Our latest guest blogger, Vera, tells us all about touring Kandy and the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens with a group of friends:
Last week, we visited Kandy, the historical city without which no tour of Sri Lanka would be complete. Kandy is situated high up in the central Hill Country of the island. All five of us, after having toured the Cultural Triangle, packed into a micro-van eager for a change of scenery. Saman, our chauffer-slash-tour guide, drove us past the dusty streets towards the mountainous highlands.
The sacred Temple of the Tooth in Kandy
As we drove further inland, the air got cooler and the view outside got greener. The dry plains gave way to picturesque palm trees and tea and rubber plantations. Saman skillfully navigated uphill through some really steep roads. We arrived in Kandy mid-morning, which was pleasantly clear. Our first stop was the sacred Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa), located serenely close to the Kandy town center, right by a tranquil lake. The Temple houses a tooth relic of the Buddha, immensely important to the Sinhala Buddhists of the island. I was impressed by the simplistic architecture of such an important religious site. The octagonal structure is soothingly white, apart from the tiled roof, and is surrounded by a “water wall” with holes to light oil lamps.
Stunning inner sanctuary of the Temple of the Tooth.
Saman advised us to dress “modestly” for the temple visit. It’s best to keep shoulders covered and avoid shorts or skirts that come up above the knees when visiting any holy place in Sri Lanka. The Temple was filled with many white-clad devotees burning incense and chanting reverently. No one spoke loudly to each other. Inside the Temple, we saw many exquisitely carved wooden pillars, which seem to mark traditional Sri Lankan architecture. The tooth relic is on the second floor and we had to wait in line a bit with other devotees. And no, we didn’t actually get to see the relic itself. It is safely enclosed inside an effulgent mini-stupa decorated with golden beads. No one ever gets to see the actual tooth relic. We paid our respects and made our way into the beautifully decorated inner sanctuary of the Temple and marveled at the golden Buddha statue there, surrounded by huge elephant tusks. I don’t know if these were actual or plastic.
We couldn’t leave without taking a stroll around the lovely Kandy Lake right next to the temple grounds, which was such a refreshing reprieve during our tour. There were numerous pelicans and storks by the lake, a protected sanctuary with fishing banned, Saman informed us. He also said that the lake is so beautiful because the king of Kandy built it for his queens and consorts to bathe. After our stroll, we walked to the town. Kandy was the capital of the last kingdom of Sri Lanka, a fact well reflected in its architecture and the pride of its people. In the streets of Kandy we observed the modern spirit of this historic city. We walked to the Kandy City Center, where there were many contemporary stores hidden behind old, traditional-style buildings. We shopped at a vibrant street market selling fresh Hill Country produce and bought exotic-looking fruits. We stopped by a roadside eatery for a lunch of local “short eats,” like savory patties, before driving to the Bahirawakanda Temple, up a small mountain. Everywhere we went in Kandy, we could see a coral-white Buddha statue far away looking over the city like a guardian angel. This is the statue of the Bahirawakanda Temple and finally seeing it after climbing up to the temple was mystical. From up here, we got to enjoy an amazingly panoramic view of the city of Kandy, in all its glory. It was almost like we were up in the air looking down.
After we had our fill of the incredible view, we drove to the alluring Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. The place is so well manicured, it felt as if I was walking through the gardens of a royal castle. Perhaps it’s because, as Saman told us, the British colonial administrators had a hand in the original layout of the Gardens. All of us walked enjoying the impressive royal palm trees, beautiful beds of roses and orchids, especially the giant Javan fig tree, which, honestly, looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland. We rested here for a while before we drove to our hotel. I immensely enjoyed our Hill Country tour. Kandy is now definitely my favorite city in Sri Lanka.