Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

mapCrew : 5

Transportation : Car

Duration : Two Days

 

When I was invited to a road trip to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa by one of my friends, I had my doubts whether will it be interesting as I have visited those places many times in my childhood.  But when he told me that two foreigners along with another Sri Lankan friend will join, I couldn’t resist. I’ve always wanted to travel Sri Lanka (at least a part of it) with foreigners and see it through their eyes, experience the difficulties they face. Therefore, I gladly confirmed my participation.

My friend came all the way from Kurunegala by his car and picked me up from Kandy around 8.30 am. We went straight to Dambulla and had some short eats for breakfast. Then left to Sigiriya. Other three participants were on a two week long trip, which started on the previous week and we joined them at the place they spend the last night at Sigiriya. We had a cup of tea while they checked out. Then headed to Anuradhapura. We talked about their travel experiences in Sri Lanka on the previous couple of Days and they were really friendly.

It was about 11am when we reached Anuradhapura town. We all were hungry and decided to look for a good place to eat. Once we stopped the car and got out, we realized how hot it was. We quickly went in to the nearest restaurant and luckily we had a tasty Brunch and appreciable service there. Around 11.30am we got back in to the car and started driving through the complex road network, in search of the Anuradhapura Old (puja) Town.

Being three out of us five are locals, it was hard to find the ticketing office for foreigners. We saw “Isurumuniya” name board and parked the car. Though I have visited Anuradhapura few times in my childhood, I haven’t been to Isurumuniya before. So I was excited as much as our two German friends! It was early May and we felt like sun have came closer by few light years. As it was a temple, we had to remove our shoes and hats. The floor was burning hot so we darted to a shady corner inside the premises. There wasn’t much to see in the left side so we went in to the “Vihara geya”. There are some paintings in the ceiling. We saw two famous stone carvings called “Man and the horse head” and “Elephants playing in the water”. There are few explanations about the “Man and the horse head” carving, but the famous idea is a soldier resting with his horse. The elephants were carved in the bottom of the rock, just above the water. So it seems the elephants are playing in the pond.

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It was too hot to walk outside. One of us was holding a shawl over the head to cover the unbearable heat. One of the guards screamed saying that it is not allowed inside the premises. Knowing the teachings of lord Buddha, we decided  it is not worth to spend our time explaining it to him and went to a shade near the entrance. There we met a local elderly female who quickly became friendly and expressed her worries about not providing a reasonable service for foreigners for the money they charge to visit Anuradhapura Puja Town. We came back to the car park and went to the “Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi”, a sapling of the Bo tree which gave shade to Lord Buddha for Enlightening. There were many fences with gold plating around the “Bodhi” and a stone outer wall. Normally it is not allowed to go inside those fences, so we walked around the the “Weli Maluwa” observing the pilgrims worshiping the sacred tree. Surprisingly it was much cooler under the “Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi” and we spent some time there before going back. With the not being able to bear the rays of mighty sun, we decided to go back to our accommodation (A Circuit Bungalow of my friend’s Company) and come back in the afternoon. After a shower we went straight to a nap, woke up around 3pm for our evening session. But the sky was gloomy and we hurried to cover all the places before a heavy shower.

On the way back we located the tourist information center in google maps and contacted the telephone number. The three of us Sri Lankan were embarrassed as a lady answered the call and explained that it is not an information center, but her house.  There was no direction alongside of the road about the tourist ticketing counter either. So we followed google maps for the tourist information center. Unfortunately the rain started and we were forced to go back to our accommodation by the half flooded roads and lightening. So it was time for us to re-plan the itinerary. As our German friends needed to visit the remaining places in Anuradhapura, we thought it is best to cover Anuradhapura in the next day morning quickly as possible and then visit Polonnaruwa via Aukana in the evening. We had an early dinner and went to sleep as soon as we could.
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We woke up in the morning and had our breakfast from the place we stayed. Food was tasty but we quickly finished it to start our visit. As we inquired from the Circuit keeper, he directed us to the Jethawanaramaya Museum where we could purchase All-in-One Anuradhapura Ticket for our German friends. We quickly covered the museum and went to the mighty Jethawanaramaya by the vehicle (You also can walk there, but the distance is considerably high and we were in a hurry, so we used the car).  It was amazing to imagine how things were at those old times while walking around them.

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Then we went to the Ruwanweli Seya, The Pagoda made by king Dutugemunu. Folklore reveals that even The king himself contributed the construction by bringing up bricks. In the final stages of the construction, Younger brother Saddhathissa takes over the project as King Dutugemunu falls sick. At the deathbed King Dutugemunu requests to see the completed pagoda. As there was not enough time to complete it before the great king dies, Prince Saddhathissa covers the uncompleted parts of the pagoda by white linen and take the king there. It is said that the king believed the construction was over, Worshiped the pagoda just before his last breath. At the time we visited there was a “Kap-ruk Pooja”, an offering of linen to the pagoda and it was getting crowded as it was two days before Wesak holidays. Between Ruwanweli seya and Sri Maha Bodiya (which we visited the day before) there is another special location called Lowamahapaya. Though now there are only ground level stone pillars left, It is said that there were a nine story building with a Bronze colored roof (hence the name, Lowa-Maha-Prasadaya) which remained the tallest building of the country except the pagodas Ruwanweli seya, Abhayagiriya and Jethawanaramaya between 155BC and 993AD. This building was destroyed by the attacks during the reign of King Saddhathissa and he had reconstructed it with seven stories.

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Our next stop was the Abhayagiriya Complex, which was used as a college to Bikkhus (Buddhist Monks) in the Anuradhapura era. Therefore, the ruins are spread around a vast area. Credit of Abhayagiri Pagoda construction goes to the youngest son of King Saddhathissa, king Walagamba ( 103 BC, 89-77 BC). As soon as he came to the throne there was an Indian Invasion which he couldn’t withstand, he retreated. At that time there was a Jain Shrine in this place and it is said the priest named “Giri” insulted the King “Here the great black Sinhalese King is retreating”. It took another 14 year for King Walagamba to defeat the invaders, but when he did He built this giant Stupa on the location of that Jain Shrine and named the Pagoda by combining the King’s name (Abhaya) and the Jain Priest’s name (Giri).

