Tour Operator – Connaissance de Ceylan
Hotel – Mahaweli Reach
Transport – Bus from Passikudah to Kandy
Currency – Sri Lankan Rupee
We left beautiful Passikudah behind and hit the road for Kandy, which would be a 3-4 hour drive.
The Temple of the Tooth (aka Sri Dalada Maligawa) is one of the most famous landmarks in Sri Lanka, as it is an incredibly sacred place for Buddhism.
The Buddha’s real name was Prince Siddhartha. He had a wife and child but, one day, when he was 29, he realised that he wanted to know more about the world. He entered a state of meditation, which he did not leave until he was 36, upon reaching enlightenment under the bodhi tree. After he had reached enlightenment, it was said that a lotus would bloom under each step Buddha took and he went on to teach his philosophy for the next 80 years.
The Buddha had 550 stories, which are all contained in a book (written in Sanskrit). In Sri Lanka, monks translate these stories for the people and they are held in special libraries.
When Buddha died, he was cremated and it is said that his tooth was taken out of the funeral pyre, to keep as a relic. The story is that, at the same time, an Indian king was about to go into battle and told his daughter that, if he died, she should take Buddha’s tooth and bring it to a king in Sri Lanka who had been his friend. The Indian king’s prediction sadly came true and his daughter transported the tooth to Sri Lanka, hidden in her bun.
Today, the tooth is concealed in seven caskets and only the most powerful monks are permitted to handle it. It is only revealed to the public once every four years, during a procession through Kandy.
Offerings are brought to the tooth by visitors and the local villagers, which range from food to flowers. Our guide Mansour told us that back in 1998, the Tamil Tigers performed a suicide bombing at the Temple of the Tooth. The entire building was damaged, except for the room housing the sacred relic. This was said to be a miracle.
After we finished our tour of the temple, we made our way to the Kandy Cultural Show. This show started with the blowing of the conch shell and a traditional musical welcome. The musicians and dancers then went on to perform different pieces, paying homage to the deities and different animals (such as the cobra and the peacock). The mask dance was particularly interesting, as it is traditionally performed to ward off evil spirits and is still used as a form of psychiatric treatment in some communities.
The show ended with fire eating and fire walking, which was hugely lax on health and safety but incredibly exciting all the same!
The next morning, we made our way to Kandy Railway Station and boarded the train for Nurawa Eliya. There are three ‘classes’ on these trains – first class is air conditioned, second class is not and third class is standing. We went for second class seats and these were perfectly comfortable (although the toilets were borderline unusable).
If you take this journey, be prepared for delays – Mansour had advised us that the trains always ran late and I believe we had to wait an extra 30 minutes after our scheduled departure time before setting off.
The train ride took around 3 hours but the views of the scenery and the tea plantations were absolutely breathtaking. This trip is more about the journey than the destination!
Once we arrived in Nurawa Eliya, we were collected in our trusty minibus and taken to “Tea Bush” in Ramboda for some lunch. The food was great but, once again, the main highlight of this location was the view from the restaurant’s balcony.
After lunch, we made our way to the Glenloch tea factory, which was opened by a Scottish founder around 150 years ago. We were given a tour of the factory and our guide explained the entire process, from picking to packaging. The factory produces up to 5 tonnes of tea a week and there is no off-season during the year.
I’m not much of a tea drinker usually but I had no idea that you could produce most types of tea from one plant! Black tea comes from the mature leaves, white tea comes from the buds and green tea comes from the young leaves. Depending on how strong or mild you want the tea, it is either sun dried (white tea) or it is dried, chopped and fermented (BOPF).
The only pure tea you can get is the one that comes from factories like Glenloch. Most of the tea produced in Sri Lanka is auctioned off to bigger companies like Lipton, which blends its own fusions.
After the tour, we had the opportunity to have a tea tasting. The most expensive tea produced at Glenloch is called the ‘Golden Flush’. This is rare and pricey, because they can only pick 10kg of it a week. Personally, this tea was a little too bitter and strong for me but the white teas were delicious.
If you’re travelling through Kandy by car, you should bear in mind that the traffic is terrible and this can throw off any plans you may have. Unfortunately, due to the traffic, we missed the Botanical Gardens (our last stop of the day)!
Our trip to Nurawa Eliya had been somewhat shoe-horned into the itinerary and, while Connaissance de Ceylan did their best to accommodate us, they did not seem overly keen on changes to their plans. This may have been down to pressures from third parties but it is always something to bear in mind when going with an organised tour, as you are missing out on the flexibility you would otherwise have. However, overall, for the amount of things we were able to do and see, the knowledge we had on tap and the convenience with travelling between destinations, the tour was the right thing for our group!
Sadly, we arrive at the final day of this amazing trip.
Our last visit in Kandy was to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage – something I was feeling slightly anxious about. In the past, I will admit that I haven’t been hugely educated on the treatment of animals in the different places I have visited. When I went to Thailand a few years ago, my group made sure to source the most ethical place we could find for elephant trekking. However, what we didn’t realise at the time is that there really isn’t an ethical way to ride elephants and it is certainly not something I would do again in future.
On the face of things, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is a place for safety and conservation. These elephants are orphans, which have been relocated due to threats from humans in neighbouring villages. In their new home, they had a large jungle to explore and an entire river to bathe in, so lack of space was not a cause for concern. They were also clearly being well cared for and pampered by the staff and I didn’t see any tourists getting involved in this side of things. Our guide told us that once the elephants were old enough, certain orphanages were implementing release policies, where elephants were returned to the wild but tagged (so their safety could be monitored).
However, where you have conservation, you will also usually require tourism to keep organisations running. I saw a couple of things which made me uncomfortable (e.g. one elephant being chained up) but, without knowing why this was happening, I couldn’t fully form a judgement on this. To a certain extent, you will have to break an elephant’s spirit to ensure that it complies with a human’s commands but, on the flip-side, the elephants being 100% wild was putting them at risk and there did seem to be mutual respect between the staff and the animals.
Ultimately, it will come down to what you are comfortable with but I would not encourage visiting places which offer elephant rides or experiences where you can act as a staff member (e.g. feeding or washing the elephants). This is a tricky area and, as I said, not one I am particularly educated in.
So, if you go to Sri Lanka and you would like to see elephants, my recommendation would be to go and see them in the wild on safari. This is a far more uplifting and natural sight!
After our trip to the elephant orphanage, we drove back to Colombo to have a quick tour before catching our flight home. Colombo is very different to the other cities we visited – it is much cleaner and well maintained, with huge official buildings, monuments, stadiums and colonial architecture. I would have liked to have spent a little more time here but, all the same, I was glad to have seen a snapshot before leaving.
I think it’s fairly obvious that I would recommend a trip to Sri Lanka and hopefully my three blog posts will show that it is welcoming, beautiful and incredibly diverse. Whether you’re looking for activity, history, relaxation or scenery, there is something for everyone.
Keep an eye out on my blog for the next travel post on Naples, Capri and Vesuvius!
Thanks for reading,
~ Plane Emoji