Fascinating Udawattakele Sanctuary or the Royal Forest Park of Kandy located on the hillside behind the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Spreads over an area of 104 ha today Udawattkelle has become unique due to its location, a luxuriant rainforest in the midst of a highly populated town.
Udawattakele forest is an important catchment area for the waterways of the thickly populated Kandy town. It nourishes the head waters of the spectacular Kandy Lake. The ecological and social value of the forest is also significant to Kandy since it acts as a pollution controller, and contributes a pleasant cool microenvironment around Kandy.
Centuries back, area surrounding Kandy had been a rainforest and the human settlements took place during the era of King Parakramabahu (1302-1326 AD). In 1371 AD, King Wickramabahu made Kandy his Kingdom. During this era Kandy was called as “Senkadagala”, named after a Brahmin named Senkada, who lived in a cave at Udawattakele.
During the Kandyan Kingdom, this forest area behind the palace was called ” Uda wasala watte” or the ‘Upper Palace Garden’ frequented only by the royalty and was out of bound to the civilians. Since the downfall of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815, this forest area started to loose it’s pristine condition due to logging and other human activities.
A large part of this forest was cleared to erect military barracks to face hidden attacks from Kandyans. With the development of coffee plantation and transport facilities to hill country more and more areas of virgin forest was cleared. Finally in 1856 the colonial government declared it as a Forest Reserve and later in 1938, it was made a sanctuary.
The forest is rich with vegetation consisting with canopy, sub canopy and an underground layer. The dense plant life restricts sunlight reaching the ground soil surface. The underground layer mostly consists of the seedlings of the canopy layer species and creepers that reach to the top of canopy layer trees. One of the magnificent sight is a giant, around 300 years old “Pus Wela” (Entada pusaetha) liana that has entwined its way across treetops and the forest floor, covering a vast area inside the sanctuary.
About 460 plant species including 135 tree species and 11 liana species, of which 9 species are endemic to Sri Lanka inhabit here. When considering floristic composition of Udawattakele it is dominated by Swietenia macrophylla (Mahogany), Michelia champaca (Gini sapu), Mesua ferrea (Na) and Myroxylon balsamum (Katta kumanchal).
Hump nosed lizard is a rare lizard species found in this forest. Fishing cat, wild boar, monkey, hare, squirrel, scaly anteater, porcupine, can be seen here including large troops of toque macaque monkeys.
The most remarkable feature of Udawattakele is its rich birdlife. The forest is alive with endemic and migratory birds and is said to be one of the most easily accessible bird sanctuaries in Sri Lanka.
The other significant places in Udawatta Kele are the water Pond, Highest peak ‘Kodimale’, The Senkada Cave, and the Garrison cemetery.
Mysterious Udawattakele Sanctuary still bears the remnants of its royal past with an atmospheric old world charm; a heavenly escape to wilderness and a bygone imperial time.