Notes on the Geography of Sri Lanka: Kandy: Now
As confined by hills as ever, Kandy now struggles to keep moving: traffic jams are a part of daily life, a blend of trucks, buses, and the cars of the privileged class.
A street scene, early one morning.
Mid-day. The initials DSI, on the right, refer not to some telecom operator but to a locally ubiquitous shoe store.
Another view, with another DSI outlet. The cream-and-red striped building in the middle distance, on the left, is a mosque.
Unlike India, there's not a lot of English in Sri Lanka. English remains the language of the elite, however, and therefore of businesses claiming to serve the elite. That's why English signs abound in Kandy but hardly exist in nearby villages.
Police vans are often labelled Tactical Action Contingency Team, in other words, but not one Sinhalese in a thousand understands those words. Still, the prestige of English gives status to its users.
Streetmarket, especially crowded on the very busy shopping days before the New Year's holiday.
Unless you've seen it, you wouldn't believe it, but packed into the city's grid and tucked into a corner of the Queen's Hotel, there's a swimming pool, invisible from the surrounding world.
A few blocks away: there's a municipal market with what are probably Chinese oranges, Pakistani pomegranates, and Australian grapes.
The market stalls wrap around a surprisingly well-cared-for patio garden.
Most Sri Lankans cook not with gas or electricity but with firewood, and scattered through the town you'll find places where logs are split by maul, wedge, and ax into tiny pieces, then loaded into oxcarts. The odd thing is that oxcarts are hardly used for anything else.
Developers have begun breaking away from the old pattern of each business in its own building
International marketers have arrived, too.
One impediment: real estate in Sri Lanka is in a state of administrative chaos, because there's no government record of ownership by tract. Instead, there's only a room full of deeds to land described by metes and bounds. Each deed is numbered and gives the number of the deed of the previous owner. In this way, a chain of title can be reconstructed, once you know the present owner. Yet there's no way to determine the present owner except by asking around, and the compilation of a cadastral map showing ownership in a village--let alone a larger area--would be a huge undertaking involving the compilation of an original survey. Nobody bothers. The one thing people do know is the size of their parcel, measured by that elsewhere-obsolete unit of measure, the perch. There are 160 of them to an acre.
A modern house.
Another new house, this one on the ridge overlooking Kandy from the west.
What's left of the past? In this case, the stylized heritage of a moonstone, as though an office building could be a sacred space.
The old courthouse is now closed and a new court complex has been opened. Security checks force everyone entering the building into long lines.
More peaceful, at least if you find a moment not seized by protesters: the Arts College of Peradeniya University--its roof once again echoing the Assembly Hall adjoining the Temple of the Tooth.
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