Journey through the Last Citadel of Sri Lanka

Often referred to as the capital of the hill-country, and sometimes the ‘cultural capital’, Kandy is a city nestled in the lush central highlands of the exotic island of Sri Lanka. Its significance does not only stem from its rustic splendour, but also from its history as the only city that fought off foreign invasion for over 300 years before finally falling to the British Empire in 1815.

The present-day city has undergone a number of changes in the name of development, since the country gained independence from the British in 1948. However, it still showcases its old monarchic heritage, along with the heritage of the colonial master; the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a vestige of the city’s Sinhala monarchy, while the Queen’s Hotel is a reminder of its colonial past. Colonial edifices can also be seen in the outskirts of the city, especially the Kadugannawa Pass, which was a weapon of psychological warfare used to subjugate the locals.

The Kadugannawa Pass – Fulfilling a Prophecy

As you travel to Kandy via the old Colombo-Kandy Road you will find a peculiar looking tunnel that is carved out of the natural rock itself. Famously known as the Kadugannawa Pass, this tunnel was a cunning ploy by the British to break the spirits of the nobility of the Kandyan Kingdom. A local prophecy stated that the Kandyan Kingdom would only fall when invaders pierce the rocks of the hill-country. The British, employing a strategic psychological move against the last kingdom of Ceylon, attempted to fulfil the prophecy by carving out a tunnel during the construction of the Colombo-Kandy Road, cementing the legitimacy of British rule. Technological innovation was at the centre of this construction built in 1820 under the direction of Captain William Francis Dawson. His efforts for the implementation of ingenious methods to construct this road is immortalised in the form of the Dawson Tower, located in the heart of the Kadugannawa Town. Once you pass Kadugannawa and the National Railway Museum, you will arrive at an intriguing suburb of Kandy – Peradeniya.

Picturesque Peradeniya

The Peradeniya suburb has long been known for its lush vegetation coupled with intriguing buildings. One such building is the Peradeniya University, which is considered one of the most picturesque universities in South Asia. It showcases typical Kandyan architecture, set against the backdrop of lush greenery.

Two kilometres away from the university lies the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens – the largest botanical gardens in the country. Stroll along the pathways, breathing in the fresh cool mountain air perfumed by floral specimens from all around the world. Try and catch a glimpse of the intriguing ‘Cannonball Tree’, planted by King George V and Queen Mary in 1901, as it certainly does look other worldly. The gardens also have a record of being used as a major complex for the Allied effort during the Second World War. Utilised by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in South Asia, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the botanical gardens served as the headquarters of the South East Asia Command.

Kandy Town – The Past Meets Present

When you continue on your journey into Kandy, you will begin to see architectural traces of its historical past, dotted with modern conveniences such as malls and restaurants. Proceed along the Dalada Weediya and enter the Sri Dalada Maligawa, the complex that houses the sacred Tooth Relic, which is a significant spiritual artefact of the Buddhist world. Perched right beside the picturesque Kandy Lake, it stands out as a tranquil respite for the weary. There is much to see and experience at the temple, so remember to wear the appropriate attire stipulated by the authorities, in order to be admitted to the space. Rejuvenate your spirits by experiencing the poojas (rituals) that venerate the sacred relic. Go on to visit the Royal Palace situated in close proximity to the temple, which now serves as the Kandy National Museum. Witness ancient objects belonging to the old kings that ruled the Kingdom of Kandy, along with Buddhist artefacts that are sacred to the entire by Buddhist world.

Kandy’s colonial legacy remains visible in its architecture which has withstood the test of time. The Queen’s Hotel, a 160-year legacy of colonial occupation was the mansion of former British governors. It is a perfect example of how colonial architects married Victorian architecture with South Asian traditions. Now serving as a quaint hotel, the Queen’s Hotel is a convenient location from where you can access the major attractions of Kandy.

Kandy’s colonial legacy is further visible at St. Pauls’ Church located right next to the Temple of the Tooth Relic. It is a masterpiece of neo-gothic styles combined with a Victorian-era interior. Consecrated in 1853, the Anglican church was a popular place of worship for the British garrison and the local populace who converted to Christianity under colonial rule.
Located right behind the Temple of the Tooth Relic lies a peaceful and isolated plot of land containing the graves and elaborate headstones of the island’s former colonial masters. Named the British Garrison Cemetery, it is the resting place of men, women, and children who passed away during the colonial era. The British Nationals buried here were of high standing and were recipients of influential titles during British rule in the island. One such headstone that prominently stands out among the rest is the headstone of Sir John D’Oyly, the man who was instrumental in acquiring the Kandyan Kingdom for the British Crown by signing the Kandyan Convention in 1815.

Other monuments such as the Old Post Office, the First Kandy Kachcheri, and the Kandy Town Hall are equally important legacies of the colonial past. They are still used as important government buildings. The Kandy Lake was built by the last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Wickrama Rajasingha, in an attempt to beautify the city. It has now become a popular attraction in the city and is the perfect spot for a quiet evening stroll.

Tea Experience in Kandy

Since you have made it to Sri Lanka’s hill-country, it would be remiss to miss the opportunity to learn about the history of the world class Ceylon Tea. Heading out a few kilometres from the city you would come across the Ceylon Tea Museum in Hantana. The museum is an exemplary exposition of how tea was introduced to the island and subsequently developed to create the famous brand of Ceylon Tea. You could delve into the library of the museum and obtain a comprehensive knowledge on the healthy drink, while sipping on a cuppa, if you so wish.

If you feel you have had your fill of history and culture, the quaint Helga’s Folly offers a completely different experience. A 15-minute ride from the city centre of Kandy lies a doorway into a world of whimsy and eccentricity. Owned by Madam Helga, Helga’s Folly is a unique landmark in Kandy that serves as a restaurant, hotel, an art gallery and museum. Each room is an explosion of flamboyant colours and styles and is indeed a feast for the senses.

Today, the city of Kandy is an eclectic mix that brings together rustic scenery, monarchic majesty and colonial legacy, providing the curious traveller a host of opportunities to immerse themselves in history, culture and heritage.

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