A Guide to Kandy in Sri Lanka
What to See in The Island’s Ancient CapitalKandy, the citadel in hills, is the ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Today, it is the second largest city of the country and is still hugely popular with tourists and locals alike.
Set like a jewel among the green mountain chains, Kandy lake and girdled by the Mahaweli Ganga, Sri Lanka’s longest river, the capital of the island’s last independent kingdom has retained a distinctive identity and character. Kandy is the repository of Sri Lanka’s traditional arts and crafts.
“Some aspects of the art and architecture of Kandy still survive in the living form, illuminating for us in a way that literary descriptions and ruined monuments cannot do, the style and character of Sri Lankan civilization. Seen from the hills above the lake this architectural complex gives us a brilliant miniature image of what the dead capitals of Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Kotte must once have been...” – Senake Bandaranayake.
Kandy is the last seat of the Singhalese Kings, who ceded power to the British in 1815 after many a battle with the western colonial forces, still retains much of its old world charm and traditions of the Sri Lankan lifestyle.
Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Tooth – Among the most picturesque cities in the island, the importance of Kandy is mainly due to the Dalada Maligawa which houses the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. Here visitors can observe the ancient traditions of drumming and sacred chanting in honour of the Tooth Relic, being performed several times each day.
Kandy Esala Perahera – Kandy is also the venue of the Esala Perahera, easily the most colourful pageant of Asia, held in July/August each year, in honour of the Tooth Relic. As the pageantry of the Esala Perahere unfolds through ten nights each year, the city takes on an air of a torch-lit dreamland, complete with a hundred or more colourfully caparisoned elephants, drummers, dancers, and chieftains in the rare colourful trappings of the old kingdom.
Degaldoruwa – The rock temple at Degaldoruwa, has beautiful Buddhist frescoes of the mid 18th century.
Lankatilleke and Gadaladeniya temples – The temples are unique examples of the Buddhist construction in brick and stone during the Kandyan period (14th century).
Embekke – The shrine to a Hindu deity at Embekke is the existing example of the wood carvings of the Kandyan period. Another temple well-known for frescoes is the one at Ranawana. The Kandyan areas are where the crafts of the Singhalese have been best kept alive. From the art of mat weaving at Dumbara, to the silver craftsmen of Nattaranpotha and the wood carvers of Embekke, the Kandyan craftsmen produce the exquisite material which make up most of the sought after souvenirs of Sri Lanka.
Naththaranpotha – This craft village is situated 7km from Kandy and is worth the exciting detour to see the traditional craftsmen of Kandy and their families living and working in this pretty village.
You can also visit the Kandyan Arts & Craft Association situated about 100 metres from the Temple of the Tooth.
Udawattekelle Sanctuary – Located in the suburbs of Kandy, this Sanctuary boasts some 160 acres of tropical rainforest, a haven for flowering plants, birds, butterflies and monkeys. It is very picturesque and surrounded by wooded hills.
Peradeniya Botanical Gardens – Nearby Kandy, the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens is probably one of the best of its kind in the world. The many beautiful avenues lead to sections which provide a burst of tropical colour. The great lawns highlight huge tropical trees, while you will be surprised at the variety of bamboo that can be found in one place.
The best known attraction of the Gardens is the Orchid House, which has more than 300 varieties of exquisite orchids from the rare indigenous Foxtail and Vesak orchids, to many natural and hybrid species which have made this one of the best known orchid centres in the world. The Spice Garden gives you a firsthand introduction to the trees, plants and creepers that produce the special spices of Sri Lanka. The Herbarium grows many of the plants used for the traditional Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia.
Progress through the winding streets of Kandy is often obstructed by a tame elephant, carrying its load of palm leaves for its daily lunch, or an elephant stopping at a wayside tea kiosk for a bunch of bananas. The elephant bath, at the Mahaweli River at Gatambe where the many domesticated elephants of Kandy come for their daily bath is also a great place to visit. One word of advice – if you want to have your photograph taken on an elephant’s back here, make sure to agree on the price first, and better still, have your local guide with you. The elephants are friendly enough, but the mahouts (or elephant handlers) are much more calculating.
After the Temple of the Tooth, the most famous landmark of Kandy is its lake, in the centre of the city. The old building at its edge near the Temple of the Tooth was the Queen’s Bath. On the other side of the Temple of the Tooth, housed in part of the former royal palace, is the Kandy Museum which houses excellent exhibits from the Kandyan period of Sri Lanka’s history.
Sri Lankan Airways flies directly to Colombo from several Asian destinations and European cities including, London, Paris and Frankfurt. Kandy is easily accessible from Colombo by car, train and bus. The journey takes 2 to 3 hours depending on the transport taken.