Kandy – The Cultural Capital of Sri Lanka
Kandy was my first impression of a Sri Lankan city. Compared to Colombo, Kandy is a quaint little city that is a very popular tourist attraction both for foreigners and Sri Lankans. This is mainly due to the “Temple of the Tooth”, another UNESCO World Heritage site where “supposedly” a tooth from Buddha is housed. I say “supposedly”, as I remain a bit skeptical after witnessing it all haha. Kandy also has a man-made lake near the center of the town which was constructed in the early 1800s. The lake is another popular spot for visitors to wander around or simply grab a seat on one of the benches and watch life pass by.
The Temple of the Tooth
The Temple of the Tooth is only accessible to the public three times a day for the puja offerings-in the morning, around midday, and in the evening. I begrudgingly put on my sweatpants in order to gain admittance into the temple grounds. I was amazed at the crowds of people that were already there, eager to go inside. I joined the queue and was soon granted admittance. There were several children hawking flowers to give as puja offerings to the tooth. I politely declined their offer.
The inside of the temple was crowded as well. On the first floor of the temple, some guys were dressed up in traditional garb and were frantically beating drums in front of a large door. I’m not sure what was inside that door, as the tooth is located on the second floor. The whole scene reminded me of something from Indiana Jones.
After wandering around the first floor perimeter and admiring the shrines and other decorations, I made my way up to the second floor. Here, another queue had formed. This line granted a person the chance to pass by the open doorway where the shrine of the tooth lay. I joined the line and after about 10 minutes, I was allowed to pass by the doorway. The vessel which housed the tooth was large and very ornamental. It reminded me a bit of the Catholic tabernacle. Of course, the skeptic in me wondered whether there was anything inside the vessel at all. Unfortunately it was forbidden to take pictures of the room where the tooth was held.
After passing by the sacred tooth, I stopped to observe some of the Buddhist pilgrims fervently giving their puja offerings to Buddha. I actually found this more interesting and culturally relevant than the room that housed the tooth. Go figure haha.
After I had my fill of the Temple of the Tooth, I walked through a few of the other buildings present in the temple complex. My favorite one was the Buddhist Museum, which detailed different Buddhist traditions and holy sites for the different Asian countries which practice Buddhism. I was surprised to see Afghanistan featured, as I had always assumed that the entire country practiced Islam.
After a relaxing lunch, I decided to visit the Kandy local market to get a pulse on the daily life of the people who lived here. Local markets are not usually considered tourist attractions, but I find it a good way to interact with the locals whom I otherwise would not come across. The Kandy market was very large and was divided into different sections which were selling fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. I wandered through the vegetable section and observed the customers and sellers bustling by, intent on their next purchase or sale. I struck up a few conversations with some of the sellers who didn’t currently have any customers. Upon hearing I was an American, many would then pepper me with questions about former President Obama and our current President, Donald Trump. I guess one can never escape politics, even when I find myself halfway around the world!
After the market, I had a couple hours to spare until I was set to see the Kandy Cultural Show. I decided to head to the lake to find a shady spot to relax. A news reporter and cameraman were interviewing passersby, so I observed them for awhile, trying to determine the subject of the story. Before I realized it, they were in front of me sticking a microphone in my phase! “What are your thoughts on the Sri Lankan cricket team?” the reported asked with a toothy grin. Taken off guard, I stammered a little bit, before I remembered that I had watched them play on tv in the 20/20 World Cup the previous spring when I was in India. After a couple more questions, they thanked me and headed off. I was a little disappointed that there was no picture proof of this interaction and wondered whether I would make it on the final cut of the news segment.
Kandy Cultural Show
I decided to head to the Kandy Cultural Center a little bit early before the 5pm showtime, as I wanted to get a good seat, preferably not behind one of the large tour groups. When I arrived to the theatre, I discovered that all of the seats in the first 30 or so rows had “reserved” signs on them. A bit disappointed, I grabbed a seat in the first row of the unreserved section. As the time neared to 5pm, I noticed that there were quite a few seats that were still empty near the front. I took the opportunity to walk up and snag an empty seat in the third row. Sometimes it pays to be bold!
While the show is put on exclusively for tourists, I enjoyed the opportunity to see the traditional Sri Lankan costumes and the many different dances. The costumes were very elaborate and brightly colored. The grand finale culminated with two men walking across hot coals, seemingly unfazed by the burning of the soles of their feet! I was glad that I was able to witness the performances up close (as well as the ability for better photos!)
Although it was a busy day, I found myself satisfied in seeing and doing the main things in Kandy. Next up I was headed to Adam’s Peak to do the famous climb to witness the sunrise-one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Sri Lanka in the first place!