RITIGALA FOREST MONASTERY
Located just 12 km from Habarana is a long-forgotten monastery at a Forest mountain hermitage at Ritigala. The monks who lived here were either killed by the invading Cholas or forced to abandon the site altogether to escape the wrath of the marauding enemies from South India.
Even the Kingdom of Anuradhapura under whose jurisdiction the monastery fell into was abandoned and set up in nearby Polonnaruwa to protect the reigning King and preserve greater autonomy away from the cholas. Ritigala was intermittently used as a sanctuary for the kings Dutugemunu (161-137 BC) and King Jetthatissa in the seventh century.
The Cholas were defeated eventually but Anuradhapura and Ritigala were left to the elements for centuries.
What happened next was mother nature was left to pillage the structures. Walls inside the palaces and temples at Anuradhapura and the monastery walls at Ritigala gradually crumbled and decayed. The roofs caved in, opening the floors to the elements. Seedlings fell into its hallways and sprouting plants grew into trees and nature enveloped Ritigala and Anuradhapura for centuries.
Elephants, bears, leopards and other animals roamed peacefully, and the forests remained hidden for a long period of time until it was re-discovered in the 19th century by Sri Lanka’s first archeological commission (1893) headed by H.C.P Bell and the long-forgotten sanctuary was once again used by hermit monks to accommodate their reclusive lifestyle.
According to the Mahavamsa, the great historical chronicle of Sri Lanka, Ritigala was known by the name of “arittha-pabbata” and was believed to have been inhabited during the 1st century BC during the reign of Pandukabhaya (377-307 BC), the third king of Sri Lanka.
Ritigala brings to light the story of an ancient monastery built for the Pansukulika buddhist monks who wanted to observe strict austerity measures by living a hermit life away from the city monks and the general community. This jungle monastery was built by King Sena of the kingdom of Anuradhapura in around (377-307 BC)
Rock inscriptions and remaining ruins and 70 rock caves tell the story of life back then for these Pansukulika monks. Pansukulika means garments made from rags taken from burial sites. Generally speaking, most monks during this period chose to live in caves or rock shelters. Inscriptions at the site also refer to King Lanji Tissa (119 – 109 BC) as the founder of the monastery which was built observing the tradition of Padhanaghara Parivena (Type of Buddhist structure built for meditation)
It is noted in the chronicles that these ascetic monks protested against the lifestyle of the city dwelling monks and the king seeing their dismay built this monastery at Ritigala to appease them.
The area was best served when the Malwathu Oya (river) was dammed and diverted by king Pandukabaya to fill the Yodha wewa or Giant tank. Expanding over 4550 hectares, the tank is filled by an 8 mile (13 km) ancient canal, carrying water from the Malwatu Oya River. This Yodha wewa feeds 1762 small streams irrigating 11,000 hectares of rice fields.
The fascinating ecosystems of Ritigala are twofold. The base shares the hot and dry conditions of the surroundings and the top of the mountain is mostly cold, misty and wet featuring mired forests different to that at the base.
Ritigala probably got its name from the Riti trees that are endemic to this area. Today the Ritigala forest mountain and sanctuary remain declared as a strict natural forest reserve. The archaeological department has painstakingly restored many of the ruins.
Visitors to this forest reserve will come across a huge man-made reservoir protected by 1,200 ft elevated bund and a catchment of water flowing from two streams originating from the mountain. The inside of the bund is lined with stones and serve as steps for bathers.
The path to the ruins along the southern banks over a bridge will lead you to the site of the first buildings. A short climb uphill will lead to the ruins that remain scattered over an area of 120 acres. There is a rectangular building with paved courtyard adorned with pillars. There is a refectory paved with stones and a trough. Next to the refectory is a large area enclosed by a wall made of finely cut stone slabs.
You will also see an enclosed pathway that runs for about 1000 ft of several steps with 2 roundabouts spread in between that leads down a ravine and then to river with a stone bridge and a bathing enclosure. Just before the first roundabout there is a pathway that leads westward to the dense forest. There are double platforms built on the rock and aligned in similarity with urinals built on stone elaborately carved and decorated. Why these urinals were elaborate carved is yet to be understood.
There aren’t any stupas, images or temples at this forest monastery. The architecture here is rare and unique unlike the architecture found in the ruins of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. There is a long meditational pathway branching to other buildings. As you climb up the mountain you will feel the ambience of the place. The mere tranquillity of the jungle fits in with the meditational aspirations of these hermit monks
I am happy that this long forgotten sanctuary at Ritigala is once again being used as a monastery for buddhist clergy.