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After that we went to the “Samadhi Statue” of Lord Buddha. It was wonderful to see how the craftsmen have finished the live-like stone statue. It is believed there were four statues like this around a Bodhiya (Bo Tree), but the tree and other three statues are destroyed.  Then we stopped at “Thuparamaya” which is considered as the first Pagoda constructed after introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. This was constructed by King Devanampiyathissa, enshrining the color bone of Lord Buddha. As the name reveals Thupa (Pagoda) + Aramaya (Where monks reside), there are ruins scattered around the pagoda which are suspected to be the roof for monks. With Thuparamaya, we finished our Anuradhapura tour and started our journey to Polonnaruwa via Awukana.

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It was around 12 pm when we reached “Awukana” after a long ride on countryside roads. The name “Awukana” means “Under the harsh sun rays”. The Standing Statue of Lord Buddha was constructed during the reign of King Dhathusena, Father of King Kashyapa (who resided in Sigiriya). Recently a roof over the masterpiece of skillful Sri Lankan craftsmanship has been constructed, but as our German friend highlighted it obstructs the grand view. It will be better if the roof height can be increased, but don’t know about the feasibility. They charge 1000LKR from foreigners just to see the statue. Sadly it would have been better if they could do some value addition to the visit at least like a Ticket with the Image of Awukana Statue with related information for the price foreigners have to pay. We brought some biscuits from a nearby shop, so we can wait until we reach Polonnaruwa for Lunch (A very late Lunch) . On the way back we slowed down a bit to capture the breathtaking view over the waters of “Kala wewa” which was also constructed and treasured by the King Dhathusena.

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It was around 3.30 pm when we reached Polonnaruwa. One of our friends had recommended a place to have the lunch, so we tracked the location. Google maps directed us along a narrow road off the main Road (A11) in between light green paddy fields. When we arrived the place, all we could see was a garden adjacent to a house and a young man working with some banana trees. We were worried that this must be a wrong place, but gladly the he confirmed that it is “Jaga Food”. We got a warm welcome and he ushered us to the restaurant i the back of the garden. It was an open area next to a pond with visitors’ comments all over on the ceiling. Though it was very late for lunch, they had their Lunch Buffet open. It was one of the tastiest rice and curry buffets i have been and they had Curd & Trickle, Papaya and Sri Lankan Pan cakes (A yellowish pan cake wrapped around a lump of pol pani – a coconut and trickle mix). Our hungry tummies as well as the souls were filled with their delicious food and hospitality. Our German friends took a minute to made a comment on their ceiling and we hurried to Polonnaruwa town after thanking Jaga and his wife.

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It was easy to find the Pollonnaruwa ticketing place at the Archeological museum as Jaga gave us the directions. Pollonnaruwa ruins were fairly located near to each other and we could access them by a vehicle (must-walk distance is very low). First we took a right turn as we entered the from the gate to visit ruins of the palace called “Vaijayanthi Prasadaya” of King Parakramabahu the first (1153-1186 BC). The main building is said be of seven stories and consisted of 1000 chambers but there is only signs of three stories and 55 chambers at present. South Indian invader called “Maaga” had set fire to this palace to destroy and you still can see burn marks on the brick wall. There were numerous remains of the royal palace scattered around and we were amazed to see that the drainage network of that time is still in good condition. We walked along the ancient paved pathway to visit the “Kumara Pokuna” (The royal bathing Place). It is said that this was constructed by King Parakramabahu, in his garden called “Nandana Uyana” which was below the level of palace. A nearby canal was used to bring water and poured into via two sprouts made like “Dragons”.

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Then we moved to the next ruins cluster, which is to the left from the main entrance. “Thivanka Pilimageya” is an image house as the name implies which was constructed by King Parakramabahu (1153-1186 AD). “Thivanka” means bent in three places,and the Buddha statue in here is bent from the Shoulder, Hip and the Knee (This pose is common in the guard stones). The Buddha statue is  believed to be about 8m in height but now it is less as the part above the head has been destroyed. Interior wall of this building is decorated with Polonnaruwa era paintings of “Jathaka Katha” and Incidents from the life of Lord Buddha while the exterior walls are decorated with various stone statues. It was so dark inside the building at that time, so i couldn’t take a good picture of the statue and paintings inside.
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“Watadageya” is in front of Thivanka Pilimageya and it is a Round (Wata) Stupa (Da) House (Geya).  There are few “watadageya” s in Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa Watadageya is considered the best remaining of it’s kind. Madirigiriya and Thuparamaya (both in Anuradhapura) are other best examples. This is believed to be constructed by King Parakramabahu to safe keeping of the Tooth Relic or a work of King Nishshankamalla to hold the “Pathraya” (Alms Bowl) of Lord Buddha. A stone fence with very detailed designs and columns covers the inner brick wall which encloses the Stupa and Buddha Statues.

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Then there is “Atadageya”next to it, which once hold the sacred Tooth relic. This said to be a two story building constructed by King Vijayabahu the First. There is another more closed sturcture called “Hetadageya” adjacent to “Atadageya”. There is a Stone Door frame with very deatailed carvings and the stone walls have inscriptions. Walls are believed to be decorated with frescoes and carvings. This building too had multi stories and the remaining section of stair case is still in good condition. Finally we visited “Sathmahal Prasadaya” at the same site. As the name Sath (seven) Mahal (Story) Prasadaya (Building) implies there are seven stories to this building (Which are still can be seen). This is said to be a Square shaped Stupa, which is very rare in Sri Lanka.
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Then we drove to the Pollonnaruwa Gal Vihara complex car park under the gloomy dark sky. It started to drizzle as we walked towrds Gal viharaya but as it was our last stop, we didn’t care to wait till it stops. The distance we had to walk is less than 500m. There are four Granite Statues of Lord Buddha in all three poses. One large statue in seated pose adjacent to a smaller similar statue inside a “Kuti” (room) called “Vidyadara Guhawa”. A standing statue and a reclining statue. The place said to be called “Uththararamaya” andconsidered to be a work of King Parakramabahu the First. Recently a roof has been constructed over these figures in order to protect them. We couldn’t spend much time there due to the rain and we came back to the parking lot and started to drive back home. We reached Kandy around 9pm and our foreign friends stayed with the plans to visit Kandy on the next day. Read about our visit to Kandy.

