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. 

Kandy
A tranquil morning in the capital of Hill country, Kandy in Sri Lanka

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.

Kandy Temple
The prayer hall in the temple of Sacred Tooth Relic

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.

kandy royal botanical garden

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.

kandy botanical garden

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

Kandy temple

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.

Kandy temple
An ongoing ceremony in front of the tooth relic shrine in Kandy

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.

Polonnurawa
The remains of the tooth relic shrine in the ancient city of Polonnurawa

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.

Kandy temple
The paintings on the entrance ceiling depict the esala perahara festival (Festival of the Tooth) during which the sacred tooth is taken out in procession to pay homage and celebrate.

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.

Kandy temple

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

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.

kandy lake
Maybe this little guy is the descendant of the great white tortoise!

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.

kandy

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.

kandyThe 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.

Kottu Roti, a local delicacy prepared by chopping and dicing roti, vegetables and meat

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.

kandy

 

52 COMMENTS

  1. Kandy has always been fascinating. First learned about the Tooth relic in history books at school. But indeed the saga of Buddha’s tooth relic is fascinating. But there is so much more to Kandy, it comes across as a serene place to enjoy some blissful time in the midst of nature.

  2. Sri Lanka have a similar culture with Thailand in terms of hair and head. It is a no no to touch someone’s head or hair.
    So the question is, where is Buddha’s tooth?!

  3. After reading your article, I must say, Kandy has historical, cultural as well as natural experience to offer. And that indeed sounds like a complete package. Won’t want to miss the place when I plan my visit to Sri Lanka.

  4. We have just seen the South Coast of Sri lanka and yet have to explore Kandy. Kandy actually looks pretty in rains. The legend of the tooth story is really interesting, Lake too looks serene. Would love to try Kattu Roti too

  5. The story about moving the tooth relic is really fascinating. And it reminded me of our visit to the Diamond Triangle in Odisha, where the tooth relic of Buddha was supposedly kept. Thanks for highlighting the best of Kandy.

  6. We were in Sri Lanka during May and enjoyed every inch of what we saw and experienced. Kandy and Nuwara Eliya got left out due to shortage of time. But next time, for sure. Did you take the scenic train ride?

  7. I have been planning to visit Sri Lanka for the longest time! I have joined forums and have read a lot of blogs about Sri Lanka and I am so happy I came across yours too, exactly just what I needed. Thanks for posting!

  8. What a beautiful write up about Sri Lanka and Kandy. Visiting the country is high on my list, but I had not considered going outside of Colombo. I’m excited to read about Kandy and I’m very intrigued by the Buddha relic. Interesting legends about the mystery of the tooth!!

  9. I have a lot of cities on my “wish to travel” list. I have to say that Sri Lankai hasn’t been on it prior to this. In fact, if I am honest, I really didn’t know much about it. However, you have described what may be a wonderful and beautiful experience!

  10. Kandy is indeed bestowed with immense beauty. The Botanical Garden is simply a paradise for nature lovers like me. Buddha’s Tooth relic temple is extremely fascinating with an interesting history associated with it. Sri Lanka is on my bucket list and I’ll definitely visit Kandy whenever I go there.

  11. I haven’t visited Sri Lanka but it’s definitely on my wishlist and I love the fact that Lonley Planet says that Kandy is a city that looks good even in the rain. I love travelling and trying the local cuisine when i do so thanks for a great post.

  12. I have always wanted to visit Sri Lanka but I learned so many new things here. The Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya looks absolutely stunning. Now I want to visit even more!

  13. Sri Lanka is probably one of the most underrated travel destinations. What most people don’t know is that it’s actually a very beautiful and peaceful country. This is timely, we are planning to go to Sri Lanka early next year and we’ll include Kandy in our itinerary 🙂

  14. The botanical gardens and lake are amazing. I have never seen botanical gardens that big and colorful. We have a bunch in Texas but they’re kinda boring and are dead most of the year due to the high heat.

  15. I did visit Kandy this year and after reading your blog, I realize that I missed out on many things. I ddid visit the temple of Sacred Tooth Relic although in morning. It looks even more atmospheric in night! It’s a pity I had no idea about Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue. It looks so good. I need to re visit Kandy.

  16. Not sure if my comment posted I have a dodgy internet connection now I can see the pictures so you sold it to me visually to!

  17. Me being a Sri Lankan living in Canada, I just revisited this place through your post. Kandy is known for many for its religious activities and beautiful landscaping. I suggest that anyone who visit Sri Lanka not visit Kandy will regret a big traveling need of the country

  18. I didn’t know Kandy was the centre of Sri Lankan Buddhism and really enjoyed reading more, especially about the tooth relic. I’m also a huge fan of lush botanical gardens, not to mention great local cuisine.

  19. This is a beautiful post! You’ve sold Kandy to me and I’m going to make sure I visit next time I go to Sri Lanka! Great images too! Thanks so much for sharing!

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