If you want to gain a first-hand impression of one of Sri Lanka’s most typical religious traditions, namely the life of reclusive Buddhist monks, Salgala is the place to visit. No mass tourism will ever touch this silent place, which is located halfway between the river valleys of Maha Oya (Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage) and Kelani Ganga (Kitulgala). Salgala is an ancient forest hermitage which was revived in the 20th century. Several of the picturesquely situated caves are inhabited by forest monks again. They invite respectful and silent visitors to walk around in the delightful jungle area, but access is permitted only before noon. Salgala is believed to have been the hiding place of the famous King Walagambha (Vattagamani Abhaya) during his several years in exile from Anuradhapura. Though there are many cave temples claiming to be one of this places inhabited by Walagambha, Salgala is considered to be a top candidate.
Beligala, situated 16 km west of Pinnawela Orphanage by road, is not an attractive place to visit, but it’s of some historical significance as it was here where the national palladium, the Sacred Tooth Relic, was kept in hiding, when the Indian invader Kalinga Magha devastated the Polonnaruw Kingdom. The local Sinhalese principality possessing the Tooth Relic soon became the new major dynasty of Sinhalese Kings, in the so-called Dambadeniya period. The Tooth Relic was finally shifted to Dampabdeniya by them.
The Bo-tree of the Beligala Rajamaha Viharaya is quite impressive, woth a stop, when you are travelling along this vilaage anyway. The main attraction is the moonstone. It’s of a quite unique shape, indicating a transition between the moonstone styles of Polonnaruwa and Kandy. The centre of the moonstone is significantly elevated like in the Kandy period, but the outline is still hemispherical like that of Polonnaruwa moonstones and unlike triangular Kandyan moonstones.
Find Beligala Bo-Tree image and location here...
Sinharaja is a a mountain range in the south-west of the island, halfway between coastline and Sri Lanka's central highlands, separated from the latter by the Sabaragamuwa lowland area of Ratnapura. Sinharaja's highest peak reaches 1171 m. Tea and pepper is grown at the eastern slopes of the chain of hills. The Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka's largest and best preserved tropical rain forest, covers the western half of the range. 21 km long and 7 km wide, the reserve cannot be called a deep or endless jungle, however, due to its biodiversity and the plentitude of endemic species, it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988. Situated exactly downwind towards the monsoon, Sinharaja is Sri Lanka's area with the highest levels of rainfall. Annual precipitation is above 3000 mm and can even reach 6000 mm. Visiting Sinhara is not recommended during monsoon season between June and September, when weather is rainy, pathes are muddy, and anaimals are hiding.
Two thirds of the tree species in Sinharaja are endemic to Sri Lanka, many of them are rare. 211 woody tree and liana species are identified within the reserve, 139 of them are endemic. High levels of endemism are also probable for the lower plants like ferns and epiphytes.
Sinharaja harbours 20 of Sri Lanka’s endemic bird species. (The island’s other 6 endemic bird species occur only in the dryzone.) Sinharaja is also famous for its butterflies, 50 % of Sri Lanka’s endemic species occur in Sinharaja's virgin forest.
Sinharaja is a perfect trekking area, though only during the dry season, sea above. There are numerous hiking and trekking routes of various lengths. Actually, you can spend several days int the forest reserve. The trails lead to peaks, too, where you can enjoy nice vistas. The highest peak is Hinipitigala. Among hikers and local weekend-travellers the trail to Mulawella peak is quite popular, too. The forest at its lowest is 270 m above sea level at the southern boundary of the Forest Reserve, where about a dozen waterfalls are situated.
Moderate price level
Among nature lovers the tropical wet evergreen forest of Sinharaja is one of Sri Lanka’s must-sees. And they have good luck in at least one respect: Because it is not run by the Wildlife Department but by the Forest department, a stay in the Sinharaja camp is comparatively cheap.
Nuwan Chinthaka Gajanayaka,