what I love about Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy’s got a pretty crazy ancient history. You wouldn’t know to see it, with its dusty roads, old buses and generally 80s vibe. You couldn’t quite tell it’s a thriving commercial industry for information technology, textiles and jewellery, a modern day stuck in a bubble in time where trade caught up with the 21st century but its people, culture and streets didn’t. 

Kandy was a Kingdom founded in the 15th century, where the Sinhalese Kings in Ceylon fought the Portuguese Empire, and when it wasn't looking so good, called out to the Dutch for help. And then the Dutch took over for a bit, so nobody really won that one. Thereafter the Kandyan Wars (not to belittle history but could they not have named this the Kandy Wars?) were fought between the Kingdom of Kandy (such a win of a name) and the British in 1796. So the Brits won, and there ended 2,357 years of Sinhalese independence.

The British did one good thing, and that was transform Kandy’s jungle-covered lands into a modern city. Their introduction of tea into Sri Lanka for harvesting in 1867 is what transformed the country’s fortunes as one of the biggest tea exporters for awhile. Today Ceylon tea is pretty ubiquitous (I like the stuff, myself) but what do you know of Kandy? As a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s chiefly famous for being the home of the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world. 

Shawn is half Singhalese on his mother’s side, so our visit to Sri Lanka was a homecoming discovery of sorts. Myself, I like the oddity of Kandy. I can't quite see it as a modern city just yet. The city center rises up around an artificial lake they call the Sea of Milk, hugged by lush hills and a cool (ish) climate. It's got a little bit of new and old in every piece of its soul, see for yourself. 

It's a piece of time in a bubble

The only railway operates between cities, so the main form of public transport in Kandy are old, rickety buses. There are shops and mini malls that look straight out of the 80s. Buses sell advertising about printers - when was the last time you saw that? Like Cambodia but unlike in Bangkok, where it's all but become a sort of tourist trap and road hazard, tuk tuks are still a viable way of getting around here.

Incredible Sri Lankan food

What bothers me most when I’m travelling is that it's hard to find someone to talk to about food. I want to know the spices, the flavours, the cooking methods. I want to know the history of the recipe, how it was passed down. I want to know how these stalls survive, who are their regular customers, do they ever get tired of cooking the same food day in and day out? Sure there are cooking tours but I’ve been on a few and they’re generally disappointing. 

Sri Lankan food has its parallels to Indian food and inspiration from Portuguese and Dutch influences. What part of it, though? Sri Lankan curries are thinner than their Indian counterparts, more focused on use of certain spices, and certainly much more fiery in heat. The flavours of of Sri Lankan food are more intense, varied and intertwined, than that of Indian food. Because they trade in spices, curry leaves, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom play a huge role in their cooking. 

When we were having breakfast in a little café, they brought out an entire dish of pastries and fried bread rolls we didn't order. We noticed that they do this for every table and you pay only for what you ate

When we were having breakfast in a little café, they brought out an entire dish of pastries and fried bread rolls we didn't order. We noticed that they do this for every table and you pay only for what you ate

KANDYAN DANCING WITH Fire Feels Pretty Magical

Kandyan dancing is loud, energetic, and full of drumming. It's a cultural dance I don't quite understand. Most cultural dances have their roots in ancient forms of storytelling, such as Chinese and Japanese opera being dramatic forms of tale-telling. Indonesian cultural dances are slow and elegant. But the Kandyan cultural dance is a percussion. Most bizarrely the ending of the Kandyan dance includes a fire dance and walk. The male dancers rub fire all around their arms and chest, and walk calmly across hot coals. Meanwhile the drumming beats out a frenetic soundtrack in crescendo. 

sri lankan Crafts is very much alive 

Being the cultural seat of Sri Lanka, craft thrives in Kandy. Wood carving and batik are the more commonly seen forms. Traditionally, the paint for these brilliant carvings are made naturally from shaved wood bark (can't remember which tree) that is red, which produces a different colour when mixed with lime juice. Sri Lanka is also known for its colourful masks, handloom, jewellery and lacquerwork. 

Temple of Buddha's tooth

Having visited much of Asia, temples are almost always one of two or three sites you'd typically visit. The Sri Dalada Maligawa, or Buddha's Tooth Temple, has the distinction of being one of 8 temples in the world (including one in California, supposedly) to house a tooth relic. In Sri Lanka the tooth has played a divine role in politics where it was believed whosoever had the tooth had the right to rule. It largely rose Kandy to prominence as the last seat of the ancient Sri Lankan kings when it was moved here. 

You can find serenity near the city

Much of the bustle and pollution starts to fade away once you venture towards the hills. We stayed in the incredibly beautiful Kandy Cinnamon Citadel hotel, situated 15 minutes away from the city center and nestled in the misty mountains. The hotel overlooks a quiet, beautiful bend in the Mahaweli River, a 335KM river journeying into the Bay of Bengal. Just look at this incredible morning view! One of our best stays in Sri Lanka. Being in the bosom of this lushness also means plenty of hikes. You can do a day hike up the Hanthana Mountain Range from near the University of Peradeniya. 

View from our hotel at breakfast 

View from our hotel at breakfast 

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