First off I do apologize for not writing any posts from Sri Lanka except for the one I wrote about my arrival here. The truth is that I’ve been quite disconnected since coming here from most of the world. I haven’t done it on purpose, but I’ve been so busy with people here and the heat has really gotten to me. I know that I complain constantly about the heat, but the heat here is really something else! I even told Nuzaifa from Say it With Books that I was having trouble just staying awake during the afternoons because of the heat. Complete sidenote, my meeting with Nuzaifa was the first time I’ve actually met another fellow blogger and it was wonderful! I’m sad that we couldn’t chat for a long time, since I’m pressed for time now that I’m going back to Canada on the 21st of April. Next time Nuzaifa, our meeting will be longer lol! Also another side note, Postcards! I wrote over 20 postcards to my friends and others. I’ve mailed all of them now and I hope that everyone I sent out postcards to will receive them at some point! I do know that some of you may get the postcards once I return to Canada! If you can let me know if you do receive them, I’d really appreciate it!
Going back to the disconnection, like I said while I haven’t done it on purpose, a part of me has been thankful for it because it gives me time to spend with my grandparents and family. These are people I don’t see on a constant basis, so when I get to see these people in person, I’m really happy. While I was mulling over the lack of blog posts that I haven’t written a friend of mine told me “The reason I haven’t spoken to you in all this time (when I asked her if she received the Birthday card I sent her) is because I wanted you to be disconnected from everything and enjoy your time there. I was going to speak to you once you got back to Canada” and I was so thankful for her answer. It made me feel less guilty about not posting since March and staying in touch with people. Anyways tomorrow is my New Year here and I’m hoping that I’ll have the chance to write a food post about it this week before I return. Right now though, I wanted to share my experience of going to Kandy and to the Hotel Tree of Life which was previously my Paternal Grandmother’s ancestral home which I visited for the very first time.
Trip to Kandy
You’re probably amused by the name “Kandy” for a City, since well…it probably reminds you of Candy, while Kandy does have a lot of great places to eat, it’s much more than that to Sri Lankans. Kandy was the last Kingdom in Sri Lanka before the British came and colonized the country. It is also home to the “Sri Dalada Maligawa” which is houses the Tooth Relic of the Buddha. It is also Sri Lanka’s second largest city after Colombo. It’s located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka is also a popular tourist destination. In July/August a procession featuring Elephants, dancers, drummers and other artists is held in honour of the tooth relic. A Tusker (an elephant bearing Tusks) carries the tooth relic during the procession. This elephant is carefully chosen using various methods. The most famous Tusker to carry the Tooth Relic during the procession was “Raja” who carried it for about 50 years until he passed away. The irony is that I’ve never actually gone to watch the procession while living here. It always fell during school time, but I’ve watched it plenty of times on the TV. My favourite parts are watching the Elephants, the dancers and the drummers. The drumming in Sri Lanka to me is out of this world. I always get goosebumps when I listen to the drumming during the procession. I also love the fact that the Elephants (especially the baby ones) move to the drum beat and wave their trunks to it. This is a short video of the procession if you’d like to check it out!
Kandy is also my dad’s hometown and this was my first visit to the city since 2006. Last time when I visited Sri Lanka in 2011 I didn’t have the opportunity to go and this year I was adamant that I visit the place that holds so many of my wonderful memories! Ever since I was about 6 years old I’ve been going to Kandy to spend my holidays with my aunt and cousins. We’ve done some pretty crazy stuff when we’ve spent our holidays there and those are some of the memories that I can look back fondly on and say “Yeah I had a pretty good childhood.” I loved going to Kandy. I really loved my aunt’s house and when she got sick and moved to England to live with my cousin, the house was sold. This time I actually went past my aunt’s house and actually took a picture of it. The house is still the same, but there’s a bigger gate (an Ugly grey one) now and they’ve built a wall around the house. I guess I’m biased because I want to remember the house as it was, not what it is now. I think the best part of my visit to Kandy, other than taking the train for the first time since 2006 was meeting my aunt’s neighbours after 8 years! I met them last in 2006 when I was staying with my aunt while she was sick, so I was overjoyed that they were home.We spent about a good hour and a half talking and reminiscing about the past. The only disappointment was that their daughter (who is my cousin’s best friend and was her bridesmaid) was not at home. I didn’t have long to be disappointed because she called my cell phone later on. I didn’t get to walk around much in Kandy because we had so much stuff and we had to check into the place we were staying on the first day after 2.00 in the afternoon. So we dropped off of our stuff with my cousin’s friend and walked around the Kandy City Centre which is the city’s mall. It’s a beautiful place and for a second I couldn’t believe I was in Sri Lanka. It’s a pretty high-end mall when I think about it; with lots of exclusive stores, but still I was able to go and get some clothes and surprise surprise I also bought some books from one of the bookstores as well (Enid Blyton books ftw).