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Hot Air Ballooning

MapCrew : 13
Transportation : Cars (To Dambulla), Hot Air Balloon
Duration : Two days

One of my friends invited  me to join for a Hot Air Balloon ride. I was surprised by the invitation as i thought it was a bit unaffordable luxury, and immediately inquired about the cost. It was way cheaper than i was expecting, so i confirmed my participation without a hesitation.

The Balloon ride starts early in the morning, so me and few other friends thought it will be best to go to Dambulla on the day before. Three of us came from Colombo directly to Dambulla by bus. The one who invited me, drove his car all the way from Kurunegala and picked me and another one from Kandy. We all reached Dambulla around 2.30 pm and decided to have a late Lunch. It took us more than an hour to finish the lunch as we were busy talking, than eating.

We had reserved a place in Dambulla for six of us to stay, and it took a while to figure out the exact location. It was a hot evening in Dambulla, so we rushed in to the rooms and turned on the AC’s. It was around 7.30 pm when I finished resting and had a shower.
😀

It was time to search for a place to have dinner!
We walked to Dambulla town under the faint street lights. The streets were less crowded, but there were few long distant buses waiting for passengers. We settled for a place with privacy and Air condition after checking out few other restaurants. They offered the menu and we had a very hard time deciding what to eat. But when we are going to place the order, the waiter said there is only Fried Rice and Noodles! So we had to select again, but it was easier to pick one out of two.

When we were going back to the hotel, I met an old lady selling “Pera” (Guava) outside the restaurant. I was wondering, are there anyone interested in buying Guava from the street around 9pm. I felt bad for her and bought one. We had to take showers again after the walk and felt asleep as soon as head hit the pillow.

The alarms rang and I woke up within a second with the excitement for a ride of a lifetime. We were ready by 5am and the guys from “Sri Lanka Balloon” contacted us to inform that they have arrived to the Hotel gate. We hurried in to the van. They picked up two foreigners on the way and started driving on a narrow road towards a village. Soon we saw a Lorry, carrying the basket of the Balloon. It was the first time for all of us to see a Balloon, so we focused our excited eyes and cameras for a glimpse of that through the darkness.  The take-off point was a school ground. The rest of our team arrived there by two cars. One was from Colombo and the other one from Kandy. There were 13 of us in the team, five girls and eight boys. We completed the payments before take-off and watched the crew working hard to prepare the Balloon.

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There were two Balloons, one for us and another one for few foreigners. It took two lorries to carry the basket and the Inflating part of a Balloon. They assembled them together and started filling air with portable industrial fans. Our pilot then took position in the basket and blew “Hot Air” in to the Balloon. It only took about 15 minutes to fill the balloon with air and we were asked to jump in to the basket.

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With another shoot of gas in to the Balloon, we were ascending over the trees. It was a gentle take-off and no one was afraid at that moment, though we have analyzed the risks earlier. Still the sun was sleeping and sky was dark. Within few minutes we were about 700 meters high and watching the very first rays of sun light over the Kandalama Lake. That was a breathtaking scenery to watch, up from the sky. We all were busy with our cameras to capturing that awesome moment. Our Turkish pilot, Umit was very friendly and shared his experiences and showed photos of his Balloon rides in Turky.

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There were another two Balloons in the sky with us. We had to spend some time over the Kandalama Lake as there was less wind to carry us away. We saw people coming out of the houses to have a closer look at the Balloons floating over. Though ballooning has started some time ago, most of the villagers were excited to see us. We saw the lorries (witch brought the balloon to the take-off point) were following the balloon. Umit said that as the pilot can only control the vertical movement of the balloon, the landing destination depends on the wind at that time. We were able to see Dambulla Cave Temple, Sigiriya and Pidurangala from the distance, after the mist faded off. After about 1.5 hours we were floating tree height in search of a good landing place. We were able to pick the leaves from top of the trees and wasn’t afraid of a crash landing as we saw how skilled our pilot was.

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I was hungry at this point and was glad that I took the Guava (that i purchased last night) with me. It was tasty and I regretted not buying more. There was an empty space between few houses near a road. Our pilot descended the balloon about ten feet high above the ground and threw the Sand bag attached to the basket by a rope to the crew in the ground. They pulled the rope and tied it. The landing too was gentle and we didn’t feel a thing. The crew asked us to stay in the basket and the pilot opened the top part of the balloon to let the hot air out. Then we came out and the crew was busy folding the balloon. There were around 20 people staring and photographing our landing. The Crew gave us small gifts to distribute among the village kids and we felt like celebrities!
😀

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After few minutes we gathered in a nearby open space, There was a Champagne to celebrate, and soft drinks. There was an action camera hanging from the side of the balloon and they were recording our ride. We purchased the video and received certificates for the balloon ride. It was around 8.30 in the morning and they provided transport back to our hotel. We quickly packed our bags and checked-out. Our next stop was the place we had brunch yesterday. The Breakfast was tasty and we had a lot to talk about until 10.30 am. Then we decided to visit Sigiriya, the rock fortress of King Kashyapa and came back to Kandy around 5.30pm.

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Photo Credits : Amila Dananjaya De Silva, Chamitha Rathnayake, Chamith Nilanka Wijesinghe, Cabe Abeyrathne

Contact : Sri Lanka Balloon, https://www.facebook.com/srilankaballoon/

Knuckles – Five peaks

Map 1Crew : 13 (A guide, villager and a friendly boy joined the crew additionally)

Transportation : Cars (Kandy – Hagalla Estate Bungalow), Three Wheeler [Tuk Tuk] (Hagalla Estate to Knuckles Nature Trail head), Hiking (Knuckles five peaks) followed the same route back

Duration : One Day

(Please note that the path marked on the map is not a GPS track but only a graphical representation)

There was about a month of silence after the last trip we went. So when a suggestion came up for visiting Knuckles Forest reserve for the “Five peaks Hike” I had nothing holding me back and confirmed my participation. It was a long weekend and we arranged the hike on a Saturday, so that we have a day for resting before going back to work. Most of the participants were around from kandy but 4 out of 13 came all the way from colombo the day before and spent the night at the Superintendent’s Bungalow of Hagalle Estate. Our plan was to departure from Kandy around 5.30 am but was delayed from one hour. We used personal vehicles to reach Hagalle estate but bendy unfamiliar road took some time than we expected. We had to travel around 35 km from Wattegama and the surrounding was somewhat familier after our hike to Thunhisgala .

