Believe it or not: what you are looking at here is not a picture of the lush green mountains of Vietnam or Munnar, India. It’s the mountain fortress of Sigiriya, in Kandy. Stunning, isn’t it?
When I think about Sri Lanka, my mind immediately screams “LTTE” – short for Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam- a terrorist organisation that gripped the country for decades.
But, what’s funny is that Sri Lanka’s most feared terrorist group solely exists as a Wikipedia page today although their acts have left millions scarred for life.
Setting the tragic stories of the past aside, however, you have an island country that is teeming with wildlife and marine life, long and striking shorelines that belong on the front of postcards, ancient sites with stories to narrate, divine temples, plantations that people all over the world visit to indulge in voracious tea-drinking, and flavoursome food.
Come to think of it: my God, Sri Lanka is fan-bleeding-tastic!
What’s even more amazing is that the country’s 2000-year history is well-documented in the many temples and monasteries dotted around the country. My point of interest for this week, however, is the city of Kandy – situated in the central part of Sri Lanka.
It does not have the charm and allure of the coastal areas but what Kandy loses in access to beaches, it makes up for in the majestic (yet mysterious) plains, temples and the Sigiriya – the ruins of a 5th-century city that are anchored by a towering rock fortress and which can be accessed by climbing steep stairs.
Kandy is essentially an administrative and religious city, which happens to house some of the most important temples of worship. The ‘Temple of the Tooth Relic’, for example, is one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988.
If that wasn’t enough, Kandy is also the nourishing ground for some of the biggest tea plantations in the world. Let’s just put it this way: if it weren’t for Kandy, tea-lovers would be dishing out a lot more dough (money) for their Lipton and Bushell sachets.
Oh, and not to mention, “Kandy” is an incredibly cool name for a city.
My favourite place- Oh my! Where do I begin? Well, let us start with the obvious: the Temple of the Tooth Relic looks like it belongs on the set of a movie. It is still active so you can take part in rituals and maybe even reflect with the monks in the monastery. Meanwhile, the ruins of the Sigiriya fortress resemble the set from the first of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies; it’s unbelievably stunning. The idea of standing among something truly as great as this makes me feel truly blessed; almost like it was destined to happen. And the looks on the faces of other tourists radiate the same impression.
Highlights- Kandy is one of the central provinces of Sri Lanka so it does not have access to the beach. However, it more than makes up for this with vast green plains that flank the area. These plains – known as the Horton Plains National Park – are covered in montane grasslands and cloud forests. It is rich in biodiversity and is known to be home to leopards, wild boards, mongooses, chevrotains and so much more. The plains also contain several waterfalls and rivers. Since much of Kandy is a tropical rainforest, the temperatures fluctuate from 25-degrees-Celsius to 30-degree-Celsius, yearly. The region is also prone to its monsoon season starting from May, all the way to December. Make sure to pack umbrellas when visiting Kandy.
Lowlights- While Sri Lanka is devoid of any terrorist activity today, the constant thought of safety lingers in the minds of tourists. But, today, all the citizens care about is the welfare of their country and cricket. No matter what, do not insult their cricket players. Remember: Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are regarded with the same reverence as political leaders.
Souvenirs- Handunugoda or Dilmah brews are a must-buy from Kandy. Don’t even think about leaving the city without stashing up on sachets. Apart from that, pick up hand-woven napkins and coconut shell spoons from local street vendors.
Getting there- Sri Lanka is only a four-hour flight from Muscat. An Oman Air flight from Muscat to Colombo costs a mere RO120 (depending on the season). From Colombo you can take another flight to Kandy. However, the distance is a mere 113kms and is only a train or bus ride away.
Where to stay- If you’re planning on returning to Colombo, the Kingfisher Hotel & Restaurant (kingfisherunawatuna.com), located on a beautiful bay, offers great sea vistas and the freshest seafood. However, only local hotels operate out of Kandy. The Hotel Topaz Kandy is a decent hotel for a night’s stay.
1. Explore the ruins of the Sigiriya fortress
2. Meditate at the Temple of Tooth with other tourists and monks
3. Visit several other temples in the vicinity
4. Go hiking on the Hanthana mountain ranges
5. Take a tour around the New Shrine Room & Museum