Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve (Herbal Garden)
Ritigala is one of the few high altitude forests, located in the dry zone of the island. It is extremely important not only because it is home to species which are rare and possibly extinct from the region, but also because its isolation provides ideal conditions for the evolution of species.
Hence, Ritigala with an area of 1,528.1 ha was declared a Strict Natural Reserve (SNR) on 7th November 1941, as it is evident that rigorous efforts are required to conserve it. Of the national reserves in Sri Lanka, the SNR’s are the most protected, and entry is restricted to scientists for research purposes only.
Named after Riti (Antiaris toxicaria), a type of tree found in the mid portion of the slopes, Ritigala is located in the Anuradhapura district, of the North Central Province. Due its complete isolation, and the way in which it rises 766 m sharply from the surrounding flat lands, Ritigala, the highest isolated hill range in Sri Lanka, has an imposing and majestic aura about it.
Image by Chamika A de Silva
According to inscriptional evidence, Ritigala is believed to historical and traditionally, date back to the 2nd and 4th century B.C respectively. The ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery, founded in the first half of the 9th century, by a sect of monks known as the “Pansukulika Bhikkus”, are of immense archaeological interest.
According to the Mahawanshaya and Chulavanshaya, the Lanka viharaya was built by king Sooratissa at the foot of the Ritigala Mountain during 187-177 B.C. It is also stated that king Mahasen lived at Ritigala while Hurulu Wewa was under construction.
152 stone inscriptions, 74 rock caves, and 140 archaeological buildings found at Ritigala, add to its rich cultural heritage.
The Ritigala mountain stands out as a prominent erosion remnant on the islands lowest peneplain. This 6.5km long, 3 peaked narrow ridge, is divided into Southern and Northern blocks, by the shallow Maha-degala ravine. The imposing “Kodigala” kanda is the highest peak at Ritigala and the tallest mountain found in the North Central province. Located in the Southern block, Kodigala is a huge, bare, dome-shaped rock, which rises 2514 feet above sea level.
The Nothern block comprises of the remaining two peaks, “Wannati-kanda” and “Aushada-kanda”, the former meaning medicine hill, indicating the abundance of medicinal plants there. Charnokite, Quartzite and Marble, rocks that date back almost 2000 million years, are found here.
Spanning over 1528ha, this SNR comprises of dry monsoonal, evergreen and montane forests, giving rise to a unique, concentrated diversity. Affected by both the southwest and northeast monsoons, the annual average temperature and rainfall at Ritigala are approximately 28 celsius, and 1485 mm respectively.
The rainfall demarcates the two major climate zones, with a strip of intermediate rainfall area. The altitude subdivides the wet zone into low lands (0-900m), Submontane region (900-1500m) and the montane region (above 1500 m).
During the southwest monsoon when the foot of the country is gripped in drought, the crests of Ritigala are covered in mist. The wettest and driest months are October to November and June to September respectively. The spectacular Na Ela, Deva Ela and Malwathu Oya originate from within this reserve.
The Ulpath Wewa, Hurulu Wewa, Kiriyagas Wewa and Kaluebbe Wewa are the important tanks found in the surrounding area. Deep cylindrical rock pools, that retain water even during the height of the drought, are found at the where the stunning Deva Ela, that nearly bisects the southern slopes, begins its descent.
Image by Chamika A de Silva
The diversity of flora at Ritigala is astounding and second to none. The lower slopes of Ritigala is comprised of dry mixed forests, that grade into an intermediate forest, in which tall and flourishing canopy trees, that reach over 30 m growth.
The high proportion of endemism is attributed to the survival of many wet zone species, due to the availability of suitable environmental conditions within the reserve, even though it is situated in the midst of the dry zone.
Lamiaceae (Plectranthus elongatus), Sapotaceae (Madhuca clavata) and Acanthaceae (Thunbergia fragrans) are the three species that are only found at Ritigala. The discovery of the bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris) at Ritigala, stood out among plant records, as it was the first natural occurrence of the species in Sri Lanka. In 1991, a staggering 417 species of flora were recorded, of which 337 were flowering plants and 54 were endemic. 96 of these flowering plants were documented to be used in Ayurvedic treatment.
