Wildlife & Cultural Highlights of Sri Lanka
Udawattakele Rainforest Sanctuary lies within Sri Lanka's second largest city of Kandy, occupying 104 hectares of hillside just to the famous Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa). Although Udawattakele is surrounded by Kandy's urban expansion, the reserve is still a wonderful, calming natural area, famed for rainforest walks, diversity of fauna and fantastic birdwatching. It truly adds an extra dimension to the remarkable Sri Lankan sacred city.
Many moons ago, Udawattakele was part of a vast rainforest that stretched well beyond Kandy's city limits. Since the 14th Century, the Reserve was known in the Sinhalese language as the Garden above the Royal Palace of its Kandyan kings. Until the 19th century, the Reserve was considered a Thahanci kele or forbidden forest, for the use only by the Royal Court. In many ways this has contributed to the site's protection in what is now a major urban area.
Udawattakele is still considered a 'sacred forest' due to the historic presence of a Brahmin, who lived in a cave in the forest above what is now the Temple of the Tooth. Small Buddhist shrines and monasteries in the forest testify to the site's significance. Only about 15 or 20 minutes walk above the Temple of the Tooth, the forest has many beautiful trails, some leading in ancient bathing pools, others deeper into the forest's heart. The forest also boasts an interesting nature education centre on the South-Eastern side of the reserve.
Once upon a time, Udawattakele will have been home to large mammals such as elephants, elk and Sri Lankan leopards. Although these large mammals have long since disappeared, many small and medium sized mammals still flourish in this small urban rainforest. Some species to look for include the golden palm civet, the largely nocturnal slender loris, Indian muntjac deer, Indian mongoose, pangolin and Indian giant flying squirrel. Look out for huge Indian flying foxes as they leave their roosts in the evening.
One monkey you're unlikely to miss on a walk around the forest is toque macaque, which has become a little overconfident in the presence of humans here. If you find yourself in the presence of a group of dramatically 'yawning' macaques, staring at you in a focused manner, it's a good idea to make a slow retreat facing the monkeys that are obviously threatened by your presence.
Udawattakele is a famous birdwatching site, with about 80 species recorded in this small area. Aqua-Firma's expert guides will be able to help you seek the pretty Layard's parakeet, yellow-fronted barbet, three-toed kingfisher (a rarely spotted species), Sri Lankan myna bird and black-backed kingfisher amongst others. The Kashmir flycatcher is a threatened species also found in the reserve. The crested serpent eagle is not short of prey either with many rainforest species of reptiles to be found here. Again be careful if walking through dense vegetation as many species here are venomous. Among these are the green pit viper, common hump-nosed pit viper, spectacled cobra and Boie's rough-sided snake. Lizards that can be seen include the green forest and whistling lizards, and much larger monitor lizards are sometimes seen exploring the park's lakes for their next lunch. The park is also good insect watching territory, with many endemic species of butterflies to be found here, along with giant forest scorpions, spiders, jewel bugs and fireflies, illuminating the night time darkness.
Udawattakele is a good spot to unwind after a long journey or a stressful day in the Sri Lankan urban tangle and a lovely location for some great urban nature viewing - especially with a knowledgeable Aqua-Firma guide who brings both the region's nature and history into focus.
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