Bandarawela: Enchanting Hub in Sri Lanka’s Hill-Country

Manu Gunasena

Bandarawela is situated 210km from Colombo. At 1,220m (4,000ft) above sea level, the town is blessed with a salubrious climate that many regard as the healthiest in Sri Lanka.  Its temperature hovers between 12oC in December and 27oC in June with an average rainfall of 1,100 to 1,400mm annually. Its rich verdancy and its cool clean air make its climate invigorating, creating a health resort to keep both mind and body beautiful.


image01image01image01image01image01image01 Photography Manu Gunasena
After 1815 when the entire Island fell under British rule, the British, in turn, fell under Bandarawela’s spell. With an ideal red yellow soil matched with a temperate climate fit for tea to thrive, the colonial rulers climbed the Haputale Hill to discover in the valley, the idyllic base to establish the unofficial headquarters of their tea plantations. The tea rush began. It was a period of rapid, infrastructural development and the influence of the British can be seen in the many buildings stamped with their characteristic architectural design.
Chief amongst them is the grand old lady of the town, the Bandarawela Hotel which, at the age of 121, still continues to hold court. Like the Queen’s in Kandy, the Grand in Nuwara Eliya and the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, she has become part and parcel of Sri Lanka’s hospitality heritage and holds a fond place in the hearts of those who have enjoyed her charms. British ambience still pervades the air; and the genial easy paced, placid style reflects the soul of a colonial era long gone. During its 121 years of existence, the hotel has seen many distinguished guests seek the warmth of its cosy fireplace of history kindles.
A faux Tudor period English mansion called Adisham, built by an English aristocrat who made it his castle, is 12km from the hotel. A scion of one of the noble families of England, Sir Thomas Villiers
built Adisham as his country seat. djoining Adisham is the starting point of the Thangamale Nature Sanctuary, set in the Glenmore Tea Estate.
So  meticulous was it done to represent the genuine article of an English mansion, much of the raw material used in its construction was shipped in from England. Today it is a novitiate of Benedictine monks. A section is open for public viewing.
Adjoining Adisham is the starting point of the Thangamale Nature Sanctuary, set in the Glenmore Tea Estate. It comprises 131 hectares and was declared a protected area in 1938. As well as its large number of resident and migratory birds, Thangamale, The Golden Mountain, is home to 14 species of butterfly and offers a breath-taking view of the Southern Plains.
In the opposite direction 16 km from this spot is the place that gave refuge to a Sinhalese monarch 2,000 years ago. King Valagamba was on the run, his kingdom of Anuradhapura having fallen to Chola invaders. In the caves of Dowa, he found safety. On the face of a massive slab of granite is an unfinished 12m carved statueof a standing Buddha. Folklore has it that the King himself and his sudden flight from the area is the reason proffered for its incompleteness. But this is unlikely. The Buddha statue is considered to be Mahayana sculpture, which came to Sri Lanka 300 years after Valagamba’s reign.
In the heritage-listed Dowa Temple, murals depicting stories from the Jathakas adorn the walls of the temple and can be ascribed to the Kandyan period. Next to the river that runs alongside the temple, is the cave said to be used by the king.
From a height of over 25m, the gushing waters of the Ravana Elle fall in a beautiful cascade over an oval shape, rocky outcrop that curves inward. It then plunges into a pool less than two metres deep where it rests a while before brimming over to continue its journey to the sea. Located on the side of the road, 12km from Bandarawela, the sheer beauty of the fall and its easy access make it a popular bathing spot for holidaymakers. Associated with the fall is the ancient legend of Rama and Sita and Ravana, a King of ancient Sri Lanka, as told in the Ramayana.
In proximity to Bandarawela are two other waterfalls, though located in different directions. The 59m high Dunhinda waterfall is 32km away and involves a two-kilometre walk along a footpath. The other is Sri Lanka’s second highest fall, the horsetail 220m high Diyaluma Falls, which is 34km from Bandarawela. In Kalupahana, approximately an hour’s drive from Bandarawela, is Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall, Bambarakande Falls, which is 262m high.
Elle, known for its stunning, breath-taking vistas is only 6km from Bandarawela
The Bogoda Wooden Bridge, a unique construction that has stood the test of time for over 500 years, is 35km from Bandarawela. The special feature of this 16th Century bridge is that it has been constructed totally out of wood; even its nails are wooden. It’s considered to be the oldest surviving wooden bridge in the world. Built over the Gallanada Oya, it is approximately 50m in length and 1.5m wide. The wooden railings are carved with ancient designs. It spans the river on solid tree trunks of jak and kumbuk 10.5m in height. And it remains in pristine condition. The ancient temple beside the bridge dates back 2,000 years to the period when King Valagamba was in hiding. A rock cave near the bridge is said to be where he hid during his uneasy sojourn in the area.
Elle, known for its stunning, breath-taking vistas is only 6km from Bandarawela. Today it has become a town in its own right and a major destination popular with independent tourists. Mountain climbs, treks through plantations and bird watching are some of the things to do. There are also two Buddhist meditation centres in Kithiella with guidance provided by monks.
These are just a few of the hundred and one delights the hills offer and to which Bandarawela provides easy access.
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