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Buddhaland


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Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Friday, 15 February 2019

Before I left Kandy I decided to send a text message to Sisira, the tuk-tuk driver who rescued me after I got off the train at Katugastota because the platform at Mawilmada was too short. He had given me his number in case I needed his services again.

I had my last breakfast at Traveller's Home and said goodbye to incredibly polite Manik - her equally well-mannered husband Mahesh was at work so I bade him farewell him the night before - and waited out the front for Sisira and his ultra-wide tuk-tuk to appear at half past nine.

My train was scheduled to depart Katugastota at 10:41 so there was plenty of time to accept his offer of a quick tour. First, he drove me to the Polgolla Dam, a wide but not very high concrete dam with ten sluices on the Mahaweli River in Kandy's northern suburbs. This dam is used for hydroelectricity, the impounded water is fed by gravity through mostly underground penstocks to another lower river basin to the north at Ukuwela where there is a hydro power station.

I then asked if we could check out the Katugastota railway bridge. I had crossed this bridge on the train on Wednesday. It's as long and as majestic as anything built by John Whitton, Australia's greatest railway engineer of the nineteenth century.

The Katugastota railway bridge on the Matale Line is a long lattice truss bridge with arched braces over the structural gauge connecting the lattice truss on either side at regular intervals, very similar to the old Meadowbank railway bridge or the old Como railway bridge in Sydney. It is a magnificent old bridge still in regular service. Like all railways in Sri Lanka, the bridge does double duty as a footpath and the bridge had many pedestrians on it.

I was standing at the north end of the bridge at the level crossing taking photographs looking down the bridge. I turned around and right behind me was a train sneaking up on me from behind. I got the fright of my life. The crossing gates hadn't descended and the bells hadn't rung and I was not expecting a locomotive silently coasting along towering above me.

I needn't have worried, the train was only going at walking pace, stopped, and then reversed back to Katugastota yard. It was a neat, very European-looking engine, a Class M5C diesel-electric locomotive, hauling several wagons of concrete sleepers, and it was just shunting onto the passing loop at Katugastota to make way for the next down passenger train at 10:41.

Sisira explained that his tuk-tuk wasn't a taxi, strictly speaking, it was actually a private tuk-tuk for personal use. The tuk-tuk served as his famiky car. But he said nothing was really stopping him from hiring his vehicle out. I got the feeling that he was out of work and looking for a second income. He kept asking me to take a longer tour for a bit of extra money. I looked nervously at my watch and said we didn't have time, but he kept pestering me.

I asked Sisira to just take me to Katugastota station, there was only half an hour until the train and the things he wanted to show me were quite far away. I paid him the agreed price of Rs. 1,500 - quite generous for forty-five minutes' tuk-tuk hire; a whole day typically costs five thousand - and then he pleaded for even more. I got the feeling he was a desperate man, and that the thousand rupees I had given him out of gratitude the other day had gotten his hopes up. I tipped him another couple of hundred but he didn't seem satisfied.

I paid my thirty rupee fare, waited at Katugastota, filmed some of the shunting manoeuvres of the train carrying sleepers, and waited for the 10:41 local train to Matale. There weren't many other passengers. I think we were outnumbered by the three station staff. The over-staffing you find in all government workplaces in Sri Lanka is just ridiculous. Three station staff for a very quiet suburban station that gets six trains a day in each direction is self-evidently absurd. Yesterday I went into the administrative office at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic to ask for directions to a particular pavilion. Inside were six public servants at their desks and every single one of them was just reading a newspaper. National park ranger's offices are the same. Maybe it's all a government make-work scheme to reduce the unemployment rate, or maybe strong unions force the government to never retrench staff in any circumstances. I am an active trade unionist and a socialist but I also love efficiency, productivity and the work ethic. When workers are productive, and compensated fairly for any productivity gains they make, and profits shared with workers in the form of increased pay and conditions, everyone benefits. I fail to see how featherbedding government workplaces like this is good for taxpayers, good for government finances, good for economic growth, good for effective service delivery or even good for the mental health of the workers themselves who do nothing but read newspapers all day. Such a job would drive me insane.