I encourage travellers of all walks of live to visit this hidden gem. You will experience a sense of serenity, tranquillity and peacefulness at this jungle hideout. In comparison to your lifestyle in the bustling cities Ritigala firmly serves as a panacea for human suffering and mental disorders. A good place to meditate, rewind and rejuvenate.
We offer Buddhist tour packages to Ritigala and other places of historic value in Sri Lanka. Check out our Sri Lanka Buddhist tours.
Leisure Travel Sri Lanka
SRI LANKA HOLIDAY 20 DAYS
By the Glanville Family (January 2020)
Reg – You provided excellent service in putting our trip together and accommodating all of our requests. Your regular checking in was very reassuring. We want to thank you so much for a wonderful experience and we will be recommending your services to everyone we speak too 😊
Thanks for the lovely box of tea bags as a gift as well.
Driver – Sanjeewa was excellent, polite & looked after us very well and was a pleasure to be around. Was informative, good English (occasional different interpretations but overall very good) & always put our needs & well being first. The little things like stopping along the roads and buying us coconuts, cashews, corn cobs, yogurt was all part of the fun.
Vehicle – very good – but would be better if there were safety belts for all passengers.
Accommodation – All very good – have made some comments above. Please let us know if you need further review. We did complete a rating sheet for all the accommodation for George Steuart Travels.
Food – Really enjoyed the food. Provided variety for everyone including fussy teenagers.
Sri Lanka – Beautiful country with some many amazing things to see and do. People very friendly. Loved it 😊, Definitely a great place to visit and has something to offer for all ages.
THANK YOU HEAPS REG 😊
Stephen & Michelle Glanville
A great start to the trip with a friendly greeting from our driver Sanjeewa ( Sanji ) who presented us with bottled water and garlands. He helped us to organise mobile phone sim cards and exchange currency prior to leaving the airport. The Beacon Hotel was right on the beach and was clean and our rooms had lovely ocean views. The staff were friendly and check in was smooth with Sanji’s aid which was much appreciated after a long flight. We were served a lovely 4 course meal for lunch. We enjoyed a restful afternoon by the pool and beach. The Hotel facilities were good. We had a short tour later in the afternoon at the fish market and local harbour prior to dinner to avoid the main heat of the day. The market was essentially empty with only a couple of stores still operating. Probably best to visit the fish market early in the morning when it is busier with more to see & cooler. We enjoyed another 4 course meal for dinner with excellent service.
After a restful sleep we went for a morning walk along the beach to check out the boats and fishermen. We were surprised at the number of stray dogs on the beach. We saw baskets of fish, and a crab. We enjoyed a buffet breakfast on the top floor of the hotel with magnificent views of the beach and ocean. Meal was good with friendly service.
First stop was the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnewala. - We loved seeing the Elephants bathing in the stream and then walking up the main street back to the orphanage. We were able to have a close up experience with the elephants with our teenage children enjoying being able to feed & pat the elephants. Would certainly recommend the viewing of the elephants bathing in the stream as was very picturesque. Entry fee to the orphanage seemed high & was not included in our package.
Note we elected not to do the stop at the coconut based product manufacturing factory.
Next we visited a spice farm which was very informative & we all enjoyed a relaxing massage using natural oil products. We felt a little uncomfortable having to take our shirts off in an open shelter for the massage but overall the experience was enjoyable.
We stopped at a small village for lunch which had a beautiful outlook over a stream. Meal was enjoyable & scenic. Sanji selected our lunch stop locations which we were happy for him to do with his local knowledge. Generally the meals offered a variety of selection & were not expensive which suited our needs.
Due to the heat in the afternoon and at the suggestion of Sanji we decided it would be better to visit & climb Lion Rock Fortress early the next morning. So we went straight to our accommodation ( Kassapa Lion Rock Resort ) which was a very high standard in all aspects – Service/ facilities /cleanliness/location/food. The food & service was excellent with the dessert room being the highlight.
An early rise 5.30am, but so worth it. We climbed the 1200+ steps up Sigiriya/Lion Rock and admired the water gardens and amazing views while eating our packed picnic breakfast. Both our guide and our driver accompanied us giving explanation and information about the fortress & surrounds.
Next we went to Anuradhapura and saw the Rock Temple and the oldest documented tree on earth “The Sri Maha Tree” and also saw the Great Stupa. We experienced our first Tuk Tuk ride which was fun.
A more formal tour of the area with a local guide would have been a better option to help explain more about this ancient city in the little time we spent there. Approximately 3 hours.
The afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool. We saw Monkeys, Mongoose and two types of lizards which made things even more interesting.
