Kandy that almost sounds like deliciously spelled Candy, is at the heart of Sri Lanka – literally. This is where Sri Lanka’s world-famous central highlands begin. This is where the last king lived and ruled. Kandy is where the most revered spot in Sri Lanka lives – its most prized possession – Tooth Relic of Buddha. In fact, once you have paid your respects at the temple of Tooth Relic, nothing else matters.
I have been there twice – once way back in 2005 and then again, this year in summer. So, I guess it is time, I take you on a virtual journey that you can do in a day.
Things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka
If you just have one day to spend here – this is what must see before you leave the city.
Start your day by having the best view of the city that has a lovely waterbody 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 Relic
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 only relic of Buddha that Sri Lanka has. I had an opportunity to see this Tooth Relic when it was in Bodh Gaya for an occasion. It was just a serendipitous moment.
Temple of Tooth Relic is housed in a former palace of the King 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 color. Behind it is a silver door. The Tooth Relic has a long history in Sri Lanka – it is where the power of Sri Lanka is. So it gets the maximum security along with respect and devotion. The Tooth Relic chamber has lovely painted panels in wood depicting various auspicious signs of Buddhist and the stories from Buddhism.
On the upper floor, there is a wooden palace like structure. Here I saw the devotees who mostly wear 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 all 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. At the back of the temple, the tall carved stone frame is beautiful.
Museums at Tooth Relic Temple
There are two museums in the Tooth Relic temple premises – that take you through the journey of Sri Lanka 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 watching. There is an open-air museum with sculptures excavated from the temple and around. Not many of them are in good condition but they do give you an idea of the art forms prevalent in 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 Buddhist and Hindu deities. The biggest temple that is across the road, though still a part of Tooth Relic temple complex, is dedicated to Vishnu. I saw a curious circular formation on the ground that no one could explain to me. Of course, I had a language barrier to cross too.
You need a minimum of 2 hours at the Temple of Tooth Relic. If you are a deep traveler, you can spend a day here exploring all the museums and temples in this complex.
Ticket – 1500 SLR
Boat Ride on Mahaweli River
I was staying at Cinnamon Citadel 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 with nature. The river looks green from the reflection of all the greenery on its banks. In between the Gulmohar trees shined bright with their orange color and that too reflected in the waters of Mahaveli. But, when are journeys without their share of surprises!
On the other bank of Mahaweli, I met several water monitor lizards. Some of them were lazing on the banks – after a good swim. Some were just coming out. It was fascinating to watch the Water Monitor Lizards so close to their natural habitat. Later I would see some of them at Galle too.
A turtle was basking in the sun on a dry tree. One of the trees seemed to be reserved for the flying foxes for every inch of it was full of hanging birds. There were lots of birds flying around, but the trees around were too thick to let them capture.
I could see people taking out 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 head out for exploring the rest of the places of interest.
Visit a Wood Workshop
Wood carving is one of the favorite art forms of Sri Lanka. You get lovely wood carved masks. I always like to go behind the scenes for art forms. So, I visited a workshop where I saw the 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 the natural stone based colors to add color and convert their artwork to masterpieces.
Sri Lankans also like to frame their driftwood artistically.
Read More – Best Sri Lanka Souvenirs to Buy
Visit a Gemstone Workshop
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 mine look alike room and watch a film that explains to you how the traditional mining is done in Sri Lanka. One can understand the tedious and long process that a stone goes through before it takes the pride place in your jewelry.
You can see the gemstones being polished, being cut, being shaped and being framed. 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 the trip. 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 here as I checked out post lunch and after visiting the markets. Incidentally, Royal Botanical Gardens also stand on the banks of Mahaweli River.
These royal gardens date back to late 14th CE when the kings of Kandy built them on the banks of Mahaweli River. There was a temple also built inside. 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 to walk around. 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 lines with bamboo trees and the canopy they form. These are some of the thickest and loveliest bamboos you can see.
- Walk across the Hanging Bridge on Mahaweli River – At the far edge of the main gate is this fragile looking bridge. It sways when you walk on it. Walking on it is Pure fun with a bit of thrill.
- Open Circle – In the middle of the garden is a huge open circle surrounded by thick trees. With trees and water bodies all around birds can’t be far away. I saw thousands of them flying in the sky, playing around.
- Tree lines paths – A walking path going around the garden is lined with tall trees and it is a very picturesque walk.
- Curiously Shaped Trees – Almost everywhere you will find trees in curious shapes. It is fun to see how the trees choose to grow if they are not interrupted or guided.
These gardens here kept reminding me of the Singapore Botanic Gardens which are also a British Creation.
There are smaller gardens within this huge Royal Botanical Gardens like a Fernery. There is a small restaurant where you can get good and beverages.
Best way to discover and enjoy this garden is to follow the map that you get along with the ticket.
Ticket – 1500 SLR
By the time I finished these key attractions, it was dusk and time to say good Bye to the lovely city.
- It is a big town in Sri Lanka. It is well connected with all other parts of the country by road.
- You can use a taxi or a bus or a train to reach. Within the city, you can hire cabs or Tuk Tuks for traveling.
- It gets a fair share of tourists and the city is well geared up for them.
- The workshops I mentioned above are free but they are attached to shops that expect you to buy something in return.
- There are ample hotels to choose from. I stayed at Cinnamon Citadel which is an old hotel on the banks of the river with lovely views of the river.
- Do read about Travel Scams in Sri Lanka.