Kandy spotlight: Sri Lanka’s second city sees a tourist boom, says Guardian UK

Known as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy’s main claim to fame is as the guardian of the island’s most sacred relic—one of the Buddha’s teeth at the imposing lakeside Temple of the Tooth.

And as the Guardian UK points out, the city was also the location for the 1983 Harrison Ford megahit movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, filmed at the nearby Victoria Dam.

But it was the tooth that was the overwhelming centre of recent attention thanks to the spectacular Kandy’s Esala Perahera, in which a replica of the relic is paraded around the city.

‘Thousands of Kandyan dancers and drummers, dozens of elephants’

The Guardian’s Marta Bausells writes that Kandy “is a historically significant city and arguably the country’s cultural capital: its spectacular Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, in which is enshrined a tooth of the Buddha – the country’s most important Buddhist relic.

“The tooth is precisely the reason for the 10-day elaborate multi-procession festival happening in the city this week, Kandy’s Esala Perahera, in which a replica of the relic is paraded around the city.

“After six relatively modest days, proceedings escalate on the last four, culminating on the night of the poya (full moon) with thousands of Kandyan dancers and drummers, dozens of elephants dressed trunk-to-toe, colourful banners and more, in Kandy’s biggest night of the year and Sri Lanka’s most striking celebration.”

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

A far cry from 30 years ago when Kandy mad its most memorable cinematic appearance. Writes Bausells: “After the Indian government reportedly found the script offensive – not without reason – the location was switched to Kandy (and England).

“The fictional Mayapore village, theoretically in North India, was actually filmed in a government-owned tea plantation three miles from the city, and the infamous rope bridge was built and destroyed on the nearby Victoria Dam.”

Filmed in a tea plantation three miles from Kandy, the rope bridge was built and destroyed on the nearby Victoria Dam

The Indiana Jones swashbuckling fantasy adventure could be regarded as a fitting backdrop to a city that has had its fair share of historical drama.

Bausells: “When the rest of the island fell to the Portuguese in 1505, the Kingdom of Kandy maintained its grasp on independence, protected by its location in the steep hills in the middle of the country.

“It wouldn’t lose it until the British invaded in 1815. This isolation gave it an inward-looking, conservative character it preserves to this day.”

What next for Kandy?

Says Bausells: “The government is building a 115km four-lane highway between Kandy and Colombo, which is expected to cut the driving time from its current 3-4 hours.

“Its 200 billion rupees (£1bn) cost has been part-funded privately, with Chinese assistance. Many in the region hope the road will revitalise the entire central area of the country and give Kandy a true ‘second city’ status.”

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