Our dinner was again very enjoyable in the open air restaurant which provided a great atmosphere
Again started the day with an enjoyable breakfast. A religious public holiday today with the full moon. Hence the Dambulla Temple was a hype of activity with ceremonies being conducted and many pilgrims and tourists for the holy day. The history, caves and statues were very impressive.
Next we did the village tour, we didn’t really see much of the village but we did enjoy the cart ride (although no bullock due to public holiday, but a motorised machine pulling the cart) and they put our daughter in the drivers seat which added to the experience.
The canoe ride was fun, our son was requested to assist and we all enjoyed participating in the cooking demonstration. The food was very tasty & somewhat spicy. Gave us runny noses and watery eyes, but a good way to try the local traditional food 😊.
The Tuk Tuk ride back to the van was fun. Our son was pleased he had a chance to drive.
Lovely breakfast before checking out (would highly recommend the Kassapa Lion Rock Hotel)
We visited Polonnaruwa, we rode bikes, it would have been good to have a guide on the bikes with us explain what the different ruins were. Our driver met us at the major places and explain a little history. The Gal Vhare complex was very impressive. The Village lunch at Priyamali’s Gedara was again a good way to enjoy the some of the different rice and curries whilst looking out over the rice paddies was very picturesque.
Arrived at Gal Oya late afternoon and settled in. What a unique & wonderful place.
5.30am wake up call, some discussion between staff about whether it was going to be too wet to climb, then given the OK to go. We thoroughly enjoyed our 3 hour hike up Monkey Mountain. A bit scary in some parts with a little drizzle of rain, but well worth the views which were majestic. (Important to mention to wear appropriate footwear for hiking).
When we returned to the Lodge we had a scrumptious breakfast and enjoyed most of the day at leisure, the pool was wonderful and we had time to play cards, read and then we went to the research centre to learn about the research being conducted by the centre which was very informative and interesting. The Naturalist explaining everything was very passionate which made it all very engaging. Unfortunately they only had 3 mountain bikes operational so we didn’t get to go for a ride.
In the evening we went with a naturalist on a night walk in the forest where we were able to view fish, frogs and some night birds. Another highlight of Gal Oya is the accommodation. Rooms were fantastic with bathrooms overlooking the surrounding jungle. A real back to nature feel with environmental sensitive construction. The meals and service was outstanding.
Another lovely breakfast and then checkout and off to the boat safari. Safari was good, however the boat required serious maintenance as the seat Stephen was sitting on broke off and motor stopped a couple of times. We saw a crocodile, Elephants, Deer and various birds.
The evening visit to the Kandy Temple of the Tooth was very interesting, learning the history about the journey of the Buddha’s tooth and the famous Elephant Raja. The ceremony was entertaining and viewing all the beautiful artefacts and statues.
Hotel Suisse was a lovely place with lots of character, the dinner and the evening entertainment was very enjoyable.
We took the opportunity in Kandy to have clothes washing done by a local laundry service. Cheaper than the hotel.
A busy day with a visit to a tea factory which was interesting and we all enjoyed our complimentary tea (including our non-tea drinker children having their first cup of tea). We went to a silk shop and tried on a sari, very nice things and bought a gift. Went to a wood carving place, excellent workmanship, however the salesman was too pushy. Really enjoyed learning about the different gem stones.
The Kandy Royal Botanical Garden, was definitely worth a walk around. We had an hour to discover & wonder around this beautifully maintained estate. We could have spent more time here but with all the other activities on the day this was not possible.
We enjoyed our walk around Kandy lake (saw our first land monitor lizard) from our accommodation on the way to the cultural dance show – We all enjoyed the show with the very colourful performers and the drummers were fantastic as well as the dancers and firewalkers.
The Hotel dining rooms were being set up for a large wedding function the next day so dinner was outside which provided a wonderful atmosphere with the surrounding gardens & fairy lights.
We enjoyed our stay at Hotel Suisse, such a grand old building and it was very professionally run, clean and in a good location. We met the manager who was very keen on our feedback.
We all had fun white water rafting, but unfortunately the river wasn’t as high as it would normally have been as it was a religious day and the water hadn’t been released. The rafting instructor was professional, friendly and good fun. Would recommend this company to other travellers.
Lunch stop was nice with a scenic view over the river.
The drive to Nuwara Eliya was very picturesque with waterfalls, tea tree plantations and the Hindu celebrations happening along the sides of the road.
Nuwara Eliya had plenty of character with the London architecture. We settled into our accommodation before taking a look around the town and at the Pink Post office and a market.
