Jetwing Kandy Gallery, located in Sri Lanka's hill capital, is a simple, unassuming nature retreat, that combines art with amenities to create a heaven in the hills.
By: Tejashee Kashyap
Posted on: October 5, 2022
LF Says: ★★★★.5
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Sri Lanka? Fishing ports, idyllic beaches, swaying palm trees, a paradise for scuba diving and snorkelling - everything for the necessary taste of island life. Many travel this country for only the white-sand beaches, but miss the island’s central province full of lush green and misty hills, tea plantations and famous blue train carriages. And Kandy, Sri Lanka’s hill capital, is where you can avail of all the hill-packed action, from treks to exploring the country’s undisputed histories and cultures.
When I landed in Colombo in March, I headed to experience the island’s hill getaway the very next day. I had researched enough about their special clackety blue train stretching up to Ella, another hill station, to pique my curiosity. As I decided to hop on this scenic train ride, the common saying, ‘it’s the journey that counts, not the destination’ made sense. It’s an old-fashioned train with clackety train tracks winding through misty forests, verdant tea plantations, over-gushing waterfalls and streams, quaint train stations, colourful towns and excitable locals.
I arrived in Kandy around 3 pm to find the delightful chaos of bustling streets heaving with people, ramshackle buses and motorised tuk-tuks, ancient temples, colonial architecture, and aristocratic gardens, surrounded by lush green hills. At the heart of the city lies Kandy Lake, also known as Kirir Muhuda or the Sea of Milk, which houses the Temple of the Tooth relic - Buddhism’s most important religious shrine and said to be the location of a portion of Buddha’s tooth.
The real beauty of Kandy exists in its unique blend of nature and luxury. My destination was Jetwing Kandy Gallery, conveniently based in the tranquil village of Haragama - stationed in an uphill drive of 30mins far from the busy streets. My first observation of the hotel was that it did not have a gated entrance. You are welcomed by a serene front yard that leads to an airy and balmy reception overlooking a majestic pool and lush greenery. There was a memorable welcome at the hotel, with two girls dressed in traditional clothing and a melodious song. Music to the ears – that’s what I needed at the start of the trip!
Unfolding Jetwing Kandy Gallery
With panoramic views of the Mahaweli River and the riverine habitat beyond, the contemporary architecture and modern design of the property draw inspiration from the unique culture and heritage of the island’s last kingdom. Set at its heart, the resort’s beautiful pool area overlooks the idyllic greenery and the verdant jungle beyond. The cultural preservation of the city with its many significant cultural and historic sites forms the basis of this Kandy hotel.
In keeping with the overarching theme and depicting the twilight of the Sinhala kings, the four categories of spacious rooms and suites are furnished with modern amenities and comforts that redefine minimalistic elegance. Jetwing Kandy Gallery promises luxury akin to royalty. A personal butler is assigned to each guest at check-in and will be the point of contact for anything they may require.
My ‘Luxury Room’ boasted the true secret of a ‘home-away-from-home’ holiday. The 60 sq-m room, with a relaxing balcony, makes lounging simplified with breathtaking views of the Mahaweli River and the verdant belt of the central mountains beyond. The balcony was instantly my favourite space. It served as a perfect spot to watch the sun set and rise directly in front, which I did from beginning to end, mesmerised by the explosion of colour and sense of peace it brought. And mind you, I have witnessed some of the most beautiful sunsets of my life in this country!
Intricate woodwork with a high ceiling and hand-painted bedstones made the room look larger than life. If you are after a different take on Sri Lankan hospitality - an amalgamation of modernity and traditional, this boutique resort is ideal.
The Cuisine Around
Dining at their main restaurant, Riverscape, is pure indulgence. The chefs excel in some expertly-crafted dishes using homegrown ingredients. Traditional Sri Lankan dishes from the uniquely curated à la carte menu are worth trying.
