Here are some places to visit on a two or three day tour to Central Sri Lanka:
The Royal City of Kandy
The city was founded in about 1357 by King Wickramabahu. It is the seventh largest city on the island and the centre of the country’s rich culture. The current name derives from the Sinhala word “Kanda”, meaning hill – although it is also known as Maha Nuwara (“The Great City”). Kandy is a favourite with tourists and was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988.
When the coastal regions of Sri Lanka were conquered by the Portuguese and Dutch in the 16th to 18th century, Kandy remained capital of the remaining independent kingdom. A stronghold of Sinhalese culture, it eventually fell to the British in 1815. However there is music and dance celebrated every day, and the local arts and crafts continue to be a symbol of the area’s rich culture.
The town has pleasant parks and open spaces, and many of the places of interest are on the north shore of the lake. The Royal Palace houses the national museum, with an interesting traditional and colonial collection. The Lankatilaka Temple is 14th century and is reached via a long series of steps cut in the rock. 15km from town is Gadaladeniya and its elevated position provides magnificent views of the surrounding area. There are four Hindu shrines as well as many Bhuddist temples to visit.
The annual Perahara pageant takes place in July or August, with thousands of dancers and drummers parading with decorated elephants. For seven consecutive nights, the sacred tooth relic is carried through the streets in a casket on a royal tusker as the spectators pay homage to it.
Kandy - Temple of the Tooth
Originally part of the Royal Palaces, the 17th century Buddhist Temple of the Tooth is also known as Dalda Maligawa and is one of the most holy Buddhist places of worship and pilgrimage in the world. It houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha. There are rituals performed three times a day, (4.30 am, 10.30 am, and 6.30 pm) continuing a 4th century tradition, and if very lucky you might catch a glimpse of the golden casket in which the relic is held.
Kandy - The Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens are situated about 5 km to the west of the city centre at Peradeniya, and is the largest botanical garden in Sri Lanka. It is visited by 1.2 million people each year. Founded in the 14th Century it holds a large variety of plants and 300 different orchids. There is a famous tradition of Ayurvedic medicine and the spice garden in the botanics is one of many you can visit whilst in the central highlands.
Pinnawala elephant orphanage
The Pinniwala elephant orphanage is one of Sri Lanka’s most popular attractions. It was founded in 1975 and is financed by the government. The herd of elephants go down to a near by river twice a day to bathe. You are welcome to come watch, photograph and video, but you are charged to take a camcorder into the orphanage itself.
You can also pay for a milk bottle to feed the baby elephants, but this optional privilege operates on a first come first served basis. The herd - at just under 100 - is the largest captive herd in the world and about 110 employees care for the elephants. Some of the elephants were born in the orphanage, some were rescued because of injuries, one has lost its foot when stepping on a land mine and another is blind and relies totally on its keepers. There are many shops, restaurants and an elephant riding centre close by.
Nurwara Eliya (“city of light”) is in the central highlands at 6,000 feet above sea level. The town is overlooked by Pidurutalgala, the highest mountain in Sri Lanka, and is still called “Little England” from its colonial days. Winter nights are cold, and it can be grey and drizzly here - but it is an ideal base for birdwatching and visiting Horton Plains National Park. The Sinhalese and Tamil New Year is in April, when the festival season can make it difficult to find accommodation.
Some of the finest teas in the world are produced here, and a visit to a tea factory is a must. The process is unchanged from Victorian times, and you can follow it through from picking, drying and crushing to fermenting, packing, and especially tasting and buying!