When waiting for a festival in Sri Lanka, kill time with spices and jewels

 

When waiting for a festival in Sri Lanka, kill time with spices and jewels
STUNNING PROCESSION: Drummers and local dancers performed on the streets.

Sometimes the stars align and you get to go on a trip with friends. An added bonus: you get to check out Kandy lake glimmering at night, but most of all, you witness the celebrations of the Esala Perahera festival

By Deepa Narwani

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Published: Fri 11 Aug 2017, 1:07 PM

Last updated: Fri 11 Aug 2017, 3:15 PM

Every country in the world has a story to tell through its festivals. Be it the carnival of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Spain's La Tomatina, or Thailand's Songkran festival. These events are an opportunity for tourists to get a glimpse of the country's traditions.
I was in Kandy, Sri Lanka, last month for a girl's trip - on the first day of Esala Perahera. And I was thrilled at the inadvertent timing of our trip. We hadn't planned it like this.
People from all over the world come to Kandy in July/August to see the Buddhist festival, take in the elegant costumes, dances and decorated elephants that have become symbols of the celebration.
We got front row tickets. Seats in balconies of hotels that are along the procession are sold for a premium. But the celebration takes place at night, and we had a whole afternoon to kill before the grand event so we decided to hop on to a tuk tuk and make our way to one of Kandy's Spice Gardens.
Our guide Ruwan Kumar greeted us at the entrance. He told us that he works at the Kandy Hospital on weekdays, but likes to spend his time explaining the benefits of herbs and spices to tourists and students on weekends. First up, Kumar introduced us to the different spices available in Sri Lanka such as cocoa, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and sandalwood, among others, and told us all about their medicinal uses. He highlighted that the amalgamation of certain herbs and spices created oils that could eliminate grey hair; oils that could cure migraines and sinusitis, as well as creams that could remove stretch marks. Not sure if these claims were true, we moved ahead and were given a tour of how the different spices are grown, harvested and produced, while sipping freshly-brewed aromatic herbal tea. This was the perfect digital detox.
The cool breeze and the peace and quiet of the spice gardens gave us a chance to be close to nature. The tour ended with us receiving a calming head massage and soaking in the serenity.
We decided to head back to the city centre but on our way stopped by the National Gem Museum where we laid our eyes on one of the world's biggest uncut sapphires! Known as the Gem Island, Sri Lanka has an abundance of blue sapphires, rubies, star stones, and we were taken on a journey to see how these stones are transformed into intricate jewellery pieces.
With dusk now upon us, we made our way through to the serene Kandy Lake to take part in the festivities of Esala Perahera, which starts near the Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and passes through the city. Our tuk tuk driver told us that the festival has been around since 3rd century BC to appeal to the Gods for rain. It takes place over 10 days.
Before the procession started, there was a buzz in the air. Onlookers were out and about on the pavements to view this magnificent parade of bright lights. I have never seen a more patient crowd. People were not being pushed around. The start of the festival was signalled by the sound of a loud cannon being shot and the procession went on for about three hours. The roads were cleared and fire dancers and flag bearers started the parade. The streets came alive with acrobats, musicians, fire-breathers and jugglers. Drummers and local dancers performed on the streets and this was followed by elephants, dressed from trunk to toe in colourful, embellished cloaks and chains of fairy lights, leading the parade. The main attraction was when the Maligawa tusker passed by in a golden casket and got the loudest cheers.
The splendour, the atmosphere - the cacophony of drums, trumpets and Sinhalese music - it was nothing like I had experienced.


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