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Sinharaja Rainforest – the Green Treasure Trove of Sri Lanka

Bio-diversity of Sinharaja forest

Sinharaja Rainforest – the Green Treasure Trove of Sri Lanka

“It is difficult to imagine how bizarre Sinharaja forest the largest extant Gondwana forest in southern Asia(Gondwana supercontinent existed 180 million years ago) is, it is the super bio-diversity hotspot in Sri Lanka with the highest concentration of endemic fauna and flora, majestically standing in the heart of Sri Lanka’s wetland, beyond the reach of the lumberman’s axe in 1977. Today it is fully secured and cherished under the emblem of “world heritage site” granted by UNESCO.

Upper canopy of Siharaja forest
Upper canopy of Siharaja forest reserve

“Sinharaja” is a Sinhalese word and it means “Lion King. Sinharaja forest is the oldest forest patch of the island and it has many names such as UNESCO world heritage site, man and biosphere reserve, national heritage wilderness. Sinharaja forest occupies 118425 acres in the wet zone of Sri Lanka. Sinharaja is declared as a biosphere reserve in 1978 owing to its significance for the world. It is also declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1988 and Sinharaja is the first natural world heritage site on the island.

The forest was first known to the island as “Sinhalaye Mukalana” (Forest of the Sinhala whose boundaries were unseen), later it was changed to Sinhalaye Raja Vanaya (The Royal Forest of the Sinhala) the name was further changed and became Sinharaja.

Singaraja rainforest is located 6°21′-6°26’N, 80°21′-80°34’E on the world map and it is the last remaining primaeval rain forest in the island. Sinharaja Nature reserve spread over a huge area in the South-West Sri Lanka (Sabaragamuwa province), which is primarily a wet zone region. Sinharaja tropical rainforest is one of the significant Bio-diversity hot spots in the world. It is being difficult to recognize the ecological pattern of Sinharaja rain forest owing to its large diversity of fauna and flora species.

The beauty and scientific value of Sinharaja forest are beyond the imagination of most of us, protecting this biodiversity treasure trove are really important. We include this unmatchable natural jewel in our Sri Lanka adventure tour package with five hours trek accompanied by one of our rainforest experts.

Exploring Sinharaja rainforest during your Sri Lank tour is a rare opportunity to immerse in a fascinating wild palette. The Sinharaja rainforest is a rare opportunity to submerge yourself in a vital vegetation, almost as wet as the nearby sea, and has a never-ending vibration with life than any other forest.

Sinharaja rainforest is the eco-system with the largest combination of species in Sri Lanka. Unexplored, mysterious, concealed, large part of Sinharaja is still not known to the world and most of the jungle is inaccessible due to dense foliage. Unlike Amazon where you have the easy access to the interior of the forest using the Amazon river, Sinharaja does not provide navigable water resource to the interior of the forest. Perhaps this might be the reason that most travellers in Sri Lanka overlook Sinharaja against other places such as cultural sites, beaches, mountains etc.

In our Sri Lanka adventure tour, we include Sinharaja rainforest with an overnight stay in a nearby hotel. The travellers have the opportunity to spend a day in Sinharaja, you will find that Sinharaja is incomparable to anything that you have seen before, and the fauna and flora, mountains, borderland villages that are hidden in the jungle will be amazing travel memories.

The Sinharaja forest is 11,187 hectares in extent and when it is contiguous with Panagala, Moapitiya-Runakanda, Dellawa, Warathalagoda, Neluketiya and Delgoda forest reserve swell up to 47370 hectares, making it the largest constituent of the green canopy in the wet-zone amounting to about 43%.

Adventure Tour in Sri Lanka, Sinharaja

Accommodation in Sinharaja forest

There are only very few up-market hotels in the vicinity of Sinharaja forest but there are many accommodation providers with small properties and providing the visitors with clean and secure accommodation at an affordable rate. If you are heading to Sinharaja in the peak holiday season in Sri Lanka (from November to April) it is strongly recommended to have your accommodation finalized before arriving here. It might be difficult to find a place to sleep at the last moment during the high-occupancy period.

Sinharaja accommodation

Village homestays

Sinharaja Sumitrayo (friends of Sinharaja) and Sinharaja village trust are two important organizations that are represented by the adjoining village community. A large number of villagers depend on the bounty of Sinharaja and the Sinharaja forest is an important income generator for some. These 2 organizations are fully focused on protecting the forest through the knowledge sharing, and skills among the members about the importance of conservation of Sinharaja forest while using the forest for financial gains. They have turned the village resources to the benefits of the travellers, without any negative impact on the forest. Same times villagers also benefitted from these programs. One such important initiative was an expansion of homestays that already in practice for some time in the area. As a traveller, anyone can support these communities by using the homestay accommodations provided by villagers, while enjoying warm, welcoming and personalized service to the travellers.

