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RITIGALA MOUNTAIN HIKE

The alluring Ritigala mountain range is a short drive from the town of Habarana, in the Anuradhapura District of Sri Lanka. It is located 188 km north-east of Colombo, at Ganewalpola, near Kekirawa/Maradankadawala of north-central plains of Sri Lanka. This is an ancient Buddhist monastery and mountain in Sri Lanka which date back to 1st century BCE. At 766 m (2,513 ft) above sea level, and 600 m (2,000 ft) above the surrounding plains, Ritigala is the highest mountain in Northern Sri Lanka. The modern name Ritigala is derived from the ancient name Ariṭṭha Pabbata (Dreadful Mountain), mentioned in the Mahavamsa.

The mountain is about three miles long at the longest point and about two miles wide is covered with dense jungle inhabited by wild Elephants, leopards, bears and has been declared a Strict Natural Reserve in order to maintain its unspoiled environment. The upper part of the mountain is well known for its flora, some of which are rare; it has a range of wild orchids.

Ritigala is home to over 70 rock caves that are believed to have been inhabited since the first century BC. A short climb off the foot of the mountain takes the visitors to the ruins that are scattered over an area of about 120 acres and has no stupas, no image houses or temples.

Ritigala is a monastery swathed in legends and myths. It's highly atmospheric, with each carefully laid out granite step and stone telling stories of bygone days when ascetics and monks sought the forest's refuge for meditative retreats.

One of mysterious aspect is the belief of powerful medicinal herbs found near the crest. An herb called “Sansevi” is believed to have the power of conferring long life and curing all human pain.

Another legend has it that Prince Pandukabhaya (3rd century BC) was assisted by Yakkas during his battles against his eight uncles at the foot of Ritigala. Another legend refers to a duel of two giants, most possibly Yakkas, named Soma and Jayasena. Soma being killed in the duel, Jayasena became a legend.

According to popular belief, non-human Lord Hanuman of supernatural powers, travelled over Ritigala and by accident, dropped a chunk off a mountain of the Himalaya range he was carrying from India to Lanka for its medicinal herbs. Lord Rama's brother, Prince Lakshmana was mortally wounded in battle and only a rare herb in the Himalaya could save his life. The pocket of vegetation of healing herbs and plants at the strange mini-plateau at the summit of Ritigala, which is distinct from the dry-zone flora of the lower slopes and surrounding plains at Ritigala, could thus be accounted for.

Also, Hanuman made use of Ritigala Kanda as a launching pad to take a leap across to South India. Incidentally, Ritigala is the highest prominence between the central plains of Sri Lanka and the coast of southern India.

Ritigala is kind of a forbidden forest and is home to a number of endemic creatures, including the sloth bear and four species of wild cats. Not sure about whether it also has monstrous spiders akin to the Acramantula, but they do have giant, colourful centipedes. It's also crawling with stunning, copper and gold skinned salamanders. You find them in abundance, skittling across all surfaces indiscriminately.

Walking along, you will find sign boards without descriptions: this was a pond, this was where an ayurvedic hospital stood, these are the pavements (the only thing that's properly intact to this day). You're bound to be awed by the symmetry and perfection of the ruins, especially as you wonder how in the world people transported such heavy slabs of granite and stone uphill, and how they carved and seamlessly moulded rock to such smooth structures.

It'll take you about one and a half hours at most to traverse through the given path: but keep an eye out for little side paths which would lead you to the hospices, fancy rock urinals (yes) and lots more wildlife. Go really early, you'll miss the busloads of school kids and tourists, and you'll be able to spend a few wonderful minutes lying flat on the remnants of the last building at the end of the path, and staring at the sky and canopy of trees.

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