The 10:41 down Matale Line train arrived, an M7 hood-unit locomotive hauling four ancient red carriages. I boarded, the train was nearly empty. I said goodbye to Kandy. Yes, the city centre is an unmitigated dump, truly a hell on earth, and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and its museums were disappointing. But I did find some redeeming features - the Udawattekelle Forest Sanctuary, pleasant and prosperous outer suburbs, a beautiful old railway bridge, green hills surrounding the city and a really nice but hard-to-get-to guest house up high on a ridge with soothing breezes.

The train rattled through the outer suburbs of Kandy and then through scattered pieces of farmland and small villages. The train then climbed into hilly country covered with tall rainforest. It passed under two giant silver pipes, penstocks that carry water from the Polgolla Dam to the Ukuwela hydroelectric power station, and called at various tiny unstaffed halts and larger stations in small towns.

I arrived at the line's terminus at Matale at about 11:37. I looked at Google Maps, there was a bus station only a few hundred metres north. Excellent!

I exited the station and found myself in a congested, dreary town at the bottom of a long valley. The street the station was on was the usual Sri Lankan melange of racing tuk-tuks, honking buses, shelves full of merchandise extruded from shop doors onto the street, nonchalant street dogs and concrete drains. I later learned that Matale's claim to fame is that it is the geographic centre of Sri Lanka.

After about ten minutes I reached the bus station - or not. It was actually a construction site, it looked like the station was being rebuilt. There were a whole lot of buses parked on the street outside preparing to depart, so I asked the conductors and passers-by where buses to Dambulla leave from but I either got no answer - English is surprisingly poor in Sri Lanka considering the country's lengthy history in the British Commonwealth and its free universal education (on paper, at least) - or conflicting useless answers. The bus to Dambulla leaves from the other side of the street! From the railway station! From the next street west! Yes, yes, I know that the inability of many Sri Lankans to give a straight, accurate answer is a cultural difference and that I should try to be more tolerant and understanding yada yada yada. But that doesn't make it any less infuriating.

Eventually one old guy sitting out the front of a shop took pity on me and offered to show the way to the Dambulla bus. I thought he might be looking for payment but he refused to accept a tip, he did it out of altruistic love of humanity and hospitality towards foreigners. Sri Lanka is like this - just when the country sends me almost to the brink of despair, the universe will send someone who restores my faith in the country and its people.

The old man with his Muslim cap couldn't come all the way, but he walked with me for about fifteen minutes and showed me to the street and pointed to a radio tower and banyan tree where the bus stop was located. I thanked him profusely and walked another ten minutes to the stop at a major intersection.

It was still very confusing. Many buses left from inside the acute angle formed by two main roads, more buses left from a yard to the west, and some more left from a stop on the street. I tried asking people where the bus to Dambulla left from but got either blank stares - don't count on English being spoken in towns where tourists never go - or even more conflicting information. I should have just caught a bus all the way from Kandy to Dambulla like a normal person. But I am not a normal person.

Finally a helpful young man who looked like a betel nut-chewing thug but actually had a heart of gold showed me the stop I needed and even hailed a bus for me. Long may he prosper.

I got on the crowded bus. One of the few seats available up towards the front where I stored my backpack was on the left side on the second row. This meant that I got a full view of the road ahead while the bus swerved, honked, sped and overtook overloaded vegetable trucks with three millimetres to spare. I was too busy making the Sign Of The Cross repeatedly to take note of the scenery along the A9 highway. I am not religious at all. But you know what they say - there are no atheists in foxholes or on Sri Lankan buses.

After nearly an hour I hauled my luggage off the bus and stood on the dusty shoulder of a busy highway outside a gleaming golden stupa. It was a walk of about a kilometre to Vihangi Guesthouse on a back street on the south side of Dambulla. On every street I took there were dogs, quite aggressive ones. I find that dogs in large cities are quite harmless and indifferent but in small towns and rural areas they can be quite vicious. My guess is that dogs in rural areas are frightened by the presence of unfamiliar people.

