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Kandy City Guide

Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s most prestigious and famous cities, both in terms of its historical and cultural significance. Located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka and hidden within the island’s hilly countryside, Kandy was the last kingdom of Sri Lanka to fall to colonialism. In addition to its sheer beauty, the city of Kandy is known for being the home of the Sri DaladaMaligawa – the famous temple where the Lord Buddha’s tooth is currently located.

Home to over a 125,000 of Sri Lankans, Kandy is one of the island’s top 10 most populous cities. The city’s name is English in origin,however, it is derived from the Sinhala phrase, “Kanda Uda Rata”, meaning “the land of the mountain” and the Spanish concoction, “Candea”. However, in the Sinhala language of today, Kandy is referred to as “Maha Nuwara”, which means “Great City”. As the final city and kingdom to fall to colonialism, Kandy remains one of the beacons of pride for Sri Lankans, both within Kandy and around the country. King Vikramabahu III was initially credited with establishing the city of Kandy between 1357–1374 CE. At the time, Vikramabahu was the monarch of the Kingdom of Gampola, near the Watapuluwa area, north of the present city, and named Senkadagalapura at the time.

The city of Kandy and its surrounding areas witnessed rapid growth, given the region’s reputation for its cultural significance – given that vast numbers of local and international tourists visiting the city. With an elevation of 465 metres (1,526 ft) above sea level, Kandy has many scenic sites that attract local and international tourists from around the world. The Peradeniya Garden located within the city’s vicinityfurther complements city’s multitude of attributes and benefits, making Kandy a destination that not only draws tourists as a result of its cultural value, but also due to its aesthetic value. A quick view of Kandy and its surroundings could take you to the neighbouring University of Peradeniya and the Botanical Gardens, in close proximity, for you to get an even more enhanced view of the region’s beauty.

While Colombo holds many of the country’s economic value, Kandy also has significant clout as the island nation’s second-largest city and the capital of Central Province of Sri Lanka. Colombo may have most of the major headquarter sites, however, given Kandy’s close proximity to one of the best universities in Sri Lanka, the University of Peradeniya, many major corporations and industry leaders have established large branch offices within the city Kandy. These industries include the textiles, gemstone, furniture, information technology, and jewellery industries.

In terms of demographics, Kandy is predominantly Sinhala Buddhist, with a population that comprises of more than 70.5%, followed by Sri Lankan Moors who comprise nearly 11%, and Sri Lankan Tamils who comprise around 11% of the city’s total population. The city’s overall diversity is far lower than what you may find in other cosmopolitan areas, like Colombo, however, this is largely due to the fact that Kandy is a predominantly Buddhist-oriented city.

 

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A city atop a lush plateau overlooking the glistening Bogambara lake, Kandy is home to a plethora of historical sights that pay homage to its illustrious past. As a kingdom of considerable power in ancient Sri Lanka, Kandy served as the home of the last native King and was thus a hotbed for many significant events in Sri Lanka’s vibrant history. If you’re keen to take a journey back in time and immerse yourself in the colonial roots of the country, the following sites would be of significant interest to you.

Royal Palace of Kandy

If you’re looking to get a glimpse of the former grandeur and glory of the last kingdom of Sri Lanka, the Royal Palace of Kandy is a must visit.

Believed to be built in the 14th century A.D., the kingdom plays host to stunning architectural sights including the MagulMaduwa, the royal assembly hall of the Kingdom. Built by King Sri VickramaRajasinghe, the last king of Sri Lanka, it is said that this was where Kandyan chieftains signed the Kandyan Convention with the British, marking an end to native rule in the country in 1815, when the British effectively took over sole control. The palatial grounds are also home to other buildings such as the revered Temple of the Tooth Relic, the King’s and Queen’s palaces, and even the King’s harem quarters.