The Galway Heights Accommodation was very good & would highly recommend it. Clean, well maintained establishment, with home made baked goods in our rooms for us as a welcome gift and the staff were very friendly and the food was excellent. The only suggestion to improve the stay would be requesting rooms further away from the foyer area as the evening entertainment was very loud, especially when we were keen to have an early nights rest prior to an early rise the next morning to Horton Plains.
A very early start 5.30am with a packed breakfast and off to Horton Plains National Park, with the many other tourists. The sunrise was magnificent. It was very cold with a heavy frost, lucky we soon warmed up hiking. The scenic views of Adams Peak, and surrounding views from Worlds End was amazing. Bakers falls were beautiful, and the hike was a good moderate level. We were lucky enough to see a Samba deer, some mongoose and different types of birds.
On the way down from Horton Plains Sanjeewa stopped on bought us some local yogurt which was really yummy.
We had a delicious lunch at a café restaurant in the centre of town in the garden’s. Would highly recommend. After lunch we had a look through a fruit market, checked out the golf course, Gregory lake, and had a look around the town.
Mid afternoon we went back to our accommodation for a rest and some billiards before another tasty dinner.
After a lovely breakfast and checking out it was off to the train station to catch the train to Ella. We really enjoyed the trip the views were beautiful. (While waiting on the platform Stephen, Joseph and Sanjeewa made the local news – Sanjeewa’s mother saw him and sent him the link which was funny). Sanjeewa made sure we got our seats then set off to meet us in Ella. Would highly recommend the train journey & pre purchasing 1st class tickets to ensure a seat.
When we reached Ella, Sanjeewa was waiting and took us to our accommodation at the Oak Ray Hotel. The Hotel was in a really good location and was clean. The furniture was a little dated but overall it was clean & good. We had lunch at local restaurant overlooking the main street which we enjoyed as we watched people go by. This was a very busy & popular area particularly for tourists.
In the evening we went back to the train station and walked to the 9 arch bridge along the train line which was a pleasant walk and a very impressive bridge. We waited till the train came, before walking back to the station and back to the hotel for dinner.
Again dinner was very nice and the service very good.
In the morning we hiked up Little Adams Peak, which had beautiful panoramic views of the High country, so worth the effort. Would recommend doing this in the morning due to the heat & humidity. We went zip lining which we all enjoyed, in particular our teenage kids. Lunch was at a restaurant with amazing views of the valley and the hills. We then checked out Rawana Ella Falls, which was very busy but beautiful. You could easy spend more time at the falls exploring. When returning to our accommodation we went for a swim (pool very nice and clean) before having a leisurely wonder around the town. This was a good opportunity to carry out some souvenir shopping along the local shopping strip. Prices seemed reasonable compared to other towns.
Sleep in this morning before a buffet breakfast (the Restaurant we ate at while staying in Ella was very nice). The morning was a pleasant drive to Tissamaharama. There is always something interesting to be looking at out the windows. We arrived at our accommodation early and we were able to gain an early check in. In the hotel foyer we took part in a special ceremony where we each had to light a candle. We went to a local restaurant for lunch before relaxing back at the hotel for the afternoon by the beautiful pool. Pool was much appreciated as weather was hot & humid & had a panoramic view of nearby rice fields. Very interesting watching the peacocks run through the rice paddy fields.
Dinner was lovely and we had a choice of dishes rather than a buffet which was a good change.
The Kithala Resort was very clean, with very good facilities and service, a lovely place to chill by the pool, read a book and just relax. We arranged a take away breakfast for the next morning as we had a big drive planned.
With a packed breakfast we headed off on a 4 hour drive to the Kumana National Park for our 3 hour safari. There was plenty to see along the way which made things interesting and we really enjoyed the Safari. The 3 hours went really fast. The highlight was seeing a Leopard and her cub as well as many other animals (including Jackals, wild boar, buffalos, elephants, crocodiles, spotted deer, Land monitors, many birds including peacocks doing their mating dances). We only saw a couple of other jeeps on our way out which made us feel like we had the park to ourselves, it was amazing. We had a lovely lunch at a café at Arugam Bay, it would have been nice to have had more of a look around this beach village. The safari company was good with the driver stopping frequently & at our request. Would recommend a little vehicle maintenance & clean windows when looking out to the front of the vehicle. Would highly recommend Kumana NP for overall wildlife viewing.
We suggest it would be much better to travel from Ella to somewhere closer to the Kumana National Park doing the Safari and spending the night in Arugam Bay, then head to Tissamaharama for a night the next day and relaxation before doing the second Safari at Udawalawa National Park the next day. This would reduce the driving time on the travel days, as it was a massive day for our driver and us with the 8 hour return trip and the 3 hour safari. Also it would be better not doing the safaris on consecutive days.
