Artistry of Ahungalla

They say that the world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page. But we generally tend to overlook the fact that the country we live in is chapter one of the book. The first chapter of a book can either get you hooked, or regret ever reading the book in the first place. The book of the world is no different! Fortunately for us, our motherland, our first chapter, Sri Lanka, is a country like no other. This tiny island paradise is home to a variety of astonishing sights, rich history and amazing cultural heritage. Go ahead, read a few more pages from chapter one! Trust me; the chapter on Sri Lanka is much larger than you think…

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The Kalutara Temple

On my quest to cover the coastal region of our beautiful island home, we’ve covered most of the south from Hikkaduwa to Dondra Head in Matara, as well as a few locations on the east; namely Paasikudah and ArugamBay. This travel entry is on a spontaneous trip to Ahungalla.

Of course it’s a lot of fun to just leave home and see where roads take you. But, because I write about my travels, I prefer to research about my destination and any interesting places that we may come across while getting there. Doing so gives me an opportunity to visit places that I may not have known existed! And I’ve come to realize, that there are so many wonderful places, some hidden away and others in plain sight, which we would easily overlook when we travel.

We left home around 6 am and drove down Galle road towards our first destination,Kalutara. The administrative capital of the Kalutara District, the city of Kalutara is about 40km away from Colombo. The most famous landmark in Kalutara is the Kalutara Chaitya. Situated just beyond the Kalutara Bridge, this large Stupa is known to be the only stupa in the word that is entirely hollow. Within the hollow stupa are 74 murals depicting different stories from the life of the Buddha, as well as scenes from various Jataka stories. In close proximity to the Chaitya is the sacred Kalutara Bodhiya. Believed to be one of the 32 saplings of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradapura, the Kalutara Bodhiya is one of the most revered places of worship for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. When the British government started constructing railroads in Sri lanka, it was decided to remove the Bo tree as it was obstructing the original plan for the Kalutara railway Bridge. Fortunately, due to the protests made by the Buddhist public at the time, it was decided to construct the bridge without harming the sacred Bo tree.

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The Richmond Castle, constructed by the local philanthropist, Padikara Mudali Nanayakkara Rajawasala Appuhamilage Don Arthur de Silva Wijesinghe Siriwardena, is another famous landmark in Kalutara. This extravagant house located on the Kalutara – Palatota road is built on a hill about 2km away from Kalutara. Built on a 42 acre estate, the two-story building has sixteen rooms, 99 doors and 34 windows. Most of the material used in the construction of this masterpiece has been imported from overseas. The floor tiles have been imported from Italy, the teak used to construct the main staircase is from Burma, an iron stair and bathroom fittings were brought from England and the window panes decorated with glass depicting grape vines are from Scotland.The building is currently owned by the Public Trustee and open to the public.

Next we passed Ahungalla and headed towards Ambalangoda. If you paid attention to lessons from grade 10 social studies, you would know that Ambalangoda is famous for the Traditional Sri Lankan Masks. Sri Lanka has a proud heritage of traditional dances and plays that have passed down from generation to generation. Hand crafted masks have added colour to these “Sanni” and “Kolam” that have been part and parcel of the beliefs of our ancestors. Sadly, the culture that encapsulated these traditional masks is rapidly declining. Thus, the craftsmen who make these beautiful masks are moving into other more profitable forms of employment.  The “Ariyapala and Sons” Mask Museum and Workshop is a main landmark in Ambalangoda. The museum has a comprehensive collection of masks. Patrons can learn everything from the history of masks, the cultural significance of each individual mask as well as the process of crafting amazing masks.One can also pop over to the workshop beside the museum to watch these master craftsmen in action.

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Between Ambalangoda and Ahungalla is Balapitiya. In Balapitiya you will find the Madu River, commonly known as “Madu Ganga”, which is famous for boat rides along the river and the lagoon. Rich in bio-diversity, and especially popular among bird watchers, the Madu River is home to an array of aquatic and avian life, as well as amphibians and reptiles. The area is highly commercialized with restaurants and establishments that offer boat rides.

On our way back to Ahungalla, we came across a turtle hachery! Being animal lovers, we couldn’t resist stopping over at the huge golden Turtle that was on the beach. The turtle shaped enclosure was still under construction, but the hatchery was fully functioning. After spending nearly an hour learning about turtles and talking to the caretakers of the hatchery we hurried off to the hotel for a late lunch.

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“We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

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