Sri Lanka is a wonderful destination that offers a blend of unique amusements for its visitors. Let it be a natural beauty, cultural significance, ancient grandeur, or friendly people, Sri Lanka has it all. However, when considering the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, Ritigala cannot be ignored. It is a unique region in Sri Lanka where both science and myth, history and nature arrive at an intersection. Thus, some of the pilgrims on their way to or from Anuradhapura, visit the Ritigala mountains to observe their beauty. Furthermore, Ritigala is also trending among tourist hotspots as a place where both the interests of a naturalist and a historian are awakened.
Yes, this article gives you a full overview of Ritigala. Continue reading to know more about this wonderful place!
What are Ritigala Mountains?
Ritigala lies between the boundaries of Kekirawa and Palugaswewa in the Anuradhapura district. It covers around 7200 acres of land and is about 766 meters above sea level. Moreover, Ritigala is the highest point in the dry zone. This Mountain range consists of the following 7 mountains.
- Herbs Mountain
- Kodigala Mountain
- Aandiya Mountain
- Fruit Mountain (Palathuru Kanda)
- Bamboo Mountain
- Springs Mountain (Ulpath Kanda)
- Amarapathi Kanda
Furthermore, around 1500 years ago, Ritigala served as a monastery of Buddhist monks.
How to Reach Ritigala Mountains?
Ritigala is roughly 200 kilometers away from the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. Anyone who visits this place can reach it by both main roads and rail routes.
When you travel towards Kandy from Colombo via the A1 route and from Kandy when you travel on the A9 road which leads to Jaffna, you can find Habarana. Next, you have to travel 15 kilometers from Habarana on the Habarana – Anuradhapura road via Maradankadawala to reach Galapitigala Junction. However, you can spot the mountain far away as there are not many mountains on the plains of Anuradhapura.
Once you reach Galapitagala village, you will see a concrete road through the woods. The concrete road turns to a sandy road again. From there the road leads through a dense forest cover through the Ritigala reserve. This road is well maintained so even a vehicle can go easily. Moreover, you have the facility to park your vehicles safely at the foot of the hill. In addition, an archeological office is available here if you wish to get more information.
The Climate of the Ritigala Mountains
The hills are generally wet, wetter than the nearby lowlands because of orographic precipitation. Moreover, Ritigala accumulates the highest rainfall in the dry zone and receives rain from the Northeast monsoon, from December to February. Due to the wet micro-climate at Ritigala, these hills are covered with mist even during long droughts that prevail in the dry zone.
The History of the Ritigala Mountains
There are many significant stories related to the history of the Ritigala mountains. However, the most highlighting one is about Prince Pandukabhaya.
As per this story, Prince Pandukabhaya, during his war against his uncles, took refuge in the mountains and received support from the Yakshas. Moreover, history reveals that he built the monastery in Ritigala and gifted it to Buddhist monks after becoming the King.
How did Ritigala Mountains Get their Name?
Mahavamsa or the Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka refers to Ritigala as Aritta Pabbatha. “Aritta” brings the meaning of defense while “Pabbatha” means rock. Therefore “Aritta Pabbatha” means “Defense Rock”. Furthermore, some historians believe the meaning of Aritta Pabbatha to be “Dreadful mountains” as Yakkhas lived in these hills.
As the name suggests, Aritta Pabbatha or Ritigala has been a place where ancient kings took asylum during wars, mobilized armies, and used them for various warfares. In fact, Prince Pandukhabya, the first native king of the land took asylum in the mountains. Similarly, King Parakramabahu the Great, in his attempt to unify the island, mobilized troops against Manabharana in Ruhuna in the Ritigala mountains. So, all these incidents prove the meaning of this name furthermore.
What are the Legends Associated with the Ritigala Mountains?
There are many legends woven around this wonderful Ritigala mountain range.
During the Rama-Ravana war, when Laxman, the brother of Rama, faced an injury, Rama ordered Lord Hanuman to bring a certain rare herb that occurs only in the Himalayas. However, when Hanuman reached the Himalayas, he forgot the name of the herb. As the legend goes, Hanuman extracted a patch of herbs growing in the Himalayas, and part of this herb patch had fallen in the location of modern Ritigala when he arrived.
Another legend that relates to Ritigala is about Ritigala Jayasena or Mahasona. Two of the 10 giants of King Dutugemunu, Gotaimbara, and Mahasona, and a Yakkha leader in Ritigala, fought due to a personal feud. However, Mahasona died in combat. But, God Saturn, who saw there was life left in his body, came to him in a rush and mistakenly placed the head of a bear in the place of Mahasona’s head. Thus, Ritigala Jayasena or Mahasona left as another fable tied to the Ritigala hills.
The Ruins in Ritigala
Ritigala stands apart from other mountain ranges in Sri Lanka owing to its history stretching more than 1500 years. However, ruins of the monastery, stone bridges, and staircases are all built so as not to disturb any mystical movement going on in the woods.
James Mantell first discovered the ruins of this monastery complex. The ruins of this monastery spread over 59 hectares of land to the east of the Ritigala mountains, thus this area stands as an archaeological site. Moreover, five hundred Arhant Bhikkus led by “Aritta” the great arahant lived in this monastery complex, according to the resources.
The first archaeological commissioner of Sri Lanka, H. C. P. Bell explored the site and mapped it in 1893.
However, if you visit the Ritigala mountains, you will have the chance to spot the following ruins.
