UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka
Recorded history refers to Anuradhapura as the first capital of Sri Lanka. This extensive city still holds relics of architectural ruins of its ancient kingdom and Buddhist temples not seen in most parts of the world. Be prepared to grip history the minute you step into this sacred city; Anuradhapura. It is the base of ancient civilization in Sri Lanka and an ancient city with a rich heritage in history, culture, politics and religion.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a deep insight into the life and times of the majestic kings of Sri Lanka and the engineering and architectural potential of the times. The most famed monument is the ruins of the Brazen Palace and the Ruwanwelisaya built by King Dutugemunu in 164BCE. Anuradhapura is one of the three stunning locations inthe Cultural Triangle. Mahamevuna Uyana houses the Sacred Bo Tree or Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest authenticated sacred tree, which is said to date back to BCE and planted from a sapling from the sanctified tree under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. Another magnificent sight is the Jetavanaramaya, the largest Dagoba in the world. The city is spread with ruins of ancient Dagobas and other sites of religious significance. Their complicated carvings and sculptures are remarkable and the ancient stones speak of the days of yore when the city was ruled by brave kings presided over by Buddhist clergy. Pilgrims around the world flock to Anuradhapura; it is regarded as a place where Buddhism is safeguarded for humanity. It is so unfortunate that the city finally declined in importance due to foreign invasions and went into disorder. Polonnaruwa gained prominence in the 10th century AD. A complete Archaeological Museum located in the city offers a greater understanding of the city’s unique monuments. The city remained the capital for almost 1,000 years and during the height of its rise, commanded great respect and power internationally. There is littleto do in the city apart from visiting the ancient temples, monasteries and tanks. A visit to Anuradhapura leaves the visitor witha sense of wonder and history so deep that the experience lingers long after the visit.
Dambulla is part of the Cultural Triangle. It houses the gigantic Dambulla Cave Temple declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Dambulla caves date back to 1st century BCE. Originally it was the refuge of King Walagamba, and the caves were later converted into a rock temple. It houses beautiful frescoes and an imposing 15-metre long reclining Buddha and Hindu deities. The caves are considered to be the finest storehouse of Sinhala art and sculpture.
It has five caves under a vast overhanging rock, carved with a drip ledge to keep the interiors dry. In 1938 the architecture was inflated with arched walkways. Inside the caves, the ceilings are painted with complex patterns of religious images following the contours of the rock. There are images of Lord Buddha, and Bodhisattvas, as well as various gods and goddesses. Five caves are converted to shrine rooms. The caves, built at the base of a 150 metre high rock during the Anuradhapura (1st Century BCE to 993 AD) and Polonnaruwa times (1073 to 1250 AD), are the most inspiring of many cave temples in Sri Lanka.
The largest cave measures about 52 metres from east to west, and 23 metres from the entrance to the back, this amazing cave is 7 metres tall at its highest point. Hindu deities are also represented here, and the kings Walagamba, Nissankamalla, and of Arhant Ananda; the Buddha's most devoted disciple. Within these shrine rooms is housed a collection of one hundred and fi fty statues of the Buddhist Order and the country's history. These statues and paintings represent many eras of Sinhala art and sculpture. The Buddha statues are in varying sizes and outlook; the largest is 15 metres long. One cave has over 1,500 paintings of the Buddha covering the ceiling.
The Dambulla cave monastery is still functional and remains the best-preserved ancient structure in Sri Lanka. This complex dates from the 2nd and 3rd Centuries BCE; it was established as one of the largest and most important monasteries. King Walagamba converted the caves into a temple in the 1st century BCE. Exiled from Anuradhapura, he sought refuge here from South Indian invaders for 15 years. After reclaiming his capital, the King built a temple in thankful worship. Many other kings added to it later and by the 11th century, the caves had become a major religious centre. King Nissankamalla gilded the caves and added about 70 Buddha statues in 1190 AD. During the 18thcentury, the caves were restored and painted by the Kandyan Kings.
