After Polonnaruwa, I decided that Kandy will be my last stop of the Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. The city could have been a sugary treat made in a secret chocolate factory, but instead it is an important city left behind by the Kingdom of Kandy. This city is important for Sri Lanka because of the sacred temple, the Kandyan literature, culture, food, and the people. It is sitting at the lower altitudes to the hill countries of Ella and Nuwara Eliya, so it is a pit stop for those who head to the mountains or getting back from there.
I booked Clock Inn, Kandy and left Polonnaruwa to Kandy by bus. The bus journeyed for more than four hours. Anxious to reach Kandy, I kept checking Google for the location of the bus to Kandy. While nearing Kandy, you can feel the cooling of the weather, and then you figure out why this a sought out destination.
Kandy is the second biggest city of Sri Lanka, and the capital of Central Province. Slow moving traffic in the outskirts of the city is the only way to say that there are lot of people here, which otherwise, do not look like a major city. Another thing you notice here is the Chinese made vehicles people drive here.
Facts About Kandy
1. During the Second World War, the Allied forces set up office of the South East Asia Command in Kandy. Cooler than most of Ceylon, far from Japan’s reach. Nice move.
2. Kandy did not submit to the threats of western colonialists until one day.
Yes, everyone including the British, the Dutch, and the Portuguese wanted Kandy in their bucket list. The last king of Kandy, Vikrama Rajasinha was of the South Indian descent. So the chiefs of the Kandyan Ministry thought he was too foreign to rule the land. It made sense because the king often abused the local population, often subjecting them to forced labor. They sought the help of the British to overthrow the South Indian alien in the year 1815.
The deal? Sign up with the British crown. Which they did. In a coup, they arrested Rajasinha, ended the Kandyan rule and give Kandy to the Brits. But what followed this is abuse, discrimination, reducing local Kandyans to extreme poverty and all. After 32 years of abuse, the peasants divorced the monarchy, revolted and retook Kandy.
3. Kandy is one of the stops of the Ramayana tours which is popular among the travelers who follow the Hindu religion from around the world.
Why? It is because Ravana, an ancient demon king of Sri Lanka kidnaps Sita, a warrior princess from Ayodhya, and flies her to Sri Lanka, puts her in a garden somewhere near Nuwara Eliya, beefs up security to prevent her from escaping.
So Ravana just sits in his luxurious palace until Sita’s husband, Mr. Ramachandra befriends an army of monkeys, bears, and eagles, builds a bridge from the tip of India to Sri Lanka, arrives at Sri Lanka to demand Sita’s release. When Ravana refuses, he beheads him (all of his ten heads) using an arrow (probably laced with ancient nuclear poison).
Today there are lot of relics in this region that are remnants of Ramayana, like the Sita Amman temple in Nuwara Eliya, and some caves.
Reasons to go to Kandy
The cool weather was a welcome comparing the scorching hot Colombo, Jaffna, and the ancient sites I visited. There are lot of things to do in Kandy, but I decided that I will stick around the center of the town. The receptionist at the Clock Inn gave me a brochure and suggested me to go to watch the Kandyan dance, and visit the temple after that.
Half an hour, and a hot shower later, I walked towards the auditorium. I did not see swanky offices, neither businessmen and women, very surprising considering that this is the second biggest city in Sri Lanka. I reached the lake, and asked for directions to the auditorium. Out from nowhere came a tout.
‘You are from India?’
‘Come later, I show you girls. They give you good massage.’
‘Cool, now I need to get to this show.’
‘You feel nice man. Girls so good’.
‘I’m sure, thanks. See you later.’
I got to the auditorium belonging to the Kandyan Art Association, and the auditorium was almost filled with foreign faces. Looks like they do not advertise this to local Sri Lankans.
1. Kandyan Culture
The Kandyan dance is the central part of Kandyan culture. This is performed in many festivals in the region. Elaborately decked men and women with jewelry perform slow movements to beats of the drums. At the end all the people in the auditorium went to the back of the hall to witness a fire walk.
Temple of the Tooth Relic
70% of the Sri Lankans are Buddhists, and Kandy, the seat of the last independent kingdom in Sri Lanka is also the ‘Cultural Capital’. One such important site in the Sri Lankan society is the temple that houses Buddha’s tooth. When the followers of the Buddha was cremating him, someone pulled out the tooth. The tooth traveled to a lot of places. It finally came to Kandy where they placed in a gold casket which you be lucky to see.
The people believe that whoever owns the tooth relic holds the right to govern Sri Lanka. So, this temple is not only spiritually important, but politically too. Sri Lankans consider it holy to visit at least once in their lifetime, while the ritual that happens everyday is fascinating to foreign tourists. This is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There is a store room for keeping your footwear outside the cloud walls. You enter the temple after paying US $5. Local people pay less, and tourists not from SAARC countries pay US $10.
Although there is a huge line at this hall, the actual tooth is not visible to the public. The casket lies inside a small shrine, with huge elephant tusks on either side of the door. The temple is beautiful, it has paintings at the ceilings, and walls. The wooden pillars are beautifully carved. The tooth is that important.
Every day at 6.30 PM, priests clad in white conduct rituals, with drummers at the door playing music.
The Big Buddha Statue
There is a big Buddha statue that is visible from anywhere in Kandy. It is on a top of a hillock overlooking the city of Kandy in a temple complex on the top. I did not go to the temple to see the statue but is fascinating.
Kandy is a natural beauty. There is a hillock in the middle of the city where people live. There are few hotels up there as well which I am sure will give you a birds eye view of Kandy.
Right next to the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth Relic) is the Bogambara Lake. It is clean, and a beautiful lake surrounded by the hillock. It is peasant to walk around anytime of the day. Little crowded in the evening. This lake is also called Kiri Mahuda or the Sea of Milk. The last king of Kandy got the lake dug which was a paddy field before. A white wakalulu wall runs around the lake. Wakalulu means cloud. There are also touts around this lake that love to sell stuff you do not need.
3. Gateway to the Hills
Kandy is at the foot of the hill country of Nuwara Eliya, Ella. This place attracts hikers, mountain lovers. Nuwara Eliya is a four hour slow train ride from Kandy. This is one of the best ways to experience Sri Lanka. Travelers like to stay in numerous home stays and tea estates here, or go to the hills in Ella. While in this region, Horton Plains is a must visit where you can sit at the ‘World’s End’.
Traveling to Kandy
1. Traveling to Kandy is easy. Trains run throughout the day. There is Intercity Express from Colombo to Kandy which is the fastest. Train tickets sell out fast, so it is best to let your hotel book it for you.
2. Intercity Express runs from Colombo at 7 AM and 3.30 PM everyday. You may have to pay upto US$15 for the trip one way. This train route is the most scenic.
3. If the trains are full, try the buses. There are plentiful that take you to Kandy in one piece with your sanity intact. If comfort is what you want, then there are tour companies that operate taxi service.
4. Cinnamon Air will take you from Colombo to Kandy within an hour for US$ 170.
Where to Stay?
Kandy is one of the most traveled city in Sri Lanka which means people book hotels way ahead. There are many options of accommodation for all budget.