Buffet breakfast was nice, then it was off to Udawalewa, on the way we visited a temple and then it was straight to our accommodation and dropped off our luggage, before going to the Elephant Transit home. It was interesting to see so many baby elephants being bottle fed and checking out the information centre. This was worth the visit.
At the Athgira River Camp when had the unique experience of enjoying our Lunch down on the river bank. Then we played some badminton and cards.
Mid afternoon we where picked up by our safari jeep and guide and headed off to the Udawalewa National Park. A lot of jeeps after being spoilt after the previous day having the Kumana National Park virtually to ourselves. We did see lots of Elephants and their calve. It was lovely seeing how they socially interact with each other. There were also lots of birds and buffalo. This was also an enjoyable safari and the guide was a keen bird spotter.
We enjoyed Athgira River Camp immensely, making the most of the pool and relaxing in our very cool tent, it was clean, with terrific staff and a great atmosphere and we all enjoyed our stay very much.
A breakfast on the banks of the river really is a lovely way to start the day. We travelled to Galle and enjoyed lunch on the balcony of a restaurant overlooking the fort wall and the ocean, very picturesque. We spent some time walking round the Galle fort before continuing on to Hikkaduwa. The location of the Hotel was terrific, and the view along the beach was beautiful. With interesting walks in both directions. We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the Hotel Citrus Hikkaduwa which although a little older was clean and facilities very good. Staff were very friendly and provided a good service.
Sleep in and a relaxing day at the resort. We did go snorkelling, however it wasn’t very good conditions for snorkelling as the waves were going over the snorkels, there were plenty of fish, but Michelle did get sea sick and took 5 hours before she felt well enough to eat. I felt the group we used was not very professional and for novice snorkellers were not very helpful to be able explain how to do it. It was pricey for the standard of the equipment. In hind site we may have been better to do it through the hotel.
Relaxing on the beach and enjoying the pool and beach walks was a relaxing way to spend the rest of the day. The evening was enjoyable with a lovely meal , listening to the live music and enjoying cocktails on the beach. This was an excellent place to stay for beach activities & marine life experiences as very close to shore and wading with the turtles.
Again a lovely breakfast overlooking the beach. Before checking out a very interesting walk along the beach enjoying the friendly green turtles (amazing they come up and they are happy to be patted), we also saw 3 grey coloured eels and 2 spotted eels and other marine life. A swim in the lovely clean pool before packing and checking out.
We stopped at a Tsunami museum which was very interesting and confronting. Although expecting how horrific the devastation was we would recommend that some warning signs be put up when you enter before going through the museum. The images are very graphic and may cause distress to some people in particular children. But definitely worth the visit.
Next stop was a Turtle hatchery which we all enjoyed. We were surprised with how hands on they allowed us to be picking up a turtle. The guide as very informative and the experience was educational.
The drive to Colombo was an experience with the busy & congested traffic making it a long journey. We checked into the Fairway Colombo and had some down time before going on an evening tour of the city. Some very impressive buildings and very hectic traffic. Terrific view from the top of the Fairway Hotel building. Dinner was lovely and lot of music and entertainment in the street.
The Fairway Hotel although the staff didn’t seem as friendly as the smaller hotels, they were very professional, and the facilities were excellent. Also a very central location for the night life.
Nice breakfast before checking out. We proceeded to finish our city tour of Colombo, visiting the Colombo Gangaramya temple the wealthiest Temple in Sri Lanka which included an amazing museum with so many relic’s and donations that you couldn’t get around them all – very impressive (a cross between a Sunday market and an Art Museum). We also went to the Seema Malaka Temple).
Then it was off to Negombo, having lunch at the Container, which was a quirky café set up in shipping containers run by a couple of French people, food very nice.
Checked into the Beacon Hotel for our final night, lucky enough to have another room with a view of the breach (a room with a view of the beach is definitely a must for this).
Spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying the pool and watching the sunset.
Meal at Hotel was again was consistent with our first night in Sri Lanka and was very nice.
After a lovely sleep in, a final walk along the beach, we again enjoyed the panoramic view while having breakfast from the top floor of the hotel. We spend some time in the morning looking around Negombo including the market, buying some last-minute souvenirs having lunch at a local restaurant. We spent the rest of the day at the hotel swimming and relaxing before checking out (the late checkout was great). We had a thankyou / farewell dinner with Sanjeewa. Prior to being dropped off at the airport with plenty of time prior to departure.
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