Tuesday 3 May 2016

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second largest city and was the last capital of the ancient kings’ era. It is located amongst tropical hills and is the capital city of the Central Province.

The city has lots of old colonial era buildings and plenty to keep its visitors interested - though the busy streets and traffic jams were a little bit of a contrast to our recent countryside towns, though we were staying up in the lush hills with great views overlooking the city.

A picturesque artificial lake dominates the city, created in 1807 by the last ruler of Kandy Kingdom. There is an island in the middle which was used as his personal harem with a bathhouse on the south shore.

To make the most of the dry warm weather I treated myself to an ice lolly (strawberry, banana and mango) as I strolled along the site of the lake.

Temple of the Tooth

Just next to the lake is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth (aka ‘Dalada Maligawa’) - home to Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic - a tooth of the Buddha.

The temple complex is large - there is a main shrine but also a number of other temples and museums on the site. The buildings are inspired by Anuradhapura.

The shrine gets a lot of visitors and worshippers, but as it was New Year’s Day the temple was very busy as it is an auspicious day.

So we skipped the massive queue to see the gold casket containing the tooth but we saw everything - including a special New Year’s offerings ceremony in the 19th century Audience Hall.

Next door is the Royal Palace complex - the last one built on the island. Although only part of the original palace remains, it is now the location of the National Museum Kandy,

Tea Factory

You can’t come to Sri Lanka and not visit a Tea Factory! Sri Lanka was formally called ‘Ceylon’ back when it was a British colony and this is when tea plants were introduced to the island with the ambition of creating a profitable export industry. Mission accomplished! Ceylon Tea was excellent and is still known as one of the best in the world and an important part of Sri Lanka’s economy.

So as a short trip out of Kandy we visited the Geragama Tea Factory. This small estate was built in 1903 - and not much seems to have changed since then! We were given a guided tour to learn about the industry and manufacturing of the country’s best known beverage before tasting it.

We started by seeing the ladies out in the plantation picking the leaves - apparently women have quicker hands so they make good pickers, leaving the men to do the heavy lifting etc.

Then we went into the factory and saw the stages that the leaves go through - drying, fermenting, rolling, heating, grinding and shaking.


Did you know that all tea is made from the same plant - I’d always assumed green tea, black tea and white tea were all from different plants, but no! The difference is down to the region where the plant was grown, when it was harvested (aka ‘plucked’) and how it was processed.

The air all smelt like tea.

At the end of the short but informative tour we ended up in the tearoom / shop - there are plenty of tea-related items you can buy, but no pressure to purchase.

Then it was time to try it. We were given a cup of Boa 2/b Black Tea (there is a whole complex grading process!) plus a sugar cube made from coconut flowers to sweeten the taste. The idea is that you take a small bite of the cube and then drink the tea - yum. Even as a non-tea drinker.

Cultural Dance Show

One evening in Kandy we opted to watch a show of the famed Kandyan dancers, drummers and fire-walkers at the Art Association & Cultural Centre.

The set-up is very touristy, but the easiest way to see this iconic Sri Lankan performance.

All the performers wear elaborate traditional costumes - dancers twirling, stamping and doing acrobatics across the stage accompanied by varying drums and tambourines.

It was originally an all-night ceremony in honour of the god Kohomba but was adopted into local religious ceremonies and festivals.

There are a number of different dances conveying different messages.

The show runs for about 1 hour but then they invite people to come nearer the front and view the fire-walkers in action. The men put on quite a show - eating and rubbing the flames on their bodies before walking on hot burning coals.


Food was good in Kandy, even if not the healthiest!

One evening we went to a Chinese / Indian restaurant for dinner (Captain’s Table in Devon’s) where we tucked into a selection of beef & oyster sauce as well as chicken & cashews with veggies. A nice change from curry.

In the town we also found some tasty treats. Whilst navigating the packed streets (it was national holidays and a weekend) we discovered a sweet shop and bakery “Delight Bakers & Sweet House” where we selected some sugary snacks:

caramel, coconut toffee, date toffee, milk toffee & potato toffee

All were tasty other than the potato toffee which smelt like hay and tasted only really of cardamom.

Then we stopped at a little supermarket to stock up on snacks for an upcoming long train journey. I was delighted to find a red banana…though was informed by our guide that it was not yet ready to eat and I would have to carry it around for a few days before trying!!

At lunchtime we visited the queen hotel's bakery and shared a vegetable curry puff, dhal (lentil) wade and cold chicken and veggie pizza.

Another evening we went to a restaurant on the lake for dinner where I had a delicious feast of hoppers (4 plain, 1 egg) with dhal curry, fish curry, mango chutney, coconut sabol and cucumber/tomato salad.

…look at all of those plates!

Also available was string hoppers - noodles made of rice flour.

Other things to do / see
Also in the area of Kandy are some touristy sites - for example a Gem & Geological Centre.

This place is interesting in that it shows you the mining methods, all of which are largely done without electricity or power tools.

Then they showed us all the precious and semi-precious gems that can be found in Sri Lanka, including white and yellow sapphires, ruby, quartz, amethyst and amber.

We could watch briefly some of the gems and jewellery being worked on…

…before being ushered into a large shop where we wandered around with no intention of buying anything!

We also visited a clothing store and factory where the walls were filled with scarves and t-shirts.

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