Kandy Things to Do Tips by mafi_moya Top 5 Page for this destination
Kandy Things to Do: 153 reviews and 310 photos
Kandy lake is basically the centre of the city. It was created by the last king of the Kandyan empire, who had his own private island full of concubines in the middle of the water. Legend has it that his political rivals were murdered and impaled on stakes at the bottom of the lake before it was filled with water.
The end closest to the town centre and near the Temple of the Tooth is usually very busy - it's a common meeting point and the pavements are full of salesmen and occasional street performers. The far end is much quieter and makes for a relaxing walk in the shade. To walk the whole way round is about 4kms. You can get boats from the jetty near the town end, but unfortunately you can't swim in the lake as it's sacred.
The lake is especially beautiful at night - on religious days and for the Perahera it's lit up with brightly coloured fairy lights. Surrounded by trees and hills the backdrop is dramatic - ideally get a hotel on the hill with a view of the lake. In Spring the flowers are in bloom and it's at its most colourful.
A golden Buddha statue
The huge Temple of the Tooth, on the shore of the lake, is Kandy's centrepiece. It's probably the holiest site in the country and Sri Lankans flock to it in their thousands. The famous Buddha's tooth itself is housed upstairs in seven golden caskets placed inside a large silver one - it's fascinating to watch the reverence with which people queue for hours to see the tiny tooth on display.
As you'd expect there are lots of golden Buddha statues, as well as historical paintings chronicling Buddha's life and the origins of Buddhism in the country. Sri Lanka is one of those Buddhist countries, like Thailand, where everything is decorated in gold and as ostentatious as possible, but there are also some very ornate carvings and leafy trees in the shaded gardens.
Outside in the grounds, amid the strong smell of incense offerings, there's a wooden pillared audience hall and pleasant garden where elephants are kept. There are also performances of traditional Kandyan dancing and drumming during the day's Puja offerings, which is well worth seeing - check for the times.
Kandyan drummers at morning Puja offering
Many Kandyans would consider the temple to be the heart of the city. But to me it also sums up Kandy in another way – a lot of hype but it doesn’t quite live up to it. If you're a Buddhist then the significance of the Buddha's tooth means this is a must see temple. If you're not then there's not much to differentiate it from countless others - apart from a more expensive entrance fee (even more if you want to take a camera in) and extreme crowds. It is a lot larger and splendid than most though, and if you’ve never been to a Buddhist temple then this is a fantastic one to start with.
Outside in the entrance grounds, you're also hassled by would-be guides who will insist that they want to help you out of the goodness of their heart and their devotion to the Lord Buddha, look hurt if you suggest they want money, but then aggressively follow you around the city for the rest of the day if they don't get any.
The temple was bombed in 1998 and partly destroyed near the entrance. Understandably, security can be tight - bags searched etc - and it's best to arrive early to miss the queues that can develop when the coach tours turn up.
A decorated elephant during the Perahera parade
The Esala Perahera in Kandy is far and away the biggest and most important of all Sri Lankan perahera festivals. Held in the lunar month of Esala it celebrates the month in which Buddha was conceived and many years later left his family home. The Kandy festival has been held annually for many centuries and falls in July/August, lasting for ten days.
The 10 days are made up of torchlight processions of ornately decorated (and illuminated) elephants, Kandyan drummers and dancers, pilgrims, and all kinds of entertainers from acrobats to jugglers and stiltwalkers.The processions are watched by hundreds of thousands of people. For the first five days most of the celebrations take place within the temples; the next five are taken out into the streets. The highlight is the most famous elephant, the Maligawa Tusker, carrying the casket containing the Buddha's tooth relic around the temples. On the 11th day the relic is returned to the Temple of the Tooth in a final daylight procession.
Needless to say, Kandy is incredibly busy during Perahera! Book ahead or you might as well not bother coming - rooms are booked months in advance and prices treble at least. If you do get there, it's worth settling down somewhere hours in advance in order to get a good view. Dalada Veediya (the main street) and the northwest corner of the lake are probably the best and therefore busiest spots.
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