As the Knuckles five peaks trail head is few kilometers away from Hagalle Estate, we had arranged four three wheelers to go there. It was around 10.00 am when we started the bumpy three wheeler (Tuk Tuk) ride and there were few places we had to get off from tuk tuks (just because our weight was too much for them to pull!)  😀

After many getting offs and getting back ins we reached the trail head around 10.30 am. We distributed the water bottles we brought among ourselves and each had more than 3 liters of water. At the trail head, there is a monument which villagers use to hang few leaves of a tree and pray for blessings of a god for the journey ahead. The view from the trail head was amazing and we could see our destination from there. Our guide took few minutes to tell us the “Rawana” related stories about the region before starting the climb.

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The smaller mountains adjacent to Famous Knuckles fve peaks are called “Bada Dandu Kandu” (meaning bamboo mountains) and are the mountains mentioned in tales of king “Rawana” as he said. There is no one who have visited there in the known past and highly populated with sambar and deer as he told. It was somewhat covered in mist at that moment and the stories we heard made us want to go there, the ice cold mountains hiding unexplored mysteries.

Few minutes after we entered the “Knuckles Nature Trail”, there was a stream of crystal clear water. Our guide took us in a small detour to visit the Knuckles Falls. It was smaller in height and width but created a magnificent scene with the filtered rays of sun. We decided not to spend much time there as we were already late and came back to the track after few minutes. The climb was steep at most parts of the trail and it made me the first one to exhaust among the crew. I took many water/chocolate breaks to avoid cramping and the guide offered me to carry my backpack.

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It took more than 2 hours for us to reach the first peak. There were few natural resting places with great views.On the way up we saw “Dumbara An Katussa or Leaf nose Lizard (Ceratophora tennentii)”. As most of us were exhausted we took a quick break for a snack. Our guide suggested that we should wait until the 2nd peak for lunch, so we continued the climb.

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We were exhausted by the time we stopped for lunch. Few of us were high on “Jeewani” and I used more than 2 l of water! We ate bread with “Seeni sambol” and Strawberry Jam. “Cream Cracker”biscuits, Cheese and Marsh-mellows filled the remaining volume of our tummies.  We sent only about 30 minutes there and start trekking for the 3rd peak. The climb from there was comparatively easy and we reached the end around 3 pm.

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We spent some time there pointing our eyes to the “Bata Dandu Kandu” with the hoping a glimpse of a Sambar, but we didn’t. Our descend was quicker and reached the bottom around 5.30 pm. Our guide wanted to show us at least one sambar, so he guided us to a (not so frequently used) foot path covered with head high bushes. The sun went down quickly taking our last hopes for seeing a Sambar away. We continued the walk in the dark foot path praying, not to meet snakes! After many Kilometers of walking, we reached to a motor-able road and hired three tuk tuks. It was around 8 pm when we reached back to the  Superintendent’s bungalow and had a warm cup of tea. We came to Kandy around 11 pm with the aching legs and bruised hands, but with the satisfaction of a great hike.

Photo credits: Amila Dananjaya De Silva, Chamitha Rathnayake, P S Harshendra, Cabe Abeyrathna

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Nil Diya Pokuna Cave

mapCrew : 12 + 3 guides

Transportation : Car, Some members used Train (Colombo – Ella) and Public Buses (Ella – Colombo)

Duration : Two Days

We had early plans to visit a place called Nil Diya Pokuna, which is an underground pond in a cave near Ella, Sri Lanka. After many considerations we fixed a date in the last week of December, 2016.

I browsed about “Nil Diya Pokuna” but information available was very little. It is said to be a pond inside a cave or a tunnel complex built by king Rawana and most of it is still unexplored. Many people have mistakenly visited the place marked as the “Rawana Cave” in Google maps thinking it is the location of Nil Diya Pokuna, but it is just a very small cave compared to this. Even villagers tend not to give clear directions to this place because of the recent attempts to grab media attention by some people claiming they have special powers and going to awake the king Rawana back! Whether this is built by king Rawana or another human or created due to natural causes is still to be discovered. Until then keeping this intact is our responsibility. Karandagolle Sugatharansi Thero of Karandagolla Temple and “Meththananda” (0726 108 392) are few of the people who knows the place really well.

Participants for this journey came from all over the country, so many chose the famous transportation medium Colombo – Badulla Train. But me and another two of my friends had some other plans so we used a car. Two of my friends Started their journey from Kandy around 4 pm and it was about 6.30 pm when i joined them from Mahiyanganaya. One of my friends had reserved a home-stay called “Tree Cold Resort” and it was around 8 pm when we reached Ella. We made a call and asked the Owner of the place for dinner on our way and he arranged a delicious meal within 30 minutes. After having dinner we had a little chat with the home-stay owner. He told us that he is going to Ella rock early in the morning with two foreigners and we could join with them. But we were not sure about our next day waking time, so we kindly declined the invitation. The place was good comparing to the price and we all went to sleep early as we were bit tired.

We woke up around 6 am (earlier than we expected) after a good night sleep. We spent some time just breathing in cool fresh air while enjoying the surrounding. Then we changed and had a heavy breakfast (which was delicious) and tried to figure out the day’s plan. As Ella Rock hike will take more than 5 hours we had not to consider it. So we went to Demodara to see the famous Railway loop first. Vehicles can access the Demodara Railway station and have to walk along the railway for around 1 km from there. You have to be very cautious as the railway is bendy, that one can’t see an on coming train until the last minute. It is mentioned that the railway is initially planned as a 11 km stretch to overcome the large elevation barrier, but Late Eng. D.J Wimalasurendra (Who was a Civil Engineer and considered as the Father of Hydro Electricity in Sri Lanka) redesigned this as a loop reducing the length to 3 km.

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Next we went to Demodara Tea Factory for a Visit. They Charge you 250 LKR per head for a factory visit. It was very informative, but sadly they don’t allow to take photographs inside the factory. There was this old majestic writing table.

