Kandy - A tourists delight
Inder Raj Ahluwalia
A hill resort-not allowed-pilgrimage centre, Kandy in Sri Lanka is a tourists delight, says Inder Raj Ahluwalia.
It lives in a different time-wrap. A charming hill resort-not allowed-cultural centre rolled into one, Kandy manages to do what few places around the world can manage today. It slows one down. Pleasantly.
About 465 metres above sea level means it is hilly enough. But it is also forested enough, isolated enough, and original enough which all translates into one big, charming destination. Nestling on low hills, it is looped by Sri Lankas largest river, the Mahaweli, and Natures bounties are reflected through its hills and valleys, rivers, lakes and cascading waterfalls.
Born in the 14th century, the city became the capital of the Kandayan Kingdom in the 16th century, and was the seat of much of Sri Lankas culture. The royal city fell into the hands of the British when the last Kandayan King, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha was captured by them in 1815. The British called it Kandy for Kanda in Sinhala, meaning a hill.
Kandy and its environs feature several hallowed and living shrines of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. For Buddhists, the city is particularly important, thanks to the famed 16th-century Temple of the Sacred Tooth (Dalada Matigawa), the lodestar of the Buddhists.
The patthirippuwa or the Octogan, added by the king of Kandy in the early 19th century, is one of the most-spectacular sections of the temple, and a golden canopy was recently constructed over the relic chamber. To the accompaniment of flute and drum music, rituals are enacted daily in the temple to venerate the relic. July/August each year sees public honour to the temple paid on Esala Perahera or Procession of the Month of Esala.
Straddling two sides of the lake are Sri Lankas two most important Buddhist Monasteries, their chief incumbents being the senior ecclesiastics of the Buddhist Order in Sri Lanka.
The Matwafta monastery on the lakes southern side is embellished with 18th-century architectural design and planning, while the Asigriya Temple which is situated on the citys western side at Asgiriya (XX), contains a giant statue of the Recumbant Buddha, and also the cremation ground of the Kandyan royalty. The higher ordination of the sangha, takes place annually in both these temples.
Known as the western shrines, the 14th-century Gadaladeniya, Lankatilaka and Embekke Temples are situated close together on the Kadugannawa-Peradeniya road, 16 km west of Kandy. Set on a rock, Gadaledeniya is built of stone and has a seated Buddha image, lacquered doors, wall murals and carved stone friezes.
Lankatilaka is a magnificent, though peculiarly designed, white, three-storey brick building that shines against the blue background. Amidst the painted wooden doors and wall and ceiling frescoes in the shrine room, is a superb seated image of the Buddha. The Embekke Temple is a Deistic shrine dedicated to God Kataragama, and famous for its carved wooden intricately designed pillars that leap to life with dancers, musicians, wrestlers, legendary beasts and birds.
Dodanwela Devale, is of historic interest as the site where King Rajasinha of Kandy offered his crown to the Presiding God after his great victory over the Portuguese in the 17th century.
The 15th-century Suriyagoda Vihara, the rock-perched Hindagala Temple, and Gangarama and Degaidoruwa Temples both famous for Kandayan murals and Buddha images and Gaimadauwa, and Medawela Viharas, are other notable shrines in the region.
The National Museum, housed in what were once the quarters of the royal concubines, and the Archaeological Museum, the remains of the splendid royal palace of the Kandayan Kings, contain interesting exhibits. The Audience Hall is a unique example of wooden architecture of the Kandayan period, and the site of the memorable 1815 Kandayan Convention, ceding the territories of the once-impregnable kingdom to the British, thus ending the 2,500-year-old rule by kings in Sri Lanka.
Once the pleasure gardens of a Kandayan Queen, the Royal Botanical Gardens are a 150-acre oasis, with landmarks such as the Great Palm Avenue, the Orchid House, the Pergola and the Octogon House. Lush with hibiscus, cannas, bougainvilleas, and crotons, the gardens are a must-see.
The town is still the home of the arts and crafts, music, dance and song that flourished during the reign of the patron king. At the Kandayan Art Association, one can buy works of skilled craftsmen, and also see weavers, copper, brass and silversmiths at work. Laksala, the Government handicrafts shop, is another good hopping stop-over.
At Katapuraya Nattarampota, seven km from Kandy, is a settlement of craftsmen who produce their work in their own homes, in their own rhythms, like in olden times.
Much of Kandys beauty comes from its lake, and theres scenic splendour all around. The Dumbara Valley, the tea-plantation heights of Hantane, Hunnasgiriya Falls, the mountain plateau of Hanguranketa, Katugastata, and Halloluwa, where the road winds past precipitous heights, all feature immense natural beauty.
Tea, rubber and coconut crops merge into the forested hillsides of Udawattakele, and at Bahirawakanda, the untamed mountain abode of the Guardian deity of the land.
Getting there: Kandy lies 129 km from Colombo, Sri Lankas main gateway, and is a three-hour drive along a picturesque route. Colombo is connected by air with several Indian cities.
Accommodation: Local accommodation comprises everything from deluxe down to budget hotels.
Food: Several restaurants around town serve authentic local cuisine, and also Indian and other Asian dishes. Vegetarian food is readily available.
Best season: While Kandy is a year-round tourist destination, the best time to visit is from October through April.