Inquiries for homestay through: Sevalkanka

Tel: 0094-45-5681977, 009411631334, email:sustainabletourism@sewalanka.org

Hiniduma Rainforest community

Tel: 0094-91-2232585, Web: earthrestoration.org

Forest lodging

The department of forest maintains dormitories for the visitors at Kudawa and Pitadeniya entrances. The reservation of rooms possible only at the headquarters of the forest department in Colombo from Monday to Friday during the office hours.

Forest department Tel: 0094-11-2866624

There are many members of the Sinharaja guide association, who are primarily young people from the nearby villages. They are providing guided village tours and jungle trekking to the travellers. Seerendipity tours always use the service of these young village boys who are very knowledgeable on the Faun and Flora of Sinharaja. These young boys are well trained to be rainforest guides through the projects and seminars sponsored by government and non-governmental organizations.

perinnial water streams of Sinharaja

Access to the forest

There are 2 access points to the Sinharaja forest, Kudawa Sinharaja forest entrance and Pitadeniya entrance. Kudawa forest office is situated north of Kalwana about 120 kilometres from Colombo and the Pitadeniya entrance is located south of Deniyaya and Mediripitya about 180km from Colombo. Entrance ticket and guiding service can be obtained at the entrance for a fee and it is required.

The extent of Sinharaja forest

The Sinharaja forest is estimated to be 13 miles or 21 kilometres and it is only 7 kilometres or 4.3 miles along the north-south axis. Sinharaja is the most valuable forest patch in the island and harbours the most number of endemic fauna and flora species in Sri Lanka. Sinharaja forest has a large collection of trees, plants and animals, facts and figures about the vastness of the fauna and flora of Sinharaja are still not known to the world. But undoubtedly Sinharaja forest records the highest bio-diversity among all forests in Sri Lanka and it is a valuable repository of natural wealth.

There had been several exploration missions in the forest, but due to the biological complexity, no one has been able to ascertain the true value of the forest so far. A complete study of the forest cannot be fulfilled within a few days. Due to the vastness of the diversity, it may take even a lifetime to complete the exploration of the ferns, trees, and the creatures and reveal the secret of this forest patch.

Sinharaja waterfalls

Bio-diversity of Sinharaja forest

Characteristics of flora species found in Sinharaja are similar to the vegetation of wet evergreen rain forests. Rainfall in the forest measured to be over 5000 mm per annum and it is a region with high humidity all the time. It is estimated that endemism among the fauna and flora is to be to a very high degree. The vegetation density of the reserve estimated to be very high compared to other forests in the island.

Amount of shrubs, herbs, trees and seedlings estimated to be around 240,000 per hectare. Ninety-five per cent of flora comprised of individuals and can be observed in the ground layer, which is less than one meter in height. Sinharaja is recorded a large number of lianas which around 30 cm in height. Estimated density of lianas in the reserve is six to seven hundred per hectare. Sinharaja is inhabited by many species of animals in the country and it is the home for a large number of endemic fauna species. There is a very high endemism among the fish, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians and mammals in the reserve.

Largest animal recorded in the national park is the Elephant but seen rarely in the forest. Leopards are also recorded within the forest reserve but very few people have spotted it in the park. Leopard is very shy and avoids human as much as possible. The wild fishing cat is a very common mammal for the park visitors. Deer, Sambhur and wild boar are also can be spotted in the reserve while all vertebrate species move through the tree canopies frequently.

The number of amphibians recorded in the forest is 19 and out of them, 10 species are endemic to the island.  From the 65 butterfly species recorded in the forest 21 species are endemic. Many rare species of butterflies found in the forest and some of them are occurring very rarely in other parts of the country such as Common Birdwing (Troidus helena), Blue Mormon (Paoilio Polymnestor), Blue Oakleaf (Kallima philarchas). Twenty-one species of endemic reptiles recorded in the forest and the number of non-endemic species of reptiles recorded as fifty-one.

The richness of Flora in Sinharaja is exceptional Ferns, Colourful flowers, vines, and trees of the canopy and upper canopy creates a thick forest cover and creates gloomy settings in the body of the forest. Bim Orchid (Arundina graminifolia) can be besotted many places during the trek. There are two carnivore plants species can be found in the forest namely green bandura and red bandura. Red bandura is less occurring in the forest than its counterpart green bandura (Nepanthus distillatoria) and the red bandura. Red bandura believed to have medicinal value and useful when treating whooping cough.

