Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ceylon Dreams IV: Sweet Kandy

You know the kind of vacation in which you wake up late, stretch luxuriously in a soft bed with creamy white sheets and feathery pillows and then keep lying for another hour or so, languid and lazy? The kind where you spend half the day indoors on a comfy couch in front of the TV or by the hotel pool ordering pink cocktails and mango juice? Yeah, I don’t do those.
I guess you could call me annoyingly perky and organized but I prefer the word adventurous or the phrase ‘making the most of a holiday’. And you might curse me when it’s time to wake up but later on you’ll like me – when we avoid traffic and long queues or see a beautiful garden or a quaint café all without getting lost more than once. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy getting lost and just strolling aimlessly in a neighborhood but I always have a plan A – and usually plan B.

Now my husband – not so much. It’s kind of like a see-saw, it takes a few tries but eventually you can reach that balance in which neither of you is stuck at the bottom (of course, if it was actually a see-saw then hanging in a balance is actually a pretty boring position but in life it feels good.)
So I was up, dressed and done with my first cup of coffee and conversation with Bernard by the time Fahad rolled out of bed. I also had to push our breakfast time to 10 am, apologetically lying that my husband wasn’t feeling well after our arduous (!) journey yesterday.

It was a beautiful day in Kandy, the sun was out, the sky was a fresh happy blue but there were plenty of large white clouds too, a morning breeze fluttered the green leaves and orange flowers on the trees in our garden. A stone bench and wrought iron table on a small square of grass overlooked the city of Kandy, probably the highlight of our Airbnb apartment.


Bernard invited us up for breakfast where his cook had laid out a scrumptious spread, string hoppers, potato curry, the fried coconut masala, curried jackfruit, scrambled eggs, toast, fruit and coffee.
Bernard’s apartment was also sparse, lots of open space, two dining tables for his guests and a couple of sofas. He had photographs of his daughters on a cabinet along with books and their degrees. Their bedrooms were on the mezzanine floor and the kitchen was the busiest looking part.

Bernard’s cook was also a tuk-tuk driver and he took us to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, a few miles just outside of the main Kandy city. We spent the entire morning in the gardens, walking the beautifully maintained paths through trees from around the world. The botanical garden had its roots in the 1800s (roots! get it? haha.) and there were some enormous trees with trunks so wide you would need five long-armed people standing finger to finger with their arms stretched out to go around it! Lots of palm trees and bamboo clusters as well, with the paper-thin barks of bamboo rolled up like rough parchment paper on the grounds, secret messages from the squirrels to the bees.
The friendly wind kept us cool and we had a lovely morning, ending it with iced tea from the café.

We went to the city center next which was chock full of buses – I had no idea Kandy was such a central point for travel. We went to the famous Kandy Muslim Hotel; I tried to calm Fahad’s apprehensions about the name, quoting my favorite travel website's reviews but it wasn’t till he actually tasted the food that he admitted it was a great decision. The hotel, which is actually a two-storied restaurant (perhaps it had some rooms too) in the bustling market area, was famous for its samosas, rice curries and parathas. We had a very buttery, heavy meal of soft doughy parathas broken into pieces and fried with chicken and veggies, absolutely delicious. A definite thumbs-up! The restaurant has a fairly roadside casual diner feel to it with dingy lighting, whirling fans and plastic table covers, but the food is delicious, the service quick and we sat by the windows through which the breeze kept us cool. By now the morning’s white clouds had turned darker, heavier.

We walked around the market, sat in the small square because we liked the song choice of some local boys who had set up a barbeque grill there. Later as we looked for a money exchanger, a man heard us and told us he knew of a jewelry shop that would give us a very good rate. I was apprehensive but Fahad said that’s just how it works – but the more the man talked, the more uncomfortable we got, and when he finally took us into a jewelry shop it turned out to be a Pakistani family’s and the men there didn’t seem too excited, they told us to come back later.

The man who had taken us there told us to follow him to another shop but we were pretty sure we didn’t want to – we tried to be polite and firm but he was one leechy man! It finally ended with us asking a tuk-tuk driver to take us somewhere and that man shouting ‘no, don’t take them anywhere! Find another tuk-tuk’ and a final farewell ‘fuck you!’
After the profusion of politeness and affection we’d been met with in the country, the rudeness of that man struck even more forcefully. The tuk-tuk man looked pretty embarrassed but we decided to just walk away. For some reason, one such fuck-you event seems to happen to us on each journey. Shows you that even the nicest of places have a couple of jackasses – evens the field out more you know!

Just before it started to rain we found a hippy café where the coffee was super expensive but served in beautiful china and the bathrooms clean, and there was wi-fi! Yay. And nice music. What better way to enjoy a downpour in the day than by a large glass window over a cup of strong creamy cappuccino and WhatsApping the perfection to friends back at home?

The rain stopped again and we walked to Sacred Tooth Temple, a lovely compound with fountains right by the lake. It was twilight by now and the light diffused yellow pink blue in the diffused soaked clouds, the air was cool and every now and then it sprinkled. We walked through the temple, read the story of Buddha’s sacred tooth, I got hit on by a 10 year old who told me he loved me and then we decided to head back home because it had started to rain again and I was deathly scared for my camera.

The man at the place where we had kept our shoes gave us a discount because we were their ‘Pakistani brothers’ and on our way back we stopped at a cute bar where we sat on the balcony while the old man in a cowboy hat inside played Christmas music.

We picked up sandwiches from our halal restaurant again, and ate inside our room, following the meal with a couple of rounds of Monopoly Deal.

Nothing like a lack of technology to bring a couple closer together and bond over card games. Not that we didn’t try – we went to a DVD store but they didn’t have USBs and the only thing we had was Fahad’s work laptop which didn’t have a DVD player (yeah, like what?!). The shop didn’t have any USBs so we made our peace with an early night (not much to do in Kandy at night but that’s what makes the days more fulfilling and beautiful). And really, one of my favorite things about Sri Lanka was the lack of TVs in the houses.

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