Bling bling, ker-ching!

I like a good city tour as much as the next person but I don’t tend to buy into the obligatory shopping that most tourists get subjected to on arrival in a new country. I’ve lost count of the number of “interesting” tours I have completed in my time that end in a shop where “you can buy something if you like”. Papyrus factories in Egypt; strange liqueur breweries in Cambodia; demonstrations of tapa cloth art in Fiji and so the list goes on. And so it was when we ended up at a gem factory in Kandy during our only day off during the cycling. The mining technique was certainly fascinating. The exhibition of gems likewise and many I had not seen before. I don’t really know much about jewellery and don’t have many valuable or genuine items as I tend to go for more chunky costume items. The benefit of being indecisive is that costume jewellery is cheap and you can therefore replace it when you tire of it or fashions change. But I had no idea that Sri Lanka was the largest source of sapphires in the world and when we were steered up the stairs after a tour of the modest museum, I was totally unprepared for what laid ahead of me. A quick 5 minute round of the things of sale would suffice and then we’d be out of there, credit card intact and then we’d be off to the next stop on the tour, where no doubt there would also be things for sale. But no, my very quick walk around the gem display led to my eye being well and truly caught by a chunky white gold ring containing red sapphires (rubies to you and me) and I just had to have it. Expensive? Yes. Looked great? Yes. Would I wear it? Yes. Would it remind me of the trip? Of course. Did I deserve it? Hell, yes. And that was that. I exited this particular stop of the tourist trail with my credit card gently sighing in my purse but my purchase pleases me immensely. I don’t have any rings. No-one else is going to buy one for me, I love it and let’s just leave it at that. At least they gave me a free cup of tea for my troubles…

Me and my newly purchased bling with a congratulatory, or was it consolatory, cup of tea

After the gems, it was off to a batik factory. The ladies’ work was impressive and I enjoyed the explanation. The stuff on sale was not so great and was eschewed by all of us; even the lovely things in the shop left untouched due to crazily inflated costs.

An hour of free time in Kandy town centre was spent shopping by most people but my finances were still re-adjusting and I spent most of the time people-watching and taking photographs. After this we were on to possibly our worst lunch stop of the trip, another tourist buffet, this time with too many people stuffed into an insufferably hot room and plentiful but poor quality food. I usually find that the volume of food on offer at a buffet to be inversely proportional to its quality and this was a case that most definitely proved my point.

Next, it was quick trip up a viewpoint over the town which was nice enough but not spectacular and then on to tour of the Temple of the Tooth Relic, the main temple in Kandy. It was a lovely temple with a lot of colour but so many visitors with it being the weekend and getting around was tricky enough, let alone with a guide whose English was very difficult to follow (at least, I think he was speaking in English but the jury is still out on this one). The next itinerary stop of a display of traditional Kandyan dancing and music was not to everyone’s taste and probably double the length of time it needed to be but I enjoyed it. The colours, dancing, acrobatics were impressive; the repetitive beat of the drum and tuneless flute music less so.

Back at the hotel, it was Happy Hour and so it was on to the mojitos. The chef kept reappearing at the bar to ensure we would be going for the usual buffet dinner in the soulless dining room. Today, he promised, he would have wine available at the table, unlike the previous day when we had had this huge rigmarole of purchasing it in the bar and struggling to pay as that seems to involve multiple overly complex processes which cannot be simplified or hastened. He also promised some very special food, namely egg hoppers, a traditional Sri Lankan culinary offering we had surprisingly not encountered before (and never saw again, as it happens), along with live music with a DJ. The meal the night before had been a very average dining experience and we were not convinced. But actually, he delivered and, as it turned out, the owner of the hotel also happened to be dining in the restaurant that night…

So, all in all, it was lovely to have a day off and the events gave us a taste of Kandy without being overly stressful. The dancing into the small hours certainly limbered us up to continue on our way on the bikes the following morning.

And, with the benefit of the passage of a little time, do I regret spending so much money on my bling? Not at all.

Sunset over a giant hilltop buddha in Kandy

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