Get up and out
I’m writing this looking at an old photograph, I’d guess from around 1920 going by the car, of ‘Ward Street, Kandy, Ceylon’. It ain’t the Kandy I recognise; Ward Street indeed, long since renamed.
There are moments, though, and perspectives in Kandy from which you can really picture the beautiful old town. Walking around the lake, bang in the middle of the city, very early in the morning, no doubt gives the best chance.
Walk along the lakeside, from the Hotel Suisse towards the city centre and you’ll get a glimpse across the lake to the Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth), mist rising off the water, and a beautiful white domed stupha seen through the trees. Suddenly that’s a Kandy of a hundred years ago, and it’s quite stunning.
Kandy is geographically muddling – a lake and a forest in the middle of the town often leaving A to B journeys long and circuitous.
Better than driving around the forest is to get out and walk through it. Udawatta Kele is a quite amazing sanctuary well inside the loop of the Mahaweli Ganga river that tends to define the limits of the city.
If the city centre disappoints in fairy-tale terms then the forest will surely compensate. Enormous, seemingly timeless trees extend great curled vines over wide paths that provide a kind of maze-like route. Troops of monkeys are often close by.
The ‘road’ names within the forest speak of Kandy’s colonial past – from the main entrance just above Trinity College you’ll soon stroll onto Lady Gordon’s Road via Lady Horton’s Drive.
Walking through the forest you can drop down to the Temple of the Tooth – stopping off perhaps at the Garrison Cemetry.
The latter, with many of the gravestone writings clearly legible and extensive, gives a wonderfully direct impression of life (and death) in old ‘British’ Kandy.
Kandy, in all honesty, doesn’t have the sprawling markets of other Asian cities. Its fabrics aren’t fantastic – you’d do better to brace yourself and head into Pettah in Colombo.
The Central Market near Keppetipola Road shows off an interesting enough array of local produce – a fair amount packaged and priced for the town’s many tourists.
Given Kandy’s rich history, though, you’ll find a good number of antique-type stores. Our favourite is the eponymous Waruna Antiques on the Old Perideniya Road – less about expensive antique furniture and most in the way of trinkets and little objects.
For gems and stones, we always suggest Tiesh, located not far from Waruna’s and the most reliable, in terms of quality and price, of Kandy’s many stores.