A hike to the highest Rose Quartz Mountain Range in South Asia offers the pleasure of a striking view of the neighbouring area for miles around. With a history spanning over 1,000 years, Jathika Namal Uyana, also known as the Ironwood Forest, offers a fascinating trek through a deep jungle comprising of the Sri Lankan national tree, the Na (Iron wood). The forest is of important ecological extent and is the focus of studies by ecologists and students of nature.
Sir Emerson Tennant claims that Galle was the "Tarshish" mentioned in the Bible, as the harbour where ships trading with King Solomon obtained their Elephants, Peacocks and Gemstones. Most certainly the place where the Galle Fort now stands as well as other areas in Galle like Unawatuna, Magalle, Kaluwella and even the China Gardens (which held a colony of Chinese traders several years ago) were all areas with historic connections which go long before the Portuguese Era. International traders, Persians, Moor traders from the Persian Gulf, South Indian traders, Malays and especially the Chinese and a host of other nationalities lived and traded in Galle. The Cripps Road inscription reveals the polyglot and poly-ethnic character of Galle. Even in early British times the earliest embassies were situated in Galle. For example the fi rst Consul from USA was resident in Galle.
The Galle Fort was built by the Dutch during their rule and it is the largest and the most secured fortress in Sri Lanka. It was declared an archeological reserve by the UN since 1969 and in December 1988, UNESCO declared Galle Fort World Heritage 38th Monument. A Parliament bill titled Galle Heritage Foundation Act was passed in 1994 in Sri Lanka. In addition to these entire claim, Galle Fort is unique, very special and charming as there are no other sites, areas, fortress or location when compared with Galle Fort walled city of 38 hectares (90 acres) in Sri Lanka.
The Fort of Galle is the living symbol of all this history unless the Sri Lankan Government turns out to be conscious of its responsibility to protect and preserve the tangible remains of our history; not only in Galle, but also all over Sri Lanka, otherwise all will be lost. Let the world heritage site of Galle remain symbolic of its heritage and not become a centre of palatial dwellings of foreigners, night clubs and all that go with them.
It is the only place in Sri Lanka that still retains a unique old world atmosphere and its unique place in the history of VOC. It houses eight religious institutions that include Temples, Y.M.B.A, and Y.W.C.A churches, Mosques, Zaviyas and Thakkiyas etc, that have pioneered and propagated religion and upheld all cultural values, morals, traditions, customs and other activities for several centuries. Galle is also home to educational institutions such as Southlands Maha Balika Vidyalaya established, in 1885 for girls, All Saints Maha Vidyalaya established in 1876 for boys, Al Bahjathul Ibrahimiya Arabic College established in 1892 for boys from all over Sri Lanka and three other Montessori schools are in operation.
Eighty per cent of Galle Fort has remained valued residential location. It has around 375 dwelling houses of Sinhalese, Muslims, Tamils, Burghers and others living for years in total harmony without any communal differences. Galle Fort remains an esteemed and respected residential location for centuries, with its rich religious, educational and cultural values. It has also been producing eminent scholars, educationists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, professionals and reputed businessmen. In addition, there are some 25 small business premises and about 16 government offices.
The sea beaches and the beautiful ramparts surrounding the Fort have become nature's inspiration which has been often featured in many magazines both here and abroad. The history of Galle Fort reveals that it has maintained a fl awless reputation, devoid of criminal records at all times resulting in all communities within the Fort living in peace and amity upholding all human values. The combination of historical, archaeological, and architectural institutional and residential, buildings and the fortress has inspired and infl uenced UNESCO to declare Galle Fortress as a world heritage which should last for many centuries to come than being modifi ed and converted into varied types of liquor bars and vice dens.
