The deeper you travel into the heart of Sri Lanka, the more you realise how truly diverse this little country is. As you travel away from the sunny coasts, the landscape becomes greener, mistier, and altogether more mysterious.
Our tour of Sri Lanka took us to the edge of the cultural triangle, with our next few days split between Kandy, the largest city in central Sri Lanka, and the hilly town of Nuwara Eliya, which, with its fog, cooler weather, and instances of colonial British architecture, felt strangely familiar, living up to its nickname of “Little England”. From our B&B in the evening, my friend and I found ourselves wrapped up in the warmest clothes we had with us, sipping tea and feeling oddly a little homesick for London, despite the fact neither of us is originally British.
These two places, vastly different despite the fact they are not far apart, have plenty of things to do and see. The scenery you encounter is enough to make traversing these regions worth it (which are easily reachable from the coast by car or train), but here are a few things I’d recommend putting on your itinerary:
Visit The Temple of the Tooth
Kandy is known for being the centre of the country’s dominant religion, Buddhism. The most sacred place in Sri Lanka to visit for Buddhists, this golden-gilded temple believed to house a tooth from Lord Buddha himself. But no matter your religious beliefs, this is a cultural and historical highlight, and a great experience to visit.
I loved that we had our guide along with us; he was very helpful in giving us tips and advising us to make sure we could be as respectful as possible during our visit. Make sure to dress conservatively, covering your legs and shoulders (I wore a long maxi skirt and a light cardigan), and I’d recommend sandals to make it easier when you have to remove your shoes.
The legend of the tooth states that it was taken from Buddha as he lay on his funeral pyre, and was smuggled to Sri Lanka by the Indian Princess Hemamala as she fled from Hindu armies who were besieging her father’s kingdom. It was brought to the temple where it sits today, enshrined in seven nested golden caskets. Once a year, a celebration is held where the tooth is paraded through Kandy on the back of an elephant.
Inside the temple, you’ll find drummers performing ceremonial rituals, various religious shrines, portraits explaining the history of the tooth coming to the country, and the tooth itself, hidden from view inside the caskets.
See a Cultural Show
After visiting the Temple, we sat down for a cultural show. Don’t expect a fancy venue (this one reminded me slightly of the auditorium at my old school), but the performances were great and it was a fun way to spend a few hours.
Featuring traditional dancers and drummers, the performance consisted of 11 dances in traditional costumes, each representing a different part of the country’s history and culture, including one involving the famed traditional carved masks you are bound to come across as you travel through the country.
The highlight is the last performance in which fire breathers and fire walkers walk across hot coals, live flames, and eat fire.
The show was an entertaining way to pass the evening and was a great way to learn more about Sri Lanka’s rich culture.
Tour a Tea Plantation
I love tea: Black, green, herbal, any kind, so long as it is strong. The Sri Lankan tea met my tastes, putting British supermarket brands to shame, and was incredibly fresh tasting. To learn more about it, our tour guide drove us to the plantation, not far from Nuwari Eliya.
There, we were taken through the tea making process, learning how they make black, green, and white teas, from the leaves used through the fermentation process, ending with a tasting and cake.
Wander Around the Royal Botanical Gardens
Formerly the King’s pleasure gardens and not far from Kandy, the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens are a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
As Sri Lanka’s largest garden, there’s plenty of space to explore, relax, take a picnic, however, you want to spend some time, even if you aren’t a horticultural expert.
Along the way, you’ll pass around 4,000 species of plants, which includes the imposing Avenue of Royal Palms, an Instagram-worthy orchid house, a century-old fig tree, spice gardens, impressive amounts of bamboo, and more.
There’s also plenty of monkeys and birds to watch as you stroll around, and its a great way to enjoy a bit of sunshine and some fresh air.
Watch the Waterfalls
You’ll find some of the tallest and most awe-inspiring waterfalls in the country in the hilly region of Nuwara Eliya. This includes the Devon Falls and St. Clairs falls, among others.
On our last full day in Sri Lanka, we drove not far from Nuwara Eliya past Ramboda Fall, a Y-shaped, cascading waterfall and prime beauty spot in the country. Our tour then took us winding through hills, up to a high-up lookout facing Devon falls, shrouded in morning mist that quickly burned away in the sun as the heat of the day settled in.
The rest of the morning was spent white-water rafting before returning to the coast for a late afternoon at the beach, before catching our flights the next morning.
Anywhere I’ve missed out on in this Sri Lanka series? Love to know some new places to visit to return to this lovely country!