The Bake House has always been one of my favourite places to eat in Kandy. I remember going there as a kid to the bakery to get some goodies. However since this was my first visit to Kandy since 2006 I was shocked to see all the renovations to the place. No longer is just a bakery, but now it’s a place where you can go have breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between. It’s really nice to see local businesses prosper.
Trip to Hotel Tree of Life As I mentioned before the Hotel Tree of Life was my paternal grandma’s ancestral home. It was formerly a Tea Estate which was owned by a British Family and later it was bought by Great grandfather. The tea cultivation continued until the 1970′s when the estate was sold to another gentlemen who in turn sold it to Tree of Life owners. I had heard numerous tails about my grandma’s ancestral home. My father spent so much time at ‘Yahalatanna’ as it was known back then. My great-grandmother lived there until she passed away and two of my uncles (my dad’s cousins) also stayed there and went to school because it was closer to them. There are a lot of fond stories about Yahalatanna and I’ve always wanted to go there, but never had the opportunity for some reason. Then when dad came to Sri Lanka last December he visited the hotel and he was enamored with it. He was insistent that my mom and I go there. So this time we were determined to go and see the place my dad speaks so fondly of. However our trip was bittersweet and it was because my dad’s uncle (the last remaining sibling of my grandmother passed away the day we left for Kandy). He was the Superintendent of the Tea Estate when my grandma’s family owned it before it was sold. It was his birthday on the 22nd of March and then on the 24th morning he had passed away. We found out this out before we took the train to Kandy, however because there was no way we could cancel our Hotel Reservations we couldn’t make it to the funeral. I adored my great-uncle and I was sad I couldn’t make it to the funeral, but in a way I thought it was fitting that I was going to visit the place he had grown up and where he ended up working till the estate was sold. It’s funny how life works out sometime. My cousin who also traveled with us to Kandy ended up staying the first night with us (we stayed at Holiday Home owned by the Bank she works at) and then left the following morning to come to the funeral, while we continued our trip.
The hotel is about forty-five minutes away from my aunt’s house and I believe it’s the same distance from the Kandy town (downtown if you will). When my dad was small the road to the estate/house wasn’t the greatest and it was apparently quite difficult to get there by car, but now the road has been paved and it’s much easier for a vehicle to get through. Once we arrived we were greeted by the same person who gave my dad a tour of the place. We explained to her what happened to my dad’s uncle and why our cousin would no longer be joining us at the hotel (my cousin who went with us, also went to the hotel with my dad in December). Before we were taken to our room Mari (pronounced Maa-ri) took us to the dining area (formally it used to be the place where my dad and his cousins played) and gave us drinks and we chatted for a bit. The breeze was so soothing and the area was beautiful. The view from the restaurant is beautiful too. We were given a double and again I was blown away by the view. It was of the tea estate and you could see the road as well.
So after we got settled in our room we walked for a bit and then went up to the actual house where my great-grandmother stayed. Now the house is home to hotel offices and we got to meet some of the staff members. Previously it was the hotel reception, but now the reception is at another area which used to be the Tennis Courts when my great-grandmother was alive. The staff were quite eager to hear the history of when my grandma’s family owned the estate and apparently before the family bought the estate from the British family Lord Mountbatten had also stayed at the main house. I took a lot of pictures of the house and the surrounding area. Mari also took us around the hotel in the evening and told us some of the plans the hotel has for the area.
The biggest surprise and probably the best part of staying at the hotel was the discovery of someone who used to work at the Estate since the time my father was small. We were supposed to go Bird Watching with a man by the name of “Punchi Banda” on the final morning of our stay. As we were walking we asked about him and then my mom asked if he was familiar with the “Jayawickremas” (my grandmother’s maiden name/family name) and he said yes. Then immediately we launched into an explanation of who we were and what we were doing here. While we didn’t see any birds to begin with, Punchi Banda gave us an entire tour of the area,complete with an explanation to everything. We even got to go into the main house (now the offices) and he told us which room my great-grandmother was, which room my great-uncle used as an office-room, the other areas of the house etc. It truly was a remarkable experience. He also told us exactly how much tea was there when the Jayawickrema’s owned the estate. I guess you can say I felt a bit nostalgic in the sense that I wish I could have experienced what my dad did when he was younger. From all the stories I’ve heard about his childhood and spending time at Yahalatanna I think my generation really missed out on all that fun. Before I knew it my stay at Tree of Life had come to an end.
It really was an amazing experience. As I was heading back to Kandy with my mom in our Tuk Tuk, our Tuk Tuk driver actually took us by the Jayawickrema family burial ground. Not all the members are buried there. There is a large tomb stone like thing which houses the ashes of my great-grandfather and some of the other members. My great uncle’s (D.K. Jayawickrema-the one who passed away) wife actually told me the names of the family members who have their ashes there. The death of my great-uncle marks the end of a generation of Jaywawickremas. It makes me sad to know that there isn’t anyone left from that side of the family, but I suppose that’s life. I guess my only wish was that my trip to Kandy was longer, it felt way too short. I’ve included more pictures in a Gallery, so you guys can see them!