Galle is one of 213 places of great historical value in the world that should be conserved and protected for posterity. Perhaps the earliest recorded reference to Galle comes from the great Arab traveller Ibn Batuta, who visited the port which he calls Qali-in the mid-14th century. The Portuguese fi rst arrived in 1505, when a fl eet commanded by Lorenzo de Almeida took shelter from a storm. Clearly the strategic signifi cance of the harbour impressed the Portuguese, for 82 years later, in 1587; they seized control of the town from the Sinhala kings and began the construction of the Galle Fort. This event marked the beginning of almost four centuries of European domination of the city, resulting in the fascinating hybrid-architecturally, culturally and ethnically-which Galle is today.
The Dutch captured the city from the Portuguese in 1640, and immediately began strengthening the defenses. They remained for almost 150 years, until the city was in turn taken by the British in 1796. Not until 1947, when Ceylon gained its independence from the British, did Galle become, once again, an independent city-and by this time the long years of association with European colonialism had left an lasting stamp on the city which makes it unique in today's Sri Lanka. In recognition of this fact, the Old City of Galle-essentially the fort and its surroundings-was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988.
Kandy is the last capital of Sri Lanka; its history brings to mind images of riches, marching elephants and much pomp and pageantry. Kandy is amongst a hilly terrain and all eyes are drawn to the centre of the city, where the Kandy Lake forms a charming feature. It's one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka. Kandy was last home to the Kandyan Kings of yore in the 19th century and a fountain for all the music, arts, crafts and culture in the country. Taking in a performance of Kandyan Dancers is rather like fl oating on an unending wave where rhythm and movement become one against the backdrop of the throbbing drums
Kandy keeps hold of great religious signifi cance for Sri Lanka. It is in this delightful city that the Dalada Maligawa or 'Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic' lies well guarded since the attack on its building by terrorists. The best time to visit Kandy would be in July/August when you can witness the annual Kandy Esala Perahera, an memorable parade that mirror the pomp and pageantry of kings and more notably an occasion when a replica of the relic casket is paraded. Almost 100 elephants parade along the main streets of the city, adorned with ceremonial gear and are accompanied by dancers and drummers for over 10 fascinating days
Even if you miss this spectacle, there are many more sights and sounds in Kandy that would hold your attention. The Peradeniya Botanical Gardens invite visitors to a learning experience about fl ora and fauna and some majestic trees that can be traced back to centuries. A visit to the National Museum once again highlights the city's royal past and is well worth a stop. The Malwatta and Asgiriya Monasteries house ancient manuscripts and other treasures from a bygone era
Kandy is an exciting place for shopping and a well-known centre for elaborate brass, bronze and silver ware. Batiks, handlooms, ceramics, jewellery, reed ware and jewellery are other readily available items. This hill capital is at the heart of the island's history and identity and no visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a stop-over in Kandy. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha is the most revered Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. And it is located in the royal palace complex. Since ancient times, the relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. Kandy was the last capital of the Sinhalese kings and is a UNESCO world heritage site partly due to the templ
Monks of the two chapters of Malwatta and Asgiriya conduct daily worship in the inner chamber of the temple. Rituals are performed three times daily: at dawn, at noon and in the evening. On Wednesdays there is a symbolic bathing of the Sacred Relic with an herbal preparation made from scented water and fragrant fl owers, called 'Nanumura Mangalaya'. This holy water is believed to contain healing powers and is distributed among those present
The temple sustained damage from the bombings by Tamil terrorists but was fully restored. Fortifi ed by a terrain of mountains and the diffi cult approach Kandy managed to operate independently till 1815. It was built within the royal palace complex which houses one of the two surviving relics of the tooth of Buddha, an object of veneration for Buddhists. The other Sacred Tooth Relic is believed to be enshrined in a Stupa called Somawathie chetiya. The Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, the temple which houses the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, is perhaps the most venerated sacred Buddhist shrine in the world not only by Buddhists of Sri Lanka but also by Buddhists all over the world.