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As it was about 12 noon, we thought of having lunch before visiting the famous Nine Arches Bridge. So we went back to Ella town and had our lunch in “Cafe Chill”. We felt like we were in a foreign country  as we were the only Sri Lankan customers there. Food was good and we enjoyed it very much.

There are two ways to reach nine arches bridge. You can use a vehicle to reach there via road or you can walk along the rail road from Demodara Railway loop. We chose the main road as we had to come back all the way to Demodara for our car, if we walked along the rail road. You can easily access there by a tuk tuk and can reach almost there by a car. (Last part of the road was under maintenance at the time we went, so we walked the rest of the distance). Nine arches bridge was constructed without using of Steel and concrete and it is wonderful how it bare the weight of a moving train. We spent some time there taking photographs but weren’t lucky enough to capture a train crossing the bridge.

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Rest of our friends supposed to reach Ella around 3.30 pm so we decided to have a snack until they come. We went to a place called “Ella Flower Garden Resort” just near the start of Mini Adam’s Peak trail and had some snacks and coffee. Our friends reached there around 4.15 pm, and we started to climb the “Mini Adam’s Peak”. It wasn’t steep like the “Adam’s Peak” trail and we reached to the peak within 45 minutes. There are many peaks after the initial peak, So we decided to go to them as well. we spent some quality time there with the views of Ella rock and Ella – Wellawaya Highway. Wind was high and surrounding misty mountains created a magical scenery.

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It was around 6.30 pm when we came back to Ella. Four of us stayed behind to buy dinner for the whole group and the rest hurried up to the bus stand to catch the last bus to “Karandagolla”. As it was a busy day, we had to wait until 8 pm to buy dinner and it was around 8.30 pm when we reached the 16th km post in Ella – Wellawaya highway by the car. One of my friends contacted “Meththananda” (0726 108 392) , The guide for our underground journey well before, so he had arranged us a place to spend the night in his home. All were tired and rushed to take a shower and there was a queue for the washrooms!
😀
We had our dinner as soon after we all took shower and went to sleep with the excitement for the next morning journey.

I woke up around 7 am and all others were awake then. We took our turns in the wash rooms like the last night and “Meththananda”‘s wife prepared us a delicious breakfast. One of our team members from Monaragala arrived then by his car. Meththananda lead us to a by road and we parked our cars in a place he suggested. We started our hike around 9 am. It was roughly about one kilometer trail from the place we parked our vehicles.

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We knew the hardships on our way, so we were well prepared. Every one of us had high intensity head lamps (150 Lumens and 250 Lumens) with extra batteries, Torches, Professional climbing rope, Face masks and two life jackets!

Meththananda said that we are not going to use the common entrance to the cave and going through the newly found entrance via a place called “Hulan Kapolla”. It only took few seconds to realize why it is called “Hulan Kapolla” after we reached the place. It was a tiny hole (approximately 2.5 feet diameter) in the earth and our eyes were blinded by the dust particles in the wind coming out of it.

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Our guide tied a rope around a tree lied on the ground near the “Hulan Kapolla” and he disappeared in to the hole, keeping his other two guide friends with us. We had to use the rope to get down from the two initial stages and the guides helped us by pointing up the places they use to set foot down the hole. There was space only enough to glide ourselves down through  the hole in the first stage. Next there was another hole which was wider and had to use rope plus a wooden ladder placed by Meththananda. We were glad about our high intensity head lamps as they were serving really well in the thick black tunnel. After the second stage there was a steep rocky edge to climb down.

After few minutes of sliding and crawling we entered to a large cave with more than 20 feet height and width (It is definitely more than 20 feet, exact dimensions were kept hidden under the blankets of darkness) . There were few places we had to crawl but generally there was enough space even to play a cricket match!

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We were enchanted by the views and the size of the cave and walked forward on the rocky and muddy floor. There were few places where my legs went about a foot deep in the soft soil. Walls were with very sharp texture, and we had many bruises just by touching them. Few hundred meters after the floor became steep again. There wasn’t a wall on our left side and all we could see was an endless darkness below. I was in the middle of the group and suddenly my head lamp reflected on something blue. As we knew there must be a “Nil Diya Pokuna”(meaning Blue Water Pond), I stopped and observed again.

Yes! It was crystal clear water which had a bluish touch when reflect. We all hurried down on the rocky floor and stopped just before the pond in an awe of the scenery.

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Water was cold and calm. There was no visual movement at all unless we made ripples just to reflect the light in order to take photographs. For the first few feet we could see the bottom of the pond, but after that there was only an endless darkness though the water was crystal clear.

It is said that the water is drinkable, so we had a sip and we are still okay!
😛

As we were prepared to swim in the pond, we switched to our swimwear and put on life jackets. We only took two life jackets so we had to take turns. One of us tied the rope in to a rock and put the other end in the water, just in case we needed it. We swam to the opposite end of the pond (the deeper side) with our goggles and head lamps on, but still couldn’t able to see anything below the water surface. That end had an inclined wall which ended below the water surface, which made creepy sounds when ripples collided against it. Most of our group members were regular swimmers (except a few who can’t swim at all) but all had this strange uncertain feeling about the pond, so we were careful not to do anything stupid and risk our lives. It is suspected that there is an entrance to another cave under water but still haven’t confirmed.

As the water is clear, once we aim a torch at the water surface it doesn’t reflect (we had to create ripples even to take photographs). But when we have an open light source or when we aim the torch at the walls / roof of the pond it creates a perfect reflection on the water surface. Most of the people mistake this reflection as the bottom of the pond (Which seems somewhat shallow), but definitely it is deeper than 40 feet in some parts (Some say its 80 feet, but no one has officially reached the bottom). As water is cold and using extra energy to be cautious, Two of the team mates had cramps in their legs. Therefore be careful if you are swimming in “Nil Diya Pokuna”and it is advised always to wear life jackets (We bought life jackets from Pettah for about 1500 LKR each and they served well).

