The lush forest situated in the hills just above the sacred Temple of the Tooth-presently known as ‘Udawatta Kele Sanctuary’-provides a picturesque greeny heaven for both local and foreign tourists to get lost in, away from the city hustle. The forest looks astounding in the morning as the mist gradually clears by leaving shiny drops of dew upon the leaves and grass. The constant chirping of cicadas; seldom interrupted by birds adds a mysterious aura to it.
The forest can be easily accessed by a walk of about 15–20 minutes from the Temple of the Tooth. From the Temple of the Tooth, go north along the D.S. Senanayake Veediya road and after half a kilometre turn right at the post office near the Kandy Municipality, and follow the road up the hill. The entrance is found on the right side of the Tapovanaya Monastery.
When the whole city of Kandy had been a forest ere it was civilised with the beginning of the Kandyan kingdom, a Brahmin called ‘Senkanda’ has lived in a cave situated in the forest. It is said that the city name ‘Senkadagala’ also has been derived from his name as a way of paying tribute to him. So, after the city was constructed and settlements were established, the forest area was reduced in a larger scale. Later, the forest has been declared as the Royal Forest by the Kandyan Kings and has been used as a pleasure garden. It has been called as ‘Udawasalawatta’, meaning ‘the garden above the palace’. However, the forest had been forbidden for the ordinary people during that time; the reason for calling it as ‘Thahanchikele’ meaning ‘the forbidden forest’.
The forest which spreads over 257 acres of land functions as a quintessential bio reserve amidst the city. During the past times there had been several streams flowing down from the forest feeding the paddy fields of ‘Natha Devalaya’, which have been later made into form the present Kandy Lake. Still, the forest serves as the prominent catchment area for the lake. Apart from that the Udawatta Kele Sanctuary functions as an air purifier for the whole region where the air pollution is very high due to the surrounding mountain ranges that make the gases accumulate. Synonymously the forest provides habitat for a wider variety of flora and fauna.
The forest is enriched with bio-diversity as it is home for thousands of species of plants and many mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and birds. The vegetation consisting of the canopy, sub-canopy, and an underground layer prevents direct sunlight and gives the forest a gloomy, damp ambience. There is a Giant Creeper (Pus Wela) or Entadapusaetha liana, which is presumably 200 or 300 years old, in the forest. Ankenda, Madatiya, Tel kekuna and Karawala Kebella are some of the tree species found in abundance.
Wild boar, monkey, hare, squirrel scaly anteater, porcupine, and reptiles, monitor lizard, tortoise, Indian giant flying squirrel, snakes and various species of birds and butterflies are among the fauna spotted in the forest.
What to see
The cave of the Brahmin Senkanda known as the ‘Senkada Cave’ and numerous other caves and Buddhist temples can be found and visited in the forest. They always intrigue the visitors to dig deeper into the past and interest them in various folk stories related to the forest. Also the ancient pond used by the Royals to bath during the Kandyan era is still visible though it is not in the best condition. Then there is the highest peak called as ‘Kodimale’. The Kandy Garrison Cemetery is also a part of the forest but it needs to be accessed through a separate entrance near the rear gate of the Temple of Tooth.
Since the forest has been declared as a sanctuary by the Government in 1938, you need to pay an entrance fee at the office of Sri Lanka Forest Department found at the entrance. In fact, they take a great effort to preserve the forest for the next generations. So, if you are visiting Udawatta Kele Sanctuary please keep in mind not to disturb its serenity. Simply, leave only foot prints and bring only photographs.
By Induwara Athapattu