Colombo - Kandy Road
To the World Heritage site city, Kandy
(at Southern corner of cultural triangle) & then onto Nuwara Eliya (the Little England)
The Road to KandyDistance from Colombo: 115km
A journey through spectacular scenery; from hot & humid Colombo to Mediterranean Kandy
The ascent is from sea level to altitude of 500m (1640ft) above sea level
They built the road & railway line"Sir, too many rivers & rocks". "Damn the rivers & blast the rocks". And the road & the railway line were built by the British colonialists. Taking 11 years to complete, the trunk road from Colombo to Kandy was the first modern road. It was opened in Ceylon in 1932 by the British. A1 main road. The Kandy road, the foremost road of the island traditionally begins at Queen's House in Fort (Colombo1) & the pleasant & surprising experiences along the road are numerous in number & varied in nature.
It all changes within 3 hoursThe road or railway journey of 115km (73 miles) (3 hours) inland from the commercial capital & seaport of Colombo to the cultural capital that stands in a loop of the River Mahaweli, the largest & longest river in the island; from hot & humid plains to the hills of Mediterranean climate; from the Palm groves to the Rubber plantations, Tea plantations & Paddy fields; from the hustle & bustle of Colombo to a soothing environment.
Along the wayRoadside stalls are packed with banana, pineapples, mangoes & various other fruits. Our car crosses deep river valleys, negotiates numerous hairpin bends & winds upward through increasingly steep hill country-where cinnamon & nutmeg plantations scent the breeze, tame elephants trudge by under heavy burdens, & flying foxes like ragged umbrellas hang from high branches-it is easy to imagine the inaccessible fortress city of Kandy during the Portuguese, Dutch & British times of the island. "The ways are many but very narrow, so that but one can go abreast", wrote Robert Knox, the Englishman who was held captive in Kandy for 20 years in the late 17th century. In fact, its kings banned the building of roads to the coast, to hide the city from the would-be European conquers still further. Despite the modern road & rail link, the sense of rarefied isolation clings to the beautiful city of Kandy & surrounding countryside. Number of hairpin bends are too numerous to count & give credence to then insurmountable natural fortress.
The RouteColombo, Kelaniya, Pasgama tourist village, Sapugaskande, Miriswatta (Uruwala Temple, Henaratgoda Botanical Gardens), Waruna, Cadjugama (village of cashew nut), Radawaduwa (cane items) Nelundeniya, Dedigama, Kegalle (Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Spice Gardens, The Millennium Elephant Foundation) Utuwankanda (sanctuary of Saradiel, Robin Hood of Ceylon in 19th century) Beligala, Peradeniya (Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens with River Mahaweli flowing right behind it)
Kelaniya Royal temple. The temple & environs of Kelaniya trace its history back to the time of Buddha who came here on his third & last visit to the island. A temple was built around the area where the Buddha trod, followed later by an entire city. Not surprising, the location is of significant spiritual value to Buddhist. The architecture of the temple & paintings inside reflect Sinhalese art forms derived from many South Asian civilizations but with leaning towards Buddhist culture. A variety of recumbent carved statues of the Buddha are of special interest. As a consequence of tipping a Buddhist monk into a vat of boiling oil, King Kelanitissa in the 2nd century BC reigned over the west of the island from its capital at Kelaniya. Reigning provincial king found that the deities retaliated by overflowing the sea in many parts of his kingdom. To placate the offended deities, he deftly arranged to sacrifice his favourite daughter Vihara Maha Devi (later to have the main park in Colombo named after her) & cast her adrift in a gold encrusted boat on the ocean. Eventually the tide dragged her to the southern shores near a southern kingdom ruled by a handsome prince called Kavantissa, whose court soothsayer had given him strict instructions that he should marry a girl only if she were to arrive by sea in a golden boat. History of Kirinda The first male child of theirs became the hero of the nation: the lion-hearted prince who defeated marauding Dravidian invaders from Southern India & rescued the Aryan Sinhalese civilization & Buddhism. The traditional pageant (perahara) of the temple is held in January every year.
SapugaskandaOn a well-travelled side road 11km out of Colombo is the village of Sapugaskande, situated on a hillock. The Buddhist temple is the main attraction here, primarily for unusual murals in the shrine room. These are the works of an artist taught by a Burmese sage Jagara, who had been summoned to Sapugaskande to settle a dispute among the monks & who stayed to pass on his painting skills. The unconventional frescoes are just one example of the cross-cultural influences shared by the Buddhist countries of South Asia. The view in all directions from the temple is stunning.
Henaratgoda Botanical GardensContinuing inland, just north of Miriswatta, 27km (17 miles) from Colombo, we visit the beautiful Henarathgoda Botanical Gardens, the nursery of Asia's first Rubber trees. The Gardens contain whole array of plants of indigenous to a wide range of tropical countries. The most historic species is the original rubber plant propagated from seeds taken from its native Brazil, & smuggled down the Amazon in bales of cotton.
