The Sri Lanka Travel Specialists
Ritigala is part abandoned monastic complex, part hillside nature reserve, so evocative that you suspect Indiana Jones might pop out of the undergrowth at any moment.
The Ritigala Buddhist Monastery is hidden deep inside the Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve and benefits from being one of the lesser-visited sites in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. The ruined monastery dates back to the time of the ancient Sinhalese Kingdom of Anuradhapura. It was once a sprawling monastic complex, abandoned in the 10th and 11th centuries following a series of invasions from India.
Today, some ruins of the monastery still stand – wander through the forest along old paths, painstakingly made using large stone slabs, and lose yourself in the tranquil atmosphere of this beautiful environment as you explore the various relics which remain. Nature enthusiasts will be seduced by the diverse range of flora and fauna in this high-altitude forest, some of which is unique to this area.
Ritigala, like so many Sri Lankan sites, was abandoned following the Chola invasions in the 10th and 11th centuries, after which it was largely forgotten until it was excavated by British surveyors in the late 19th century.
Whilst you can explore Ritigala on your own, we recommend going with a guide so that get the most out of this entrancing historical site. Our host is highly-knowledgeable about Buddhism and Sri Lanka’s ancient history, and will bring Ritigala to life with his stories, giving you a glimpse of the thriving monastery it once was – a place for teaching, meditation and a home for a large monastic community who chose to give up worldly pleasures and devote themselves to a simple way of life.
Found just off the Anuradhapura-Habarana road, Ritigala’s hills once provided a sanctuary for monks who wanted to escape the everyday world, a place for meditation and a simple way of life; more than 70 caves have been discovered. This is a natural spot, lacking the ancient Buddhist icons or temples that characterise Sri Lanka’s most celebrated sites.
This range of hills, surrounded by the central plains, was declared a Strict Natural Reserve in 1941, and you might be observed by a monkey or two as you climb the steps through the forest. The hills are home to more than 30 mammals, including sloth bear, jackal, deer and wild boar; more than 100 bird species including hawk eagles; and a range of reptiles and butterflies.
The Ritigala mountain itself also has mythological status as the spot from which Hanuman, the monkey god, leapt to India in one mighty spring to tell Rama that he had discovered where Sita was being held by the king of Lanka.
The area has its own micro-climate. Predictably, temperatures fall with a rise in altitude and it is much wetter than the plains that surround it, particularly during the north-east monsoon from December to February. The south-west monsoon, in May and June, may also leave the summit buried in cloud while the weather is favourable at ground level. June to September and March and April are best.
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