I had to make a very lengthy detour to avoid all the dogs in the early afternoon heat to reach the guest house. I finally reached my accommodation, a large single-storey family home on a generous lot with a smaller building divided into three hotel rooms in the frontyard. Only a girl aged about twelve and her younger sister aged about nine were home, their parents were out of house. I introduced myself and said I had a room booked for the night but they knew very little English and just stared at me blankly.

I also needed a bathroom quite fiercely. I tried communicating this using mime to no avail. I tried Sinhala but had forgotten the word for "toilet". Was it "valikisi"? "Salaviki"? "Vakisili"?

Hopping around while my bladder was about to burst, I ransacked my daypack to find my Sinhala dictionary. I could find everything else except for that. I eventually found it buried under everything else, flicked through the section beginning with T, and found it - "vasikili".

"Vasikili! Vasikili! Vasikili - NOW!" I shouted.

"Ummm, wait. Wait for father. Father coming soon," the older girl said.

"I can't wait. Vasikili - now!" I saw that some of the doors to the accommodation rooms had keys in the door. "Come on, can't I just go into a room and use a toilet?"

"No. I don't know which room for you."

"For bloody hell's sake, I need to go now!" I defied the girl and went into room 1 - I reasoned that a room with a key in the door was not currently in use by a guest. I was right.

Suitably relieved, I waited outside the rooms for about twenty minutes until the owner and his wife had returned from errands. Kumar greeted me and showed me into my room, room 1. I went into the air-conditioned room, my first since Tissamaharama, and rested a while before I tackled my next UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dambulla Temple Cave.

I took a tuk-tuk to the ticket entrance a couple of kilometres away on the other side of the highway and bought a ticket. There was a very steep rock staircase up to the top of a rock monolith. Dambulla lies in the intermediate zone between the Hill Country to the south and the pancake-flat plains of northern Sri Lanka, and the terrain around here is mostly flat country with rocky outcrops poking through the ground like a particularly severe outburst of acne on a teenager's face. Many of these stunning monoliths were used for religious and military and political purposes in Sri Lanka's early history.

After a very steep walk with a vertical gain of about one hundred and twenty metres, I emerged onto an expanse of barren rock near the top of the monolith. There is a little booth where you have to store your shoes for twenty-five rupees and after leaving my shoes there I showed my ticket at the gate and entered the temple complex.

The Dambulla Cave Temple consists of five separate caves, really just rock overhangs. The caves are walled off from the exterior by a long white colonnade; you access the caves through portals inside the colonnade.

If you feel like overdosing on Buddhas, come to Dambulla. The Buddhas were magnificent works of art, some up to two thousand years old, and there are magnificent murals on the ceilings of the caves too. Some Buddhas were standing, other Buddhas were sitting, and I think three very large Buddhas were reclining on their sides as if they were watching Masterchef on Channel 10 after a particularly tiring day at work.

Outside the caves there are great views of the surrounding district, flat green forests, farms and dams studded with soaring rocky outcrops. I descended by a different staircase and ended up at the Golden Temple where I had gotten off the bus from Matale on the A9 highway.

The Golden Temple is very new, I think it was built in 2000. The centrepiece is an enormous golden sitting Buddha statue sitting on top of a white two-storey temple building, the entrance of which is shaped like a dragon's mouth. It all felt very tacky, like a theme park. On the bottom floor was a Buddhist Publication Sales Centre, nearby were the studios of a Buddhist television station, there was a family of fibreglass elephants in a garden next to the temple, there was a walkway through a fake cave grotto lined with hundreds of fibreglass orange standing Buddhas, and out the front was a giant golden stupa to attract passing traffic. The hundreds of howling schoolchildren and a whole fleet of tour coaches in the car park added to the theme park feel. This wasn't a temple. This was Buddhaland. I tried to come up with a marketing slogan. "Come to Buddhaland - Nirvana in just one day!" All that is missing is a ferris wheel in the shape of a chakra and a whitewater rapid ride with vessels shaped like pink lotus blossoms.

