Much has been written about Kandy: its revered shrine, its festivals, and its status as the last bulwark against invading forces before falling to the British in 1815. This old capital, combining ancient and modern, is the island's second city, though its low rise buildings and rolling green hills give it a small town feel. It’s a place of culture, religious reverence and tropical gardens, with a central location that makes it an ideal stopover before taking the train deep into tea country.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Without question, Kandy’s premium draw is also one of the leading Buddhist sites anywhere in the world: a temple built around the relic of the Buddha’s tooth, which was smuggled from India over 1,700 years ago. At scheduled puja times, the casket holding it (or rather 7 caskets, stacked inside one another) is displayed to a background of atmospheric drumming. The shrine itself is lavish, with lashings of gold, richly carved doors and pillars, ornate decorations and elaborate paintings. The aesthetics continue outside the temple, which forms part of a larger royal palace of meticulously preserved, striking white buildings perched on the shore of a serene lake with greenery all around. A special place indeed.
Although at first glance the traffic might be a little off-putting, there are a number of quieter places in and around Sri Lanka’s second city that offer a rewarding hour or two of wandering. Begin with the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, seeded by the Sinhalese kings of old but owing their present format to a succession of 19th-century British Colonial botanists. If the scenes look familiar, they were largely inspired by the world famous Kew Gardens in London. Head back into the centre to while away an hour circumnavigating Kandy’s central lake, or if you are looking for something a little wilder, set back from the Temple of the Tooth you’ll find Udawattakele Sanctuary. A walk along the densely-forested paths of this calm oasis might bring you close to other local residents such as wild boar, deer, monkeys and snakes, along with over 80 species of bird - not bad for what is essentially a mid-city jungle!
It's curry, but not as you know it… Although ‘rice and curry’ is Sri Lanka’s national dish and can be enjoyed all over the country, Kandy is a great place to seek out a local restaurant to really sit down and savour the feast. There will be rice, of course, and legend says that one local cookbook devotes five full pages just to the preparation of this Sri Lankan staple. Curry, perhaps beef, pork, goat or fish, swimming in broth, either colourful and fragrant or deliciously sticky and sour. But that’s just the beginning, with anything from four to ten mouth-watering little side dishes yet to investigate. Maybe there’s a coconut or onion sambal, a creamy dhal, a side of jackfruit, okra or potato - it’s likely to be different each and every time.
Combine the island’s top wildlife crowd pleasers with some magnificent hidden gems and cultural highlights before spending some time on the beach.