British Garrison Cemetery

Similar to Colombo, Kandy too was subject to heavy colonial influence which to this day lingers in the bustling city. The Cemetery is evidence of this, and hosts the scenic resting place of British nationals who lived in colonial Sri Lanka, under British rule. It also contains the graves of a few prominent individuals, including Sir John D’Oyly, one of the more prominent administrators of the country, who was also responsible for the drafting of the infamous Kandyan Convention. Sources state that the most common causes deaths among the slumberers of the resting grounds were cholera and malaria, as well as heat stroke.

If you’re more interested in the grimier parts of Sri Lankan history, the cemetery caretaker Mr. Charles Carmichael is an excellent guide to show you around and give you tidbits of more obscure information about its inhabitants and some of their more unusual stories.

Kandy National Museum

Interestingly enough, the Kandyan museum was once home to the king’s many consorts, before the British took control of the island in 1815. Subsequent to this however, the pallevahalabuilding as it was known, was used to store items of historical value by the Kandy Art Association set up in 1832 and technicians of Matale. It was officially opened as a public museum in 1942. Situated close to the Royal Palace of Kandy, the museum is simply one stop in a galore of historical sites in the heart of Kandy Town.

The Museum hosts items of historical significance such as the crown of the last king, as well as the 1815 Convention, among approximately 5000 museum objects from the heyday of the Kandyan Kingdom.

The Kandy Lake

It is not surprising that in a city brimming with so much historical value that the manmade lake forming the centre of the ancient Kandyan Kingdom, is itself a site of high significance. Also known as the Kiri Muhudaor Sea of Milk, the lake contains a small island at its centre which itself is subject to much folklore and legend.

Formerly a stretch of paddy fields converted into a lake by King Sri VickramaRajasinghe, the Queen’s bathing pavilion was partly situated on the waters of the lake, used both by the Queen and the king’s concubines, which the British supposedly later converted into a library. Boat rides on the lake are undertaken and can be easily arranged, or you can simply lap up all that history with a pleasant stroll around the lake.

 

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An idyllic haven nestled in the mountainous central province of Sri Lanka, Kandy is home to an array of historic religious landmarks. Crowning the city, these treasure troves whose existence has sealed Kandy’s reputation as a sacred city of old, are a must visit for those intent on experiencing the intertwining forces of history and religion in the Lankan context.

So if you’re either a pilgrim or simply curious to know about the religious heritage of Sri Lanka, the following list aims to identify prominent sites to visit if you ever find yourself in this beautiful city.

Temple of the Tooth

Containing the tooth relic of the revered Lord Buddha, The Temple of the Tooth or the Sri Dalada Maligawa as it is commonly known among locals, was built around the 17th century close to the Royal Palace in Kandy. In ancient Sri Lanka, the relic was a symbol of great power, its protection of foremost importance to local rulers. Despite being moved around by certain kings, it was resettled in Kandy in the 18th century. The shrine itself was rebuilt by a number of subsequent rulers, who also organised many religious festivities such as peraheras to commemorate its significance.

The temple constitutes the heart of Kandy, and venturing into the city without a visit to the world renown shrine would be remiss, especially if one is to experience the deeply embedded religious roots of the local culture.

Kandy Esala Perahera

The Kandy Esala Perahera which takes place in July every year, is a festive commemoration of the tooth relic and the four guardian gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Goddess Pattini. During this time, the city is lined with processions of captivating dances amidst torches of fire, richly dressed elephants, drummers and dignitaries, all committed to the veneration of one of the centrepieces of the country’s religious heritage.

The annual pageant is made up of a number of different peraheras, each with its own historical significance and meaning. The procession is a sight to behold amidst inky skies and is definitely worth all the wait involved. Head to Kandy during this time and witness one of the greatest and most breathtaking buddhist celebrations across the world.

St. Paul’s Church, Kandy

Kandy is not just home to Buddhist history and heritage, but that of Christian influence as well; a remnant and reminder of its colonial past. Following the establishment of St. Paul’s Church in the mid 19th century, His Majesty King George III gifted a silver gilt communion set to fulfil the religious needs of the British military garrison. This is used even to this day especially on occasions of high festivity such as Christmas and Easter.