After checking out Dambulla's very modest town centre choked with trucks headed for Sri Lanka's main wholesale fruit and vegetable market, I returned to Vihanti Guesthouse too exhausted to do anything except enjoy a yummy rice and curry dinner put on by the hosts.

Polgolla Dam

Polgolla Dam

Katugastota railway bridge

Katugastota railway bridge

The train that snuck up on me at Katugastota

The train that snuck up on me at Katugastota

Train at Matale station

Train at Matale station

Dambulla Cave Temple complex

Dambulla Cave Temple complex

Ceiling mural at Dambulla Cave Temple

Ceiling mural at Dambulla Cave Temple

Meditating Buddha at Dambulla Cave Temple

Meditating Buddha at Dambulla Cave Temple

Standing Buddha at Dambulla Cave Temple

Standing Buddha at Dambulla Cave Temple

Boddhisatvas in Dambulla Cave Temple

Boddhisatvas in Dambulla Cave Temple

Reclining Buddha at Dambulla Caves

Reclining Buddha at Dambulla Caves

Scenery from Dambulla Cave Temple

Scenery from Dambulla Cave Temple

Stupa at Dambulla Golden Temple

Stupa at Dambulla Golden Temple

Golden Temple at Dambulla

Golden Temple at Dambulla

Cave grotto walkway at Golden Temple

Cave grotto walkway at Golden Temple

Fibreglass elephants at Golden Temple in Dambulla

Fibreglass elephants at Golden Temple in Dambulla

Buddha statue at Golden Temple

Buddha statue at Golden Temple

Dambulla Clock Tower

Dambulla Clock Tower

Posted by urbanreverie 21:04 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged trains temples caves buses sri_lanka railways kandy dambulla matale Comments (0)

The sacred toothache

sunny 29 °C
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Kandy, Sri Lanka

Thursday, 14 February 2019

I started the day with another tiring, uncomfortable walk down the hill to Katugastota Bridge to catch a bus into town. The sub-arterial road the guest house is located on has some buses but they don't seem to be very frequent. I saw some coming in the opposite directions and committed their route numbers to memory so I would know which buses to catch back to my lodgings in the evening.

A fifteen-minute bus ride crowded with commuters along a busy dual carriageway with deafening traffic brought me to Kandy's city centre. On the eastern edge of the compact city centre was my next UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

This temple is one of the most sacred sites in Buddhism, one of the world's major religions and the majority religion in Sri Lanka. The temple is the home to one of Buddha's teeth, somebody told me it was one of his molars.

I walked up to the temple gates on the northern shore of Kandy Lake shortly before ten o'clock. I paid the entrance fee, went through a security screening station, and when I emerged some official-looking man in a uniform came up and greeted me and shook my hand.

"Welcome to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Here, you respect Buddhism," he admonished.

"Yes, yes, I know, I respect all religions," I answered.

"Good." I walked on and he followed me. "And this temple was built during the Kingdom of Kandy era and has been home to the Sacred Tooth since--"

"OK. So you are a guide?"

"Yes, I am."

"Very well then. How much do you charge?"

"We can talk about that later."

"No, I would rather settle the price first. So how much do you charge?"

"Three thousand rupees."

That was about twice the entry fee. "No, thanks."

He got desperate and wouldn't leave me alone. "Please, sir. Please. You need a guide. You can't enter without a guide. Please!" Eventually he gave up after he got the hint that my silence meant I didn't want his services.

There is another counter off to the side in front of the temple moat where all visitors are required to leave their shoes, visitors are given a card with three handwritten digits to claim their shoes back later.

I entered the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. There is a large open-air central hall surrounded by galleries and in the hall there is a timber two-storey shrine. Outside the closed door at the bottom of the shrine drummers and a piper were playing some traditional temple music. Everyone went upstairs to the top gallery where there was already a massive queue.

