Elephants in the wild at the Wonderful Somawathiya National Park
Elephants at the Wonderful Somawathiya National Park

Willing to explore the Sri Lankan wild? If so, the National Parks in Sri Lanka are sure to offer you the perfect opportunities. However, the Somawathiya National Park has a special place among the various national parks in Sri Lanka. It has a significant geographical environment and it shelters many endemic flora and fauna that are rare. So, if you are tired of visiting the same kind of places, the best solution for you is to visit Somawathiya National Park!

Moreover, Somawathiya holds a significant position in the history of Sri Lanka. It is also a well-known fact that biodiversity here is significant. This is one of the four national parks developed under the Mahaweli Development Project. The authorities established this as another step towards the protection of riverine villus. Situated on a flood plain, this national park can give you a different experience than most other parks. Continue reading, to know about its delight!

History of the Somawathiya National Park

This has a unique history. The Somawathiya Chaitya (Dagoba) located in this park adds an indescribable value to it. Prince Abhaya built this for his wife Princess Somawathi. She was the sister of King Kavantissa. The place got its name after her in appreciation of her service to the country.

Later, the Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha was placed in this dagoba. Although the Tooth Relic was relocated with the change of kingdoms, this place is still revered religiously. The surrounding park got its name after this religious place. So, this happens to be the background story of the name Somawathiya National Park.

Recognizing the value of the sprawling wildlife population, the government designated it a Wildlife Sanctuary on August 9, 1966. Later, the government designated it a national park to protect its flora and fauna. It was on September 2, 1986. Other national parks built under the Mahaweli Development Project, such as Maduru Oya, Wasgamuwa, and Flood Plains, are contemporary parks.

Significance of the Somawathiya National Park

Here you will be able to experience the diversity of different ecosystems. In fact, the topography plays the main role here.

Its location in the delta territory also makes it special. Besides, it gets flooded, by the two tributaries of the Mahaweli River, during the rainy season. On the silt deposits, you can find fertile vegetation only once a year. The park also has a population of animals that depend on that particular flora and fauna. So this place is like a knowledge fountain that adds new knowledge to those who study bioecology, zoologists, plant specialists as well as ecologists. Moreover, it is incumbent upon you to reveal to this beautiful secret world hidden in the Somawathiya National Park, which is pleasing to the eye of tourists. 

Besides, the view of the wild elephants descending into the overflowing rivers during the rainy season is breathtaking. Moreover, the Somawathiya National Park has a beautiful gorge of deer, pigs, and trees. As mentioned earlier, the lush vegetation of the Somawathie National Park maintains the cool climate surrounding the place where pilgrims come to pay homage to the shrine. Further, the cool breeze that blows through the rivers will quench your sweat in an instant. Also, the trees here provide shade to relax and relieve your tiredness.

Besides, adjacent to the Hurulu Forest Reserve, the park is connected to the Flood Plains National Park and the Trikonamadu Nature Reserve. It occupies an area of ​​37,645.5 hectares close to the town of Polonnaruwa, bordering the North Central Province and the Northern Province. 

Fauna of the Park

This beautiful Somawathiya National Park is home to an extensive range of fauna. Mammals and birds occupy a prominent place among the species. Besides, the park is of great ecological importance as it is home to over 400 elephants, both in the reserve and in the surrounding area, and the wild. Other notable mammal species here include the following.

  • Wild boar (Sus scrofa)
  • Jackal (Canis aureus)
  • Leopard (Panthera pardus)
  • Sambar (Cervus unicolor)
  • Fishing cat (Felis viverrina)
  • Water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis)

The beauty that they bring to this park is indescribable.

In addition to mammals, many bird species also live here. Of these, about 75 species migrate to this national park during the winter. These migrants include the following.

  • Marsh sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis),
  • Garganey (Anas querquedula)
  • Pintail snipe (Gallinago stenura)
  • Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa),
  • Whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybridus)

So, anyone who comes here during this time can see many beautiful bird species that they have never seen before. Among the resident birds in this park are the following.

  • Openbill Stork (Anastomus oscitans)
  • Stork Ibis (leucocephala)
  • Little egret (Egretta garzetta)
  • Pond heron (Ardeola grayii)
  • Cattle egret (Bubulens ibis)
  • Pheasant tailed jacana (Hydrophasianus Purphylioskiski)

There are also several species of birds that live within the forest. In the woods, there are ornamental birds such as the following.

  • Common peacock (Pavo cristatus)
  • Malabar pied hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus)
  • Bright red barbet (Megalaima haemacephala)
  • Dicaeum agile
  • Common iora (Aegithina tiphia)
  • Thick-billed flowerpecker (Dicaeum agile)
  • Jungle fallefons
  • Buttonquail (Turnix suscitator)
  • Siconia episcopus
  • Crested hawk-eagle Cizrtus
  • Pied kingfisher (Ceryle Besties)
  • Gray-headed fish (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus)

Besides, rare bird species such as Ibis leucocephala can also be seen here. There are no words to describe the beauty that these beautiful creatures bring to this national park. So, anyone visiting this national park can engage in bird watching.

Flora of the Park

This Somawathiya National Park is home to many beautiful plants. These plants are full of beautiful flowers, which make the whole environment fragrant. Anyone who enters this park will no doubt feel like they have entered a paradise.