Bandaranaike family home (Horagolla Walauwe) & memorialThe road passes through Yakkala, & then the former estate of Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, aide de camp to the British Governor at the time of the First World War. His son (SWRD) Solomon West Ridgway Dias Bandaranike, became the second Prime Minister of independent Ceylon in 1956. Oxford educated Christian lawyer, West Ridgway laid the foundation for the revival of Eastern middle way of Lanka: revival of Buddhism & rescue of Ceylonese masses labouring under the administration in English language medium by means of introduction of Sinhala language, the language of 74% of the population. Prime Minister Bandaranike was assassinated in 1959. It is believed that the assassination was a result of a conspiracy by the same agency which assassinated Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) of Congo. Those were the days of assassinations of socialist & nationalist leaders around the world by the Americans. Sri Lanka's assassination conspiracy with the complexities as of the puzzle / mystery / unsolved case of Warren commission + John Kennedy + Edgar Hoover + FBI + CIA + Mob + Marylyn Monroe + Lee Harvey Oswald + second gunman. SWRD Bandaranike's widow succeeded him becoming the World's first female prime Minister. They are buried together at the memorial here. Their daughter Chandrika Bandaranike Kumaratunge, was elected President in 1994. Mrs. Kumaratunge escaped an assassination attempt by the same terrorists who suicide bombed President R. A. Premadasa of Sri Lanka & former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (son of former prime minister of India Indira Gandhi & grandson of the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru) among many others. The family home, where visitors such as King George V & Jawaharlal Nehru stayed, is nearby, though it is private.
The Bandaranaike memorial is by the side of the road at Nittambuwa, 39 km from Colombo. A broad walkway, about 10km wide & 100 m long & flanked by frangipanis, leads to a raised plinth with five stone pillars behind it, the whole surrounded by a coconut grove. On the other side of the road, on a small hill, is a monument to Bandarnaike Senior.
Uruwala templeAnother detour from Miriswatta is to Uruwala Temple, is on the south side of the Kandy road. The care with which the temple's building & artifacts are maintained is touching evidence of the devotion of Sri Lanka's Buddhists. The monks can provide enchanting details associated with the temple complex, some of whose structures are hewn from the rock.
Waruna temple36km out of Colombo. Carved out of solid rock on three levels, Waruna temple features buttressed walls, high overhangs & drip ledges that protect a series of ancient frescoes, now reduced to mere outlines. The strenuous climb to the roof of the temple is rewarded by the magnificent tropical vegetation.
Pasgama tourism villageLocated about 1.5km off the main road, this privately owned venture is an attempt to bring to life a pre 1940 settlement showcasing craftspeople & other features of traditional village life.
Cadjugama (The Village of Cashew nuts)A few miles further inland towards Kandy, we pass Cadugama, the village of Cashew. Roadside stall sells freshly roasted cashew nuts (Cadju nuts). Cashews are luxury ingredient used in many traditional Sri Lankan dishes. Raw cashews are cooked in coconut cream with spices too. And devilled cadju is cadju roasted in chillie. The king of all nuts to your heart's content.
NelundeniyaLunch. Just east of the turning to Kandy at Ambepussa is Nelundeniya. This is a tradional village that provides visitors with a fascinating sociological & culinary experience. The village is organised & run with government patronage in order to preserve & demonstrate Sinhalese crafts, village society & culinary arts.
Warakapola & AmbepussaThis is a convenient & popular stop en route to Kandy or Kurunegala & beyond. The busy little village of Warakapola provides an outlet for locally made cane baskets & mats in its bazaar. It is also a popular halt for those with a sweet tooth searching for Thala (sesame) seed grinded with jaggery (solid palm honey) Thalagulis which are freshly made at Jinadasa's shop among others.
Ambepussa, 2 km north, is just off the road to the west, with a train station. Its rest house is claimed to be Sri Lanka's oldest, built in 1822, & is a popular lunch stop.
About 1.5 km behind the rest house, near the Devagiri Vihara, is a series of caves which at one time formed a hermitage.
DedigamaFrom Nelundeniya, a minor road leads south to the hamlet of Dedigama, the mid-12th century capital of one of the three principalities into which Sri Lanka was dividing in the pre-colonial era. The 12th century dagoba. The village has many remains & artefacts from that time, some housed in the local museum, & most bear the stamp of Dedigama's most illustrious son, King Parakrambahu the great. The 12th century dagoba built by the great king consists of 10 relic chambers. A gem studded golden reliquary has also been found here.
BeligalaJust north of Nelundeniya, on the other side of the Kandy road, is the great king's second capital city, Beligala, which once housed the sacred Relic of the Tooth, now in Kandy. The stonework of the ruined city juxtaposes natural rock & hewn columns to form a series of unusual beautiful structures.