The queue kept growing longer, fatter, denser. The temple was hot and airless. The body heat from thousands of people pushed up against each other made the conditions even worse. It was so bad that even the normally dry and clean Sri Lankans were dripping with sweat.

I joined the queue at ten past ten. The Sacred Tooth Relic was open for viewing at half past ten. I watched the second hand on my watch tick down ever so slowly. If it went any slower it would have been going backwards.

Then on the dot at half past ten - the aperture in the shrine opened. There was a crush. It made the Boxing Day sales at Myer on Pitt Street in Sydney look like a paragon of order and decorum. Such was the devotion among the Buddhists in the crowd, their anxiety to prove their veneration to Buddha's sole bodily remains, that I and all other non-Buddhist visitors were kicked, pushed, tripped and shoved. Even eighty-year-old ladies showed no restraint as I was subjected to what in any other context would be called "aggravated assault" in a court of law.

The torrent of humanity carried me up to the shrine. For all of three seconds - lomg enough for me to throw forty rupees into the offering tray and clasp my hands together in a gesture of respect - I got to see Buddha's tooth.

Or rather, a container which held the tooth. Nobody ever gets to see the actual tooth. It is contained within a golden casket shaped like a Prussian spiked helmet, perhaps a metre tall, with gold threads hanging off it and embellished with gemstones. This casket contains another casket, which contains another casket, and so on, like Russian dolls, and it is only the smallest casket that contains the tooth.

It was underwhelmingly underwhelming. Have you ever heard from people who have visited Copenhagen about how underwhelming the Little Mermaid statue is? The Sacred Tooth was even more underwhelming by many orders of magnitude. I came to Kandy, giving up two nights in a place that I might actually like, for this?

There is, however, more to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic than the sacred tooth relic. At the back of the temple is a long hall, Alut Maligawa, with a large Buddha statue, and the hall is lined with dozens of smaller Buddha statues donated by Thai devotees. Behind that hall on the upper floors is a museum, the Sri Dalada Museum, full of dull yet worthy exhibits relating to the history of the Sacred Tooth.

In a separate building behind the temple, a nineteenth century law court building erected by the British, is the World Buddhism Museum. This museum contains all sorts of artifacts amd reproductions from around the Buddhist world, with each room dedicated to a particular country. All the exhibits were accompanied by dense explanatory notes full of Buddhist jargon that might have made sense to the devout, to the people who have studied for seven years to become a Buddhist monk. But my knowledge of Buddhism is rather introductory level, and consequently the museum bored me out of my wits.

The only thing I found interesting at the temple was a little pavilion off to the side containing the stuffed remains of Raja, a tusker elephant who was captured on the east coast in 1925, sold to the temple in tje 1930s and became a much-loved resident of the temple until he died in 1988. Raja was so popular that when he died the hat was passed around and enough money was raised to preserve him for the enjoyment of future generations.

I spent a long time on the temple grounds not because I enjoyed it, but because the museums and pavilions were quiet, cooler and a respite from the madness outside. It was well into the afternoon when I put my shoes back on and went back out.

I walked a little while along Kandy Lake, past the Queen's Bath, a bathing pavilion built on the lake shore for the personal use of the Queen of Kandy, and back into the city centre.

How could I possibly describe Kandy's city centre? "Lunatic asylum" doesn't even come close. It's a heaving, roaring, dusty, blazingly hot cacaphony of motor vehicles, blaring horns, touts, hawkers, people arguing on the pavements, exhaust fumes and grotty, ill-kempt buildings. Kandy's town centre is about as pleasant as a visit to a council rubbish tip. Being in a valley surrounded by hills, the air pollution here is the worst I have seen in Sri Lanka.

I had some lunch in a food court and I went looking for a bookshop. I wanted to buy an English-Sinhala dictionary. I am falling in love with the Sinhala language and wouldn't mind learning a little bit more of it before I leave. You can't find Sinhala dictionaries in Sydney for love or money.