The first meal to greet me in Riverscape was a Sri Lankan delicacy - chicken ambulthial stuffed jackfruit. The uniqueness of this beautiful appetiser comes from the way it is cooked and the mix of spices used to bring out an extraordinary flavour. Being a Dosa lover, it was evitable to try the Sri Lankan version. They call it ‘Thosai’ and is thick with no crispiness, unlike the Indian version. While Dosa is made using urad daal and rice ground into a paste, Thosai uses the flour form of both rice and urad daal. Though Sri Lankan food has parallels to South Indian food, it remains distinctly its own form of cuisine. I ended my dinner with a rich, soft and utterly delicious coconut cake with cashew nuts and treacle.
The next day, I decided to try a full-course traditional Sri Lankan meal with fish curry, four different types of freshly cooked vegetables and their curries served with rankahawanu white rice. Compared to the dishes from the previous night, I realised the traditional cuisine is quite flavorful and rich in spices. The native food is not for the timid eater. This island is reknowned for its spices and most of its dishes are rather spicy. Even the curries tend to be more heavily spiced than many Indian versions. After some fierce burst of flavours, I decided it was better to retire from my course meal with the French classic, creme brulee. Served with a Sri Lankan twist – rich ginger custard with a layer of crunchy melted sugar, I devoured it entirely.
Even breakfasts in Sri Lanka consist of rice and curry mostly, but hoppers are also a staple and my favourite. The next morning, I went for these bowl-shaped pancakes called string hoppers. It is made from fermented rice flour that is drizzled into a flat circle, steamed, and stacked into layers as a sort of noodle pancake, which is accompanied by sweetened seeni sambals or gravies. It’s a fiery, fragrant breakfast of champions.
Despite comparisons to Indian cuisine, Sri Lankan food culture is replete with its own blend of curry concoctions and tasty dishes. At Kandy, I could explore the treasures of Sri Lankan cuisine at leisure. The real distinction of this cuisine is not the individual spices used, but the prominence with which they're featured.
There’s More to Kandy
Being Sri Lanka’s second-largest city, having just a day to explore the city is not enough. I took a tuk-tuk from Jetwing Kandy Gallery to stroll around the island’s undisputed historical and cultural capital. The busy markets and streets attract you with the fragrant smell of cardamom and curry leaves. An array of distinguished colonial buildings and magnificent Kandyan-inspired architecture welcome you as you enter the city. Local Kandyans go about their daily business in the loud and chaotic streets, giving you a glimpse of what Kandy is really like.
Despite comparisons to Indian cuisine, Sri Lankan food culture is replete with its own blend of curry concoctions and tasty dishes. At Kandy, I could explore the treasures of Sri Lankan cuisine at leisure.
From iconic temples, abundant gardens, quiet lakes, and lively markets, there are many beautiful places in Kandy. But nothing compares to the Kandy city view that you get from the hilltop Buddha temple - Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue - that offers incredible panoramic views over the green and blue hues of Kandy and beyond, and is best to visit at sunset when the city is bathed in a golden glow as the sun drops behind the mountains in the distance. The statue sits atop Bahirawa Kanda hill as if overseeing the daily life of Kandyans below.
There's always something to see, someone to meet, or more importantly, something to eat in the Kandy streets. Located between Sri Delada Veediya rd and Colombo st, the old town of Kandy is home to a labyrinth of market stores selling everything from textiles to incense. Although I visited Kandy in March, despite its tiny size and population, the city's constant beeping of horns, overzealous touts, relentless heat and humidity can get a little overwhelming.
Once I returned to my retreat, I realised Jetwing Kandy Gallery is a tribute to a different part of Sri Lanka - a blend of the royal past, cultural influences and the country’s hilly green escapade that most tourists ignore exploring. It’s a rare experience to be surrounded by nature and hear nothing but birds chirping and cool winds gushing, and I only look forward to reliving it again!
LF Says: ★★★★.5Coordinates: De Soysa Estate Gonawatta Maligathanne Gurudeniya, Haragama, Sri Lanka