Begin your day with quiet walk along the stone path that leads you to the magnificent Dalada Maligawa. The lazy, sleeping dogs you encounter along the way won’t budge as you pass them by – they know you mean them no harm. The maligawa is also known as the Temple of Tooth and houses a tooth relic of the Buddha himself.
Maligawa actually means palace and in ancient times it was the royal residence of Sri Lanka’s monarchs.
Take your time and take in the magnificent Kandyan architecture and artisanship, encounter colourful, symbolically painted ceilings & wooden carved pillars at every turn. You’ll feel quite regal yourself walking through the palace.
The complex extends beyond the palace to many other areas including a museum of world Buddhism, a massive Bo tree, a Hindu kovil dedicated to the godless Patthini and more. Dress appropriately as you won’t be allowed in wearing shorts or sleeveless tops.
Light an oil lamp, say a prayer and step back out into the afternoon sun – or rain.
You’re probably tired after your extensive stroll around the Maligawa – but worry not – just around the corner is the Old Empire Cafe that has a delicious lime & coconut water to revitalize and rehydrate you. The Old Empire Hotel was once a coffee factory, converted into a hotel in the late 1800’s and still holds a sense of old-world charm!
Take a walk around the town in the late afternoon. The town itself is a maze of one-way streets, temples, restaurants, street hawkers and a great lake alongside the side of the Dalada Maligawa. The old and the new are struggling to find common ground, making the chaos of the city truly unique
The really cool thing about Kandy (besides its cool climate of course!) is that its spirituality isn’t contained to Buddhism.
Take a walk over to the West end of the maligawa boundary to old red-brick St. Paul’s Church, dating back to the 1800’s. Let your eyes take in the simplicity of the space, a stark contrast to the colourful interiors of the Temple, other than for the backdrop of an epic, stained-glass window that is probably the first thing to catch your eye as you walk in through the tall, carved doors.
Tired from your long walk around the city, get back to the hotel for a glass of wine and an early dinner at EAT as you watch the magnificent mountain city, fade into night.
If you are in Kandy, the omnipresent statue of the meditating Buddha is sure to follow you wherever you go, sitting atop a mountain and watching over the city as it dreams, awakes and sleeps again.
Hail a tuk-tuk after a healthy breakfast at EAT and ask to be taken up to the Bahirawakanda Monastery to get a closer look at this massive structure above you and a panoramic view of the city below. The 15 to 20 minute journey will take you to Bahirawakanda. Ironically the name means demon’s mountain, a rather peculiar pick to build a monastery, is it not?
Completed in 1972, it is a fairly new structure unlike most of what you will encounter around Kandy. A bookshop, a stairwell to the head of the statue and then a refreshing King Coconut water right out of the husk will complete your tour.
For a popular nearby dinner spot that is a bit different head to Urban Kitchen, for a unique all in one dining experience. Here you can enjoy blackened swordfish while sipping on some mocktail and topping it off with some delicious pudding.
Come evening, you can head to the Kandyan Art Association for some Kandyan-style performance. The daily cultural show starts at 5:00 pm and the semi-open venue comes complete with serving staff to bring you drinks and snacks while you watch the evening’s entertainment, with traditional Kandyan drummers, dancers and a massive finish with fire walkers.
By chance you want to join them for some photos – you are most certainly welcome to do so at the very end. Take an evening walk back to your hotel and don’t forget to look out for the Bahirowakanda Buddha statue looking down on you from the opposite peak. A few more drinks at BOMMU, the rooftop bar, will complete your heady night in the hills.
If day one was about the best of Buddhist culture, let day two show you just how diverse Kandy’s spiritual heritage is! (Ask the hotel for a car & driver for the day and also for a picnic lunch)
Start off with a hearty meal at EAT and head out in the eary morning sun shine, down on the Kandy War Cemetery, a World War II memorial graveyard, with gravestones of soldiers from Britian to Burma.
Take your time and read some of the insciptions on the gravestones and don’t forget to walk up the small flight of stairs to the large marble cross that looms over the graves, a silent reminder that the Good Shepherd watches over his sheep in both life and death.
After the cemetery, head to the Royal Botanical Gardens for a stroll and sit under one of the magnificent old trees to have your lunch. The gardens are a part of the country’s ancient heritage, dating back to 1377 and are strewn not only with many species of rare flora but also numerous lovers under umbrellas who come here for quiet time. Remember not to disturb them – they are very shy!
The Peradeniya University is thought of as the Oxford University of Sri Lanka.
While the grounds are open to the public, we suggest an ideal alternate route. Ask your driver to drop you off by the Engineering Faculty building and pick you up by the Arts Faculty about an hour later. Across the road, you will find a small path that leads you across the most picturesque part of the university by way of an old suspension bridge.
Keep on walking and fifteen minutes later you will come across a legendary amphitheatre known as the Wala (Pit) that still holds performances of some of the greatest Sinhala plays to date. If the theatre is empty, head to the performance plateau at the bottom and listen to the sound of your voice echo across the theatre to the very last, grass-coated seat at the back.
Should you prefer it, you could even skip the botanical gardens and opt to make your visit to the university premises a longer one – definitely a worthwhile option!
While Kandy doesn’t have an action-packed nightlife, the Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar is literally one of the most chilled-out places to hang out. Finish your night here and chances are you’ll meet most other visitors in Kandy sipping arrack cocktails, nibbling on sizzling dishes, listening to modern Jazz/Funk and hugged together by the chilly evening air.
Have breakfast but skip your morning after ‘cuppa because you’re going to want to have it with Rahju. One of Sri Lanka’s best kept secrets , Rahju is an artist and ascetic who lives in his secluded home and studio, high up on a hill in Lewella, a half an hour drive from the hotel.
