A base for visitors
Habarana is an important crossroads, with roads extending southwest to Colombo or Kandy, northwest to Anuradhapura and Jaffna, northeast to Trincomalee, and southwest to Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa. Habarana is a busy transport junction and is easily reached by bus from all directions. It takes 5 hours by bus from Colombo and nearly four hours from Kandy. The train station is 2km north of Habarana junction and is on the Colombo – Batticaloa line. There are connections with Colombo, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Polonnaruwa. If you travel by your own transport, it would be easy to combine the drive south with a stop at the Dambulla Cave Temple, and perhaps Aluwihare. There are regular busses from Habarana to Dambulla and Dambulla to Kandy.
Travellers often spend a night here, though apart from a scattering of hotels and rest houses and its accessibility, it has little to offer. It is, however a good base for visiting a number of sights in the area including some of the region’s most inspiring treasures. Most spectacular of all is the astonishing Sigiriya Rock, atop which lie the remains of a sort of fifthcentury playboy’s palace, complete with pin-ups in the form of its famous frescoes of semi-clad women. No less remarkable are some nearby Buddhists sites: cave paintings at Dambulla: Aukana’s sublime monolithic Buddha; and the ancient monastery at Ritigala, hidden deep within the jungle. Three national parks, around the tanks at Kaudulla and Minnariya, are close by though shop around for jeeps, elephant safaris are also available.
KAUDULLA NATIONAL PARK
Kaudulla National Park was designated a national park ans was open to the public in 2002 becoming the 15th such area on the island. Historically Kaudulla was one of the 16 irrigation tanks built by King Mahasen. Following a period of abandonment it was reconstructed in 1959. It now attracts and supports a variety of plant and animal life, including large mammals, fish and reptiles.
The region receives an annual rainfall of 1,500–2,000 millimetres including rain from the north-east monsoon. A dry period persists from April to October. Temperature ranges from 20.6 °C (69.1 °F) to 34.5 °C (94.1 °F). Many plant and grass species grow well during the rainy season whilst an abundance of food and water, even in the dry period, attracts a large number of herbivorous mammals to the park.
The turn off for the park is at 17km north of Habarana at Hatarasgoduwa from where it is a 5km ride to the visitor centre. Outside the dry season, elephants are easier to see from the main Habarana – Trincomalee road. These are there preferred feeding grounds due to the lushness of the vegetation.
HURULU ECO PARK
On the Habarana to Trincomalee road, Hurulu Eco Park is often suggested an an alternative when it’s too wet to Kaudulla and Minneriya. Part of Hurulu Forest Reserve, which was designated as a biosphere reserve in January 1977, it is a good place to see elephants and for birdwatching.
At the moment the park covers an area of 10,000 hectares but there are plans for expansion. The area open to visitors is a drive of around 22 km from the Habarana end. There are four waterways that run through the park and their sources are streams that have sprung up and joined together. Some are connected to the Hurulu Wewa. Thus the park has been named Hurulu Eco Park as all wild life here is sustained through these waters. The waterways that run through the Hurulu Eco Park are invaluable to the many elephants.
MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK
East of Habarana on Polonnaruwa road. Minneriya National Park is in North Central Province of Sri Lanka. The area was designated as a national park on 12 August 1997, having been originally declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1938. The reason for declaring the area as protected is to protect the catchment of Minneriya tank and the wildlife of the surrounding area. The tank is of historical importance, having been built by King Mahasen in third century AD. The park is a dry season feeding ground for the elephant population dwelling in forests of Matale, Polonnaruwa, and Trincomalee districts. Along with Kaudulla and Girithale, Minneriya forms one of the 70 Important Bird Areas of Sri Lanka. The park is situated 182 kilometres from Colombo.
Large numbers of elephants are attracted to grass fields on the edges of the reservoir during the dry season. The Minneriya tank contributes to sustain a large herd of elephants. Individuals of elephants gathered here is numbering around 150- 200. Some reports account number of elephants to as high as 700. They migrate here from Wasgamuwa National Park and benefited from food and shelter of the park’s forest. Tourists visit Minneriya largely because of elephants, especially in dry season from May – October.
From Habarana follow the A11 for 22km west towards Maradankadawala/Anuradhapura, taking a right turn at Galapitagala for 5km where an ancient rock-cut path leads to the site. Ritigala is an ancient Buddhist monastery and mountain in Sri Lanka. The ruins and rock inscriptions of the monastery date back to 1st century BC. It is located 43 km away from the ancient monastic city of Anuradhapura. As you enter the site, you’ll clamber over ruined steps leading down the now overgrown two acre bathing tank, the Banda Pokuna. Over an original stone bridge, follow a part-restored pathway, laid with interlocking ashlar, to the first major clearing, the monastery hospital, where you can see the remains of a stone bed, oil bath and medicine grinder. The next set of ruins is believed to be a library, now partly restored, and perched atop a rock with magnificent views across to the jungle below. Beyond here you come to the monastery, where you’ll find the distinctive raised double-platforms, characteristic of Ritigala and other forest monasteries.
Ritigala Mountain rises to an elevation of 2513 feet, higher than the other main tourist attractions of the north central plains, namely Sigiriya, Dambulla and Mihintale. The significance of this topographical feature lies in the abrupt sheerness of the massif, its wooded slopes and wet micro climate at the summit. During the North East monsoon (December to February), Ritigala experiences the highest rainfall (125 cm) of entire dry zone. The wet micro climate at Ritigala is a singular occurrence in the north central plains, the ancient Sri Lanka’s “Wewe Bandi Rata” meaning “the land of rainwater reservoirs” in Sinhalese.