Sunday morning in Kandy, Sri Lanka, time to walk out around the lake looking smart, long trousers of course; only tourists wear shorts. On an energetic day we walk to town but this means braving ‘The Tunnel’.
The tunnel is dark, damp and has deep drainage channels on both sides. Water drips from the roof and there is barely room for pedestrians and cars. Drivers are careful and there are speed bumps to slow them. It is wise to wear light clothing or carry a torch.
The tunnel runs through a steep ridge which separates Annewatte, a residential district, from Kandy town. After dodging dogs, bullock carts and traffic you reach the town centre with its narrow railed off pavements. The hazards here are the legs of beggars sitting in doorways, men who set up umbrella repair and shoe mending benches. One man will even silver plate your cutlery by the roadside. Shuffle along with 50 million others to Kandy Lake.
Temple of the sacred tooth Buddhist relic
It is 4km around the lake on pleasant tree-lined paths. We do the south side first and gaze across the water at the Temple of the Tooth glistening white with its gilded roof reflecting in the water. Along the banks are starkly white egrets studying the water. There is a sad and lonely pelican; gift to the president by some politician with no sense for animal life. It will never find a mate.
Where a tree or branch has fallen, terrapins climb out to sunbathe and may be joined by the frighteningly ugly monitor lizards, some up to 10ft long. Fish, large and small will arrive if you throw in some crumbs. One area is devoted to water lilies and gaudy kana flowers.
What’s behind the umbrella?
Every so often there are benches but these are all taken from the early morning by boy-girl pairs who want to sit close and feel one another’s warmth. The enterprising couples are behind a large umbrella so it is not clear just what intimacies are happening. Such matters are strictly monitored out here.
On your right you will pass the politically most important monastery in the country, Malwatte Vihara. Part of it is an octagonal building where monks are ordained. You will pass a Victorian pillar box, painted post-office red and still in use.
The art of eating with fingers
Along the north side there is no traffic and families sit on the grassy banks and eat their picnics; usually curry with rice. It is eaten with the fingers of the right hand. Although the fingers are messy the food never reaches the palms of the hands. Monkeys watch from the trees for any discarded tidbits.
In the middle of the lake is a small island with king palms swaying gracefully in the breeze. It is said that in ancient times the King kept his treasure at the bottom of the lake, protected by crocodiles. There are no crocodiles in this lake but there are plenty other places. Near the island a fountain fires a jet of water high into the air and the droplets drift down in plumes.
Close to the Temple of the Tooth now you may see a temple elephant swaying from side to side with boredom. The mahout will shout and prod it to be still while a small child is made to pass 3 times beneath its belly. It is said to give the child courage; it scares a lot of them. Within the Temple grounds families in white are walking and talking as they go to make their devotions.
Bath House on Kandy Lake
A bathing house is built over the lake so that the King’s women could bathe out of sight of any peeping Toms. It is a fine building and now occupied by the police, except the watery underneath.
The lake embankment on the final stretch is formally walled in the Buddhist style.
Blind lottery ticket seller
A blind lottery ticket vendor leans or sits there. He is usually asleep or nearly so. Someone will tell you that he remembers you from your hotel and, as he is off duty, would be happy to show you around. He will take you to his cousin’s shop where you will feel obliged to buy a T shirt or something. He will collect a percentage afterwards.
Another tout will walk past you and stop a few meters ahead in an attitude of prayer. He will apologise for being in your way but explain that this is the most holy day of the Buddhist year. It is very fortunate that you can visit the temple on such an auspicious day and he will be happy to guide you. These guys are trying to make a living and if you tell them assertively, No, they will move on to the next punter.
School children sell raffle tickets and we give them time. They are keen to practise their English and your few rupees will go to a good cause.
Colonial history: Queen’s Hotel
Finally you come to the magnificent Queen’s Hotel; that’s Queen Victoria, the hotel was built for traveling colonials. The spacious foyer has a wonderful flower arrangement and a pianist tinkles away in one corner. Sadly, it has been decided that the hotel is too close to the temple to allow the sale of alcohol to non-residents. Never mind, a long cool lime juice with soda in the Mountbatten bar is just as satisfying.
How does it compare with Chandler’s Ford Lakes? Bigger, busier and with different flora and fauna but similar in that a walk around a lake always induces a sense of tranquility.
Post Series: Dispatches from Sri Lanka, by Mike Sedgwick:
- Dispatches From Sri Lanka
- Kandy Lake vs Chandler’s Ford Lakes
- Self-Employment In Sri Lanka
- Sri Lankan Wedding
- Sri Lankan Food
- There’s Some Corner Of A Foreign Field
- The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka
- This Is the Record Of John
- Tuk-tuk: My Transport Of Delight
- Life On The Road
- Commonwealth Games In Kandy
- A Temple For A Tooth?
- Dawn Train Down The Mountain To Colombo
- Traditional And Modern Medicine in Sri Lanka
- Ancient Vedda Tribe Becoming Extinct