King Vimaladharmasuriya I (1592 - 1603) was the fi rst to select Kandy as the ruling capital, originally built a two storied temple for the Relic and brought the Tooth Relic from Delgamu Raja Maha Viharaya near Kuruwita in Sabaragamuwa province, hidden for protection from Portuguese. King Vimaladharmasuriya II (1686 - 1706) built a three storied temple and his son King Viraparakrama Narendrasingha (1706 - 1738), the last Sinhala king to rule the country, built a new two storied temple seeing that the old temple built by his father had decayed
The last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Wickrama Rajasingha (1797- 1814) built the Pattirippuwa (the Octagon). Originally, the Pattirippuwa was part of the royal palace which was used by the king to address his fellow countrymen. Today the Pattirippuwa has become a part of the temple and houses ancient textures written in Ola leaves. The entrance to the temple complex is through the "Maha Vahalkada". There are two walls on the sides of the "Vahalkada". The outer wall is called "Walakulu Bamma" (wall of clouds). This same pattern is also used in the wall surrounding the Kandy Lake. The inner wall is called "Diyareli Bamma" (wall of water ripples). Both these walls are built with holes to place oil lanterns during the night. After passing the "Vahalkada" and the moat, is the "Makara Thorana". Next is the tunnel "Ambarawa". Passing this you come to the ground fl oor of the temple complex. The lower fl oor of the building called "Pallemaluwa". This inner chamber is fortifi ed with a large wooden door and decorated with bronze and ivory. The area in front of the door is called the "Hevisi Mandapaya" (Drummers Courtyard) where the daily rituals are carried out. The tooth relic is kept in the upper fl oor in the chamber called "Vadahitina Maligawa" The door to this chamber is covered with gold silver and ivory. The tooth relic is encased in seven gold caskets studded with precious stones. The outer casket is studded by precious stones offered to the tooth relic by various rulers. On the right to the relic is the "Perahara Karanduwa" (relic chamber used in the annual Esala Mangalya Perahera (procession) kept inside a bullet proof glass display. This has been donated by India. Over the relic chamber there is a golden lotus fl ower studded with precious stones hanging from the ceiling. On to the left of the temple is the new building which houses the taxidermy remains of the Maligawa Tusker - Raja. This magnifi cent Tusker was captured in the jungles of Eravur in the Batticaloa District 1925. He was purchased by Tikiri Banda Manampitiya Disawe for Rs 3,300/- in 1937 and was donated to the temple by him. For over 50 years Raja carried the golden casket which carried the tooth relic and in 1984 he was declared as a national treasure by the government. This is the second time a Tusker has been declared a national treasure.
Mahavamsa and Chulavansa speak of Pulasthipura; the early historical name of Polonnaruwa; a UNESCO world heritage site, which has a great history of invasions and struggle. Behind it rightfully forms the third element in the Cultural Triangle. Located about 140 kms north east of Kandy, Polonnaruwa offers hours of endless pleasure for history and culture lovers, as there are numerous sights of signifi cance.
Polonnaruwa became the capital of Sri Lanka subsequent to the decline of Anuradhapura and witnessed the Sinhala Buddhist civilization reaching much greater heights. The vast irrigation network with reservoirs that look like inland seas sustained such classic balance in rice cultivation, during the rule of King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 AD) and Sri Lanka came to be known as the Granary of the Orient. The main attractions are the conserved ruins of glorious royal palaces, massive Buddhist temples, and unbroken monuments in colossal statues carved from solid rock boulders and with its conserved ruins and renovated ancient irrigation reservoirs it is a "must visit" destination in Sri Lanka.
As much as the conserved cultural monuments would enlighten the tourists, the wildlife sanctuaries in the district of Polonnaruwa afford ample opportunities for the joy and fun in the close range of wild elephants, other mammals to the lovers of wildlife. At the city of Polonnaruwa the largest ancient irrigation reservoir called Parakrama Samudra (Sea of Parakrama) is always lovely with the excess of birdlife, it is seldom that there is not something interesting going on upon its shimmering expanses of waters. Polonnaruwa is located in between Wildlife at Minneriya National Park, Wasgamuwa National Park, Kaudulla National Park and Eco Hotels at Kandalama and Habarana.
