxes, with only the gold-plated outer case visible to the public. Nearby the Perahera elephant’s coats were being prepared for another night of the procession, as temple staff threaded lights into the embroidered cloth. In the temple complex the Maligawa Tusker was enjoying his daily bath, flashing his gold-plated tusks at a crowd of spectators.

Reluctant to leave the peace of the temple, we headed back to the guest house to hastily collect our bags before the journey to Negombo. The mountain views were absolutely stunning; little temples were nestled amongst the trees and iridescent lakes lined the valley floor. Pleasantly surprised that we survived the Schumacheresque negotiation of twisting roads, we arrived amongst the neon lights of Negombo. We swiftly headed to bed, ready to recharge for our 6am flight to Cochin.

1 comment:

Ellie. said...

Girl,

can't believe I have only just found your updates, have been waiting to read this golden goodness for a week now!

Things perhaps a wee bit stressful? It was worth it, for me, to read about the festival at Kandy, which sounds amazing.. Thanks for your photo too. I'm going to have to work hard to make Paris seem that colourful. Keep posting I love it. x