I found a bookshop, on the top floor of a building down a narrow corridor and up a flight of stairs between a church and what looked to be some sort of service club. I entered a little tiny bit of paradise. With its dark, heavy timber shelves and soft, cool air and soothing paper smell, Expographic is the kind of bookshop they have in heaven.

I found some perfect pocket dictionaries that would fit easily in my backpack without adding much weight. I paid for my purchase and got an unusual coin in my change. I remarked upon it and the young woman behind the counter said she collected coins too. She opened the till and found more older coins that have been superseded by newer designs or alloys. She smiled and I was forever grateful.

I decided to go for a walk to check out the railway station. This is harder than it sounds. Kandy is impossible to walk around. The city council has installed pedestrian barricades along the kerbs of every street in the city centre. I suppose this prevents pedestrians from getting killed. It also prevents pedestrians from participating in simple activities like reaching their destination or getting into a tuk-tuk taxi.

I got lost. The shockingly poor cartography in my Lonely Planet guide conspired with all those stupid pedestrian barricades to send me well off course. I felt like I was a sheep in a shearing shed's pen, unable to go anywhere except where supposedly more intelligent beings determined I was allowed to go.

I ended up in this neighbourhood west of the railway station, lost in a labyrinth of blind alleys and Escher-like staircases that went nowhere. I was walking down one staircase when I saw about one metre in front of me a dangling wire. I looked at it, it was an electrical connection from a nearby power pole to a house on the other side of the staircase. It was at about forehead height. A live wire, strung across a public stairway at forehead height. Seriously, do they hire electrician's apprentices in Kandy from the graduate pool at schools for the intellectually challenged? I watched what others were doing, they all just ducked by instinct, they all long knew the wire was there. If I survive the remaining week of this holiday, I shall be doing well.

I emerged from the stairway into one of Kandy's three bus stations and the main one for longer-distance services, the Goods Shed bus station. I have never seen a bus station like it. It was a logjam of buses going left, going right, going forward, reversing, but with no bus able to move because too many other buses were in the way. The only way pedestrians could move through the station was to wriggle their way between the buses. This is what I was doing when a bus driver decided to chuck his gears into reverse and start moving back even though there was another bus a few inches behind him, with me between the two vehicles. I jumped out just in time.

I took some photographs of the station from the outside and then went to a nearby tourist information centre. I had two questions which I assume would be quite common queries from visitors:

(1) What bus routes go to where I am staying and where do they leave from?

(2) Where can I top up my mobile SIM card?

There were four employees in the tourist information centre. I had committed the bus route numbers I saw outside my guest house that morning to memory but I had forgotten them. It was that kind of hot, sultry, intense, tiring day where my brain starts short-cifcuiting. When I asked about the bus routes, I got four different answers. Try the 691 from the Goods Shed! The 538 from Senanayake Street! The 632 from the Clock Tower!

It was the same with my mobile phone recharge. My Sri Lankan mobile provider, Dialog, is one of the largest and most popular. Usually in most towns you can find a place that has a Dialog sign on every street corner, but I hadn't seen any in Kandy city centre. I thought the tourist information centre might help but I got the same useless, conflicting, inaccurate information. There's a Dialog kiosk opposite the Temple! No, there's a newsagent on Dalada Vidiya! There's one at the Clock Tower bus station! I decided to try the Clock Tower bus station right behind the information centre but I couldn't see anything. I propose that we rename that office the Kandy Tourist Disinformation Centre. Absolutely bloody useless.

I went back east trying to find a place that sold Dialog mobile phone recharges but all I could see was useless junk of the sort you find at weekend flea markets in suburban Sydney - beads, mobile phone covers, plastic booby pins and the like. Eventually the heat got to me and I had to go and sit down for a long time in a bakery with an ice cold bottle of water. The temperature in Kandy wasn't that hot, 29 °C, but combined with the humidity, the exhaust fumes, the unrelenting sun and the sheer mass of people on the streets, it was too much.