The cruciform build of the church features colonial style architecture, with picturesque bare brick windows and a weather beaten high tower. The church is also home to an antique pipe organ, and is located very close to the Temple of the Tooth; perhaps a nod to the cultural diversity of Sri Lankan society.

Lankatilaka Temple

Built upon the Panhagala rock, the Lankatilaka Temple or vihare as it is known in the native language, is situated in Udunuwara, Kandy. It is a site of great significance in the religious history of the country, and is deemed to be one of the most magnificent architectural creations arising out of the Gampola Era. It has been publicly opined that the temple also carries traces of Dravidian and Indo-Chinese patterns, courtesy of its South Indian architect.

The temple is home to rich hand drawn paintings depicting the Buddhist culture, as well as traditional Sinhalese sculptures. If you’re in the mood for an eclectic mix of culture and art, the Temple is one stop you have to make.

 

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Kandy is not just a city of scenic beauty and famed historical heritage. In preserving its role as a guardian of times past, the city has not lagged in keeping abreast of more modern trends. Rivalling the cafes and restaurants in commercial hub, Colombo, the city hosts a wide range of novel and well-run eateries catering both to locals and its growing number of tourists. If you ever find yourself in Kandy Town and are keen to experience some of its finest cuisine, here are a few places worth checking out.

Empire Cafe

A seriously retro and vintage cafe-cum-restaurant located within the historic Colonial Empire Hotel, Empire Cafe is placed in the heart of Kandy, in close proximity to the Temple of the Tooth. The eatery dishes out a range of affordable and delicious food, ranging from burgers, naan and homemade ice cream, ensuring there’s something good to gobble for just about anyone. While the drinks served fall a little short of the same standard, the cafe is certainly a safe and wallet friendly option if you’re travelling in large groups. Bon appetite!

Slightly Chilled

While its name may leave you in some doubt about the nature of the food served at this ambiguously named eating joint, Slightly Chilled serves up hot and delectable dishes leaving you in a more than slightly chilled mood. The restaurant is a British venture that also plays home to two adorable and human friendly boxer dogs, setting a very relaxed atmosphere to wine and dine in. The menu features a range of traditional carbs, and a long list of well prepared meats to choose from, including seafood. Whilst not particularly too creative with its dessert options, the restaurant does serve up vegetarian dishes, salads, as well as decent continental fare.

Cafe Secret Alley

The newest entrant onto the #Superfood scene is Cafe Secret Alley, serving Instagram worthy smoothie bowls with fresh local produce for the growing community of health conscious eaters in Kandy. Indeed located down a somewhat hard to come-by alley, the city’s new hipster spot does not feature an extensive menu, which it more than makes up for with its range of wholesome smoothies, coffee, fresh fruit juices and smoothies bowls, that are both nutritious and delicious.

Bonus? The Cafe’s friendly owner is generally happy to regale you with funny anecdotes of neighbouring monkeys and other tales.

Theva Cuisine

A toasty range of breads, boozy passion fruit and arrack cocktails, and a killer view of the majestic Hanthana hills. What more could you ask for? On hand with all of this and more is the classy Theva Cuisine restaurant, catering to Kandy’s budding foodie community with their range of well executed dishes and drinks. The menu features an impressive list of items and includes a breakfast section, catering to the carnivorous appetites of most Sri Lankans, eager to get in all those perfectly fried and sizzling proteins at any given part of the day. While their mains and desserts look almost too good to eat, it’s more enjoyable making the food on your plate slowly disappear.

Mlesna Tea Fortress

Despite being situated slightly before Kandy Town itself, the proximity of the cafe to the city as well as its array of slurp worthy tea and food, makes this tea fortress a must visit on our list. The restaurant features a generous menu, albeit with very pricy markers that may make you double take. However the food is of high quality and the tea is nothing short of comfort in a cup. So if you’re willing to splurge, Mlesna’s picturesque landscaped restaurant should not be missed!

Hit us up if you wish to know more about Kandy’s eateries and we’ll come through! In the meantime feel free to browse through more information on the city in our sections below.