Sri Lanka

Kandy and the Hill Country: Sri Lanka

By Vacation India
The famous Temple of the Tooth Relic at dusk. Twice the temple sustained damaged during fighting but both times it was restored fully © Tunart

Kandy and the Hill Country: Sri Lanka

Discovering Kandy and its Hill Country
Getting Around


Together with Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, Kandy forms part of the so-called Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Known as the country’s cultural capital because of its architectural, music and dance heritage, it is high on the list of must-visit destinations for foreign tourists, while the presence of the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic draws pilgrims both local and from many parts of the world. Furthermore, Kandy serves as the entranceway to the central highlands. The Hill Country of this island is covered in neat terraced tea plantations and dotted with towns that have carefully preserved every remnant of the bygone British colonial era.

Kandy lies in the heartland of Sri Lanka, surrounded by lush hills. The city was established by Vikramabahu lll who ruled between 1357 and 1374, and became the capital city of the kingdom under Senasammatha Vikramabahu’s reign during the 1400’s. In 1592, with the arrival of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy’s status was further elevated. During the next centuries, as kings replaced each other, they all constructed, rebuilt and renovated parts of the old city while simultaneously averting colonial powers. However, the determination of the British paid off when they gained control of the entire island by removing the last remaining resistance in 1815 by conquering Kandy. This was made possible by the unpopularity and disrepute of the tyrannical and cruel Sri Vikrama Rajasingha. Very soon the city turned into an important commercial center linked to Colombo by a newly constructed railway line, the first in the country.  Today Kandy is second only to Colombo as principal city, famous for the grand Esala Perahera Festival held to celebrate the Sacred Tooth Relic housed in the venerated Temple of the Tooth, itself an important attraction.

A golden statue of the Buddha in lotus position with open eyes in a temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka © buddhika_Jayawardana

Leaving the hustle and bustle of Kandy behind, the mild climate of the surrounding area brings welcome relief and life slows down to a peaceful rhythm. The Hill Country offers a variety of sights, from immaculately laid out tea plantations curving around the hillsides to rough landscapes with waterfalls gushing down the slopes. Trains on tracks dating back to colonial times pass former hill stations like Badulla and Nuwara Eliya, both now modern-day towns, at heady heights. Other hill towns like Haputale and Ella are popular for their pleasant winding walks and beautiful scenic views.

The intense bright white color of the Buddha statue contrasts sharply with the blue sky in the background, Tooth Relic Temple, Kandy © Urf


Discovering Kandy and its Hill Country

Kandy, situated in the navel of Sri Lanka is also famous for the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, attracting pilgrims and visitors from all across the globe. Other attractions in the area are those of a historical nature, like ancient temples dating from the heydays of Kandy, as well as those for nature lovers like the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala and the idyllic Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. The Knuckles Mountain Range to the north of Kandy draws many explorers to the countryside. Tea enthusiasts can quench their thirst at one of the many tea plantations to the south of the city while learning more about the production process at the same time. Nuwara Eliya invariably transports visitors back to colonial times with a stay in a typical colonial era bungalow or hotel. Horton Plains National Park makes for enjoyable day excursions, and just southwest of Nuwara Eliya lies Adam’s Peak, an emotional uplifting climbing experience, especially for pilgrims. Trekkers find a haven in the rainforest of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve to the south. Geologists will find Ratnapura of special interest as this is the heart of the country’s gem mining industry and is situated conveniently on the road to Colombo, the capital.

Candles form an important part of Buddhist rituals, and are placed in front of the Buddha as a sign of respect. Here devotees light candles in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy © Andrey danilovich


Getting Around

The amazing scenery of this hill region is best enjoyed from a trainway car. Busses and trains offer regular transport all over the Hill Country. Based in one of the leading towns, outlying sites can be reached by organizing a three-wheeler. If you have access to a car with a driver, take the railroad from Kandy to the Nanu Oya train station which serves Nuwara Eliya, and then ask your driver to meet you there. The region is also wonderful for walkers, so roam the area on foot to really learn about the everyday local life, while enjoying the magnificent views at your leisure. Just be aware that since the 1997 bombing by the LTTE, all roads near the Temple of the Sacred Tooth are inaccessible to all vehicles.