Kegalla to KandyKegalla is a long straggling town in a picturesque setting. Most visitors take a detour here towards the town of Rambukkana for the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. After Kegalla, the hill scenery becomes increasingly beautiful with the rich & stunning vegetation.
Pinnawela Elephant OrphanageJust north of Kegalla, 80km (50 miles) from Colombo in the Kandy road is Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. Orphaned or injured baby elephants are reared herein & trained to eventually become tamed working beasts. Feeding & bathing time in the river provide best opportunities to witness their antics.
MawanellaAt Mawanella, a town surrounded by spice plantations, near the bridge over Maha Oya, there lies a stone monument by the roadside in memory of Robin Hood of Ceylon, the daring highwayman called Utuwankande Saradiel. From the summit of the Utuwankanda hillock (Castle Rock), Saradiel (1832-1864), had a commanding view of the colonial stage coaches carrying bags of money that rumbled down the mountain roadway. He held them up, plundered all valuables, gold & coins and distributed them among the poor villagers. Many are the tales of his high noon dare devil banditry. The highwayman waylaid British colonialists & rich Ceylonese with the exception of the coaches & caravans belonging to the greatest philanthropists of Sri Lanka, business tycoon, Charles Henry de Soysa of Moratuwa. Arrested following a gun battle, convicted & sentenced to death, Saradiel and his Ceylonese Muslim friend Mammalay Marikkar walked to the gallows on May 7, 1864. Richard Morgan, the crown advocate, the prosecutor in his report to the Governor commended the zeal and bravery of the two Police officers who took part in the arrest of Saradiel. Constable Shaban who died while arresting Saradiel on March 21, 1864 was the first Police officer in the island killed in action. Since then, the Police heroes killed in action are commemorated on March 21, every year in Sri Lanka.
Pottery at MologodaWe then pass through Molagoda, a village devoted to pottery with both sides of the road lined with shops displaying a wide range of attractive pots. At the top of the Balana Pass is precipice called Sensation Point.
The Highway MuseumAt the km 107 mark is an outdoor museum displaying the original equipment used to lay the Colombo-Kandy road, such as steamrollers & bitumen boilers. Next to the museum is a replica of the 300-year old Bogoda Bridge.
KadugannawaThe British colonialist who designed & built the road, illustrious Captain W. F. Dawson of Royal Engineers is commemorated at Kadugannawa by means of a light house like white tower that soars 38m high into the sky from a rock where the railway line joins the road at Kadugannawa. The 110 wooden steps can be climbed, clinging to the central wooden column for support. An inscription in English at the base praises illustrious Captain Dawson 'whose science & skill planned & executed this road & other works & public utility'. Hats off to Captain Dawson, sir.
The ascent to KandyThe view in all directions is spectacular on the approach to Kandy. The city nestles in a wide plain surrounded by a ring of guarding mountains, with pretty names - Bible Rock, Lion Rock, Ship Rock, Camel Hill, Tuber rock & Balloon Rock. Wow! Those British colonialists got the names right. Right! Now we make entrance to Kandy at Kadugannawa pass, a sheer ascent of 250 meters (820 ft) in a matter of 5km (3miles), complete with hairpin bends. At the end of the final hairpin bend, the road passes through a mini-tunnel carved out of a solid rock promontory. A local legend speaks of the tenacity of the Kandyan Kingdom, which could never fall until an invading force pierced the solid rock encircling the city. Ironically, after the Kandyan kingdom was annexed in 1815, the British fulfilled the terms of the legend. The railway goes through two tunnels to Peradeniya, where the road crosses the River Mahaweli (300 km the longest & largest of the island), into the city. Over the mountain passes & then on to the bridge over the River Mahaweli, still about 6km (4miles) from the heart of the city, Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya provides a warm welcome to the city. The 60-hectare (147-acre) garden is the largest in Sri Lanka. It is a walkers' paradise-although you can also bike or drive through the Avenue of Royal Palms, the bamboo-fringed riverside drive, the bat drive, where flying foxes hang around upside down. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the great variety of flowers, plants & mature trees, & you can't miss the giant Javan fig tree, which covers an impressive 1600 sq meters.
KandyThe Kandyan kingdom, an impregnable natural fortress withstood the onslaught of three invading European nations for over two centuries. An example of their strength & determination was the ferocious & tactical war waged three years after the annexation. The Kandyan rebellion was almost successful in driving the British out of the country. Timely reinforcement from an Indian garrison turned the Sinhalese victory into defeat. Kandy is the perfect size to be explored on foot; the higher altitude making the climate conducive to long & leisurely strolls. The city is visually rich, with its narrow streets lined with characterful old buildings & crowded with textiles & clothing, & the lake provides an attractive focal point.
Read More: Central Highlands, Kandy - Nuwara Eliya Road