- ( Sri Lanka )
Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage
Temple of Dalada Maligawa ;
A Kandy dancer with the elongated drum
The sacred Buddha
The ancient capital of Sri Lanka is surrounded by some of the best tea gardens in the world and with its cultural halo and feel for the old is worth a visit any time of the year.
LUSH green paddy fields and palm fronds give way to an ascending road as you make your way from Colombo to Sri Lanka’s ancient capital, Kandy which lies at 1629 feet above sea level. In the distance, a plateau-like hill called Bible Rock, for whatever reason, makes a grey watercolour background.
The hills here have picturesque names like Camel Hill and Balloon Rock and the highlight of this journey is to catch the elephants before and during their bath at the Pinnewela elephant orphanage. About 80km northeast of Colombo, the orphanage is said to have the biggest herd of captive elephants in the world.
Even as our local guide went on about the exploits and benevolence of Surasuradiyan, a local Robin Hood-type character who lived in the area once, my mind was preoccupied with the elephants. We were there in time at Kegalle to watch the baby elephants being fed with giant milk bottles and the big ones posing for photographs with visitors.
It was a sad experience to meet Raju, a blind giant. Poachers and even villagers bent on driving out encroaching animals
in their habitat have injured many wild elephants. There is even a lame one who lost a foot to a landmine, a victim of the
country’s ethnic conflict.
Without human intervention, these pachyderms, many of them motherless babies, would have been unable to cope on their own in the jungle. The orphanage, started in 1975 by the government has around 85 elephants now.
It was soon time for their bath. They marched along in procession, the little ones protected by the big ones, to cross to the other side of the road to reach the river. The road was lined with stalls selling tourist souvenirs, some of them good bargains, but the procession of the majestic animals beats any temptations.
Soon it was time for us to say goodbye to the elephants and we were on our way again. A fruit stopover is definitely in the agenda because beckoning from the roadside stalls are mounds of fresh fruits, bananas, especially the red variety, ‘rattukesel’, delicious ‘mangosteens’ and the local variety of coconuts.
Sufficiently stuffed, we made another stopover at a famous Ayurvedic farm. The properties of familiar plants for curative power are amazing as an official rattled off the USP of each. At least in one product we had instant proof. Forget depilatory wax for removing hair; a potion dabbed on a friend’s leg made the patch completely hairless by the time we finished our round in the
herbal garden! Apparently Buddhist monks use this age-old plant recipe to keep their pates shining and without a whiff of a hair.
The excitement of Kandy at its festive best reached us even before we arrived at the city. Rows of stalls selling colourful tit-bits, and food stalls and what not greeted us. There was no dearth of devotees or tourists to experience the festival’s highlights. The demarcated, fenced-in areas lining the main street by which the night procession of decorated elephants travel was already full of people by lunchtime so that they could get the best view.
The streets of Kandy give the feel of a colonial town and historical place juxtaposed together. The road to the holy temple of Dalada Maligawa, which contains the sacred relic of Buddha’s tooth is lined by colonial buildings built by the British. Kandy, which was capital of Sri Lankan kings till the colonists took over in 1815, was and still is a cultural hub of the island country. The magnificent Kandy dance, the elongated drums that accompany them are Sri Lanka’s cultural icons. Kandy was declared a world heritage site in 1988.
Kandy was originally known as Senkadagalapura after a hermit named Senkada who lived there. Many Sinhalese
people still call it Mahanuwara or the Great City. The name Kandy is derived from the word ‘Kanda’, which means mountain. Surrounded by lofty hills, the isolation helped the kings to keep the place safe from invaders.
The Temple of the Tooth, as the Dalada Maligawa is popularly known, was built by the Sri Lankan kings within the royal palace. After all, they were the custodians of the relic. Trays of blue lotus, the national flower of Sri Lanka, line the shiny brass fence of the temple. Upstairs, murals show the story of the journey of the tooth from India in the 4th century CE, which was secretly
brought by Danta and Hemamala, said to be the son-in-law and daughter of Guhasiva, a Buddhist king in Kalinga (present-day Orissa) who feared its destruction at the hand of Hindu zealots and invading kings from neighbouring kingdoms. It is recorded that the prince and the princess dressed as ascetics and carried the relic hidden within the coiffure of Hemamala.
Idols of Buddha made from different materials and presented by different Buddhist countries adorn many corners of the vast temple complex. It is interesting to see the devotees, silent and praying with utter concentration at the outer ring of the sanctum sanctorum.
The tooth is now hidden beneath six caskets of diminishing size. None of the dirt or noise that are encountered in many temples back home in India are in evidence here and this creates a calm and serene atmosphere.
The evening procession, if one is lucky enough to be there during Perahara festival in August is something not to be forgotten in a hurry. It is simply magnificent. But even at other times, Kandy surrounded by some of the best tea gardens in the world and with its cultural halo and feel for the old, is worth a visit any time of the year.