Situated in the heart of Sri Lanka, encircled by lush and verdant green valleys, Kandy is the base for many a foray up to the cultural quadrangle or down south to Nuwara Eliya. Yet it is important to remember that Kandy has its own variety of mystique and magic.
I had spent one night in Colombo before a morning train journey with ExpoRail to Kandy. I arrived in Kandy just after 9.30am, which meant I had the whole day really to explore what the little city had to offer. The ExpoRail “first class” carriage is actually bolted on to the rear of the rest of the train, which I did not know when I got there. However, after a few mumblings to myself I just sat back in the air conditioned carriage and enjoyed the views. First class on Sri Lankan railways is not what you would be accustomed to in the UK or in Japan, for example, but nonetheless it meant staying out of cattle class, and having a guaranteed seat reservation, with drinks and snacks thrown in for good measure. The first class return fare from Colombo to Kandy cost me the equivalent of just £13 – I thought this was great value!
Though still hectic, compared to Colombo, Kandy was positively sleepy! There was an element of calmness around the streets and roads, even though to the untrained eye (and ear) it was extremely busy out there! It is a relatively small city, and this enables tourists to see most of what the area has to offer. I didn’t have to stray too far to enjoy the sights and sounds of everyday Sri Lankan life for these residents of Kandy.
The cultural aspect of Kandy was amazing, and I spent too long perusing the markets. I think the locals were annoyed that I didn’t want to buy anything, but I was insistent that I was only ‘window-shopping’! This was, after all, still my first afternoon in Kandy after having arrived from Colombo earlier that day, and I was very wet from the tropical monsoon that had just ensued. Luckily, it dried up later on in the day and I was able to enjoy a nice refreshing walk beside the Mahaweli River before trying my first ever Sri Lankan meal in a riverside restaurant (so cheap!). After this, I headed straight back through the markets to the hotel empty-handed – much to the disgruntlement of the local traders!
One of the most incredible places I visited near Kandy was the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya. The landscaping there is awesome, especially its orchid collection, and gives a good insight to the kind of flora and fauna in this neck of the woods. I saw many monkeys and peacocks, but was happy not to have sighted a leopard that are known to stalk prey in these parts.
The Temple of the Tooth is very expensive and slightly overrated World Heritage Site. I feel that there are many superior Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka to this one. However, situated in the Royal Complex of the former Kandy Kingdom, the Temple of the Tooth remains one of the highlights of the city and is usually bursting at the seams with tourists and locals alike. The temple is so-called because it supposedly houses a relic of the tooth of Buddha. The interior is fantastic with not only grandiose ceiling murals, but also with elephants depicted in stone on the walls.
Further afield is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I do not always agree with keeping animals in captivity, but some of the elephants here at Pinnawala were showing signs of wear and tear. I learned that the elephants arrived here like this and that the orphanage was there to look after them and help them get better. They term the orphanage as a “captive breeding centre”, which is spread over 25 acres of land. It was cool to stand on the riverbank and watch the elephants bathe and play with each other!