Exploring Kandy

 

 

Travelling to Kandy from Colombo was our first time using public transport in Sri Lanka and after spending so long travelling India we were pretty sure we knew what to expect but it’s always daunting the first time you travel in a new country.

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Clock Inn were really helpful with our planning and said we didn’t even need to prebook train tickets, which we found hard to believe! Following their advice we got to Colombo train station, purchased our tickets and boarded the train with no problems at all which was a pleasant surprise. Although we bought second class tickets we had to sit in third class due to a lack of seats but this wasn’t a problem and we couldn’t really tell the difference between the classes. The journey itself took just over four hours and it was beautiful as we left behind the bustling city and headed for the mountains. It felt so much easier than travelling by train in India and we also met the kindest lady who bought us some peanuts even though she didn’t speak a word of English!

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Kandy itself is the second largest Sri Lankan city and a lot of travellers use it to explore surrounding areas. We booked the Kandy day trip with ‘Perry’ via Clock Inn at 2500lkr for both of us and although it was a bit more expensive than what the local tuc tuc drivers offer we still had a great day and couldn’t fault the service.

First stop on the tour was the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, however we decided to skip this due to the controversial stories of the elephant welfare and Perry very kindly instead took us to an additional three temples which were off the beaten track, away from the tourists and very sacred. One of them actually appears on the 500 rupee note!

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Another stop on the tour included a tea factory and plantation which was great. Although we’ve visited the tea plantations in Munnar this was just as good and really informative. The local girls presenting the tour were excellent and the tea sample with the honey sugar cubes was delicious!

We requested to stop off at a spice plantation as believe it or not it’s something we’ve never done before. Again it was really interesting and we thoroughly enjoyed it, the highlight being the rare baby pineapple plants which were the cutest things ever. We wanted to take them home but we’re not sure customs would have allowed that!

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We decided to skip the Botanical Gardens as at 1500 rupees each we didn’t think we would make the most out of it, being 147 acres in size there was no way we would get around them quickly!

The Big Buddha was the highlight of our trip, the giant white statue towers over the entire city and we were surprised that when we arrived there weren’t many tourists so we could enjoy the peaceful temple and beautiful views to ourselves. Unfortunately we can’t say the same the the Temple of the Tooth which we were quite disappointed with. Of course if you’re visiting Kandy this is probably number one on your to-do list but for us it was very underwhelming. The tooth only comes out once every five years and the temple itself wasn’t as spectacular as many others we’ve seen.

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In Kandy we found a couple of great eateries including Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar, also known as the Bamboo Garden to the locals, which served up delicious Chinese food, beers and cocktails and even showed the football to K’s delight. It had such a relaxed vibe and offered incredible views of the city so it’s definitely worth a visit. Our other favourite was Buono, not really a dinner option but it’s excellent to grab a drink and a snack. It’s so tiny and really hidden away but had a lovely atmosphere and offers fab milkshakes, cakes and three varieties of burgers which were actually quite good! It was a funny little place and somewhere the local uni students used as their hang out, a good way to experience a bit of the young Kandy culture.

Unfortunately during our time in Kandy we both came down with the Sri Lankan ‘Delhi Belly’ and therefore didn’t get to do as much as we wanted, including a trip to Adam’s Peak. We did however research this thoroughly and many travellers either use Kandy as a hub to do day trips to the surrounding areas including Dambulla and Sigiriya or you can use it as a short stop on the way to your next destination which is what we did. It’s a really friendly little city and we loved the cleanliness, people and the sights it had to offer.

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A weekend in Hampi

Would you believe until a few months ago despite having travelled all over India in 2015 we had never heard of Hampi! It wasn’t until we met at group of guys travelling India by bike at Our Home that we were recommended to visit. It was only then that we started seeing Hampi pop up all over the place online and on various travel blogs, so we decided we had to go!

Where to stay

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We spent quite a lot of time browsing online to find the right accommodation. There seemed to be two options; very cheap or very expensive. Neither of these were what we wanted and it appeared that the only mid-range hotel at £25 per night was Clarks Inn, little did we know when we booked this place what a gem we had found. In prime location we were warmly greeted by friendly, confident and efficient staff, often quite hard to find in India unless you are staying in a luxury hotel. The room was great with lots of space, high ceilings, clean white walls and white bed sheets (a favourite of ours!) with good air con, a TV and spacious bathroom. The only downside was that the wifi didn’t quite reach our room but we couldn’t complain with such comfortable surroundings and so much to do in Hampi. The hotel also had a lovely swimming pool which was an added bonus and absolutely perfect after a long day exploring the local ruins and the onsite restaurant also served up good food either in the pleasant restaurant or as room service. We really couldn’t recommended this hotel highly enough.

