Kandy is where the last king lived and ruled from. It is where the most revered object in Sri Lanka is located – its most prized possession – the Tooth Relic of the Buddha. In fact, once you have paid your respects at the Temple of the Tooth, nothing else matters.
I have been to Kandy twice – once way back in 2005 and then again, this year. Here is a virtual tour to Kandy that you can accomplish in a day. If you just have one day to spend in Kandy this is what you must see before you leave the city.
Start your day by having the best view of the city of Kandy that has a lovely water body at its center. There is, of course, Mahaweli River that I would take you to in a while. Arthur’s seat is a high point that you can take a car to. Get down and stand on the viewing platform. You would see a water tank surrounded by lovely structures with red slanted roofs, all of these surrounded by lush green trees.
Bang opposite the Arthur Seat viewpoint, on the opposite side of the lake, is a structure in white – this is the temple of Tooth Relic. It is a great place to get a bird’s eye view of this temple. The one on the edge of the water reflects beautifully in the water. Rest of Kandy is in the surrounding hills. If you look intently, you would see white stupas peeping from the hills.
I suggest early morning at this point as it would get too hot and the views are just a great place to start your day. I was there around 6.30 am.
Temple of Tooth
The Temple of Tooth Relic or Sri Dalada Maligawa is at the heart of Kandy city and Sri Lanka. It is the most revered temple, and why not, for this houses the Buddha’s tooth relic. I had an opportunity to see this Tooth Relic when it was in Bodh Gaya for an occasion. It was just a serendipitous moment.
The Temple of Tooth is located within the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy. You can see this when you see the pristine white building surrounded by a wide moat. There is a colorful circular roof on top as you enter the temple depicting the elephant processions.
The main temple has many elephant tusks standing in front of it like guardians. The temple was closed when I visited but a cloth painting of the Tooth Relic casket hung in front of it in bright red. Behind it is a silver door. The Tooth Relic has a long history in Sri Lanka – it is said that it is where Sri Lanka’s power is. So it gets the maximum security along with the respect and devotion. The Tooth Relic chamber has lovely painted wooden panels depicting various auspicious signs referenced in Buddhism.
On the upper floor, there is a wooden palace like structure. Here I saw the devotees, who mostly wore white, offering flowers. There is a lovely painting of Princess Hemamala and her husband Prince Dantha bringing the Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka.
After the main temple, there is a long narrow corridor with a brilliant golden Buddha image at one end. The long walls are full of the story of the Tooth Relic. From the time it came to Sri Lanka, where ever it has traveled. It was at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa before it reached Kandy. I would not be surprised if battles were fought for this Tooth Relic. The tall carved stone frame at the back of the temple is beautiful.
There are two museums at the Temple of the Tooth premises that take you through the journey of Sri Lankan artifacts. There is a large wooden pavilion that may have been a council hall at some point in time. The carvings on the top of the pillars are worth noting. There is an open-air museum with sculptures excavated from the temple and surrounding areas. Not many of them are in good condition but they do give you an idea of the standard of art that prevailed in ancient Sri Lanka. Common motifs include elephants and a Devi sitting on a formation made by other women.
There are many other smaller temples dedicated to deities. The biggest temple that is across the road, though still a part of the Temple of the Tooth complex, is dedicated to God Vishnu. I saw a curious circular formation on the ground that no one could explain me. Of course, I had a language barrier to cross too.
You need a minimum of two hours to explore the Temple of the Tooth. If you are a serious traveler, you can spend a day here exploring all the museums and temples in the complex.
Boat ride on Mahaweli River
I was staying at a hotel in Kandy that is located right on the banks of River Mahaveli. From here I took a boat ride on the river. It was quite an experience!
When I boarded the boat, I expected nothing but some time spent in nature. The river looks green from the reflection of the all the greenery on its banks. In between the Mara trees shined bright with their orange hue and this too reflected in the waters of Mahaveli.
On the other bank of Mahaweli, I saw several water monitors. Some of them were langushing on the banks – after a good swim. Some were just coming out. It was fascinating to watch the water monitor so close to their natural habitat.
A turtle was basking in the sun on a dry tree trunk. One of the trees seemed to be reserved for bats for every inch of it was covered by these flying mammals. There were lots of birds flying around, but the trees around were too thick for to take photographs of them.
I could see people mining sand from the middle of the river. There were fishermen boating in their traditional way. They would show off their catch as we crossed paths. After a long morning, it was time for lunch before I headed out exploring rest of Kandy.
Visit a wood workshop
Wood carving is one of the favorite art forms of Sri Lanka. You get lovely wood carved masks. As I always liked to go behind the scenes, I visited a workshop where I watched wood artifacts including some lovely furniture being carved. The carpenters took a piece of wood and converted it into a piece of art. They then used earth hues to add color and convert their artwork to masterpieces. Sri Lankans also like to frame their driftwood.
In Kandy, I visited a gemstone store that has a gemstone center. It takes you through the journey of gemstones right from the time they are mined. You walk through a model mine and watch a film that explains to you how the traditional mining is done in Sri Lanka. One can understand the long and tedious process that a stone goes through before it takes the pride of place in your jewelry.
You can watch the gemstones being polished, cut, shaped and fixed. You will appreciate your gemstones much more after you have seen their journey. This also means that you would be more tempted to buy them as you know they are precious.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya
Now, this is the most scenic part of Kandy. Ideally, I would have wanted to come here for a morning or evening walk but its timings ensure that you walk here during the day. So, I was there as I checked out of Kandy post lunch and after visiting the Kandy markets. Incidentally, Royal Botanical Gardens also stand on the banks of Mahaweli River.
These royal gardens date back to late 14 CE when the kings of Kandy built them on the banks of Mahaweli River. A temple was built inside, but was later destroyed by the British. However, what you see today is primarily what was built by the British when they were ruling the country.
Spread across 150 acres or so, it is a sprawling garden. There are quite a few things that you can see, but what stands out for me are the following:
Things to observe at Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya
• Bamboos – There are lots of Bamboo trees or paths with bamboo trees lining the path on either side and the foliage forming a canopy above. These are some of the thickest and loveliest bamboos I have seen.
• Walk across the Hanging Bridge over Mahaweli River – This fragile looking bridge is at the far end near the main gate of the Gardens. It sways when you walk on it. Walking on it affords a thrilling sensation.
• Open circle – In the middle of the garden is a huge open circle surrounded by thick trees. With trees and water all around birds can’t be far away. I saw thousands of them flying in the sky, playing around.
• Tree lined paths – A walking path that runs the length and breadth of the garden is lined with tall trees and it is a very picturesque walk.
• Curiously shaped trees – Almost everywhere you will find trees of curious shapes. It is fun to see how trees choose to grow if they are not interrupted or guided.
Royal Botanical gardens kept reminding me of the Singapore Botanic Gardens which are also a British Creation. There are smaller gardens within the huge Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya like the Fernery. There is a small restaurant where you can get good and beverages.
The best way to discover and enjoy this garden is to follow the map that you get along with the ticket. By the time I finished these key Kandy attractions, it was dusk and time to bid good bye to the lovely city of Kandy.