Central floodplains are characterized by the abundance and presence of flood-contained containers, water-resistant grasses, and aquatic plants. The special distribution of flowers in Villas shows a pattern related to the time of flood and the depth of flood. There are crawling grasses such as Cynodon dactylon. Besides, true aquatic species such as the following can also be seen in this park.

  • Matikanduri (Alternanthera sessilis)
  • Knot weed (Polygonum spp)
  • Ludwigia (Jussiaea repens)
  • Water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica)
  • Pickerelweed (Monochoria hastata)
  • Club rush (Scirpus grossus)

The most common herbaceous species here are as follows.

  • Hygroryza aristata
  • Buffalo grass (Brachiaria mutica)
  • Japan jabara (Echinochloa colonum)
  • Digitaria longiflora
  • Water crown grass (Paspalidium spp.)

In shallow water, floating aquatic plants form with Nelum (Nelumbo nucifera). It is associated with the deepwater Manel (Nymphaea stellata) and the underwater plant Goniophlebium (serratifolium demersum).

Some floating plants are found in abundance in all areas of the archipelago. Other species of late blight include the following.

  • Arjun tree (Terminalia arjuna)
  • Mahua (Madhuca longifolia)
  • Sea poison tree (Barringtonia asiatica)
  • Mitragyna parvifolia
  • Indian coral tree (Erythrina variegata)
  • Sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus).

The forest trees in the northern part of the park are rich in species such as follows.

  • Weera (Drypetes sepiaria)
  • Trincomalee wood (Berrya cordifolia)
  • Bastard ebony (Diospyros ovalifolia)
  • Weliwenna  (Dimorphocalyx glabellus)
  • Cork leaved bayur (Pterospermum canescens)
  • Palu (Manilkara hexandra
  • Helamba ( Mitragyna parvifolia)

Besides, some xerophytes like Cissus sp., Euphorbia sp. are visible here.

So, if you are interested in learning more about plants, this is a good place to get acquainted with aquatic plants and plants of the dry zone.

Conservation of the Somawathiya National Park

Somawathiya National Park is very important for migratory and resident aquatic birds. The entire system of the park is in the Mahaweli District. Although it was largely unmanaged and unsafe until the area was integrated with the Mahaweli Environmental Project, it is still at a high level of restoration.

With the arrival of tobacco growers and their cattle, the forests in the area have been cleared for agriculture. Tobacco farmers enter the country with a few cows each year. However, the Sri Lankan government plans to remove illegal logging, tobacco, and lawn cultivation with a garden announcement. This has enabled the park to maintain its current beauty and biodiversity value at a very high level.

After all, we too have a responsibility to protect these beautiful national parks. So, anyone who comes to see this can contribute to the preservation of this park, at least by not polluting it with waste.

Climate of the Area

This national park belongs to the dry zone. Annual rainfall is about 1156 mm and the annual average temperature is about 27.2 C. In addition to the part of the tropical evergreen forest, some ecosystems belong to the Villu and Wetlands. Here you can see broad-leaved plants that adapt to the sun, which falls well throughout the year. Also, the forest is home to many layers of vegetation and has all the basic features found in tropical evergreen forests.

The rains that come with the northeast monsoon winds nourish this park. It is from October to January. However, the drought weather is severe from May to September. So, here in this park, you can see the unique environmental features that are relevant to different climates throughout the year. 

At the peak of the rainy season, rivers overflow, and floodplains flood. It lasts for a few days and regenerates after the river recedes. After the rainy season, then comes the most comfortable time for wildlife. Indeed, it is the best time of the year to visit Somawathie National Park as there is no shortage of food and water for the animals. Also, in the mornings and evenings, the extreme heat subsides a bit, making it ideal for observing animals in that climate.

How to Reach the Park

If you are coming from Colombo, you can take the Colombo – Katunayake road to Katunayake and take the E04 road from Mirigama to Veyangoda. Then you can come to Mirigama and enter the A6 Abeypussa-Trincomalee highway and reach Minneriya via Hingurakgoda. Then take the same route (B287) to reach Somawathiya National Park.

There are railway lines from Colombo Fort to Hingurakgoda. If you travel by train, get off at Hingurakgoda and take public transport or a cab to Somawathiya.

If you are coming from Kandy, you can enter the highway to Trincomalee via Ambepussaand take the same route mentioned earlier. The journey distance is around 192 km and the journey takes about 4 hours and 45 minutes. Alternatively, you can take the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road and enter the Naula-Elahera-Pallegama-Hettipola road B312. Then, you can take the road from Elahera to Giritale and proceed to Somawathiya National Park. The journey is around 121 km and takes about 4 hours and 20 minutes.

The Bottom Line

Somawathiya National Park is simply a great place to hang out with your family. The extensive wildlife, refreshing air, and wonderful greenery out there are sure to soothe your soul. Besides, many people say that miracles happen in this place. An interesting story as such is the sight of the majestic elephants worshipping at the Somawathie Chaitiya. Also, the hospitality of the people in the surrounding villages is very high. There is no difficulty in getting good food, freshwater, and safe accommodation. So don’t be afraid to come with your family to relax and enjoy the beauty of this wonderful land. Happy and safe traveling!