Our time in Kandy began in the Udawattakelle Sanctuary, an improbable patch of forest just a short tuk tuk ride from the centre of the cultural capital. The area houses monkeys, spotted deer and spiralling Jungle Book vines, and made for a pleasant hike (though what was nicer was the plate of paratha and coconut sambol we devoured afterwards).
Later, we checked out the Temple of the Tooth: a large temple complex supposedly containing the tooth of Buddha that his disciple Khema pulled from his burning funeral pyre, and Kandy’s main attraction without a doubt. The temple itself is beautiful, lavished with golden elephant statues and colourful ceiling paintings, but we went for the 6:30pm puja (offerings) and were disappointed. The ceremony is run in a military style due to the popularity of the place, with tourists being herded past the altar to watch in shifts, and the flocks of foreigners shamelessly ignoring the signs that read ‘no photos please’ do ruin the experience. It’s not worth it for 1500 rupees – and the tooth is locked away under several layers of steel anyway.
The highlight of Kandy (a town that reminds me of Eastern Europe with its provincial lake trimmed by red-roofed houses) was the dance show at the cultural centre. Tempted in by a handsome Sri Lankan dancer with excellent sales skills, we spent an hour in the upper circle of the town hall-cum-theatre watching a spectacle of traditional Ceylon dance, replete with fire-breathing, backflips and alarming chicken masks. Book your ticket at least an hour ahead of time to get a good seat.
From Kandy we made a one-night trip to Kitulgala, the adventure hub of the island, and stayed in a jungle treehouse hotel overlooking the river called Adventure Base Camp. There we were caught in two apocalyptic thunderstorms, went white water rafting and tried canyoning (jumping from various waterfalls), all of which consisted mostly of us screaming/laughing hysterically and our guide looking vaguely exasperated. It was one of the best 24 hours of the trip so far.
Back in Kandy, we caught the scenic train to the heart of the hill country, meandering through Willy Wonka-esque rows of verdant tea plants to Ella. This stop felt markedly touristy, but almost every restaurant had a generous cocktail menu, so we welcomed it with open arms. We stayed in Tomorrow Land, which is a new hostel taking the backpacker scene by storm. It’s perched at the top of a steep climb with magnificent views of the hills, and is a bit like a hippie commune: a large social area adorned with futons and wall paintings with messages like ‘not all those that wander are lost’, tents and hammocks strewn up outside (you can stay for free if you bring your own), and staff so stoned they couldn’t tell you where the bathroom is if they tried. It’s a fun little place, and located nicely so you can get to the Nine Arches Bridge, a green tea factory that’s open for tours and a secret waterfall the hostel owner recommended (you’ll have to go to find out). I decided that I like Ella.
Next stop: Uda Walawe.