A pair of Malabar hornbill: The male with the red eye circled in black, the female the black eye circled in white

Birds at Sinharaja rainforest

The Jungle fowl (Gallus lafayetii ), the national bird of Sri lanka, which is endemic to the island can be spotted here with many other indegenous bird species such as Layard’s parakeet (Psittacula calthripae), the Spurfowl (Galloperdix bicalcarata), the Ceylon Hanging Parrot (Loriculus beryllinus), the Ceylon Wood Pigeon (Columba torringtonii), the Ashy-headed Laughing Thrush (Garrulax cinereifrons), Ceylon Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis), the Red-faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus), the Brown- capped Babbler (Pellorneum fuscocapillum), and the Ceylon Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornate).

Hariyawa water stream

Hariyawa water stream is located in southern Sri Lanka and it mingles with Ginganga in the Sinharaja nature reserve. The place, where the stream and Ginganaga meet is one of the deepest points of the stream, Brahmana Ella is located some 500 meters from this point. This point is not suitable for bath or any such activities and there had been few tragic events in which people were drowned while bathing here. There are many safe places along the stream, where one can have a safe bath other than deep spot mentioned here.

The gloomy dark surrounding due to the thick jungle keeps the water of the stream very cool even on very warm days. The water of Hariyawa water stream can hardly see the sun rays due to the blockage of the thick grown tree canopy. The water is crystal clear and clean while it is filtered by nature and still not in touch with the human.

Waterfalls of Sinharaja rainforest

By far Doowili Ella is the most attractive waterfalls in the reserve, which is also best-known waterfall within the group of waterfalls in the region.  The waterfall can be accessed very easily since it is located at the edge of the reserve. The waterfall is just 6 km from the Neluwa, nearest city for the waterfalls. The height of the fall estimated to be 17m and it is 1m in width. The name ‘Doowili Ella’ means the dust fall, it is named after dusting like spray which arises, while it is tumbling down the mountain.

Brahmana Ella is estimated to be 150 feet and the cascading fall is divided into five distinct parts. The waterfall is 12 km from the Neluwa city. The waterfall is used for power generation today. The waterfall is located within the pr9tected area of the Sinharaja nature reserve.

The number of waterfalls arises from the Hariyawa stream is 5 including the Duvili Ella. Rest of the waterfalls are Tattu Ella, Gal Oruwa Ella, Uran Wetunu Ella, and Brahmana Ella. From the point, where the stream meets the Ginangana, which marks the beginning of the journey to the waterfalls, to the last waterfalls is around 1/2 kilometre.  All these fascinating waterfalls can be viewed within few hours of time due to the proximity to each other. It is very rare to see 5 beautiful waterfalls on a single journey within a short period of time like here.

Sinharaja map

How to reach Sinharaja waterfalls

The pathway to the waterfalls is extremely beautiful with thick jungle on both sides. One needs to wear shoes that are designed for walking or climbing. Even though it is not as hard as rock climbing, it is not a very easy task either to climb the small mountains along the way. At the end of the journey, the visitors can explore all the five waterfalls that are located in the verging forest. At present, the pathway is developed and the journey had become easier than it had been.  The changes have made some destruction of nature, that could hurt the nature lovers who visit the waterfalls. Steps were added to the places, where it was difficult to climb. Walking here is adventurous and a reason for satisfaction.  The fresh air and cool breeze eliminate the difficulty of the walking and keep you alive. The trees that are bent over the pathway make a beautiful view along the way. This journey can be used for adventure holidays and it can be easily offered as a day excursion from beach hotels in western and southern Sri Lanka.

The pathway is dividing into directing the people on to two different directions after few several minutes. One pathway directs you to the Duwili Ella and Tattu Ella, while the second pathway takes you to the Gal Oruwa Ella and Uran Wetunu Ella. The visitors are properly directed in the proper direction by the arrow signs along the way. The pathway becomes more difficult towards the end of the journey and it may be very difficult to go through the jungle in several places. If you need any outside help, one can have the help of the trees and plants that bent over the pathway to help the passerby. Pathways are very dark and gloomy due to the thick jungle and it is full of small hillocks and escapement and bends. In some places, the pathway is blocked with roots of large trees.

It was almost not possible to reach these waterfalls due to the conditions of the pathway. It is a pleasure to note that the present condition of the pathway is largely improved in the last few years. Lanka Gama is one of the most beautiful and remote villages near the waterfalls is also worth to included in the journey.

Posted by

Sanjeewa Padmal (Seerendipity tours)

This blog is all about travelling in Sri Lanka, I am trying to illuminate my readers with a wide range of information related to Sri Lanka travel. Please feel free to contact me at any time if you need more information. Furthermore, we can organize your holiday package or any travel related requirement in Sri Lanka. Please contact us on info@seerendipitytours.com

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