I eventually found a Dialog retailer, a watch repair joint. I went up to the counter. "Hello, I'd like to top up my Dialog SIM card, please."

"No, we do not sell SIM cards here, we only sell recharges."

"Yes, and I would like to recharge my SIM card, please."

"I am sorry, but we do not sell SIM cards here."

"No. I don't want to buy a SIM card! I just want to recharge my SIM card with more data."

"I said, we do not sell SIM cards here."

I snapped. "Listen! I. Do. Not. Want. To. Buy. A. SIM. Card! I. Only. Want. To. Buy. More. Data!"

"Very well. Ninety-nine rupees for two gigs."

I had turned into the very thing that I hate - the ignorant tourist who shouts condescendingly at the locals. But you would understand if you went through what I go through when communicating with some of the locals.

I headed even further east. About a kilometre east of the city centre is a forested hill, the Uduwattekelle Forest Sanctuary. I paid my admission of nearly seven hundred rupees and entered into the cool, moist rainforest. This is just what I needed. There was a large pond, the Royal Pond where the King of Kandy used to bathe, and a lookout over the city - from a distance Kandy is very pretty with its jewel of a lake and its temple complex and its situation in a bowl of jagged green hills fringing the urban area - as well as an extensive network of forest paths.

I stayed in there until closing time at half past five. My Lonely Planet warned me about muggers in the park but the only scary thing that happened was some monkey high up in a tree dropping something heavy that landed on the ground right behind me - I think it was a breadfruit.

I left the park and caught a bus back up the Katugastota Road. I got off before the bridge to have a burger dinner - I crave Western food every now and then - and buy some water, fruit and snacks at Cargills. I waited for a bus back to the guest house but every time a bus came the conductor would say it wasn't going there. I tried asking other waiting passengers which bus I needed but they couldn't help me.

In some respects public transport in Sri Lanka is far better than in Australia. During the day at least, buses are so frequent that wherever you are in the country you do not need to wait longer than ten minutes. But in most respects Sri Lankan public transport is far worse - antiquated, uncomfortable and unsafe buses; shocking driving standards; no disability access; and perhaps most importantly for the traveller, bugger-all public transport information.

No maps. No timetables. No lists of routes. No websites. No displays at bus stops showing which buses go where. Nothing. All one can do is ask other people at bus stations which buses go where and hope that they are telling the truth.

The only information I have been able to find is one website, routemaster.lk, which I presume is the personal project of a public transport enthusiast. It lists the major destinations of each route with a low-resolution Google Maps screenshot zoomed right out. But even it is missing many routes, the search function is sketchy at best, and it doesn't tell you which bus station or stand a route leaves from.

After waiting twenty minutes I gave up and waved down a tuk-tuk.

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Drummers and a piper playing at entrance to Sacred Tooth shrine

Drummers and a piper playing at entrance to Sacred Tooth shrine

The shrine that contains the Sacred Tooth on the upper foor

The shrine that contains the Sacred Tooth on the upper foor

See that bright golden bell-shaped thing? The Sacred Tooth is in that.

See that bright golden bell-shaped thing? The Sacred Tooth is in that.

Buddha statue in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Buddha statue in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Raja the tusker elephant

Raja the tusker elephant

Queen’s Baths on Kandy Lake

Queen’s Baths on Kandy Lake

Kandy Lake

Kandy Lake

Kandy railway station

Kandy railway station

This is why pedestrians can’t have nice things

This is why pedestrians can’t have nice things

Royal Pond in Udawattakelle Forest

Royal Pond in Udawattakelle Forest

Udawattakelle Forest Sanctuary

Udawattakelle Forest Sanctuary

Kandy from Udawattakelle Forest Reserve

Kandy from Udawattakelle Forest Reserve

I don’t think that’s how “Colgate” is spelled

I don’t think that’s how “Colgate” is spelled

Posted by urbanreverie 21:50 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged temples rainforest buses sri_lanka kandy sacred_tooth Comments (0)

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