Sweet like Kandy boy
Our visit to Kandy was a late one in terms of the usual path around Sri Lanka. Situated at the western gateway to Hill Country and the Uva province we found ourselves questioned by natives at all times throughout our journey whether or not we had visited the country’s second largest city and former capital. Home to the Sacred Tooth Relic, a tooth stolen from the cinders of Buddha’s pyre and smuggled into the country in the hair of a princess, and also known for its famous Kandyan dances this place attracts countless visitors year round making it a hub of thriving religious culture and tourism. Now that I’ve given you the spiel, it’s time to let you know we didn’t do any of that. In my mind we came here to watch cricket, and that’s exactly what we did. We spent a couple of days prior to the test match researching on how to get advance tickets to what we imagined would be a ram-packed Pallekele stadium and finally acquiring a pair of binoculars that I had wanted to lay hands on ever since our safari in Yala nearly 7 weeks prior! We took gentle strolls around the lake, spotting birds and lizards as we walked. We stopped off for chilli coated mangos washed down with king coconut milk and laughed as tourists were rejected from the temple with their shorts way above the knee and half way up their arse crack. Some chap outside was making a killing in the sarong trade though, charging the earth for a simple stretch of cloth. Another day took us to the serene Botanical Gardens which was kicked off by an eager early colonialist in Colombo. Before long it was noted that the more lustrous climes of Kandy may better suit the flora and so it was meticulously moved 150km further inland where it proceeded to flourish into the lush gardens of today. A lovely reminder of a stroll through Tatton Park, watching families picnic on the green and settle in under a tree for a passing shower, no matter where we go we always see a little bit of home.
During our time here we had a pleasant stay with Morris at our hotel and an excellent time eating next door where we met Prakash and his family. Prakash had spent nine years working in various petrol stations across the UK and Europe, leaving in 2006, as he obviously saw the credit crunch coming a mile off. As is the standard in this country, we were welcomed like old friends and shared tea with him and his family in his home and saw his old photo albums of when he was a young mustacheless hero in the seventies. He greeted us warmly every time we returned tired from the cricket
Now some of you may be thinking, why are we missing out on one of the “big” things to do in the country? What’s the logic? Well, let me lay it down. We’ve seen a lot of temples, all shapes and sizes, ages and conditions; some claim to have had the tooth relic pass through, some claim to even still have one. There is a thing in this country that is one of my only pet peeves. The government ramp up prices for tourists by up to 300 times the price in places versus the price for locals, with this one currently in the process of doubling its entry price by Jan 17. Now I understand that it is necessary to generate income from tourism, this is fine, many countries do it and it is a staple of the local people. My issue is that in this country, the exorbitant ticket prices are not in any way linked to revenue reinvestment into the tourist trade. It simply goes straight back into the coffers of the government. This leaves us poor backpackers, who are not the flash cash chinese, to suffer at the mercy of no information boards, no leaflets or pamphlets, and no tour guides that won’t lend an ear without first crossing their palms with a paper-polymer note. To be slightly fair, there were some information boards in Anuradhapura but not anywhere near enough to justify the $25 entry price to the Sacred City. Thank the Lord for National Trust and British Heritage back home, at least Blighty and most of Europe are getting something right these days!
Now onwards and upwards to the cricket. This bit may be a bore for some of you and you are free to skip over it, but bear in mind, you are just reading a paragraph in a blog, dear old Gemma managed to endure all five of the glorious days! To set the scene for the non-cricketers out there, the Sri Lankan team have been performing very poorly! They lost badly to India, New Zealand and then lost comprehensively to England over the last year and are in ruins in terms of their squad. They’ve lost key players that have meant that old hats that remained have had to step up and deliver, which up until now they just haven’t done. Enter stage right a bunch of young, up-start newbies ready and eager to prove their worth with both bat and ball. Most notably for me was a chinaman named Lakshan Sandakan, with the term chinaman being a description of how he bowls the ball as a left handed wrist spinner, not a description of his ethnicity. A definite one to keep an eye on in the coming years, alongside the already now famed Kusal Mendis who single handedly saved the game with his second innings total of 176. Many records were set in this game including an incredible 154 dot balls in the second Australian innings, which according to the media was down to the Aussies simply batting for the draw and nearly all neglected to mention that O’Keefe, the Oz number 8 batsman, had pulled his hamstring in the third day of play and was unable to be substituted and so hence why there was no running between the wickets. All in all a ripping five days, with plenty of dropped evening sessions due to bad light and rain but nonetheless each day provided a stellar days play as we watched the undoing of the world’s number one test team be comprehensively out bowled and batted by the locals. One to go down in the history books I reckon as the point at which Sri Lanka bounced back from the brink of collapse. May I also add that the entry fee was a mere £1 for a top grandstand seat and throughout the whole five days a total of £22 each was spent on tickets food, drinks and local memorabilia. Talk about affordable spectator sports!
Now I could write of beer snakes, streakers, Big Merv and broken records but all that can be found on Facebook, yet most importantly as always was the company we shared during our experience. Our self titled “Colonial support contingent” was backboned by myself, Gemma, Oli, Tom with the rivals being Chris and Mike from down under and we shared almost all the days together before some of the Aussie fans had to peel away to see the sights of the country. Incidentally, Tom and I shared quite a number of mutual friends, him being the president of the Liverpool Medical Student Society and me being friendly with quite a number of medics myself meant a pleasant overlapping of memories.
It was a fantastic way to end our tour of this country, having seen nearly all it had to offer us over the past two months. We are based now in Negombo, about 10km from the airport and readying our trip to India. Our target is Tamil Nadu in the southeast of the country which boasts temples galore and a rich colonial history. The language spoken there is Tamil, which I was lucky enough to pick up some phrases during our time in Vavuniya (from the local cricket team, remember!). Preparing for our 2.30am flight which will drop us into the crazy Chennai at 5am after which we will be doing our utmost to escape the clutches of the city and head for saner life in the outlying districts. Quick skinny on the numbers shows Tamil Nadu to have a population 8 million higher than the UK in an area half the size. Can’t wait for my personal space to be violated.