My guidebook states that Kandy is ‘the most beautiful city in the world’, and I’m inclined to agree. On my second visit, it was as enchanting as ever.
Nestled among verdant hills and on the banks of the Mahaweli river, Kandy is full of fragrance and colour with temples, markets and traditional rickshaws weaving their way through heavy traffic. When you reach the heart of the city, you are greeted by the beautiful Kandy lake. The lake was created in 1807 for the pleasure of the cruel King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. A few years later, he surrendered the last Sinhalese kingdom to the British, and today everyone can enjoy the lake.
Small boats beckon, ready for a cruise, but I preferred to walk around. I walked just over 3km, along the Cloud Wall – a white parapet left unfinished after the take over – and the cool shaded trails. Walking past the queen's bathhouse and creeks ablaze with flowers, I spotted white egrets and Indian cormorants. I sat on a bench to gaze at the views from the lonely palm trees to the hills. It was so peaceful; the city seemed a world away. You could feel the vibes rippling across the water from the Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka's most holy shrine. The 17th-century temple was named after the relic of the tooth of Buddha, which has played an important role in the history and politics of Kandy. Whoever has the tooth has governance of the country.
So, we joined the many pilgrims, laden with offerings. We headed across the moat and up the majestic stairway towards the drummers' courtyard. The relic is kept on the upper floor of the building opposite but only believers can imagine what it looks like! The tooth is locked away within seven gem-studded gold caskets, tucked inside each other like Russian dolls. Yet, when you set eyes on the main shrine, draped in ivory and gold, it may well send shivers down your spine. I’d recommend allowing plenty of time to look around because there are so many generous donations to see; a world heritage site that is amazingly rich in paintings, wood carvings and sculptures.
We then watched the traditional Kandyan dancers in a nearby hall who put on a fabulous show. Merely a glance into what you might see during the summer’s Perahera festival. During this festival, a replica of the tooth casket is paraded around town after dark, among decorated elephants, dancers, whip crackers, fire eaters and more. On the final day, a water ceremony is held by the Mahaweli river.
On the edge of town, our luxurious Earl's Regency hotel offered views of the hills and the Mahaweli river, which loops around the city. The Royal Botanical Gardens are fit for a king. Flowering year round, the garden has 4,000 species of plants and is home to exotic birds and hundreds of fruit bats hanging in the trees. The gardens date back to 1371 when King Wickramabahu III ascended the throne. Then, in 1821, Alexander Moon used the gardens to grow coffee and cinnamon plants – the 'black gold' – and later, redesigned it for plants and trees.
We spent the whole morning wandering around, marvelling at the orchid collection, medicinal plants, tropical flowers and spices. We also saw a giant Burmese bamboo, a Javan fig tree with its roots spreading like tentacles and a cannonball fruit tree planted by George V. We loved the Great Lawn and the Royal Palm Avenue and had fun crossing the rickety suspension bridge over the river.
Now was it time to leave my favourite city? Not quite, for the gem factory was just down the road…
Cox & Kings' Sri Lanka: The Enchanted Island group tour spends two nights in Kandy, where you can visit the Temple of the Tooth and the Royal Botanical Gardens. Alternatively, you can speak to one of our India experts to organise a tailor-made holiday.