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After spending about one and half hours in the pond, we changed back and started our journey to so called “Rooms” like formation in the cave. We had to use the same path as we came in for a certain distance and then take a detour to a side which was on the dark end of the cave. For the first few meters it was hard to walk on the slippery and sharp rock floor, but had enough space to walk. But then we came in to a part where all we can see was a small wedge like space between a large rock plates. It was scary as someone could get stuck in the middle!
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Then it again opened to a small path which we could crawl. I was relieved but it only remained for few minutes as  we reached a place where, literally there is no place to set foot. It was kind of a fallen rock over the cliff we were crawling on, so one had to stretch the legs while hanging on to a tiny sharp edge on the wall to reach the other end or to rely on their fate and make a step on the fallen rock which was slippery and the only thing we could see above the endless darkness beneath us. Five of the team decided to stay there (including me) and the rest of the (thin) fellows continued crawling. We went few steps back to a place with enough space to stand up and decided to observe the surrounding. We observed a small amount of graphite in soft spots of the cave wall. Mineral deposits were also observed in some places of the cave roof.

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That was the moment we had to actually use the masks we brought due to the infinite number of insects attracted to our head lamps. So we turned the head lamps in to kind of a sleep mode, which had a red LED. After getting rid of that insects, we decided to have a little rest until others arrive. We had to wait about an hour before we could hear their voices from far far away and another 10 minutes before see the light from their head lamps through the rocky barrier.

They described what was there while catching their breath. They had to crawl for around half an hour and pass another slippery obstacle to reach the “room” like formations. They have observed limestone formations. Some of them were with sharp edges. The mysterious part is there was a passage further and even “Meththananda” claims he haven’t explored it up to now.

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Then we started our journey back to surface of the earth and it was harder than descending. Each step was risky as there were nothing to stop us if we were falling. We had to give our total body weight to the arms at the last part, where we had to climb back on the rope. We were so glad that everyone came back safely and our cameras, head lamps, Life jackets, ropes & masks. Then only we realized that our cloths were totally covered in mud and our cameras were brown in color!

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We took 10 minutes to catch our breath and walked back to the place where we parked our vehicles with a huge satisfaction in mind. We decided to clean ourselves before getting in to the vehicles after eating jambu, which “Meththananda”‘s friend provided. Suddenly three Buddhist Monks and few lads arrived there and they wanted to talk to our guide, Meththananda. They were with Karandagolle sugatharansi Thero and also willing to visit the cave complex. So we took that opportunity to discuss with Sugatharansi Thero and learn more about the cave. Then we came to back to Meththananda’s place and had a long bath in a near by “Peella”. It was about 5 pm when we had our lunch. Me and another three of my friends had to leave as we had to go back to work in the morning. Others had plans to climb “Kurullangala” and then visit Karandagolla temple next day. So we said our goodbyes and came back with the sadness of missing another great hike.

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Chariot Path

sattelite-imageCrew : 11

Transportation : Bus (Kandy – Pussellawa), Hired Van (Pussellawa – Perettazi (Frotoft) Division), Hiking (Frotoft – Chariot Path – Mooloya Estate) , Bus ( Hewaheta – Kandy)

Duration : Two Days

(Please note that the path marked on the map is not a GPS track but only a graphical representation, Red triangle is the place we put our tents but i recommend camping on the place marked by a green triangle)

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Me and my friends wanted to go on a bit simpler camping trip with less hiking and less adventures. After considering many locations a place called “Chariot Path” on the Piduruthalagala Mountain Range was decided as the final destination. This year the monsoon patterns were bit odd, so it wasn’t raining on December 2016 to “Chariot Path”.

“Chariot Path” is believed to be the path that King “Rawana” took Princess “Seetha” from the Capital “Lankapura” to “Ashoka Vatika” (now Nuwara Eliya). Some say they traveled by “Dandu Monaraya” (The wooden airplane) but the common belief is that they traveled by a “Chariot” and for some reason the path remains “treeless” while all surrounding is covered with  montane rain forests. It is said that there is a pond created by fallen tears of Princess “Seetha” on top of the hill.

Many of my friends confirmed their participation as it was a long weekend and we decided to start the trip from Kandy around 8 am as few of them had to travel long distances. It was about 8.20 am when all arrived, but NuwaraEliya Bus at the stand was full. As we had many bags to carry and had a hike ahead, we got in to a “Pudaluoya” bus which travels via Pussellawa. But then another NuwaraEliya bus came and it departed well before the bus we were sitting in. But as we already took tickets, we stayed and the bus left Kandy around 9.10 am. Most of us were meeting after a long time, so had many to catch up while traveling. The main bottle neck of our journey was the part from “Pussellawa” to Frotoft Division in Delta Estate as the road conditions were bad and buses were less. As our contact said we had to be there before 9.30 am to get a seat in the 10 am bus to Frotoft from Pussellawa. Therefore we decided to hire a van from Pussellawa to make the traveling times more flexible. We reached Pussellawa around 11am and had some short eats and tea as the brunch and brought some more short eats for the hike. We were able to hire a van for 3500 LKR and realized it was very reasonable price considering the road conditions and the distance.

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The road was surrounded by a lush green tea plantation of Delta Estate, Pussellwa and the views were amazing. We saw Kothmale reservoir from Frotoft, way up on the bendy gravel road. We contacted a person (Christoper Nimal 0767189381) in Frotoft well before the trip by a number obtained by a previous group of travelers and asked his help to find the way to Chariot Path. As we reached the Frotoft Old Hospital, he came there and guided us with another friend of his.

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The first few kilometers of the path was on the dirt roads of delta estate and was comparatively easy to walk. Most of us had ordinary backpacks (for laptops) and had difficulties carrying heavy loads with back pain. The guides took us in to a small foot path towards a misty wall of mountains. It was a “one man” path along the montane forest for most of the hike and the climb was steep. As it was covered with thick forest, the steepness kept hidden to eyes but was feeling on our knees and legs. We took many water and Chocolate breaks to catch our breath. After about 2.5 hours of hiking we reached the top and was mesmerized by the scenery.

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It was over our expectations and we spent hours looking far in to the horizon and taking photographs. Our guides helped us to collect some firewood and showed “Seetha Pokuna” (Believed to be the tear pond of Princess Seetha). Water in “Seetha Pond” doesn’t flow, so it is said to have a certain saltiness. There is a spring nearby for drinkable water. The wind was strong and we had to put on our jackets and monkey caps. Then our guides went back home, leaving the whole mountain to us. Many of us took our next Facebook Profile pictures with this amazing background!

