Conveniently, three of the most ancient and interesting temples in the central highlands are within easy walking distance of one another, southwest of Kandy. Even if the temples themselves weren't fascinating, and they are, the seven-kilometer path which connects Embekke, Lankathilake and Gadaladeniya leads past rice fields and through small towns, and would be worth walking in its own right. Judging by the enthusiastic manner in which locals greeted us, I don't think a lot of tourists pass this way.
Spurred by the popularity of the Elephant Orphanage, the area around Pinnawela has become something of a strip mall for elephantine adventures. Up and down the narrow road leading from the highway are signs and shops touting "Elephant Rides!" or "Pet an Elephant!" It's a little dispiriting, but after our positive experience at the orphanage, we decided to push our luck and visit the Millennium Elephant Foundation before heading back home.
Established in 1975, the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage has become one of the most popular touristic destinations in Sri Lanka, for reasons that should be obvious. What, you need it spelled out? Fine: Orphan Elephants. Baby Orphan Elephants. Lots and lots of baby orphan elephants, that want to cuddle with you, and then frolic and play in the water. What kind of person could say "no" to that? Honestly, who could be like, "Nah, that sounds dumb".
According to popular belief, Kandy is protected by four gods, each with its own temple in the city center. These devales are special temples dedicated to a specific god, besides Buddha. Vishnu, Kataragama, Pattini and Natha. On one busy afternoon, we visited all of them. Yeah, we got that temple fever.
In Sri Lanka, liquor and even beer aren't normally sold in supermarkets. You have to find a "Wine Store", as they're generally called, and join a long queue of thirsty locals. During my first experience in this line of shame, at a dingy shed behind the grocery store in Kandy, I watched in amazement as the twenty-odd guys in front of me all ordered the exact same thing. Arrack.
About twenty kilometers east of Kandy lies the Knuckles Mountain Range, pronounced by locals as "nuck-less". This is one of the most infrequently visited corners of Sri Lanka's hill country, which is surprising, given its beautiful expanses of untouched forest, easy accessibility from Kandy, and softly curved mountaintops which indeed resemble knuckles. By all rights, this park should be one of the region's touristic highlights.
We planned our visit to Kandy's Temple of the Tooth with a poya, or full moon, day. Buddhists follow the lunar calendar and Poya Days are the most sacred of the year. So the temple -- Sri Lanka's most important -- was packed full of worshipers. As you might imagine, there were a lot of photogenic moments just waiting to be captured.
The giant white Buddha which sits atop Bahirawakanda hill is visible from all over Kandy, and a visit, whether by tuk-tuk or foot, is worth the effort for an unbeatable view. From atop Bahirawakanda, the city and its lake are laid out beautifully before you, and you'll feel secure underneath the big Buddha's benevolent, protecting presence. You might need the protection more than you realize. The spot on which you're standing has an evil past...
For hundreds of years, the stubborn Kandyan Kingdom proved a thorn in the side of conquest-happy European powers. Isolated, unassailable and mysterious, the kingdom remained the only independent region of Sri Lanka until finally falling to the British in 1817.
I was a little agitated by the $10 entry fee for the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, but it didn't take me long after entering to realize that it was money well-spent. Peradeniya's are the most fantastic botanic gardens I've ever seen. Trees the size of sky-scrapers, flower bushes exploding in incredible color, giant palm trees that bloom just once in 45 years, and cannon ball trees with heavy round fruits were just some of the highlights. I've never been so bowled over by botany.