The Cultural Triangle Project, launched by the Government of Sri Lanka, focused its attention on Sigiriya in 1982. Archaeological work began on the entire city for the fi rst time under this project. There was a sculpted lion's head above the legs and paws fl anking the entrance, but the head had broken down many years ago.
Sigiriya consists of an ancient castle built by King Kassapa during the 5th century. However, the beginnings and the original builder of Sigiriya is challenged by many local and foreign historians and archaeologists. The Sigiriya has the leftovers of an upper palace on the fl at top of the rock, a midlevel terrace including the Lion Gate and the mirror wall with its frescoes, the lower palace that clings to the slopes below the rock; the moats, walls, and gardens extending for some hundreds of metres out from the base of the rock.
It is both a palace and a fortress. Despite its age, the splendour of the palace still furnishes a stunning insight into the ingenuity and creativity of its builders. The upper palace on the top of the rock includes cisterns cut into the rock that still retain water. The moats and walls that surround the lower palace are still gracefully attractive.
Sigiriya is considered one of the most important urban planning sites of the fi rst millennium, and the site plan is considered very elaborate and imaginative. The plan combined concepts of balance and irregularity to intentionally link the man-made geometrical and natural forms of the surroundings. On the west side of the rock lies a park for the royals, laid out on a balanced plan; the park contains water-retaining structures, including sophisticated surface/subsurface hydraulic systems, some of which still work to date. In the south lies a man-made reservoir; these were extensively used from the previous capital of the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Five gates were placed at the entrances. The more sophisticated western gate is regarded to have been reserved for the royals.
John Still in 1907 states; "The whole face of the hill appears to have been a gigantic picture gallery... the largest picture gallery in the world perhaps". The paintings would have covered most of the western face of the rock, covering an area 140 metres long and 40 metres high. There are references in the graffi ti to 500 ladies in these paintings. However, many more are lost forever, having been wiped out when the Palace once more became a monastery so that they would not disturb meditation. However, historicity states that it would have been a monastery before King Kassapa renovated it. Many frescoes, different from the popular collection, can be seen elsewhere on the rock surface, for example on the surface of the location called the "Cobra Hooded Cave".
Although the frescoes are classifi ed as in the Anuradhapura period, the painting style is considered unique; the line and style of application of the paintings differing from Anuradhapura paintings. The lines are painted in a form which enhances the sense of volume of the fi gures. The paint has been applied in sweeping strokes, using more pressure on one side, giving the effect of a deeper colour tone towards the edge. Other paintings of the Anuradhapura period contain similar approaches to painting, but do not have the sketchy lines as of the Sigiriya style, having a distinct artist's boundary line. The true identities of the ladies in these paintings still have not been confi rmed. There are various ideas about their identity. Some believe that they are the wives of the king while some think that they are women taking part in religious observances. These pictures have a close resemblance to some of the paintings seen in the Ajanta caves in India. The frescoes, depicting beautiful female fi gures in graceful contour or colour, point to the direction of the Kandy temple, sacred to the Sinhalese. The sacred temple of tooth was built much after Sigiriya.
Mirror wall made of some kind of porcelain, the wall is now partially covered with verses scribbled by visitors to the rock. The mirror wall is well preserved. Some historians and archaeologists state that the verses date from the 8thL century but there are many who challenge it. People of all types wrote on the wall, on varying subjects such as love, irony, and experiences of all sorts. Further writing on the mirror wall has now been banned. One such poem in Sinhala is.
The transliteration is: "I am Buda [the writer's name]. Came with all my family to see Sigiriya. Since all the others wrote poems, I did not!" He has left an important record that Sigiriya was visited by people beginning a very long time ago. Its beauty and majestic appearance made people stand in awe of the technology and skills required to build such a place. The most important aspects of Sigiriya are the gardens and it is among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. The gardens are divided into three distinct but linked forms: water gardens, cave and boulder gardens, and terraced gardens.