The brilliant white statue of the Buddha contrasts sharply with the dark green foliage of its hilltop surroundings, Kandy, Sri Lanka © Elkor

A wall of identical elephant carvings in a temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka Dalada Maligawa Temple © Evenjc

A man in traditional Sri Lankan dress stands against a painted wall inside a temple in Kandy while playing his trumpet © Hadynyah

A male dancer with distinctive ornamentation and headdress performs a ritual dance during a festival in Kandy, Sri Lanka © Laughingmango

Statues of the Buddha surrounded by worshippers in devotional pose against a temple wall in Kandy © Myshkovsky

A Sinhalese woman doing her laundry at the river’s edge against a clouded sky, Kandy © Ertyo 5

A vendor holds a tamarind fruit in his open hand. Tamarind is a common ingredient in Sinhalese curries, chutneys and vegetable and lentil dishes © DavorLovinic

A foreign tourist on a hike with a Sinhalese guide on the slopes of the Knuckles Mountains Range in central Sri Lanka. The mountain is a World Heritage Site and popular with hikers © DavorLovinic

A pine tree in the Knuckles Range in central Sri Lanka is tapped for resin © DavorLovinic

A statue of the Buddha in typical lotus position, with closed eyes, hands folded in his lap and legs crossed. Various other figures make up this scene in Kandy © Myshkovsky

The resin of the cut pine tree is collected in a container fastened to the tree. These resin trees grow best in the wet, intermediate zones of Sri Lanka © DavorLovinic

A musician in traditional Sinhalese costume playing drums inside a temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka © Hadynyah

Worshippers at a table of flowers in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic located in the old Royal Palace Complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy © Aliona

Lake Kandy is a haven of peace and tranquility in the heart of the city. Also known as the Kiri Muhuda or Sea of Milk, it is an artificial lake built in the early 19th century © Milan Chudoba

The Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya, Kandy dates back to 1371 when it served as pleasure garden for the royals. It has 4000 different plant species including medicinal plants, spices, orchids and many different trees © Saman Weeratunga

The lights of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is reflected in Lake Kandy. The Audience Hall seems to float on the water of the lake, Kandy © Saman Weeratunga

A roadside stall in Kandy selling tropical fruit. The ideal climatic conditions of the Island Kingdom combined with many generations of horticultural knowledge and expertise assure good quality fruit © Taya 294

Stalls selling flowers in Kandy’s Flower market are neatly lined up. The beautiful purple Nil Mahanel, or Nymphaea Stellate was declared the national flower of Sri Lanka in 1986 © Efesenko

Tourists hiking along the paddy field on the Knuckles Mountains in Sri Lanka. The mountain range is popular with hikers and trekkers © Davor Lovinic

The statue of a meditating Buddha carved in stone in a 14th century temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka © Radiokukka

Just one of the impressive trees in the Royal Botanical Garden of Peradeniya, Kandy. There are more than 10,000 individual trees in the garden, some hundreds of years old, like this wild fig tree © Meinzahn

A Buddha statue is partly lit up by the rays of the sun in a temple in Kandy © Joyt

A small group of traditional dancers perform on stage in a theater in Kandy, Sri Lanka © Bartosz hadyniak

A mural in Kandy depicting a religious Buddhist scene with various figures © Myshkovsky

The famous Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, also called the Sri Dalada Maligawa, in a night shot. During puja the heavily guarded room housing the tooth relic is open to devotees and visitors © Wassili

The striking interior of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sri Lanka © Kulicki

One of the highlights of the Botanical Gardens in Kandy is the stunning palm alley with trees seeming to soar up into the sky on both sides of the lane © krivinis

A train snakes through lush green fields and tea plantations near Kandy, Sri Lanka © Maryabdelkarim

Devotees and visitors around a table laden with flowers in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy. Flowers are used as offerings in both Buddhism and Hinduism, and is a symbol of generosity and the beauty of enlightenment © Photoaliona

A horn player in ceremonial dress inside the beautifully decorated Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy, Sri Lanka © pidjoe

A crowd of tourists watch as a fire dancer performs his ritual dance to the sound of drums at the Tempe of the Tooth Relic in Kandy © helovi

An Indian elephant wearing a typical red covering with holes for the eyes walk at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sri Lanka. In Buddhist texts elephants often represent the Buddha © Surangaw

Visitors walk through a lane of tall conifers in the Peradeniya Botanical Garden in Kandy. The garden attracts more than a million visitors each year © Efesenko

Worshippers line up to make their offerings in the Dalada Maligawa, also known as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy © Danilovi

A devotee carries a tray of vibrant purple flowers used as offerings to the deity in the Dalada Maligawa, a landmark in Kandy, Sri Lanka © Danilovi

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