It was a cinematic outing in the famous 1984 Hollywood movie, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, that put Kandy in Sri Lanka on the travel map for the global audience. The tropical island has since captivated travellers to its bucolic beaches, national parks that are home to leopards and elephants and characterful B&Bs.
Today, Kandy’s charm lies in the contrasting cool environs and stands in for a ‘hill-station’ getaway, versus the sauna like beach destinations. After all, it lies at an elevation of 500, ideal for growing tea. Stubborn clouds trapped between the dips of the low mountains brush it with an ethereal intrigue. As all of Sri Lanka, Kandy too, urges one to pace out the travel and unwind in mist-covered balconies of your hotel. In the day, when the mist parts, the colourful lego-like houses are revealed. A walk in the local market, short drive to the lake and the temple of Tooth Relic keep one occupied for a couple of days.
Local treats from the bakeries
Every restaurant or café in in Sri Lanka does not follow the nose to tail menu. There is plenty on the cards for vegetarians and as quick bites. When in Kandy, it’s a constant challenge with yourself to not walk into a bakery and gorge on local treats. The city has scores of them, lining the markets and perpetually crammed with people, stretching their arms over the counters to get a fried this and a baked that. Roti sandwiches, rolls and coconut sweets trump the counter space, along with a favourite beverage – the Highland milkshake. Spend not more than LKR 50 on a wholesome snack. Freshen the palate with sliced orange mangoes and other luscious fruit like pineapple and passion fruit, before you raid a bakery again.
If King Solomon could be fascinated enough to buy a great ruby for the Queen of Sheba from Ceylon, then chances are that the regular shopper will find it hard to resist. A number of reputable gem shops and workshops are found in Kandy. If you’re looking for a bargain on the rare blue flash moonstone or sapphires, then this is the place to go to.
Temple of Tooth Relic
If you’re expecting a serene spiritual vibe, then stay out of the temple premises for a while and watch ‘all white’ clad families come in clutching to lotus flowers as offerings. Then turn to the locals passing by the temple, stopping to bow their heads and fold their hands together, simultaneously keeping their umbrellas in grip. That is as close to tranquility that you will come to, at the most famous temple in Kandy. Inside, an incessant chatter of pilgrims and travellers comes only a close second in volume to the beating drums. One is ushered swiftly, in and out of sections. Despite the rush, the ancient murals and glorious statues of Buddha are hard to miss. The temple houses a tooth of Lord Buddha, justifying why it is always teeming with people.
Moss like tea bushes cover entire hillsides in Kandy, making the entire region awash in rich green colours. Tea pickers dressed in various colours, baskets hanging from their heads, hunch over the bushes picking tea delicately. One can tour factories under local guides, get a session of tea tasting (with excellent cake to go with the different teas) and also shop at the tea plantations. Glenloch Tea Factory, 45km from Kandy, is recommended for a tour and tea tasting. +94 52 2 259646
Therapeutic. Rejuvenating. Addictive. Three words that best describe the spice plantations enroute to Kandy from the plains. Blessed with good weather, the plantations are Ayurveda hotspots for growing medical plants and fruits, which can be explored on a guided tour, which ends in a massage. Luck Grove in Matale, 25km before Kandy. (+94 66 2 225558)
Train journeys in Sri Lanka might be at a crawling pace, but they give one the opportunity to have first row seats to the countryside – especially if you’re travelling up-country. Time dependent, take a short journey to one of the most scenic railway stations in the region, to Nanu Oya (80km). It is one of the closest junctions to Nuwara Eliya, which is usually on the circuit for travellers. Old wooden announcement boards, moss covered walls and the no-jostling station makes you time travel to back in the times.
All images by: Supriya Sehgal