Nestled in the central hills and at an altitude of 546 metres, Matale is yet another bounty of nature’s abundance with captivating landscapes of fertile greenery and scattered mountain ranges decorated with blankets of cascading water. At a distance of 105 kilometres from Colombo and 26 kilometres from Kandy, the history of Matale is mottled with tales of heroism, such as the Matale Rebellion of 1848, a battle that led to the siege of the British Garrison in Fort McDowell and its ultimate defeat at the hands of a colonial superpower. Today, the town of Matale is a centre of activity, propelled by the daily hustle and bustle of urban life, with thousands of commuters thronging the urban centre for sundry errands. Many are the sights and sounds of this old agricultural village called Matale that beckons the visitor to feast the eyes upon its dignified beauty.
In the heart of the town is the old Government Rest House, built by the British, boasting a recent makeover and adjacent is the picturesque public park with walkways amidst green lawns, towering trees and blossoming plants. Further up the park, Fort McDowell commands a view of the entrance to Matale via Trincomalee. It is also the site of the oldest church in Matale, Christ Church, which was consecrated by Bishop James Chapman in December 1860. Opposite the central private bus station in the town is Sri Mutthu Mariamman Thevasthanam, a temple worshipped by the Hindus, which was established nearly 200 years ago by the Indian Hindu community of businessmen who engaged in trading in the town of Matale. The newly built Raja Gopuram is 108 feet tall and as one of the tallest in the country has 1008 images of deities embedded. The annual Ther festival is a grand event with illuminated and heavily decorated chariots with deities parading the streets. The old clock tower and spice gardens are also part of the attractions in the town of Matale. The town has only one train station which was completed in 1880 and is one of the oldest colonial period constructions standing to date. The train journey that starts from Colombo, journeys via Kandy to end at the old train station in the town of Matale.
Aluviharaya Rock Temple
Three kilometres from the town of Matale, which lies at the foothills of the Knuckles Mountain Range known as Wiltshire, is the historical Aluviharaya Rock Temple, pouched between boulders and cliffs, where the teachings of the Buddha were transcribed into text on Ola (palm) leaves. The monastic caves contain unique murals and inscriptions; the main cave has a statue of the reclining Buddha accompanied by standing and seated images of the Buddha. Ascending to the site of the stupa at the summit of the rock renders an excellent view of the topography of the North Central Province.
Trek along Riverston
Situated approximately 30 kilometres from the town of Matale is Riverston, a beautiful mountain range, which is part of the Knuckles Mountain. Described as the ‘mini world’s end’, the Riverston peak with a sheer drop of 300 metres, offers a grand view of the central hills, the Knuckles mountain range and beautifully terraced paddy fields in the Thelgama valley.
Situated close to Riverstone is Pitawala Pathana, yet another picturesque site of mountains, waterfalls and natural pools. This grassland is a gently sloping slab of rock covered with a thin layer of soil. Isolated and scattered trees and shrubs with many endemic plants and animals make this grassland their home, which is blessed with an air that is fresh and untainted. Situated along the Rattota - Illukkumbura Road, the grassland is unique for its cold climate, which is quickly covered with sheets of mist given its altitude.
Nearly 45 kilometres from Pitawala Pathana is Sera Ella, a beautiful waterfall, which at a height of 10 metres drops down a rock face like the cascading veil of a bride, an indescribable sight of magnificence. The name of the waterfall is derived from a species of fish named ‘sera’ that inhabit its waters. With a year round flow, the waterfall spills with all its splendour during the monsoonal season of November and March. The cascading water covers a cave that could be reached even when the water is surging at its peak.
Although a man-made pond, the Sembuwatta Lake is still a breathtaking sight set amidst scenic mountains and forests. Situated in the Elkaduwa plantation, the lake is filled by natural spring water, with a depth of at least 30-40 metres, which the locals would advise is not suitable for a plunge despite its beckoning beauty. Adjacent to the lake is a pool that has been built for visitors yearning for that uncontainable impulse to dive into the inviting waters of the larger Sembuwatta Lake.
Wasgamuwa National Park
Yet another site close to nature is Wasgamuwa where more than 3000 hectares of land has been demarcated as a wildlife reserve. The Wasgamuwa National Park is home to herds of elephants, sighted from November to May, the Purple Faced Langur, wild boar, sambar, spotted dear, buffalo, sloth bear, the elusive leopard and reptiles. There are 143 species of birds, many endemic, such as the Ceylon Jungle Fowl, 52 varieties of butterflies and 17 species of fish. There are also ruins of temples with an image of the reclining Buddha at Budhuruwayaya, ruins of a palace with stone pillars and ruins of small rainwater reservoirs.
Leaving behind nature’s trails, one could take a walk back in time at the Nalanda Gedige, situated 20 kilometres north of Matale town, a Buddhist temple, which is a hybrid of Buddhist and Hindu temple architecture. Described as a masterpiece of sheer beauty, where Hindu sculptural tradition meets Buddhist art, the edifice wrought on stone and crystalline limestone is a demonstration of Hindu temple architecture with the inner sanctum and pavilion blending with the Buddhist elements of the moonstone, the crocodile balustrades, the elephant guards and the dwarfs on the architrave of the doorway. Nalanda Gedige was considered by our forebears as the centre of Sri Lanka, so take a trip to Matale and feel the ground at the heart of one of Sri Lanka’s interior, throbbing with the extravagance of nature and the master strokes of artists.