Gazing at the 'gems' of Sri Lanka
By Priyamvadha Balaram
Sri Lanka has a myriad of destinations to experience amid contrasting weather conditions and changing landscapes, such that steering away on a one hour drive from a given point will transport you to a different setting altogether. Two such places offering pleasant experiences to tourists looking to explore something other than the capital or the pilgrim routes, are Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. I took a short detour while doing the Ramayan circuit while on a trip to Sri Lanka in August and went to Kandy, which is about one hour from Colombo and Nuwara Eliya, which is about two hours from Kandy.
Having planned a one night halt in Kandy, I stayed right next to the Isini Gems retailers which has a mini gemological museum with video presentations and exhibits depicting how gems were extracted from the earth. Kandy is known for different kinds of gems like sapphires, cat's eye, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, amethyst, etc. and there are several retailers specialising in original gems. The gem museum overlooks the Kandy Lake which is the icon of the city.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a must visit for anyone new to Kandy. The temple preserves the tooth of Lord Gautam Buddha.
It is one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage centres in the world, drawing thousands of Buddhists from all over the world, Chinese being their No. 1 in terms of visiting worshippers.
The tooth is preserved beneath seven golden caskets inside the sanctum sanctorum that is surrounded by elaborately embellished interiors showing intricate Buddhist paintings and carvings.
The present day temple stands restored after it came under terrorist attacks some years ago.
Kandy has many other attractions like the Botanical Gardens and the Royal Palace. The complex of the Royal Palace of Kandy once included the royal conference hall and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. But now, only a part of the original palace remains.
This part has been converted into the National Museum of Kandy.
The next morning, I checked out and went to Nuwara Eliya, the hill town of Sri Lanka, also the erstwhile getaway of the colonial rulers.
Needless to say, the temperatures dipped sharply as we ascended up the town which is flanked by tea plantations and tea factories along the hills.
I stayed at the St. Andrew's Hotel which was built in 1875 by the British and the property has passed a few hands before it became a club and now a hotel.
The hotel, however, retains the original design. I took a one hour tour of the Glenloch Tea Factory to see how the green tea leaves metamorphose into the brown aromatic beverage that the world adores.
There is also an outlet selling various grades and varieties of teas. Nuwara Eliya maintains the old world charm with many heritage structures standing as testimony to the bygone colonial era.
The Nuwara Eliya Post Office is one of the oldest post offices in the country, built in 1894.
The sun set rather early as we drove past the magnificent Lake Gregory, built during the time of the British Governor Sir William Gregory. Tourists and locals come to the lake for short picnics and to relax during the evenings.
There are several picturesque places in the vicinity that have drawn Indian filmmakers, said my chauffeur, as he took me from one Indian restaurant to another only to find long lines of Europeans waiting to dine. Indian food is not hard to find by in Sri Lanka, yet, I recommend that one try the local cuisine which is made using similar ingredients and spices as ours but still stands apart distinctively. For those looking at a short getaway from India, Sri Lanka is an attractive option, as was evident from the number of Indians I met throughout my stay, and Kandy and Nuwara Eliya are sure to impress one with the best of history, nature, culture and food.
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