The water gardens are seen in the central section of the western gardens. Three principal gardens are found here. The fi rst garden consists of a plot surrounded by water. It is connected to the main precinct using four causeways, with gateways placed at the head of each causeway. This garden is built according to an ancient garden form and is one of the oldest surviving models of this form.
The second contains two long, deep pools set on either side of the path. Two shallow, winding streams lead to these pools. Fountains made of circular limestone plates are placed here. Underground water conduits supply water to these fountains which still function, especially during the rainy season. Two large islands are located on either side of the second water garden. Summer palaces are built on the fl attened surfaces of these islands. Two more islands are located farther to the north and the south, in a manner similar to the island in the fi rst water garden.
The third garden is sited on a higher level than the other two with a large octagonal pool on a raised podium on its northeast corner. The large brick and stone wall of the citadel is on the eastern edge of this garden.
The water gardens are built on the east-west axis. They are connected with the outer moat on the west and the large artifi cial lake to the south of the rock. All the pools are also interlinked using an underground conduit network fed by the lake, and connected to the moats. A miniature water garden is located to the west of the fi rst water garden, consisting of several small pools and watercourses. This recently discovered smaller garden appears to have been built after the occupation of King Kassapa, possibly between the 10th and 13th centuries. This proves that Sigiriya was occupied by many from pre history and even after King Kassapa.
The boulder gardens consist of several large boulders linked by winding pathways. The gardens extend from the northern slopes to the southern slopes of the hills at the foot of Sigiriya rock. Most of these boulders had a building or pavilion upon them; there are cuttings that were used as footings for brick walls and beams.
The audience hall of the king was positioned in the boulder garden, the remains of which are seen on the fl attened and polished summit of a large boulder. There is a fi vemetre-long granite throne in this hall. The throne is carved from the boulder itself, and is not separated from it. Another notable feature in the boulder garden is the Cistern rock, named after a large, carved cistern atop it. A large archway, created by two boulders, provides access to the terraced gardens.
The terraced gardens are formed from the natural hill at the base of the Sigiriya rock. A series of terraces rises from the pathways of the boulder garden to the staircases on the rock. These have been created by the construction of brick walls, and are located in a roughly concentric plan around the rock. The path through the terraced gardens is formed by a limestone staircase. From this staircase, there is a covered path on the side of the rock, leading to the uppermost terrace where the lion staircase is situated.
Sigiriya is used as the location of many of the events in the science-fi ction novel The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke changed the name to Yakkagala ("Demon Rock") in the book. What made him to do that has to be given serious thought.
Another view is that; King Kassapa constructed an open mouth lion's head and built a new entrance and renamed Palace Chitrakoota of Lanka as 'Sinhagiriya' / 'Sigiriya'. It is confi rmed in Mahavamsa. Had a lion's head entrance existed before it would certainly appear in Ramayana, as Hanuman after his spying tour detailed the fortress. Dr Mangala Illangasingha, Dean of the Faculty of Archaeology in the University of Kelaniya Sri Lanka in an article to 'Silumina' weekend Sinhala newspaper on 1989 February 12th stated that 'even if Kassapa employed the whole nation to build Sigiriya Fortress he would not have built this massive fortress in such a short period of time'. "Rawana Katha" an ancient Ola book says that, after Rawana' s death Vibishana came to power and transferred the royal palace–fortress and capital from hill country to Kelaniya. Chitrakoota, the palace of Rawana became the abode of Yakkha noble called Chithraraja, a relative of Vibishana. Chithraraja's palace had been a Yakkha Temple and later King Dhatusena's son Kassapa [459-447 AD] arranged a coup d'état against the father and chose Chitrakoota Temple for his palace fortress, as he believed that his mother was a descendent of Yakkha line. King Kassapa is the only King who renovated and maintained Sigiriya.
