Kandy is beautifully draped around the artificial Kandy Lake with in the background the hills spotted with villas, mansions, hotels and several temples. As the second largest town in Sri Lanka after Colombo it makes it a very beloved town for tourists. The centre is the area around the clock-tower, a busy square with lots of traffic. Towards the lake you will find streets with a typical colonial architecture, but the buildings need an urgent restoration. However, the air of the Kandyan aristocracy still blows through the streets of this royal city, although without aristocrats. Situated on an elevation of 425 metres it has a very pleasant climate. Kandy is located in the Central Province and is a good starting point to visit the Cultural Triangle, north of Kandy, the Knuckles Mountain Range in the east and the Hill country with its spectacular views and scenic tea estates up till the highest elevated town in the country: NuwaraEliya. Moreover the famous Elephant Orphanage in Pinawella (near Kegalle) can be visited on the way from Colombo to Kandy.
When in 1815 the Kandyan Convention was signed it meant the end of 2500 years independence and governance of Sri Lanka by local monarchs. They were replaced by the British monarch by force. King Vikrama Rajasinha of Kandy was the last Sri Lankan ruling monarch. With his extended family he was expelled from the country and deported to Southern India. The decline of the Kandyan aristocracy had begun and a long period of misery followed; this was not an easy time for the inhabitants of Kandy. The British were the first colonial power to conquer the Kandyan Kingdom and thus had brought entire Sri Lanka under British rule. The townscape of Kandy underwent great changes after the British took over. Many of these old colonial buildings remain in the town centre, of which the Queens Hotel is a well-known icon. The Kandyan people had an extremely difficult time under British rule. Land was expropriated on a large scale, so that farmers were forced to become wage-workers on estates. Moreover the town was struck by cholera and smallpox epidemics. The rebellion against British colonization, which started in 1848 in Matale, led to a refusal of Singhalese people to work for the British on the estates. Thousands of estate workers had to be recruited from southern India to do the job. The up-country Tamil tea pickers are the descendants of these migrant workers. They had been stateless all the time up till the 1990s when they were finally granted Sri Lankan citizenship.
Kandy had been the ruling kingdom in the entire country from 1473 up till the British took over. It got that status because, according to a belief, the protector of the ‘relic of the tooth of the Buddha’ is considered to be the ruler of the country. The tooth is a canine tooth of the Buddha, which was brought to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamale in the 4th Century AD from India, 800 years after the death of the Buddha. Therefore the Royal Palace and the temple where the Relic of the Tooth is kept were built in close proximity. The king was very honoured to receive the ‘Tooth Relic’ and ordered that an annual procession (perahera) should be held in honour of the ‘Tooth Relic’. This perahera is called the Esala Perahera. Kandy has ever since been the most important town in Sri Lanka. This temple is called the ‘Dalada Maligawa’, better known by foreigners as the ‘Temple of the Tooth’. Kandy is within, as well as outside Sri Lanka one of the most important centres of Buddhism.
Towering high above the city you can see the colossal white Buddha Statue. It’s a nice place to get a spectacular view on Kandy and the surrounding hills. A 3-wheeler can bring you in 10 minutes to this view point.
Viewpoint from Hantana
On the way to Hantana you can enjoy a wonderful view on Kandy and Lake Kandy. It is by many considered to be the most beautiful view on Kandy. Along the road you can find several restaurants, hotels, guesthouses and bungalows.
‘Kandy City Centre’
It took 12 years and roughly 35 million US Dollars to create this huge 10 storeys’ commercial and shopping centre, the biggest and most modern one in all Sri Lanka. It was opened by President Mahinda Rajapaksha in 2005.This big shopping mall hosts numerous shops, including those with branded luxury items, fashion shops and banks, with a food court on top of the roof.
What to see if your time is limited?
If your time is limited to one day, you should only visit the highlights of Kandy, which are the Temple of the Tooth, attending a performance of the Kandyan Dancers and a visit to the Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya.
How to reach Kandy
There is a direct link between Colombo Airport (Katunayke bus stand) and Kandy by public transportation, but it is a bus ride in uncomfortable buses with limited space for baggage, which lasts at least three hours. Although the bus fare is low (in 2014: about Rps. 350 (Euro 3), it might be too much for you after a long haul air travel. You can also take the Highway bus to Colombo and continue by bus or train to Kandy. The more expensive option to reach Kandy in about 3 hours (depending on the part of the day you travel), is by taxi directly from the airport (in 2014: about Rps. 7,000 (Euro 42). On the way you have the option to make a stop at Pinnawela to visit the Elephant Orphanage, a highlight, topping the list of places of interest.
Bus: there is a frequent bus service between Colombo and Kandy, regular buses and a/c intercity buses. It takes about 3 hrs. to travel from Pettah bus stand to Kandy (in rush hours longer) .
Train: There are several trains from Colombo Fort Station to Kandy. The earliest train leaves at 07.00 am and the last long distance train leaves at 06.50 pm. The journey will take between two and a half and three hours. It is recommendable to travel during day time, because the journey is very scenic. A one way ticket will cost you LKR. 190 per person. There is also the possibility to travel in luxury class. Expo rail and Rajadhani have special first class a/c wagons attached to the 07.00 am train from Colombo Fort (Expo Rail) (return 03.00 pm) and 03.35 pm (Rajadhani) (return from Kandy 06.15 am). The fare one way with Expo Rail is LKR. 1,450; with Rajadhani LKR. 1,100. Seat reservations can be done by internet and is highly recommendable.
Air: A flight between Colombo and Kandy takes only 50 minutes. There are several companies operating flights by sea planes between Colombo and Kandy (see for more information the header ‘Transportation’ on this website). Flights depart in Colombo from Bandaranaike International Airport and from Lake Beira (Slave Island) in Colombo City. A scheduled flight cost approximately US$ 150 per person for a one way ticket. All flights arrive at Poggala Reservoir in Katugastota, close to Kandy.