He invites art lovers and buyers for tea and a walk-through of his studio – if you reckon you woulnd’t mind one of his narrative, layered paintings or even a sketch or two, ask the hotel to call and organize a visit for you. Rahju is also a great conversationalist and would be most happy to tell you about the benefits of meditation, eating raw food and dedicating a life to the craft of creating spiritually uplifting work that is truly one of a kind.
His art, quiet manner and almost outragiously vibrant ancient clothing are an experience not to be missed!
After an uplifting morning with Rahju and momentary immersion in his alternate life, it would make sense to seek out a place that will enhance this mood.
About ten minutes away and closer to Lewella bridge, you will come to an archelogical site; the Degaldoruwa cave temple built in 1771 AD and housing ancient rock paintings, intricately carved doorways and a giant reclining Buddha within. The vibrant colours will catch your eye and camera in an instant!
Take a 45 minute drive on to Hunnas Falls for an early afternoon trek up to the foot of the waterfall and then on to a late lunch at the Hunnas Falls hotel balcony café. The hotel sits by the lake that begins the waterfall. Remember to ask for an Ambarella or Golden Apple juice as you wait for your lunch. Drink up, take a stroll across the bridge on the grounds at the very top of the falls, for a whole new perspective.
The walk to the falls itself it shorter than 10 minutes from the entrance. Ensure you are wearing the right footgear to maneouver the footpaths and rocks – and to avoid leech bites! The falls are breathraking, surrounded by lush rainforest – this is undoubteldy going to be one of your top ten moments on your visit to the mountains. Sit for a moment, and listen to the sound of the water rush down the rock.
Head back to the hotel for a relaxing evening at BOMU followed by a scrumptious dinner at EAT. Head to bed early and ready yourself for long excursion the following day.
An early morning drive up to Nuwara Eliya is just as good on the soul as it is for the eyes. The heart of tea country, also known as “Little England” will take you roughly about two hours to get there. Leave just after a light breakfast – the winding country roads can make you a little queasy at times. Don’t say we didn’t warn you: the early morning clouds and patches of sunlight on the trees could easily take your breath away!
Have lunch and a cup of the finest Ceylon Tea at the Grand Hotel and head out for some walking through tea bushes. You are sure to encounter the beautiful, dark-skinned women who have been a part of Sri Lanka’s tea industry for over a century. Starwberry picking and even a walk along the golf course will complete your day in Nuwara Eliya.
Chances are you’ll head back exhausted, so have yourself some supper at EAT and head to bed.
Get yourself a filling breakfast at EAT, hail a tuk-tuk outside and ask for a ride up to Arthur’s Seat – yes, the very same name as the one in Scotland. Get there and take in the extraordinary view and suddenly the name will make complete sense to you. Be it a backdrop of rainclouds or sunny skies you view will be equally spectacular.
It would be good to book a car for a half day’s journey because you’re not going to want to miss what’s in store for your last day in the hills. Drive towards Pilimathalawa and turn off towards to the architectural trinity – on that pays tribute to the gods with every possible element of the earth.
Each exactly four kilometres apart from eachother, the Gadaladeniya, Lankatilake and Embekke Temples were each constructed primarily using a single element, Stone, Brick and Wood respectively, all built during the Gampola era under the patronage of King Wickremabahu in the late 1300’s.
Your first stop is the stone carved Gadaladeniya Viharaya or temple. A five-peaked, pagoda-like structure that greets you at the entrance of the space, invites you to walk barefoot along the rocks.
Every step you take, the reflections of the temple in the pond that surround the place will make you see things differently.
Four kilometres away, you will come to the second marvel in this architectural trinity: the brick-made Lankathilake Temple, designed by a South Indian architect, combining the architecture and artistry of the Polonnaruwa era design with Dravdian and Indo Chinese architecture.
The temple sits upon an ancient rock and below an ancient Bo tree, allowing you to walk the across the rock from the Stupa to the inner sanctum, keeping you barefoot and one with the earth.
Another four kilometres inward you will come across the third and final structure on your trinity tour. A primarily Hindu one, constructed in wood and dedicated to the Katharagama God, Murugan – some say the Katharagama God was also the ancient Sri Lankan king, Mahasen. Intricately carved wooden pillars invite you into this simple, open hall that holds within it a shine room that house both Buddhist and Hindu art and sculpture in harmony.
The kovil-keeper will be most happy to walk you around the space, explaining the significance of each work of art and each pillar that seems to slant toward visitors like a spiritual welcome, kept in position by a giant catch-pin, called a Madol Kurupawa.
Head straight to Kadugannawa for a late lunch at the Rock View Cafe. Eating here means you get to gaze at one of the most breathtaking drops across the island known best as the Kadugannawa Pass. Take in the view of distant mountains across the valley, including the distinctive Bible Rock at the very furthest end of your view.
If you aren’t too tired from your long day on the road, stop by at the railway museum on your way back to Kandy down for a look at old British train engines and a walk through of Sri Lanka’s colonial rail system. The museum was recently relocated to the Kadugannawa area of Kandy, making it an easy visit stop-over on your way back to town.
Head back to Kandy town because it was about time you did a spot shopping. From street stalls to a Gem museum in town, you won’t be short of things to take back home in the form of vibrant batiks to intricate jewellery, clay statuettes and ornate brassware, all very Kandy in design.
Your journey is just about done. Laden with shopping bags, it’s time to have some drinks at the Pub in the heart of Kandy town on Dalada Veediya – if you’ve got kids with you this is still a good option because of the designated play area that will keep them occupied will you relax. Try some nibbles and a few heady shots of coconut arrack to finish your long, long day. The graffiti writing all over the inner walls invite you to leave your mark here, so remember to ask the bartender for a marker pen and leave a lasting memoir of your adventure!