Sri Lanka’s Kandy in a Day

Photo by Gavin Thomas

Explore the temples, museums and music of Sri Lanka's cultural capital

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See the best of Kandy in a day. Start the morning at the Temple of Tooth, ideally at around 9.30am, in order to see the morning puja (lasting around thirty minutes), during which the temple’s resident drummers fill the inner courtyard with a marvellous barrage of beats and bangings and crowds gather to catch a glimpse of the casket containing the Tooth Relic itself. Count on around an hour (maybe a bit longer) to explore the temple complex, including the shrine to Raja, the former maligawa tusker (the elephant charged with leading the great annual Esala Perahera parade), whose stuffed body now stands in state in its own building.

Directly behind the temple you’ll find a couple of large museums: the moderately interesting National Museum, Kandy, and the quirky Museum of World Buddhism, stuffed full of an eclectic hotch-potch of Buddhist artefacts from across Asia. Both are worth a visit, although neither is as memorable as the beautiful little Kandy Garrison Cemetery, slightly further east off Angarika Dharmapala Mawatha, containing around a hundred old colonial-era graves and monuments recording the (often tragically brief) lives of Kandy’s first European inhabitants. Look out in particular for the striking tomb of Sir John D’Oyly, who played a key role in brokering the hand-over of the city to the British in 1815.

Sri Lanka’s Kandy in a Day: Lunch

There are a number of places to eat on or near Dalada Vidiya. The lively Devon’s restaurant is good for cheap eats and a lively local atmosphere. Alternatively, try the more sedate and touristy Empire Café, occupying a beautiful old colonial building on Temple Street, close to the main entrance to the Temple of the Tooth.

Sri Lanka’s Kandy in a Day: Afternoon

Return to the entrance to the temple, turn right along Deva Vidiya and then right again to reach the fascinating (but surprisingly little visited) area directly in front of the Temple of the Tooth. This is home to a trio of small but enjoyable temples: the Pattini Devale, complete with gigantic bo tree perched on a huge platform; the ancient Natha Devale; and the colourful Vishnu Devale. Inserted into the northwest corner of the area you’ll also notice the British-colonial St Paul’s Church whose time warped interior is well worth a look (although the church is usually kept locked).

After lunch, walk down around the west side of the lake and then start climbing up Rajapahila Mawatha. There are fine views from the leafy little Royal Palace Park, although they get even better as you continue up eastwards along the road, with lake and city laid out below one’s feet and the huge Bahiravakanda Buddha statue looming over the city to the west.

Continue east along the road until you reach the McLeod Inn guesthouse (a great, inexpensive place to stay, incidentally). Steps run steeply down the side of the building to reach the top of Saranakara Road, which you can follow all the way back down to the lake. From here, continue back around the lake to the town centre, past the sprawling Malwatta Monastery and with further views of the Temple of the Tooth over the water.

Finish your day by taking in a show of traditional Kandyan dancing, spectacular displays of acrobatic choreography accompanied by the city’s virtuoso drummers beating up a positive storm. These are held at five venues around the centre, starting at 5pm or 5.30pm and lasting around an hour. The show at the Kandyan Arts Association is the biggest and perhaps the best; that at the YMBA the smallest and most intimate.

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