Exploring Colombo – Towards Kelaniya and Gampaha

There is a wealth to Sri Lanka that is barely touched on, as when the discerning traveller has exhausted all of the more famous and popular destinations, they may think that there is nothing more to see. On the contrary, Sri Lanka is full of gems of historical and natural value, and there are a number of these gems that are situated in the Kelaniya and Gampaha districts. The convenience with which you can travel to them from Colombo, especially if you are staying at the Steuart by Citrus, means that these places are attractive for day trips and can be visited quite easily.

Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya

Image Courtesy of Zigzagging with Bill and Paige

Sometimes overshadowed by the bigger, more famed temples in the likes of Colombo and Kandy, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya carries with it a supremely captivating history. The site is believed to have been visited by Buddha himself after he gained enlightment, on his last trip to the island. Preaching to the people who lived in the area while sitting on a gem encrusted throne, it is said that the sermon reconciled two enemies, thus bringing peace to the area. The throne, donated by one of the enemies, was then encased in a stupa, and became a relic that held importance for Buddhists all over the island. Of course as the wave of colonisation hit, the Portuguese destroyed the temple, a move that was emblematic of their reaction towards the religion in general. Luckily, while the Dutch were ruling, the temple was rebuilt. In recent history there were some renovations done to the building, and most notably, the art inside the temple was renovated by a beloved artist. Though painted in the last century, the artworks done by Soliyas Mendis carried with them the hints and whispers of ancient paintings in the style of India and Sri Lanka. The paintings are a major artistic draw to the temple, as they seek to represent the life of Buddha and important moments in how the religion took root in the country. The Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is also famous for being the starting point of the Duruthu Perahera, an impressive procession that is probably second in fame only to the Kandy Esala Perahera.

Water World

The first underwater tunnel aquarium of its kind in South Asia, Water World is a novelty that many people have not heard about. The only major public aquarium in the country, Water World is great for those who love fish as pets, as well as for children. Belying its name, the establishment also has a bird park that features an impressive array that nowhere else in the country comes close to. The aquarium features an eclectic assortment or fish, such as electric eels and fish of both foreign and local origin as well as the arapaima, lung fish and freshwater sting rays that were from the Amazon River. One of the most impressive parts of the aquarium is the shark dome – a sight that many kids are sure to love, especially at feeding time. Rather than being scary, the sharks are interesting to view and will certainly raise a lot of questions in a little child’s mind.

The bird park is equally, if not more impressive. Featuring quite the collection of birds from all over the world, the bird park is sure to interest bird lovers everywhere. Learn about different kinds of birds and marvel at the different variations of their feathers.

Gampaha Botanical Garden

Image from Timeout.com

This garden is also called Henarathgoda Botanical Garden, a fact that is good to keep in mind if you are researching it as a potential place to visit. Established in 1876 predominantly as a space that the British could use to test out different plants for their economic viability (rubber being one of the most famous of these), the garden ended up benefiting from this by hosting plants from around the world. The space spreads out over 43 acres, and features many plants that were grafted into the tropical part of the world’s plant based lexicon. The garden is organised in a pleasant manner, featuring a vast number of sections that keep the visit interesting. These include a paddy field, a forest, and themed sections of the garden, all full of exotic plants. There’s an orchid garden, palm garden and Japanese garden. The medicinal garden is sure to be of interest to those who practice natural self-care. The garden is laid out beside a lake, and the two formed a symbiotic relationship. The garden is now bursting with life, resplendent in its collecting of interesting, fascination plants and botanical masterpieces, all with a story of the country to tell. It’s possible to enjoy a boat ride in the lake, called Attanagalu Oya. There’s also a bridge over the river that some may enjoy walking over. The gardens are open from 7.30am to 5.00pm and stay open throughout the year. There is a canteen if you develop a natural hunger from walking around the gardens. When you’re there watch out of the birds, mammals and butterflies that are endemic to the country.

Pilikuththuwa Temple

The Pilikuththuwa temple is a fascinating piece of harmony between man and nature. An ancient cave temple, the grounds of these earthy structures are built for exploration. With a history that dates back centuries, some historians believing that the area was occupied since the pre historic period including around the 2nd century BC. An interesting piece of cultural history attached to the place is the legend that it served as a refuge for the famed King Walagamba during the bloody conquests from South India. Around 77 rock caves, also known as drip lodged caves, have currently been discovered in the compound, with some believing there to be more. As is the case, the temple thus most probably has the most amount of drop caves in the country. Other attractions include stone ponds, a reservoir, water pools that are both natural and manmade. These increase the beauty of an already fascinating living relic of history. There’s also a wooden bridge that belongs to the era when Kandy as the capital of the country, and a Dagoba. The temple as well as many of the features inside it have been recognised by the Government as an archaeological site as well as memorials to be protected.

Waturugama Pettagam Gala

A mostly unknown gem, Pettagama Kanda is a mountain that once can climb, to observe an interesting rock that is perched on top at an angle that looks unreal. Kanda means mountain, and Pettagama is in reference to the boxy shape of the stone. The stone looks like it’s about to roll away at any minute, but it has stood there for as long as anyone can remember, holding its ground and defying gravity. There is a statue of Buddha that lies beneath it, in a cave. There is a stupa that was built recently and whitewashed to shiny perfection as it stands before the temple and the rock, holding sway over the visitors who approach. This temple too lays claim to King Walagamba, maintaining that he fled here after he had to abandon his kingdom, Anuradhapura, when raiders from South India invaded. The place has a peaceful atmosphere, exacerbated by the fact that very few tourists know of the place and thus do not visit. The place also has a close connection to nature, as the temple follows the contours of the rock and a dozen different kinds of animals scurry around. You can hear the sounds of monkeys, and may glimpse a fox or two. There are also wild boars and the elusive fishing cat, an adorable species of small wild cats that are found in very few places in the world. You can easily spend a few hours among the rocks, enjoying the view and contemplating the nature that surrounds you.

Algama Falls

Algama Falls isn’t the biggest or most impressive waterfall in the country, but there is a quietness to it and a sense of adventure in discovering it that makes it a delightful waterfall to visit. Situated in the Kegalle district and accessible by road, there’s nevertheless a spot where you must leave the vehicle and walk to the falls, contributing to its secretive atmosphere. The walk to the falls is as enchanting as the falls themselves, and once you climb the stony path you will reach the falls. Falling 6 meters, you can view the water from a ledge nearby. The water falls into a hole in the rocks, and emerges a little later.

Ranwala Thotupola

There is a rest house at Hanwella that sports a ford, or Thotupola, that may date back to the times that the Portuguese, Dutch and British used the river to cross over to Kandy. Finding it is a fun adventure, and using it to cross the river will be a little journey into history. Enjoy the view over the river, and reflect on the history that sleeps beneath the waters.