😀

Just after we finished collecting firewood, we saw some other group of hikers arriving the location via the steeper side of the mountain and later got to know that they were lost on the way but reached the destination after many kilometers of tiring climb.

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We decided to set up our tents before dusk and it was very difficult to find a suitable place due of heavy winds. Four of us had to always hang on to the corners of each tent to stop them from flying before pegging and then put our backpacks inside to make sure the tents wont fly. I have bought a tent for our Knuckles – Thunhisgala Hike but couldn’t use it as we stayed in KMP wadiya, so this was the first time it was being used. It was easy to setup and had ample space, only concern was the rain as it didn’t had a separate rain cover, which every other tent had. As we finished setting all four of our tents, another group of 12 hikers reached the Chariot path. 😛 (We thought this location was unpopular, but seemed it is not as another two groups camped there on the same day). Both other groups were enthusiastic hikers too and was friendly. We planned Instant noodles for our dinner, bread for next day breakfast and cream corn (canned) for lunch. One of my friends brought a Kerosene Cooker so we thought it will be easy to prepare our meals. But mist and heavy winds turned it around. When we looked, the lighting part of the lamp was missing and we had to tear apart a handkerchief and make one. Even then the gushing misty wind didn’t allowed us to lit the cooker so we decided to interchange the Breakfast and Dinner hoping we would be able to lit it in the morning.

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One of the tents were big enough for all eleven of us to get and sit in. We have brought Jam and Seeni Sambol, so bread was tasty and then we had chocolates for dessert. We talked for a while and went to our respective tents to sleep. Luckily few friends remained in the large tent had tried and lit the cooker after a while. We only got to know that when they invited us to have a cup of coffee in the ice cold night. Any of us didn’t thought that it would be this cold and was great to have something hot to drink. We came back to the tents after the coffee and prepared to take a nap. The grassy mountain floor made the tent floor a bit comfortable and we laid a blanket over it. No one had sleeping bags but blankets saved us from freezing. I slept for a while and woke up hearing a sound. Wind was stronger than it was and the noise it made was loud. The  sound came again and I was relieved when I realized it were my friends in the other two tents talking to each other at 3 am!!!

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After many roll overs to avoid freezing and find the perfect sleeping spot, I fall asleep and woke up around 8 am. Almost all others were then awake and preparing breakfast. We had instant noodles, Eggs, Sausages and Meatballs. It really energized us after a freezing night. One of the groups camped there, went back while we were having breakfast and the other group had trouble making a fire using firewood so we lend them our cooker for preparing breakfast. That group was planning to camp there for two days, so we gave them the firewood we collected and remaining “ready to eat” food. Then we had to take a vote for the route back home. Few said (including me) to use the same route we came up but most others wanted to try the longer route via “Mooloya Estate”. We came out of that tent and found out some feces of an animal! Someone must have visited the place in night but we didn’t hear anything. :O

We refilled our water bottles from the spring nearby and packed our bags. It was kind of a nice thing to see that all other campers were concerned about the environment and took back everything they disposed. We too took many garbage bags and dumped everything to them so we had extra bags to bring down.

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The path from “Chariot path”to “Mool Oya” Estate lies via a thick montane forest but the foot path was clearly visible guaranteeing us a safe passage. There were many loose stones and slippery edges, but all managed to climb down safely. We crossed two small waterfalls on the way. Few kilometers after, we reached to a point where the foot path became an abandoned gravel road, with signs that those parts of the estate must have used for tea plantation a long time ago. With wide road, walking was easy and we came to an old concrete bridge with an overlooking hut. The hut was in good condition and we thought of having a break there. Many of us jumped into the shallow pond before the small waterfall and freshened up by cold crystal clear water. Then we had Cheese and Cream Cracker Biscuits as our brunch and started the walk again.

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We reached to the tea plantation just few minutes from the waterfall and asked the ladies working there for directions. The views were amazing with the sun hidden behind mist over the mountains. After around 4 Kilometer walk from the top of the tea plantation, we reached to a carpet road and continued the descend. Next there was the Mool Oya Tea Factory and we luckily found a Van (Operating as a replacement to buses) to travel rest of the distance to Hewaheta. All 11 of us managed to get in to the already filled van and reached Hewaheta within half an hour. There was an empty bus parked in the halt which goes directly up to Kandy, so we happily settled in. It was around 5 pm when we reached back to Kandy.

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Kadadora Temple

MapCrew : 10

Transportation : Cars

Duration : Half a day (another half day may be needed to visit the “Mahaweli Maha Seya”, ruins of “Kadadora” entarnce and ambalama)

One weekend, one of my friends told me that he and his relatives are visiting a pirivena (School for monks) in Kothmale area to offer Thripitaka (The Buddhist Holy Book which consist of three sub sections;”Sutra pitaka”, “Vinaya pitaka”, “Abhidarma pitaka”). I wanted to join to the journey as I hadn’t been there to Kothmale before.
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Name of the shrine is “Gunarathana Piriwena” and it is located in Harangala area. We used Kandy – Nawalapitiya Road (AB13) and turned to Nawalapitiya – Harangala Road (B506) from Nawalapitiya Town and traveled 13 kms to reach there. The road conditions from Nawalapitiya to the location was not good and it took around 30 mins to travel that 13 kms. But later we heard the road from Ulapane to Harangala (B431) through kothmale Dam is in better conditions, so we used it to travel back home (this is the route shown in the map above). We though of having our lunch on the way, but we were already in Nawalapitiya – Harangala Road before realizing that there are no place to buy lunch there. So we bought a packet of biscuits and “Gnana Katha” (A bun shaped hard cake decorated with sugar) and had it on the way.

The road was along Kothmale reservoir which gave us a stunning ,a movie like view though the water level of the reservoir was very low with the delayed monsoon rains. we arrived to the Pirivena around 2pm and offered the Tripitaka to the Chief incumbent and several other monks after observing pansil. The shrine looked old but the environment was very calm and relaxing. The locals had arranged us some tea along with Dodol , Rulang , Cashews and Bananas.
😀
It was the best Dodol I have ever had!

