Kandy, rediscovered.

“And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot

Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s heritage cities located in the Central Province. Lying on a plateau surrounded by hills and tea plantations it is also the capital of the Province. The central location and high elevation means you can enjoy a cooler climate here than the rest of the island. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988, Kandy is home to one of the most important places of worship in the Buddhist world – The Temple of the Tooth relic. The city’s artificial lake (more accurately, reservoir) and decorative wall are undoubtedly it’s ornamental focal point.

A childhood spent in Sri Lanka means I have visited Kandy on numerous occasions. We mainly visited the Temple of the Tooth. For the most part it was a quick stop on our way elsewhere. As such, I had never really explored or experienced Kandy outside of the Temple. All I knew of this city I had learned through my grandmother and her fantastic bed time tales of legendary kings and kingdoms past.

Kandy Railway

So, with high hopes and nostalgia I arrived in Kandy. The 5.55am train (“Podi Menike”) from Colombo brought me to Kandy through sleepy villages and winding hillsides, stopping briefly at the small towns of Gampaha, Peradeniya and Kadugannawa. As we ascended to higher ground Podi Menike chugged along slower up the misty hills. This is a wonderfully scenic journey not to be missed which brings you to your destination in 2 & 1/2 hours. The alternative means of arrival would be by road taking up to 5 hours. It’s an easy choice to make.

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Podi Menike chugging up the misty hills of “up country”.

Kandy Railway Station is a hive of activity; The platforms are abuzz with people going about their daily lives alongside travellers on their way out or arriving with excitement. Outside, the station is served well by local tuk tuk drivers waiting eagerly to take you around the town. My journey from the station to my hotel Ozo, Kandy was a mere 5 minutes by taxi and cost just Rs.300 (£1.65 approximately).

Ozo, Kandy

I arrived at Ozo to a warm Kandyan welcome. My room was ready and the check in was quick even though I had arrived almost three hours earlier than planned. The lobby – a vast open space filled with natural light and modern furniture was the perfect place to enjoy the warm smiles of Ozo’s attentive staff. They are mostly Kandyans which means you have access to great local knowledge. As I had visited the Temple of the Tooth several times before and did not plan on visiting again I had several alternative places suggested before I had finished my welcome drink.

Freshened up and changed I reviewed my itinerary sitting at the Bommu Bar and Lounge on the rooftop. When you get here, order yourself their utterly refreshing cold lemon juice while you relax and take in the spectacular views of the hillsides, including the Knuckles mountain range. I felt the weariness of my early start fall away as I exhaled and synchronised with the nature surrounding me. Similarly, the attached pool was an oasis of tranquility. The deep blue tiles against the lush greenery of the hills offered a harmonious mix of nature and luxury – a fine balance perfectly achieved. A graffiti mural by Parisian street artist, Marko 93, sets a dramatic backdrop against the pool bringing this ancient city to a whole new generation of modern day travellers.

As I sat at Bommu and planned my day I couldn’t help but feel that if I was going to see Kandy with new eyes, as if for the first time, I had certainly picked the right place to stay.

At the end of an exhausting day of exploring, I arrived back at Ozo to nap, refresh and sample it’s famed  dinner. I was spoilt for choice between traditional Sri Lankan cuisine and a wide variety of International dishes. Miniature starters were beautifully presented. Mains were a range of vegetarian and meat dishes. Vegetables and salads were seasonal and colourful.  Deserts were either mini sweet delights or an array of bright and juicy tropical fruit. Nothing had been spared and the attention to detail was not lost on me. Needless to say all of it was simply delicious!

Bommu Bar

After dinner I headed back up to Bommu which transforms into a pulsating venue after dark. A live DJ added to the most incredible evening of cocktails and music. I stayed up far later than I intended to enjoying the cool mountain air and smoking shisha under the stars.

Back in my room, my bed was cosy and the air crisp. I fell into the most comfortable night of sleep for the first time since arriving in Sri Lanka. I woke up refreshed and rested to stunning views of the hillside. Downstairs the Eat2Go restaurant had turned out the most incredible sight for my well rested eyes. A breakfast buffet ranging from traditional Sri Lankan favourites such as hoppers and lunu miris to continental breakfasts of croissants and waffles with fresh fruit was a feast to behold. My heart skipped a beat as I watched the chef whip up the most welcoming breakfast of all – A perfect English breakfast in the Kandyan hills. Now that’s luxury!

