Whilst growing up, travelling meant packing my softball cricket gear and bicycle into Thaththi’s van on the first Saturday of school vacation and heading off to Kandy. We never really went anywhere else. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I enjoy travelling so much! Anyway, we’d leave as early as possible to avoid the traffic and to make sure that we will be at the famous “Jinadasa’s” for breakfast because Ammi just loves to eat freshly made piping hot Hoppers from the restaurant. Many years have passed, but, to this day we indulge in this ritualistic meal each time we travel along this route.
The main road from Colombo to Kandy is via the A1. Constructed during the reign of Lieutenant General Sir Edward Barnes, a British soldier who became the Governor of Ceylon, the road was of great military significance for the British. Captain William Francis Dawson of the Royal Engineers was appointed to execute the task. He carefully studied the terrain and plotted the route along which the road would be built. Work commenced in 1820 under Captain Dawson’s immediate supervision. The hot and humid climate together with the frequently changing weather took a heavy toll on the workers; many of them succumbed to diseases. Sadly Captain Dawson was among the casualties. According to local folklore, Captain Dawson died on the 29th of March 1829 after he was bitten by a snake.
Once you reach Kegalle, you begin the best part of the ascent to Kandy. The scenery transforms as the road rises from the flat land to entwine amongst the misty mountains. Mawanella, found at the bottom of the climb, has an elevation of 250 meters above sea level.
En route to Kadugannawa from Mawanella you will be able to see two iconic mountains. First you will see “Uthuwankanda” said to be the home and hide out of the legendary Saradiel. Known as the “Robin Hood of Sri Lanka”, Saradiel and his band of outlaws used Uthuwankanda as their strategic vantage point from which they orchestrated their exploits. Let’s leave the trek to Uthuwankanda and the stories about Saradiel for another day…
Next, you will be able to see the Bible Rock far away to the right as you approach the iconic Kadugannawa Tunnel. The Bible Rock, also known as “Bathalegala” is a mountain near Aranayake in the Kegalle District. The mountain gets its name because of its unique flat surface which resembles a Bible. The area in which the tragic Aranayaka landslide occurred in May 2016 is still visible towards the left of the Bible Rock. There are a few observation points along the road for travelers to stop and enjoy the scenery. If you look down the precipice you can see the beautifully terraced paddy fields that are painted in a variety of shades of Green.
An important piece of history that many travelers miss long this route is the old ‘Ambalama’ in Kadugannawa. This archeological gem was built during the early 18th century and showcases architectural elements of the Kandyan era. One and a half centuries ago, this Ambalma was a popular stop over for horsemen and merchants who were traveling from the lowlands to the ancient hill capital and vice versa. Today, the structure is in a dilapidated state and hardly anyone casts a glance at this national heritage.
Kadugannawa Rock Tunnel, one of the most significant landmarks in Kadugannawa was built by the British Rulers in 1880. It was designed by engineer Captain W. F. Davidson. The tunnel built by piercing the rock is a remarkable achievement that adds splendor to the landscape. Originally the A1 road passed through the tunnel taking an acute elbow bend. But, today many people don’t use the tunnel. Instead they user the new road built to accommodate much larger and taller vehicles.
When you approach the peak of the climb, you will see the majestic Dawson Tower on your right. The tower built in memory of Captain Dawson is a fitting tribute to his engineering skills. Think about it, the people who originally built the A1 road didn’t have bulldozers, backhoes or any other fancy machinery. Nor did they possess the advanced technical know-how that engineers have today.
Apart from it the beautiful sceneries and locations of historic value, Kadugannawa area is home to two interesting museums. Adjoining the famous Kadugannawa Train station, nestled into the busy town is the National Railway Museum. Owned by Sri Lanka Railways, the museum was declared open on 27th December 2014 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of railway service in Sri Lanka. Showcased in the museum are old steam engines, diesel locomotives, rail cars, trolleys, carriages, machinery, and equipment that date back to the inception of Sri Lanka Railways. The museum has a large functioning model train set, which I thought was quite cool! Outside is an old train compartment which has been converted to a screening room where visitors can watch railway related documentaries.
Further up the main road crosses the railroad near the 68th km post at Kiribathkumbura. Just past the railway crossing, is the Sri Lanka’s first highway Museum. The highway museum complex is maintained by the Road Development authority and host a collection of stone road rollers, steam road rollers, oil road rollers, tar boilers, coal scales, and road signs used during the early days of road construction. It is said that some of the items on display are over 175 years old. The complex also has a model of the Bogoda Wooden Bridge. Near the museum is yet another interesting architectural piece; the Arc Bridge over which runs the Kandy- Colombo railway line.