Sri Padaya (Adam’s Peak)
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka. It is of international signifi cance and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The hilly virgin rainforest, part of Sri Lanka’s lowland rain forests eco region, was saved from the worst of commercial logging by its inaccessibility, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1988. The reserve’s name translates as Kingdom of the Lion. It is a treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Because of the dense vegetation, wildlife is not as easily seen as at dry-zone national parks such as Yala. There are about 3 elephants and the 15 or so leopards are rarely seen. The commonest larger mammal is the endemic Purplefaced Languor. An interesting phenomenon is that birds tend to move in mixed feeding flocks, invariably led by the fearless Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and the noisy Orange-billed Babbler. Of Sri Lanka’s 26 endemic birds, the 20 rainforest species all occur here, including the elusive Redfaced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie. Reptiles include the endemic Green pit viper and Hump-nosed vipers, and there are a large variety of amphibians, especially tree frogs. Invertebrates include the endemic Common Bird wing butterfly and the inevitable leeches. Flora: - The vegetation of Sinharaja may be described either as a tropical lowland rain forest or tropical wet evergreen forest. Some striking characteristics of the forest are the loftiness of the dominant trees, the straightness of their bole, the abundance of regeneration and the diversity of species. Average height of the trees varies between 35 -40 metres, some rise even up to 50 metres. The vegetation of Sinharaja is that of humid wet evergreen forest type with a high degree of endemism. In fact some families such as Dipterocarpaceae show an endemism more than 90%. The untapped genetic potential of Sinharaja flora is enormous. Out of the 211 woody trees and lianas so far identifi ed within the reserve 139 (66%) are endemic. Similarly, high levels of endemism are.
perhaps true for the lower plants like ferns, epiphytes as well as out of 25 general endemic to Sri Lanka 13 are represented in Sinharaja. The total vegetation density, including trees, shrubs, herbs and seedlings has been estimated to be around 240,000 individuals per hectare, of which 95% comprise individuals of the ground layer bellow 1 metre in height.
Fauna: - Studies on the fauna of Sinharaja have revealed that there is a high degree of endemism among the butterflies, fi sh, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals being greater than 50%. There have been reports of sightings of a few animals including elephants in the eastern Sector. The most common deer species is the Sambhur and the barking deer are also found within the reserve. Leopards are very seldom sighted, but their frequent presence has been confi rmed by tracks and other signs. Badger Mongoose and the Golden Palm Civet have been occasionally sighted. The most commonly seen primate is the Purple - faced Leaf Monkey. Although the elephants are said to be common in the past, there have been reports of sightings in 2008. Out of the Birds recorded in the western sector of the reserve, 72% were resident non-endemic and 13% migrants. One of the most interesting and colourful spectacles to be found in the Sinharaja is the presence of mixed species of foraging bird flocks, a phenomenon commonly found in rain forests and a total of 100 such flocks were systematically observed, and studies have revealed that some flocks contained 48 species including 12 endemic species. The rare endemic birds to be seen in Sinharaja are the Red-faced Malkoha, the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, the Ashy-headed Babbler, and the White-headed Starling and the Green-billed Coucal the rarest of Sri Lankan birds. Agamids are the best represented group of reptiles, the most common being the Green Garden Lizard. Of Special signifi cance are the sightings of Calottes’ Liolepis an arboreal species, the rarest of all agamid found in the island. The only Tortoise recorded in the reserve is the Hard-shelled Terrapin, while of the species of skinks, the spotted skink can often be seen. Among the snakes the endemic Green Pit Viper and Hump-nosed Viper are commonly found in this forest. The amphibians are fairly well represented in the reserve and nine endemic species have been identifi ed. The endemic Torrent toad and the common house toad are found in most streams and marshes. The Wrinkled Frog and the Sri Lankan Reed Frog is also found in the Sinharaja.