Things to do in Kandy:

* Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

* Peradeniya Botanical Gardens

* Royal Palace Kandy

* Golf at Vitoria Golf Club Kandy

* Visit the three temples of the Gampola Kingdom (Lankathilake, Gadaladeniya and Embekke)

* Visit a Museum: Kandy National Museum & Ceylon Tea Museum

* Sri Lanka cultural dance show

* Visit the Kandy market

* Commonwealth War Cemetery

* Visit a workshop of a traditional craftsman or batik manufacturer

* Visit the Heeloya Tourism Village

* Trekking in the knuckles mountain range

* On route to Kandy, visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

The mountain city of Kandy contains echoes of both the colonial and the older Sinhalese royal past in its buildings and landmarks, and is the second largest city in the country. It is also the largest urban complex in the Central Province and was the final bastion of the Sinhalese royalty as well as the spiritual hub of Sri Lanka. Here there are always signs of Theravada Buddhism wherever you may go, whether among the wild montane forests or on the city streets themselves. In terms of its name, the word “Kandy” comes from “Kanda+Uda”, or “Kandavudu” and “Kandavuru Nuwara” or the city in the hills in the Sinhala language. Also, “Kanda Uda Pas Rata” or the five regions of the mountains was a popular old name. The Portuguese shortened this to “Candea” but the final Anglicization came out as being simply “Kandy”.  However the Kandyan Kingdom-a much larger area that encompassed land from the Vanni to the southeastern coast-was also known as Thun Sinhalaya and Kanda Udarata. The kingdom was strong for a long time, with heroes such as Vimala Dharma Suriya and Rajasinghe II but towards the 18th Century this solidarity began to break down.

For one a dynastic struggle emerged between the Sinhalese aristocracy and the Nayak clan, a family of South Indian nobles that married into the Kandyan royal line. The clueless Nayak kings furthered the divisions between the nobility and were therefore hated throughout the aristocratic circles. In fact King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe, the second of the dynasty signed a treaty with the Dutch that effectively trapped him in the mountains, in roughly 1766 thus making him a prisoner in his own abode while the Dutch enjoyed freedom over the continuous strip of coastline. Finally the much-reviled Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe was defeated by the British and in 1815 Kandy was no more than yet another colonial city. In fact, the British did not really make Kandy their own the way they did with Colombo.

There are however, Victorian buildings and mansions in the area. One of these used to house the Kandy High Courts until quite recently and is situated in the vicinity of the palace complex. To a casual observer, the Royal Palace of Kandy is not much, although it would have been far more extensive during earlier eras. It is far from being a seven-storied skyscraper similar to anything from the Rajarata era but is still a beautiful historic location.

One can quite confidently restore many of the bygone historical buildings in Sri Lanka on the basis of these Kandyan structures, with their whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs.

One of the original structures that still remain is the royal conference hall, the Magul Maduwa. It is a longhouse-like structure, colonnaded and low-built. The Magul Maduwa is nothing special, considering that there have been plenty built during the royal history of Sri Lanka. It was constructed in 1783 by the Nayak ruler Rajadhi Rajasinghe, not much of a king despite his grandiose name. Much of the palace has been converted into a small museum that commemorates the royal history and architecture of the time. In fact, most of the artifacts include large pots, moonstones and statues, including those of the kings themselves. Yet for all its charm, the museum’s collection is rather small and poorly kept, much of it being dusty. One can however, witness the artistic transitions made over the centuries as Kandy developed into a major cultural hub of Sri Lanka.

For one, the moonstones are now triangular and have completely lost the figures of animals romping across the stone face. Instead, much of their area is composed of flowers and twisting vines known as liyaval, a very common motif in local art. The Kandy National Museum includes numerous objects of incredible interest, including the crown of the last king of Sri Lanka and well as bits of armor, jewelry and swords. In the same complex is a museum dedicated to the famous tusker Raja, the country’s most memorable elephant. In the very center of the museum stands a full-sized taxidermy Raja, still resplendent in his glory. His tusks are intact for one. His passing away in 1988 caused a spate of mourning among his aficionados and the people of the country as a whole. The most iconic location and a must visit place in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth. This is not a unique feature of this city itself but there has been a long tradition of building these shrines to the Buddha’s Tooth Relic. The Buddha’s relics have long been considered to be symbols of kingship and dominion and have always been protected. The most important, the Tooth Relic was brought down from Kalinga, modern-day Orissa during the late 5th Century AD and has moved with the shift in capitals. King Vimala Dharma Suriya I built a two-storied building to house it but now nothing remains of the original shrine.

King Rajasinghe II built it up as a complete temple complex once more and made it part of the original palace complex of Kandy. It was King Naredrasinghe, the last Sinhalese king of the country and a notorious playboy who built the shrine that stands today. Once more the Temple of the Tooth was renovated during the reign of Sri Vikrama when he added the Patthirippuwa. This octagonal structure was once used to store the Relics and is now used as an oriental library. The Golden Canopy was added in 1987, as was the golden fence that surrounds this building. Among the most popular facets of the temple is the cultural dance show that occurs in its vicinity every evening. One can catch the so-called "Udarata" style of dancing, with its jewelry, warm colors in costumes and the quick but graceful hand and foot gestures.

The other historical buildings though are not to be overlooked. These include the structures constructed during the Gangasiripura or Gampola Kingdom of the 14th Century. When speaking of the short-lived Kingdom of Gampola, one remembers Lankathilake, Gadaladeniya and Embekke. These structures are incredibly complete and well-known for their artistic quality, especially the famous Embekke, well-known for its woodcarvings. Among the other things to do here include shopping for gems and jewelry. The Victoria Golf and Country Resort is one of the best and most famous places for golfing and noble British sports in Sri Lanka. The climate itself calls to mind a club in England itself, as does the aesthetic of the place. It is ranked as one of the hundred most beautiful golf courses in the world, a distinction it rightly deserves. In the distance lie the majestic Knuckles Range and the Victoria Dam. The club and the resorts were constructed by Donald Steele & Co, in 1997. Other than its golf course, the resort offers accommodation, equestrian sports, pool facilities and an excellent restaurant within its clubhouse making it the perfect venue for a few days away with the family.

A list of attractions and some of the best things to do in Kandy;

Temple of the tooth in Kandy is a world heritage site and popular tourist attraction in KandyRoyal Botanical Garden in Kandy listed in TLC Trip Planner and must see place in KandyKandy national museum a place to visit in KandyUdawatte Kele behind the temple of the tooth relic was a former gardens of the Kandyan Royals and a place to visit in KandyPinnawala Elephant Orphanage is on route to Kandy and is a very popular tourist attraction in Sri LankaThings to do in Kandy, visit the Ceylon Tea Museum in KandyGaladadeniya Temple closer to Kandy and a temple that belong to the Gampola KingdomTLC Trip Planner link to Embekke Devala in Kandy, one of the best places to see wooden craftsmans skills in Sri Lanka

Best time to visit Kandy is from December to May & August. The month of August is when the Perehara (annual street pageant) is held in Kandy. 

Distance and travel times from Kandy to some key cities; 

Distance from Kandy to Sigiriya is about 92 km and travel time is 2 to 2.5 hours.

Distance from Kandy to Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) is about 105 km and travel time is 2.5 to 3 hours.

Distance from Kandy to Colombo is about 120 km and travel time is 2.5 to 3 hours.

Distance from Kandy to Galle is about 230 km and travel time is 3.5 to 4 hours.

For any other location you can use the distance calculator on the side bar.

Written by Vasika Udurawane for TLC.lk

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