A walk around the Kandy Lake | Sunday Observer

A walk around the Kandy Lake

22 August, 2021

Nature photographers love water and light. Perhaps they see poetry in the blending of two of nature’s bounties. I see a shimmering, pulsating painting on the verge of coming alive.

Recently, I was in Kandy to document one of the city’s landmark features, the Kandy Lake, and spent half of the day just walking and gazing at the enchanting man-made body of water, absorbing the daily life around it.

Lovingly nestled in a valley, protected by the hills, dominated by the tree covered lake with the mighty Mahaweli gushing in the background, the city of Kandy is still a focal point of Sri Lankan culture. It was the Capital of the Kandyan Kingdom and the centre of governance for the last generation of the country’s kings.

Today, Kandy is known by several names, popular among them Senkadagala, Maha Nuwara and Kandy. To many, it is the Maha Nuwara, the ‘great city’. But the name Kandy was derived from the word Kanda, which means mountain. Located 500 metres above sea level, Kandy city is indeed surrounded by the Knuckles, Madulkele and Kotmale mountain ranges, and accessible only by a series of steep road and rail passes.

Last king’s creation

The beautiful Kandy Lake is one of the main draws of the city. Constructed by the last King of Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasingha, during his reign from 1798 to 1815, it was originally named (by the King) as Kiri Muhuda or ‘Milky Sea’. It is said commoners in the city were against the lake project, as the King enforced, free labour to construct and complete it.

They also did not see much use in a lake that did not irrigate the paddy fields. But the King delighted in feeding boiled rice to the multitude of fish that resided there.

On the island in the middle of the lake, the King built a pleasure garden, where some say he kept his harem, but today, it a small well-maintained flower garden and plays host to egrets, herons and water monitors.

Most of the visitors to Kandy, after venerating the Sacred Tooth Relic at the Sri Dalada Maligawa, walk through the promenade of the Kandy Lake. It is a perfect place to empty your mind and just relax allowing the soothing water to calm your soul. A Sri Dalada Maligawa is always a busy place with foreign tourists, school children and hundreds of devotees clad in white who throng to venerate the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Maligawa lies in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka and renowned all over the world. However, today the sacred place is venerated by a few visitors owning to Covid-19 pandemic.

A few devotees clad in white and bihikkhus in saffron-robes attracted my attention. Unable to resist the temptation, I pulled out my camera and began to stroll the promenade around the Kandy Lake, eager to capture in my frame the life and signs of devotion around me. I soon found myself walking around the fenced promenade of the Lake toward Sangaraja Mawatha, blissfully comforted by the lush foliage around it.

Halfway down the south shore of the lake, I glimpsed the magnificent Malwatta Monastery, lying in all its ancient grandeur.

The old vihara may date back to the 16th century, but amidst its ancient splendor, the movement of the ubiquitous saffron-clad monks in indeed a sight to behold.

Soon I reached the middle of the promenade and sat for a while on one of the benches placed along the promenade. This is where most of the visitors to this historic city pause and relax to take in the beauty of the lake and the bustling city in the periphery and the quietude of the Maligawa.

The cloud wall

Business for the vendors is always brisk here before the Covid-19, with everything from lotteries to toys and chick peas and raw mangoes, snapped up with greedy delight. But what attracts the attention is the people who stroll serenely beside the Walakulu bemma, or the cloud wall the parapet wall modelled to resemble clouds. The Walakulu bemma, is one of the main landmarks of Kandy and its design is so well crafted that it greatly enhances the scenic appeal of the Lake.

The Walakulu bemma is Britain’s contribution to Kandy. History has it that after Kandy surrendered to the British in 1815 officials of Her Majesty were known to stroll along the promenade around the Lake. This wall contains triangular holes, which has been used to light oil lamps during the Esala Perahera festival.

Heading south along the embankment of the lake, you will pass the boat jetty protruding from a small house at the edge of the lake. For a few rupees, a small motor-powered fibre boat will take visitors on a breezy joy ride around the Lake.

The entire spectrum of the majestic Dalada Maligawa and the lush and relatively untouched vegetation of the Udawatte kele (the woods), which has some 257 acres of tropical rainforest provide a haven to rare flowers, birds and monkeys. They in turn give a serene setting to the lake, so much so, it is hard to tear the eyes away.

A busy roadway circles the lake allowing the visitors to stumble up several historical monuments, the most interesting being the Ulpenge, this construction rests in Kandy Lake and its embankment, to the south of the temple.

Ulpenge had been constructed in 1806 by King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha to serve as the bathing chambers of the queens. Upper floor of the building had been used as the changing room and the ground floor for bathing. Some of the old colonial architectural buildings such as ‘Hotel Suisse’ and ‘Queen’s Hotel’ stand majestically near the lake.

Rapidly losing green

Today Kandy city, originally built to harmonise with the environment, stands out like a sore thumb amidst the unplanned modern development, oozing in all directions. The huge trees that once adorned the hills are disappearing day by day, allowing the concrete jungle to encroach into the hilltop.

The Kandy Lake is a magnificent legacy that speaks of a bygone era and transforms the hill capital into a place of beauty. But some of the springs which once fed the lake are drying up and many of them are blocked due to rapid development. If the situation is allowed to continue, the beauty of Kandy Lake will be something we will bemoan the loss of.

Taking place every year in August, the Esala Perehera wends its way along the streets of Kandy every day for ten days, creating a living tapestry of magic.

Dozens of richly caparisoned elephants; grandly attired Nilames, custodians of the Maligawa and Devales, hundreds of ornamented Kandyan dancers; and hundreds of drummers beating stomach wrenching throbs create a spectacle that draws thousands from all part of the world every year. Unfortunately, this year too due to the Covid-19 pandemic, spectators are not permitted to view the Perahera. It is not only the spectators who are disappointed. The artistes too are disheartened as there are no people to appreciate their performance.