Imagine over 500 monks living and meditating silently in a thickly forested, 1,600 acre, mountainous monastic retreat which has architecturally faultless waterways, drip ledges, stairways cut into stone, naturally ‘air conditioned’ caves, toilets, monuments, artefacts and other cool stuff. Now imagine all this happened over 3000 years ago!
This is Rajagala, a sprawling Buddhist monastery from the 2nd century BCE through the early 13th century. Vacated in 993 and 1017AD due to South Indian invasions, this retreat was discovered in 1890 by the Department of Archeology when an unusual amount of relics were recorded in their surveys. But once again, this monastic complex was forgotten until excavation began in the early 1950s during which time they discovered over 600 prehistoric ruins, monuments and artefacts, nearly a 100 of them being ancient stupas.
COVID-19 disrupted a lot of my travel plans throughout 2021. The frequent lockdowns and travel restrictions meant that pre-booked destinations had to be postponed indefinitely. One of which was my trip to the Ahaspokuna in Belihuloya where I was to go in April 2021. Now, nine months later, I am finally on my way.
There is no road access from the main Rajawaka road to the campsite. Therefore we park our vehicles in the garden of a villager’s home and meet our guides from the campsite. Raj and his co-workers from the Ahaspokuna Bush Walks Campsite advise us to put on leech socks.
It is easy to miss the inconspicuous turn off to the Kudumbigala Archaeological Site on the main road en route to the entrance of the Kumana National Park.
However, the Kudumbigala rock can be seen from this far, standing like a sentinel overlooking the Park below.
Even from this distance, the ancient cylindrical dome can be spotted.
Scrambling through the Sinharaja Rainforest is not just about plucking slimy leeches off my clothes. Once I perfect the art of annihilation or flicking them away, it is good to enjoy and appreciate the amazing foliage around me, especially the colourful and intricate lichen.
The Sinharaja Rainforest is an amazing bio hotspot and unique lowland forest. It is also the only such forest remaining in Sri Lanka.
It’s 5:30 a.m. and the lobby of the Deer Park Hotel is buzzing with excitement …or is it anticipation? Today we try to summit the much-talked about and carefully planned hike to the top of Danigala. This rock is also known as the Alien Mountain because of its unique semi-circular shape caused by geological activities and weathering conditions or, perhaps some mysterious alien activity. It is also, interestingly, called the ‘Star Gate of King Ravana’, because, according to folklore, it is where Ravana landed his famed ‘Dandu Monara’.
We travel towards Aralaganwila to the Kandegama Rajamaha Viharaya, (also called Dhananjaya Rajamaha Viharaya), that lies at the foothill of this mysterious mountain. Again, it is the head priest that has to allow us to climb and he sends for a villager to act as our guide. No one is allowed to climb without one and we will soon find out why!
There are four vehicles with 20 excited travellers, all prepped and ready for a weekend of serious climbing. We leave Colombo at 4:30 a.m. and journey on the Minuwangoda – Giriulla – Narammala – Wariyapola – Maho – Madagalla road towards Nikawewa.
Our first stop is the Sri Nagala Rajamaha Viharaya, that lies at the foothill of the Nikawewa mountain range. But our goal is to climb the mountain to reach the ancient stupa and image house that clings onto the edge of this mountain.
Having visited the majestic Sinharaja Rainforest from the Pitadeniya entrance just last week, this weekend we are on our way to Morningside. I’ve heard too much about this side to miss this opportunity.
Morningside is in the eastern side of the Sinharaja, hence named by colonial tea planters of the Lankaberiya Estate. It is located off Suriyakanda between Rakwana and Deniyaya and you guessed right…the road leading up to the bungalow is terrible! The Sinhala translation is “himidiri pedesa”.
But once there, the views are somewhat breathtaking.
Looking for someplace closer to Colombo to travel to, I stumbled upon The Ark in Matugama. The journey along the Southern Expressway was less than an hour and yet the steep climb in the latter part of the trip makes it seem as if I am in the central province.
The narrow winding road climbs through shrub and (sometimes) dense jungle up until the car park. From that point, there is a short walk to The Ark.
So it’s back to the Rainforest Eco Lodge for a birthday celebration. This time, the Southern Expressway cuts down my travel time considerably although the last hour of the road condition leading up to the Lodge is pretty messed up.
Once I pass the Park Office gates and enter the protected forest area, the scenery changes dramatically. Driving through the forest is like entering a layered crayon box of green colors. From the differing shades of colors of the foliage, to the serenity, the fresh air, the sounds of birds, crickets and other small insects adds another dimension to this forest.
At an altitude of 1280m, the Tillicoultry bungalow is located at a very picturesque setting. That, together with the chill in the air and the company is already making this weekend quite welcoming.
The Tillicoultry bungalow is located in Lindula, in the Nuwara Eliya district. This colonial-styled estate bungalow has five large rooms, with a large garden that overlooks the Horana Plantation tea fields.