- Banda Pokuna
- Ruins of the monastery complex
- Ruins of the Buddha statue
- Stone bridges and staircases
The following sections will brief you about these ruins!
When you climb the mountain near the archeological office, you will come across a pond. It is built at the bottom-most part of the monastery precincts, for the cleansing and bathing purposes of Arahant Bhikkus. This vast pond is spread over an area of 2 acres and is nurtured by streams flowing through the hills. Even today, some of these streams are visible during the rainy seasons.
Moreover, some historians argue that the main intention of the construction of this pond, Banda Pokuna, at the very entrance was for the devotees who arrive on pilgrimage to clean themselves before they enter the shrine. The latter argument is acceptable considering that the devotees cleanse themselves before they start their religious rituals even at Kataragama and Sri Padha shrines.
From the Banda Pokuna, there is a stone bridge and a gorge to cross, which will then lead up to a pathway that runs through the forest. This pathway is entirely made of stone and leads to Janthagaraya, which is the hospital.
Ancients built this hospital in order to treat sick monks. In the same way, more than two-fifths of the plants found inside the Ritigala reserve contain medicinal value. Therefore, it is the ideal place for a hospital of indigenous medicine. Furthermore, remnants of medicinal boats or “Beheth Oru”, mortar and pestle, and other vessels provide shreds of evidence of the ancient practice of medicine at the time.
Ruins of the Monastery Complex
The monastery complex first built by Prince Pandukabhaya continued to gain state patronage throughout the Anuradhapura era. Next, King Surathissa constructed Makulaka Viharaya in the monastery precincts. King Lajjathissa renovated the place later. In addition, the monastery complex received favors from King Sena I.
Padhanaghara has several double platform buildings available among the ruins of the monastery complex. The Buddhist monks meditated in these double platform buildings back in the day. In addition to these double platform buildings, there is another triple platform and a walking track. From the walking track designed for walking meditations, the archaeological site ends. However, if one wishes to travel further, they need to obtain the permission of the Sri Lankan Forest Department.
Ruins of the Buddha Statue
The first Archaeological Commissioner of Sri Lanka, H. C. P. Bell discovered an unusual broken Buddha statue carved from wood in this place. It was unusual because of the posture of the Buddha statue. Furthermore, the statue was standing with arms crossed at the chest and the body was covered with a robe.
Stone Bridges and Staircases
Stone bridges and staircases inside the Ritigala archeological site are mostly rock carvings. Moreover, the stairs carved into rock exhibit the talents of the stonemasons of the Anuradhapura Kingdom.
Fall of the Ritigala Monastery
The monastery has been alive until the South Indian Chola invasions in the 10th century after which the place saw its destruction. The ruins lay there silently waiting to be discovered for centuries until James Mantel reported the ruins at the Ritigala mountains.
Ecology of Ritigala
Ritigala belongs to Dryzone-evergreen forests. The Sri Lankan Forest Department recognized the significance of the forest as early as 1942 and declared 1528 hectares of this land a strict nature reserve. Thus, it is one of the three strict nature reserves in Sri Lanka, the other two being Haggala and Yala.
The upper part of the reserve exhibits features of dry-mixed evergreen forests and consists of the following trees.
- Dialium ovoideum
- Dimocarpus longan
- Diospyros affinis
- Diospyros oocarpa
- Drypetes septaria
- Mangifera zeylanica
- Mesua ferrea
- Mischodon zeylanicus
- Xylopia nigricans
Disturbed dry-mixed evergreen forest is visible in the middle part of the Ritigala nature reserve and the summit is of sub-mountainous forests.
Biodiversity of Ritigala Mountains
In 1985, P. G. R. Jayasuriya studied the plant species in these hills and discovered 27 species of Orchids. Besides, Ritigala is home to around 450 plant species, some of which are exclusive to Ritigala. Iriraja, Sandaraja, Vanaraja, and Bin Kohomba are some of these. Flowering species such as Asoka are commonly available at the premises.
Further, around 100 bird species sully the skies of the hills including the following.
- Spotted Cuckoo
- Black-hooded Oriole
- Wild Rooster
- Emerald Dove
- Pompadour Green Pigeon
- Yellow-billed Blabber
The biodiversity of the Ritigala Mountains is not just limited to these. Various types of butterflies, mammals such as elephants, tigers, bears, deer, and antelopes, and reptiles such as python, rattlesnake, and cobras are also visible here. Thus, there is nothing wrong in mentioning that the Ritigala mountain is a wonderful site with impressive bio-diversity.
The Significance of the Ritigala Mountains
By now, you may have realized the significance of the Ritigala mountain range. Exaggerating on it further, Ritigala, although located in the dry zone, has a climate similar to that of the wet zone. Inside the thicket, there are delicate springs that flow continuously throughout the year. And yes, they add a unique charm to the greenery out there.
Besides, while Sri Lanka has many mountains and various types of forests, Ritigala is the only forest with a history of more than 1500 years. Furthermore, it is the only natural reserve that has both biological and historical significance. So, owing to all these reasons Ritigala stands as an iconic location on this splendid island of Sri Lanka. And yes, it is a must-visit!
The Bottom Line
After all, the values and the secrets that the Ritigala mountain holds with it are indeed interesting. Thus, visiting it will not only allow you to spend some quality time with nature but explore the mystery that it holds. So, what are you waiting for? Make sure that you add Ritigala to your must-visits in this land of charms. Happy and safe traveling!