What to do

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There are a few options to explore Hampi including by bike/scooter, push bike, tuctuc and taxi. Anyone that chooses the push bike option deserves a medal as in 40+ degrees we wouldn’t even attempt it! Being completely honest we rushed into a decision a bit and when our hotel offered a luxury AC car for the day at only 1500 rupees we jumped at the chance. This is very cheap for a day tour in such good transport but we’re sure a tuc tuc would have been much cheaper and just as good so you should shop around first!

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The tour will see you cover most of Hampi and you will quickly see what a fascinating place it is. We won’t go into too much detail as we don’t want to spoil the surprises you have in store but a few of our favourite spots included Hemakuta Temple Hill which offered fantastic views and takes you away from the tourists. Sasivekalu Ganesha is an impressively large statue of Ganesh and there are plenty more beautiful temples to see with each as impressively ancient as the next with probably too many to list! The Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, Guards Quarters and Queens Bath are just a few and each one is stunningly interesting in its own way.

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The bazaar is located just next to Virupaksha Achyutaraya Temple and is a backpacker’s paradise. Full of handmade products, elephant pants, slogan t-shirts and plenty of eateries this place is a must visit. We also noticed that it’s surprisingly cheap so we would recommend not bargaining too hard here, remember that extra 20p to you can be a lot to the locals.

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Now obviously it depends on what side of the river you are staying on but for us over the river was the other side of the main temples and bazaar. We had read that ordinarily you can catch a boat over for very little, however, we were surprised and saddened to see that the water was so shallow due to the drought we could simply walk right over. We initially thought we may get a tuc tuc to see the sights on the other side but soon realised this wasn’t the thing to do. We hired a scooter for 300 rupees and it was so relaxed, as long as you returned it in good condition! We recommend you go on a long drive past the lake and take in the gorgeous views. There are also quite a few temples to see but none better than Hanuman Temple. We made the mistake of climbing up at midday but if you set off early the climb shouldn’t be too hard. Although the temple hasn’t got that much of a wow factor, the views you’re rewarded with make it so worthwhile.

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Where to eat

There are plenty of places to eat around Hampi and we will start with our hotel. Even if you’re not staying in Clarks Inn we would recommend paying them a visit for dinner. The restaurant is really nice and is a welcome break from all of the backpacker places if you fancy something different and the food is good with reasonable prices.

In the Bazaar we originally wanted to try Funky Monkey but was closed so we opted for the highly recommended Mango Tree and we can certainly say it lived up to expectations! We both went for a pizza each and finished the lot. They were as good as a pizza can be in India and we also noticed lots of people ordering the Indian dishes and they also looked and smelt great!

Over the river you can get beers nice and easily which is always a bonus in India. We followed the signs to The White Elephant but ended up eating in a place just opposite as it was a lot busier. Unfortunately we had to wait over an hour for the food which was just above average, so although we didn’t try it, we would suggest sticking to The White Elephant!

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Our time in Hampi was unexpectedly brilliant. We didn’t know what we were going to find and were so happy with our few days exploring this ancient city and enjoying our accommodation. It is now up there with one of our favourite places in India so if you’re travelling south you can’t miss it!

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Luxury, defecation & animal abuse.

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India is a country that grows on you. That can be a positive and a negative but for us, it meant both. As we left Chennai, we felt safe in the knowledge that we knew India now, we’d been there a week so we were total experts and knew exactly what to expect. WRONG.

As we moved towards the southernmost tip of India we stopped off in Madurai for a few days of luxury and normality. We knew the service in India could be excellent once you put your money where your mouth is but we were still awestruck with the exceptional customer service laid on at our disposal.

We stayed at the JC Residency in Madurai, a four star rated hotel with prices ranging from £30-£70 per night which is quite a lot for India and for a backpacker but it was definitely worth it! After a 17 hour night train from Chennai, with half the night sleeping with one eye open and the other clinging to your bed for dear life as the train stormed through the countryside, we finally reached our destination in the early hours of the morning. We managed to get to the hotel unscathed and unharassed but still five hours too early for check-in. Nevertheless, the welcoming staff carried our backpacks through the marble corridors and guided us to our room.

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Air conditioning was the first magical feeling that lifted us off our feet then we slumped into the abyss of a huge super king sized smothering you in glorious silk. After an eternal sleep we awoke to take a look round our new surroundings; oak furniture, flat screen tv, dressing gowns and slipped as well as the almighty air conditioning that we craved so much during our travels. We spent the day relaxing by the pool and soaking up the sun, taking a break from the trials of travelling. It was a real haven yet just outside the large iron gates was the same dusty floor and rubbish littered streets that have become India’s trademark.