I spent two nights here and planned to explore the path less travelled. If you visit Kandy for first time the Temple of the Tooth is a “must see” and I highly recommend it. The Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya which is approximately 5km west of Kandy is another. Visit both – you have not seen Kandy if you haven’t experienced these two places.

Udawatta Kele Sanctuary

Day 1 – My first stop was Udawatta Kele Sanctuary which is a protected forest. At 257 Acres it covers a larger area than the gardens at Peradeniya. I gave myself 3 hours, wore hiking boots and carried water. Snacks are not a great idea as littering is not encouraged and also because the forest is home to Torque Macaque (monkeys) – notorious snatchers! There are nocturnal mammals here including the slender loris. Flying squirrels, Vampire bats, mongoose and many species of birds and snakes inhabit the forest but don’t expect to see them all. It is said that Udawatta Kele was used as a pleasure garden by Kandyan kings and the pond at the entrance was used for bathing. There is also religious importance here – three Buddhist meditation hermitages and rock shelter dwellings for monks are also in the forest. As such this protected area is an amazing hike encompassing all that this heritage city has to offer.

Disclaimer: This is a forest and animals, though accustomed to people, are still wild. There is no emergency call system. Please exercise good judgement and common sense when visiting. Animals should not be approached and flash photography may alarm them. (There is a fee of Rs. 660 (Approximately £3.70) to enter). 

Kandy Garrison Cemetery

My second stop of Day 1 was a more pensive visit to the Kandy Garrison Cemetery also known as the British Garrison Cemetery. Established when the British captured Kandy in 1817 it contains graves of 195 British nationals who lived and died in Ceylon. The most notable aspect here is that almost all died young of tropical diseases such as cholera and malaria. On most of my previous trips I have stopped here to visit these graves. Although this is not a tourist attraction it still forms a part of Kandy’s heritage. This cemetery exists on the grounds of the Temple of the Tooth and is still maintained by the British but the land maintained by the “Diyawadana Nilame” (chief custodian of the Temple of the Tooth) – a historical balance of power dating back to colonial times.

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Sign leading to Kandy Garrison Cemetery.

Kandy Town Centre

Day 2 – I planned to really get to the heart of this town. The city centre was less than 15 minutes from my hotel. So I headed there for a day of walking, sampling street food and general rummaging around. It’s a safe but busy place to walk around. (I did find the touts here mildly irritating but dealt with them firmly). There are markets selling vegetables, clothes, lottery tickets and every local product imaginable. For the foodie in me there were also bakeries and street food stalls selling a variety of sweet and savoury treats – all of which I tried. (Do exercise caution if you’re unsure of something).

Kandy Lake

The best part of my walk around town was getting close to the lake. Gentle walks around its shady path are popular amongst locals and visitors alike. It’s a wonderful place to get close to the people of Kandy. You will find families stop around the lake to feed the ducks after visiting the Temple. Street food vendors here cater to all your culinary needs. The last Sinhalese king created the lake in 1807 beside the Temple of the Tooth and decorated the lake with the “walakulu” (clouds) wall. He couldn’t have known that it’s simple charm would stand as a focal and meeting point centuries later.

All in all this time round, I felt that I had rediscovered the Kandy of my childhood. It certainly has a great deal to offer the most ardent traveller. I found everything I wanted to experience in one place – history, culture, cuisine and nature. Kandy has restored itself to the bustling melting pot of it’s heritage. My stay at the Ozo, Kandy helped this rediscovery by adding adventure to the home comforts I so love and miss when I travel. It truly felt like I had come full circle. My grandmother would have been proud.

In collaboration with OZO Kandy Sri Lanka. www.ozohotels.com/kandy-srilanka

Prices start from GBP 64 per night for a Sleep King room, based on two sharing a room (exclusive of VAT and service charge and subject to availability). For stays until 30 June 2017, stay a minimum of 3 consecutive nights at OZO Kandy Sri Lanka and receive 15% off your booking.

Sources: Wikipedia, Lonely Planet, Wikitravel.

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