An insider’s guide to Kandy with cazenove+loyd
Considered the spiritual heart of Sri Lanka, Kandy is home to the country’s most holy relic, the Buddha’s Tooth. Nestled among hills and forests, the city encircles an artificial lake constructed in 1807 by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. Indeed, this was once the capital of the ancient kings – Sri Lanka’s last kingdom. However, it fell under British rule in 1815, following an agreement made with the local chiefs, and traces of the British are evident throughout the bustling streets. Today, it is still made up of an intriguing mishmash of colonial-era and Kandyan architecture. Most of our clients spend two nights here, which, in our opinion, is the perfect length of time.
Mists often cling to the surrounding lush, green hills in the morning, and if you’re seeking respite from the midday heat, we suggest a visit to the Udawattakele Reserve, the lungs of the city. Situated above the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, and once the king’s personal gardens, the urban forest harbours a variety of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for monkeys! It is a wonderful place for a walk and lovely escape from the hustle and bustle.
Due to its temperate climate, Sri Lanka has been a key destination for merchants trading spices for more than 2,000 years. Within Kandy’s Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens, once reserved for royalty, you can find a wealth of spices, with everything from nutmeg, cloves and pepper to cinnamon and cardamom. Established by the British in 1821, there are more than 4,000 plant species in the 50-hectare area, including many types of palms, orchids and medicinal plants. We can arrange a fascinating morning with a local botanist who will bring this glorious garden to life. The many trees also make for some delightful, shady picnic spots.
Kandy’s lively alleyways and markets are best explored on foot, whether you’re keen to shop or just soak up the atmosphere. Our favourite guides know all the best secret spots and will help you to find exactly what you’re searching for, as you wander through a labyrinth of market stalls selling everything from incense and textiles to Ayurvedic lotions and potions. This is also a great way to watch the local people go about their daily business.
One of the country’s most significant festivals takes place in Kandy. The Esala Perahera, held annually in July or August, honours the city’s treasured Buddhas’s Tooth. Steeped in history and tradition, this colourful, lively and loud affair is celebrated with elegant costumes and drumming, a big part of the Perahera. For those keen to get an insight into the region’s cultural customs, we can organise for you to enjoy a few hours with an expert local drumming teacher who can teach you about the history and techniques of drumming, as well as the different types of drum. This is a particularly fun experience for families.
One of the main draws to Kandy is that it hosts Sri Lanka’s most important temple: the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic. Its exterior is rather striking, with its red-tiled roof and white walls overlooking Kandy Lake, but inside is where the magic really happens. The chamber, where the daily rituals are carried out, is elaborately decorated – with intricate carving and beautifully painted exotic woods. We recommend witnessing the evening puja here. Before you enter, your guide will buy a bundle of candy-coloured frangipani and lotus flowers from one of the many stalls that line the streets outside the temple. You then proceed barefoot, shuffling behind the locals, taking in the smells of the incense and soaking in the atmosphere. As dusk falls, the sounds of the temple and prayers fill the air. It is a very memorable experience.
Experiencing a puja is not necessarily for everyone, so the temple can also be visited at quieter parts of the day. If you’re seeking an altogether more peaceful experience, your guide can also take you to some of the less-visited temples in and around Kandy. There are three particularly compelling temples nearby that we recommend going to: Gadaladeniya is known for its exquisite stone carvings and south Indian-style architecture; Embekke, built in 1371 by King Wickrama Bahu III, is a wooden temple dedicated to the god Kataragama; and Lankathilaka lies at the crest of a large rock overlooking the Hanthana mountains. A short distance from one another, they are easy to explore and a living testimony to the country’s Buddhist heritage, history and exceptional craftsmanship.
For those looking for a more in-depth knowledge of Buddhism, we can arrange for our clients to spend time at a monastery, which provides an open platform for dialogue with one of the nuns, as well as an opportunity to join them in some guided meditation. A few days in Kandy is well worth factoring into your Sri Lankan journey and, using our little black book of friends on the ground, we will ensure you have the best experience possible of this charming city in the hills.