Smack dab in the center of Sri Lanka lies a city so sweet you’d think it were carved out of candy. Hidden within the ever swirling mist of the mountains, it’s peppered with the architecture of Colonial past, splashed with the vibrant murals of the city’s residents, flavored with the pungency of spices and baked to the consistent drum beat of Dawula’s on the wind…
One of Kandy’s most iconic confections is the Temple of the Tooth, home to Buddha’s upper left canine. My husband and I went on a fairly ominous day of scattered showers and omnipresent clouds, but that only heightened Sri Dalada Maligawa’s beauty. As if it were purposely set into a backdrop of gray, the yellow burn of the coconut oil lanterns emitting a glow that warped the filigree walls like a mirage.
As we entered the gates alongside the hundreds of other wanderers, travelers and believers, there was this unspoken sense of connection in the air. We had all come from such different walks of life yet we had all made the same pilgrimage, one to bear witness to the sacred site of Buddha’s relic, preserved within a gemstone embedded casket beneath a golden shrine.
The inner and outer workings of the temple grounds seem to merge so you are continuously stumbling upon something grand, each pathway’s outlet into another pathway’s chamber of lotus blossoms, frangipani, and aurelian hues. Residing in the former Kingdom of Kandy’s palace complex, the surrounding Victorian era buildings offer a glimpse into the royal life of the King and Queen of 1815.
As we ran our fingers across the monument walls, we repeatedly found ourselves tracing the outline of the elephant motif. Carved out of gold, bone and stone, this mighty animal has been a symbol of culture and religion throughout Sri Lanka’s history. Its depiction seen across the palisades, we ventured ~20 miles outside the sacred city of Kandy to meet the creature in its true form. To Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, a haven for the abandoned and abused.
Set on 25 acres of forest, Pinnewala houses the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. It also serves as a nursery and active breeding ground. We arrived at feeding time, which meant the herd was awake and alert and ready for breakfast. First up, the babies. Small but mighty, these “little” guys were not shy about asking for food, their trunks sniffing out bottles in buckets and pockets and more intrusive spaces…
When the milk ran dry we stepped up to a wooden platform where a plethora of exotic fruit lay ready for consumption. The adults were a little more groomed to the feeding experience, and instead of swarming us with their noses, they patiently waited for the jungle’s delicacies to drop onto their rosy pink tongues.
We left the bustling heart of the city for the land of tea and endless green. Although not in Kandy proper Nuwara Eliya hovered in the mountains nearby, up a twisting road through the jungle, set on the highest plain. Our day trip to “Little England” consisted of lounging on the banks of Lake Gregory, studying the colonial buildings, tea hopping across the numerous plantations, and wandering through the gardens of fruit and vegetables and wildflowers. With the clouds moving across the sun and the grass swaying in the breeze, the quiet reflection of the hills dimpled across the water was like a scene out of a Monet.
We chased waterfalls through the rolling valleys, their plummets as prevalent as the parakeets in the trees. Cascading the highlands, the sound of their flow like an undercurrent on the breeze.
As if Kandy didn’t offer enough adventure, my husband had one last request before we left for the coast. This was off-itinerary, he was going rouge. Channeling Indiana Jones, he happened to find the most rickety bridge and invited one of the local’s to an official jump-off into the Mahaweli Ganga. Up for the challenge, the Sri Lankan man accepted, and the next thing I know they’re bumping fists, getting down to their skivvies, and I’m yelling “Three… Two… One!”
These are the ingredients that make Kandy so sweet.