As the planned activity was over, we thought of visiting the ruins of a submerged temple in Kothmale reservoir which are now surfaced due to the low water levels. We traveled through the Kothmale Dam and reached Kothmale reservoir observation point, parked our vehicles there and started walking downward. Though the banks of the reservoir is named as a forest reserve and normally do not allow public to travel, the authorities have allowed people to go down there and visit the ruins as this is a very rare incident. We had to walk through a jungle for about one kilometer and a steep river bank.

I had seen few photographs of previous travelers who were the few days back, but the environment was totally different that day. A local travel show had telecast a documentary filmed on this location, which increased the number of visitors so someone built a fence using sticks and used red flags to mark the boundaries which the visitors can enter without damaging the ruins. In the point of preserving the ruins, it is a good idea but it was very hard to capture the ruins without disturbance from the red flags.

We spent a good half an hour admiring the quality of building which still standing up even after spending around 30 years submerged. It was sad to see the marks which seemed to have occurred in an attempt to dig the statues for treasures.

Here are some facts about this area and the temple which i found very interesting,

This area has a very important place in history books as the great king Dutugamunu’s (161BC – 131BC) life tale is based on Kothmale. Before that era, the King Panduwasadeva (504BC – 474BC) is said to held a dance by the Yak (devil) tribes in this area which was referred “Malaya Rata” at that time.

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King Kawanthissa ruled the “Ruhuna” kingdom while there were two other kingdoms named “Pihiti” and “Maya”. It is said that there were only four entrances from “Ruhunu” kingdom to “Maya” Kingdom; Kadadora, Watadora, Niyangandora and Galdora. Only remaining ruins of four entrances, “Kadadora” which is also known as “Dehadukadulla” is in Kothmale area, but unfortunately we couldn’t visit that in this journey. It is said that prince “Gamunu” hid his royal sward in a tree near “Kadadora” before entering Kothmale, where now only remains a stone staircase towards Kotagapitiya starting from a (stone) entrance which has been restored. Ruins of an “Ambalama” (a hut like structure  – resting place for travelers), which is beleived to be built by the prince “Gamunu” is also along the path to Kotagapitiya.

The house of “Uru pelesse Gama Mahage” of the village Kotagapitiya in Kothmale is believed to be the place where the young prince Gamunu hide after sending female jewellery to his father, as a symbol of his weakness not to starting a war with the enemy King “Elara”. Then the prefix  “Dushta” (Wiked) is added upon his name “Gamunu” and shortened to be “Dutu Gamunu” afterwards. The folklore says that the prince was discovered by the Royal elephant “Kandula” after the death of king “Kawanthissa”, realizing the villagers that the boy who lived among them by the name “Guptha”, actually is the royal son. Tales say that the farmer and his family begged for their lives thinking the “King to be” may slaughter them as they used him as a helper, but instead the prince married “Ran Menika”, the daughter of the farmer who became the Queen mother of prince “Saliya” afterwards.

Folklore reveals that the Queen mother “Vihara maha Devi” arranged secret meetings in a Raja Maha Viharaya (Temple) in Kadadora area to update the Prince about war preparations with “Velusumana”, one of his ten giants. It is said that the Chief incumbent Thero of this viharaya knew the true identity of the prince. This temple is believed to be the “Kadadora Priya Bimbarama Raja Maha Viharaya” which was in Kothmale.

In 19th Century, SriLanka carried out a huge multi purpose development, 35 year – master plan called “Mahaweli project”, based on the river “Mahaweli” and allied 6 river basins. Main objectives were increasing Agricultural production with water utilization, Hydro power generation, Settlement of landless people, Flood control and providing employment opportunities. Some of the land owners in affected areas of Dam construction were resettled in near by places where some others and landless poor were resettled in identified places, called “Mahaweli Region  – A” to “H”. In 1977 a new prime minister (J.R. Jayawardena) was elected and decided to accelerate the project under a separate Ministry called “Mahaweli Development” Under Minister Gamini Dissanayake.

Priliminary studies for the Kothmale project was carried in 1961, again during 1964-1968 with foreign assistance and another feasibility study during 1973 – 1976 with Indian assistance, but the project never took off. Considering all proposals from previous studies the Kothmale project was started in 1979 under the “Accelerated Mahaweli Development Project” (AMDP) with the newly established “Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka”. Kothamale reservoir was created by constructing a Dam (2100 feet above Mean Sea Level) between “Thispane” and “Kadadora” hills; obstructing “Kothmala Oya”, one of the main tributaries of Mahaweli river. The Kothmale reservoir spreads across 2270 ha land with 174 million cubic meters of full capacity which powers the turbines of 206MW first ever Underground Hydro Electricity Plant in SriLanka from 1985 onward.

It is said that more than 14 tea estates and 50 villages of 3050 families (more than 15000 people) were affected by the increased water level due to Dam construction. Around 1750 families were agreed to resettle in “Mahaweli Region – H” while the other 1300 families, who requested lands near to their original habitats; were settled in the 2600 acre land acquired from Tispane and Rothscild estates.

It is said that many (Couldn’t find the exact number) ancient Temples (including Kadadora Priya Bimbaramaya, Morape Bodhimalakaramaya, Morape Subhadraramaya, Hadunuwewa Medagoda Gangaramaya, Othalawe Bodhirukaramaya, Nawangama Abhinawaramaya, Tispane Sri Subhadraramaya) and Devala  (including Morape Devalaya, Hadunuwewa Medagoda Paththini Devalaya) has been identified will be below the reservoir water level. The authorities decided to build a bubble shaped pagoda with 289 feet height, named “Mahaweli Maha Seya” in the right bank of the reservoir to compensate to the submerged temples which now overlook the Kothmale valley from 4150 feet above Mean Sea Level.

I have heard that this Pagoda has an inner chamber which feature some of the ruins of submerged temples where people can visit but the increasing darkness in the surrounding urged us to go back home before the giants(elephants) start their routine walks. So we headed back to our cars from the ruins of Kadadora Viharaya and came back to Kandy around 8.30 pm.
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References:
Mahavanshaya
Sunday observer 2011, march, 13
http://mahaweli.gov.lk/en/complete.html
The Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme By Ratna S. Cooke, 1982