In surroundings of such elegance, beauty and sophistication, the rest of the country was still steeped in a hazy dream of what could have been and what it could become. This was true of many parts of India, even the much coveted Taj Hotel in Mumbai which we will talk about at a later date. Still this is why we loved India, we didn’t come for the luxury, we came for the experience, and soon ventured out to see what Madurai was all about.

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We walked a few hundred yards to a local restaurant and were warmly welcomed by a group of Indian women who had clearly never seen tourists before from outside their own nation. After a few smiles we ordered some biryani which came out on a giant banana leaf smothered in dahl. No fancy china, no silver service and not even any cutlery, but we loved it! We chomped our way through the delicious rice dish and gained a few pitiful smiles as the staff watched us struggling to eat the last grains of rice with our fingertips.

Walking through the streets in this small but captivating town, we started to enjoy India again. We decided to visit the Sri Meenakshi temple and were blown away by the incredible colours spread throughout this huge complex. We actually arrived on a Hindu holiday to the temple which meant it was crowded with people but we still had a fantastic time. India is overcrowded in the majority of places you visit so you will soon become used to thinking you live on the Central Line with no personal space and extreme levels of sweat.

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We had a great day exploring the temple, however, the whole experience was violated as we were leaving this wonderful arena of serenity. Right by the front entrance, was a huge elephant that was chained by the ankles and being beaten with a man and a stick to collect money from visitors with it’s trunk. We were shocked. Of course the many Indian tourists, blinded by their faith in religion were helplessly throwing themselves at the animal in a bid to be the next person to have their money snatched from there palms. As each person wielded away in delight, they openly chose to ignore the fact that the money was being pocketed by the evil man behind the elephant with the stick.

As we approached closer, we noticed the elephant was rocking back and forth and clearly agitated and depressed. This was a living creature, clearly torn from its home and family and forced into working for a man in a confined space for such a large and magnificent animal. Kieran is fluent in Punjabi and can converse in Hindi so he confronted the man and questioned him on how putting this poor animal through extreme suffering is of any use to anyone. When told that these animals were near extinction because of treacherous acts such as these, the man merely shrugged and continued to count his money.

We understand religion can bring people hope, peace and sometimes happiness, but it can also bring insanity, depression and oppression. After working in Thailand to help protect elephants, we were devastated to see that in the 21st century people could still not look beyond their phone screens and use their eyes to see that this was an animal that was severely mistreated for their pleasure.

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Moving on from the wondrous JC Residency, we headed further south to Kanyakumari, probably one of the worst destinations of our travels and one place that we will certainly never be heading back to.

Arriving in the town, we had high hopes of a reasonably developed area on the seaside with various restaurants and sights to see including the Thiruvalluvar Statue, a 40m sculpture of a famous Tamil poet. With many shops and a wide range of hotels, we reclined back into our rhythm of budgeting and picked out a reasonably priced hotel which was relatively close to the sea front.

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After checking into to our room, our trip to India took a downward spiral that seemed to have no end in sight. The hotel was filthy, covered in dead flies and the staff were about as useful as sunglasses at night. We decided to explore our surroundings by taking a walk to the ‘beach’ to brighten our spirits but stepping outside the hotel did nothing to quell our worries. The ‘beach’ was gross and full of people washing, urinating and even to our horror, defecating. It was an incredibly poor area and many people had clearly never seen a Caucasian person before. Being a mixed raced couple travelling, we’ve had a lot of stares, but the people of Kanyakumari were something else!

People would openly stare and point at us as we walked through the streets with numerous others expressing their disapproval with unkind words in an unfamiliar language. The whole place was filthy and covered in litter, something of a theme in India but this place was next level. Walking through the town you almost felt like you was inhaling diseases.

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Despite all this, we didn’t let these uneducated and ill-mannered people stop us from exploring the town. There are some wonderfully built churches in the region, while the statue and Vivekananda Rock are, being brutally honest, in our opinion are nothing more than okay and we would not recommend any western traveller to visit this region.

India is a beautiful country, with incredible sights and wonderful people, however, Kanyakumari, just seemed like one of those places you find in most countries every once in a while that you just felt like you should have avoided. If this blog has dampened your spirits a bit, we don’t apologise as we believe in giving you an honest opinion, and honestly, we loved India, stick around to see Part 3 of our Asian adventure to find out why.

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