Flora that thrives on the summits and higher slopes are affected to a great extent by natural phenomena, this includes species such as Cleistanthus patulus, Cleistanthus pallidus, Neolitsea cassia, Eugenia rotundatata, Syzygium Zeylanicum, Erythroxylum obtusifolium, Glaochidion stellatum and Salacia reticulate, that form the matrix of the forest.
Shrubs such as Lasianthus strgosus, Psychotria nigra and Ardisia missionis constitute the understory of the forest. Abundant epiphytic flora that buds in the higher altitudes consists of beautiful lichens, bryophytes, ferns and orchids. According to quantitative data, Cleistanthus patulus is the most abundant tree species, while Euphorbiaceae is the best represented family.
Image by Anishka Hettiarachchi
Over 30 species of mammals, including the endemic Golden Palm Civet (Paradoxurus zeylonensis) and Toque Macaque (Macaca sinica) call Ritigala home.
Other noteworthy mammals are the Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus), threatened Leopard (Panthers pardus kotiya), endangered Elephant (Elephant maximus maximus), Grey Slender Loris (Loris lydekkerianus), Grey Langur (Semnopithecus priam), Jackal (Canis aureus). Rusty-spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) Striped-necked Mongoose (Herpestes vitticollis), Barking Deer (Muntiacus muntjak), Spotted Deer (Axis axis ceylonensis), Sambar (Cervus unicolor), Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), Porcupine (Hystrix indica), Pangolin (Mains crassicaudata) and several species of Bats.
More than 100 species of birds are known to frequent Ritigala, including the endemic Spot-winged Thrush (Zoothera spiloptera), Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl (Gallus lafayettii) and Sri Lanka Spurfow (Galloperdix bicalcarata), The Great Raquet-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus ceylonicus), Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis), Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracocerus coronatus), Blue Faced Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus viridirostris), Rufous Woodpecker (Celeus brachyurus), Rufous-bellied hawk-eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus) and Mountain hawk-eagle (Spizaetus nipalensis) are some of the colourful avifauna that rove the skies and waters of Ritigala.
The reptile fauna of Ritigala is varied, including Geckos, Lizards, Tortoises and Skinks. The snakes that are commonly seen include the Python (Python molurus), Rat Snake (Ptyas mucosus), Forsten’s cat snake (Boiga forsteni), Russell’s viper (Vipera russelli), endemic Green pit viper (Trimeresurus trigonecephalus), Green vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta) and Brown vine snake (Ahaetulla pulverulenta).
Approximately 50 species of colourful butterflies, 20 species of fish and 16 species snails have also been recorded at Ritigala, which has an overwhelming variation in fauna.
Image by Ranil Wijesinghe Image by Sumudu Rajakaruna
Image by Pingchung Lee Image by Kalee Vidanapathirana
Getting to Ritigala
Ritigala is accessible via the Habarana-Kekirawa road. The customary approach is through Banda-Pokuna situated at the eastern foot of the mountain, which can be reached by jeep.
- Colombo – Anuradhapura – Ritigala (There are three access to Anuradhapura) Via Puttalum – 221km, Via Kurunegala – 217km, Via Dambulla – 227km.
- Anuradhapura – Ritigala – 38km (There are two ways to Ritigala from Anuradhapura) Via Maradankadawala – 62km, Via Kekirawa -72km
- Colombo – Dambulla – Ritigala 198km (There are two ways to Ritigala from Dambulla) Via Kekirawa – 38km, Via Habarana – 42km
Charges for the entrance tickets
Ticket price: Rs 20 for locals and Rs 500 for foreigners
Detail source: A leaflet by the Department of Wildlife Conservation
Telephone : +9411 256 03 80 | +9411 256 03 85
Fax : +9411 274 42 99
Featured Image by Anishka Hettiarachchi