Kandy is a busy town nestled in the mountains of Sri Lanka. After a day spent walking and exploring the city center and some out of the way mountain streets (23 miles on my pedometer), I head out of town for some exploration via car. Things are inexpensive here, so I was able to hire a car and driver for the day. It’s a nice option to have a general itinerary with the flexibility to change on a whim. Surila was better than any NASCAR driver out there…easily careening around a mass of pedestrians, groups of oblivious students, tuk-tuks, vegetable stands, cars passing on our side of the road, and occasional wandering cows and horses. We chatted about his family and shared stories about our countries.
My agenda for the day included a spice garden visit, a stop at a tea factory, and time in Nuvara Eliya. It was a full, but low-key day that I liked a lot. Sometimes, I find tourist stops to feel contrived for the sake of experience and performance. But, I can’t say that was the case on these visits. I learned a great deal. As I walked through the spice garden, I learned that ginger is actually a plant, not sure why I envisioned a bush, and how to cut cinnamon bark from the tree. I walked through the garden learning the healing and culinary benefits of each plant. I tasted, touched, and smelled so many things and made a mental note that these would be great spices to use if I ever turned on my stove. There were natural cures for every known disease and skin ailment. If I didn’t have to carry them, I would have walked out with a bag filled with products to make me glow.
Next stop was the tea factory. The mountains above the winding road were filled with tea bushes as far as the eyes could see. I watched a ten-ste process for tea-making that made me appreciate my daily dose of Lipton leaves. The factory was hot, and watching the workers made me feel like a pampered brat for each time I uttered a word of complaint about the labors of my workday.
We drove on to Nuvara Eliya to find a lake town filled with sleepy tourists in this land know as Little Brit. There is a relaxed, colonial feel to the town reinforced by the beautifully grand hotels. I stopped at one and was given a peek at the master suite….five rooms of sheer opulence.
We leisurely visited fruit markets and vegetable stands. It’s a known fact that the produce looks the most hearty, fresh, and delicious when you are not allowed to partake. I did contemplate- for a quick second- if the fresh tomatoes might be worth the health risks….but, noooooo!
The only downside to visiting informational spots on your own is that the hosts expect you to ask a lot of questions. When traveling with a larger tour group, I am happy to sit back knowing that my question will either be asked by another or if I can’t live without an answer, can be asked personally during informal group transitions. Being the sole tourist reminds me of the one and only time I sat in the front row of a theater performance…too much pressure to be zealous with positive praise and cheering. The good side of solo touring is stopping wherever I wanted (yum, ice cream). Plus, when the toxic mix of heat, exhaust fumes, and winding road became a bit much, I could ask for a quick Kodak moment to ease my queasy insides -just in the knick of time!
I am back on the train to Negombo and leave for India tomorrow. Sri Lanka was supposed to be a quick rest-stop before the hard work of navigating New Delhi, but I find myself (as is almost always the case) longing for more. I haven’t scratched the surface of this country…there is so much more to see. I am intrigued by the people, the places, the history, and the charm of this interesting place. I generally visit first..research second…and I am anxious to know so much more about Sri Lanka.