A parade of fine destinations strewn across South Asia mix spiritual heritage with gorgeous scenery. Indeed, picturesque pilgrimage sites have a long history on the Indian subcontinent. Few, however, combine nature and holiness with the kind of genteel poise so resonant in one of Sri Lanka’s predominant tourist hot spots. The “Sacred City of Kandy”, as the UNESCO World Heritage inscription affirms, was the last capital of the ancient rulers of Sri Lanka, patrons of a venerable culture that spans more than 2,500 years.
Kandy’s Colonial influence
The history of the Central Province city of 110,000 people mirrors that of other independent kingdoms throughout South Asia, which one by one, fell under the yoke of colonial rule. Kandy is a notable case, however, in that for hundreds of years, the local sovereigns kept first the Portuguese and then the Dutch, at bay. The British finally broke the grip of Sinhala dominion in the early 19th Century and, over time, brought the usual bellwethers of highlands colonial rule, from tea plantations to hill station estates.
The ensemble of Kandy’s ancient monuments, however, is spectacularly intact. Temples, shrines, royal palaces and pinnacles of Sinhalese design grace the compact cityscape and together, offer a cultural panorama without peer in dynamic Sri Lanka.
Kandy’s Top 10
- Kandy Garrison Cemetery dates back to 1817 and is wonderfully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
- Udawattakelle Sanctuary is a lush grove of titanic trees, magnificent bird life, macaques, boars, deer and a colourful cast of rare, endemic creatures.
- Asgiriya Maha Vihara is the temple home for a vital order of monks, the most senior of whom manage the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
- >Malwatte Maha Vihara is Kandy’s other monastic chapter of note and a co-guardian of the Tooth Relic.
- Muttiah Muralitharan International Cricket Stadium was expressly built as a premier host oval for the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. The stadium holds 35,000 fans.
- National Museum of Kandy is a first-rate repository of precious objects, artefacts and relevant historic documents.
- Hantata Estate Tea Museum offers a peerless look into the cultivation history of the foremost crop and is wholly contained inside a superb plantation factory and house.
- Royal Botanical Garden is on the outskirts of Kandy, in nearby Peradeniya, but well worth the trip. The marvellous attraction welcomes close to 1.5 million visitors every year.
- Lankatilaka Temple is one of the most important archetypes of traditional Sinhalese architecture left in Sri Lanka.
- Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is Kandy’s unquestionable prime tourism and spiritual pilgrimage magnet. Sri Dalada Maligawa, as the temple is locally known, is universally venerated for the relic of the tooth of Buddha. The sanctuary and temple form the bedrock of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage inscription.