Travel Letters: Kandy (1883)

MY DEAR MARY, — Do you know I think this place is good enough and important enough from which to write you a letter. In the first place, it is the farthest point of my travels; from this time my face is turned homeward. In the second place, I think it must be the most beautiful place in the world. I do not see how there could be one more beautiful. I wish you could have driven with me this morning at sunrise, through the roads with hundreds of different kinds of palm-trees, and to the Buddhist temple, where they were offering fresh flowers to Buddha and banging away on drums in his honor enough to kill you ; then out to the gardens where cinnamon, nutmeg, clove-trees, tea and coffee plants, pineapples, mangoes, bamboos, banyans, India-rubber trees, and a hundred other curious things are growing. Here and there you meet an elephant or a peacock, and the pleasant-faced natives smile at you out of their pretty houses.

Oh, this beautiful island of Ceylon! With the cocoanut-trees on the shore; It is shaped like a pear with the peel on, And Kandy lies in at the core.

And Kandy is sweet (you ask Gertie !) Even when it is spelt with a K, And the people are cheerful and dirty, And dress in a comical way.

Here comes a particular dandy, With two ear-rings and half of a shirt, He ‘s considered the swell of all Kandy, And the rest of him ‘s covered with dirt.

And here comes the belle of the city, With rings on her delicate toes, And eyes that are painted and pretty, And a jewel that shakes in her nose.

And the dear little girls and their brothers, And the babies so jolly and fat, Astride on the hips of their mothers, And as black as a gentleman’s hat.

And the queer little heaps of old women, And the shaven Buddhistical priests, And the lake which the Worshipers swim in, And the wagons with curious beasts.

The tongue they talk mostly is Tamul, Which sounds you can hardly tell how, It is half like the scream of a camel, And half like the grunt of a sow.

But it is too hot to make any more poetry. It is perfectly ridiculous how hot it is. I would not walk to that Buddhist temple opposite for anything. If I tried to, you would never see my familiar face in Clarendon Street any more. I am glad, with all the beauty of Ceylon, that there are only two days more of it. It is too near the equator. On Wednesday morning the Verona sails from Colombo, and will carry me to Suez, and the Indian trip is over. It has been one unmixed pleasure from beginning to end.

We have a new boy. Huri’s language gave out at Calcutta. He did not know the queer tongues they talk in southern India, and he had to be sent back to Bombay. We parted with tears and rupees. Then came another boy, who had to be summarily dismissed. He was too stupid for anything. It made the journey far too laborious when we had to take care of him. Now we have a beautiful creature named Tellegoo, or something like that. He wears a bright yellow and green petticoat, which makes him look very gay, and a tortoise-shell comb in his hair. . Our association with him will be brief, for we leave him on the wharf when we sail, Wednesday, and there will be fewer rupees and no tears.

I went to church this morning, and the minister preached on the text, ” Bake me a little cake first,” and the point was, that before you bought any clothes or food, you must give something towards the endowment of the English church at Kandy. It was really a pretty sermon.

There are the Buddhists howling again. It must be afternoon service. The priests go about without a bit of hair on their heads, and wrapped in dirty yellow sheets.