As I stepped out into the balcony and looked at the panoramic views of the city in the light drizzle, I remembered the quote from Lonely Planet “Here’s a city that looks good even when it’s raining.” Kandy in Sri Lanka is known as the capital of the hill country and is the biggest city after Colombo.
Nestled in the heart of Sri Lanka and surrounded by heavily forested mountains and tea plantations, Kandy is an important religious center for Buddhists. It is the home of an ancient Buddhist relic – a tooth of Buddha himself and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. Just a three-hour drive from Colombo, Kandy city can be a good base to visit the cultural triangle and is a must stop on your Sri Lanka itinerary.
We spent a couple of days in Kandy and fell in love with the city and its rich culture. Here are our top picks so that you can plan and pace your trip as per your comfort.
Explore the perfectly landscaped lawns at the Royal Botanical Garden
The Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya is the largest botanical garden in Sri Lanka and attracts 2 million visitors annually. The expansive garden was formally established under the British and reserved for royalty only but its initial mentions are found in 14th-century scriptures. We found the 60 hectares garden housing a wide variety of flowering plants, trees and giant bamboo an amazing place to spend the day.
The garden is also a local favorite and you will find many families having picnics and quite a lot of kids running around. We highly recommend visiting this place if you are traveling with kids or if you are a nature lover.
It houses a variety of plants and trees and we found the orchid house, cannonball trees, giant bamboo and royal avenue of palm trees really interesting. This park is so huge and has so many little sections, I am sure you will find your very own favorite spot.
In search of Buddha’s Tooth Relic
There are a lot of stories about Kandy city and how Buddha’s tooth reached here. Kandy was the last kingdom of Sri Lanka, the preceding kingdoms being Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the north. However, due to foreign invasion, the capital was shifted to Kandy from Polonnaruwa and the tooth relic was housed in the King’s palace ground within the royal temple of Kandy. As per the local belief, the one who has this sacred relic is fit to rule the country. The relic has played and still plays a prominent role in the politics and governance of Sri Lanka.
The story behind the Tooth relic is a fascinating one. Legend says that the holy remains from Buddha’s cremations were distributed amongst different kingdoms that sought for it. The relics were then enshrined in Stupas and worshipped. Out of the four tooth relics, this tooth relic was said to be claimed by the Kalinga king from India. But when Kalinga was under attack, the Kalinga king decided to send the tooth relic to his friend, the king of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, to keep it safe. The tooth was smuggled into Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamali, the Kalinga king’s daughter and she hid it in her hair. Our host told us that in Sri Lankan culture, the highest respect is paid to a woman’s head and hair. And thus nobody dared to search the princesses hair.
History states that everytime the existing capital was invaded, the tooth relic was either shifted or hidden by Buddhist monks as it signifies the continuity of faith and governance. The tooth relic moved from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa and to many other intermediary capitals before taking its final place in the sacred tooth relic shrine in Kandy in Sri Lanka.
According to legend, there was once a severe drought. The Tooth Relic was taken out of its shrine and a great procession was held for seven days. This ended the drought and started the tradition of the Perahera Festival which is celebrated annually and the procession begins at Kandy in Sri Lanka.
Visit the temple early morning to beat the crowd or in the evening to witness the ceremony and enjoy the cultural show which takes place every evening. This extravagant show has a snapshot of various dance forms practiced not just in Kandy in Sri Lanka but other parts of Sri Lanka as well.
Spend some time at the Kandy lake
Right next to the sacred tooth relic temple, is the beautiful Kandy Lake. This controversial lake had a lot of attention during while getting built as it is believed to have been built using forced labor and over paddy fields and had no irrigation use. The ruling king, Wickrama Rajasinghe, is said to have created this artificial lake for his pleasure, however, we heard another version of this story. Some say he dreamt of the “sea of milk” with a pot of Amrit (heavenly nectar of immortality) in the center, referred from “samudra manthan” as per Hindu mythology. Considering it divine intervention he aspired to build an artificial lake with a wave-like boundary. The exact position was selected by seeing an auspicious white tortoise between the paddy fields.
Apparently, the lake from the royal palace balcony at noon appears to be white due to reflection. Another story says that the island in the lake was meant to be a pleasure garden and was connected to the palace by an underground tunnel.
As mysterious as the origin of the lake is, it is also the house of numerous birds, fishes and animals. The lake is peaceful at any time of the day and taking a walk on the promenade surrounding or a boat ride it is a perfect way to spend an early morning or an evening.
Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue
This place was not part of our itinerary but we were drawn to it as you cannot miss the impressively magnanimous statue of Buddha from any part of the city. The temple and the statue are on top of a small hillock overlooking the city and the panoramic views of the city are not at all disappointing.
Enjoy local food at the historic center of Kandy in Sri Lanka
Kandy city is a terrific example of how history has gradually merged with the modern times. It is very busy and has quite a lot of traffic but walking through the streets you wouldn’t fail to marvel at the old style colonial architecture standing tall with the more recent buildings.
The city center is close to the lake and has a lot of shopping options for all tastes. It also has entertainment options for kids so that they are engaged while parents are busy shopping.
Kandy is also a melting pot for different cuisines. If you want to try the Sri Lankan cuisine, do start with hoppers and kottu roti which is their version of snacks or street food. You will also find a lot of continental restaurants and cafes around here. Though a bit touristy, we still recommend visiting Kandy to get a flavour of the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka.