Ritigala Ancient Forest Monastry

Ultimate Guide To Ritigala: A Hike To Ancient Forest Monastic Life

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Ritigala is a mountain in Central Sri Lanka that was home to ancient Buddhist monks who resided in the region during the 1st Century BCE. The mountain also harbors an archaeological site that showcases fascinating ruins sharing a glimpse of how the monks lived back in the day. 

These ruins and historic sites can be experienced during your hike. You will also come across rock inscriptions that prove that there was a monastery in the region. However, what’s truly fascinating is that these places do not have any Bo trees or stupas. This is because they came into existence much later. The complete area is a strict natural reserve maintained by the archaeological and forest departments of Sri Lanka.

In this blog, we take you through intriguing facets of Ritigala and also details about the hike, the best to visit the place, where to stay and eat, and more. Let’s get right to it.

Travel Guide To Ritigala

Top 5 Interesting Facts About Ritigala

  • The ruins are situated on the Eastern side of the mountain while the highest peak, called Kodigala or Flag Rock, is in the Northern part of the range.
  • The ruins cover about 24 hectares, while the entire mountain is spread across 1528 acres.
  • Only a small portion of the mountain, about 1.5 Km from the entrance, is accessible to the public. The rest is closed due to unknown reasons.
  • The Ritigala Peak stands tall at 2513 m and is the highest mountain in Northern Sri Lanka.
  • The region is home to numerous rare healing herbs and plants, and the mountain is largely covered by forests.

The History Of Ritigala

According to the legends in the Hindu Epic Ramayana, Lord Rama’s brother, Prince Lakshmana, was mortally wounded in the final battle. To cure him, Lord Hanuman went to the Himalayas and carried an entire mountain that had the medicinal herb that could cure Lakshmana. While crossing from India to Sri Lanka, Hanuman dropped a chunk of the mountain, which today is known as Ritigala. While many ardent devotees and theists believe this story, there’s no evidence that proves that this story is real.

Another intriguing theory is that centuries back, Ritigala remained a perfect spot for the Buddhists to teach Dharma and practice their meditational activities. The stone ruins scattered over the vast area prove that Bhikkus lived a simple yet fulfilled life in the forests, away from the villagers and outsiders.

How To Reach?

Ritigala Archaeological Site Entrance

Ritigala is located close to Trincomalee, Dambulla, Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruwa. From these places, frequent buses are available to Habarana. Step down at the Habarana Junction and catch another bus to Ritigala.

Buses will drop you at the Ritigala access road. From here, you must walk or take a tuk-tuk for 9 Km to reach the archaeological site entrance. Elephant movement is very high on these roads, so it is advisable to take a tuk-tuk.

Twin’s tip: The frequency of tuk-tuks and buses from the Habarana junction to Ritigala is very low. Do not forget to ask for the last bus timings for your return. If you hop on any tuk-tuk either from Habarana or from Ritigala access road, it is better to ask them for a roundtrip. For one way, they charge around LKR 1000.

The best way to reach Ritigala is by using your own transport. You can reach the destination directly by following Google Maps.

Network Availability

Until the Ritigala access road, we had a decent signal, but after that, it started fading. On reaching the Ritigala archaeological site and natural reserve, we had no network connectivity. The entire region has poor connectivity with Dialog and Airtel. We aren’t sure about Mobitel.

ATM Availability

There are no ATMs available in the region. You have to go to the nearby town of Sigiriya or Dambulla to withdraw cash. The entry fee has to be paid in cash. So keep enough cash with you.

Languages Spoken

Most people speak Sinhalese, the regional language. The officers at the entrance spoke limited English.

Parking Availability

An ample amount of free parking space is available near the entrance.

Restroom Facilities

A restroom is available at the base near the ticket counter.

Related: Use these super helpful public restroom tips during your travels. 

Best Time To Visit Ritigala Natural Reserve

Ritigala receives high rainfall in December and January. Besides the monsoon months, the mountain can be visited throughout the year. Regarding the timing of the hike, it’s best to start early to beat the heat.

Where To Eat?

There are only a couple of eateries near the Ritigala Wildlife Department complex. No shops are found near the ticket counter entrance. Drinking water is available at the ticket counter. So, you must stock quick bits, energy bars, snacks, and other refreshments before leaving for the hike.

Where To Stay?

People usually take day trips from the nearby towns of Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Trincomalee, and Polonnaruwa. There are very limited options available for you to stay in the region.

If you wish to stay, Ritigala Lodge would be our top pick. For more decent stays, you should pick Habarana or move to the nearby towns mentioned above.

 

Things To Know Before Visiting Ritigala

  • Entry fee: LKR 20 for Sri Lankan nationals, USD 5 for foreign adults, USD 2.5 for foreign children, and a 50% discount for SAARC nationals.
  • Timings: 8 AM – 5:30 PM
  • Duration of the hike: 3-4 hours approximately (two ways)
  • Dress Codes: There are no strict dress codes. Wear comfortable clothes as it involves hiking.
  • Hiking level: Easy
  • Hike Distance: 1.5 Km (one way)
  • Guides are not mandatory. They are available at the ticket counter at additional costs (LKR 1500-2000 approx).
  • Although there are no direction marks along the trail, you can follow the stone path until the very end.
  • The use of plastics is strictly prohibited. Do not litter and travel responsibly.
  • We didn’t spot any monkeys, leeches, or wildlife after crossing the Ritigala entrance.

Ritigala Archeological Sites

The below mentioned are some noteworthy spots that are spread across the forests of the Rithigala mountain.

Benda Pokona

Benda Pokona, polygonal pond

A massive polygonal pond, known as Benda Pokona resides a stone’s throw away from the ticket counter. While we didn’t find any water in it, the vessel could contain 7.5 million liters of water. With a circumference of about 366 m, the pond is bordered by a flight of stairs. People tend to bathe here before entering the forest.

Pethmaga pathways

The stone pathways or pavement are called Pethmaga. The steps and stone path are 1.3 m wide, thus making your hike comfortable and sparing you the effort of climbing the mountain.

Gimmanhala

Gimmanhala or resting place

As you walk further, you will see circular areas between the Pethmaga. These are resting lounges designed for the bhikkus (Buddhist monks) to relax. In some Gimmanhala, the middle section is filled with water for the monks to wash and cool off their tired feet.

Padha Naghara

Padha Nagara, buildings of Bhikkus

These were buildings used by the Bhikkus at the time. These structures had walls and roofs, but today only the ruins remain. Some believe that these are the remains of the water channel, but their actual usage is unknown.

Caves

There are about 78 caves spread out over the area, but we didn’t find any while on our trail.

Janthagara

Janthagara or ancient hospital

Take a right at the meditation complex to reach the Janthagara or the ancient hospital. It was a place used as a hygiene and sanitation space by the Bhikkus. You can spot the remains of the grinding stones, hot stone baths, and old medicinal equipment here.

Pothgula

From the meditation complex, turn left to reach Pothugula or the ancient library. A few steps more from here and ruins can be seen.

Man made waterfall at Ritigala natural reserve

Moving further, we saw a man-made waterfall created by arranging the stones. We walked further to reach a big tree post where the human-accessible area ends.

Big and tall trees at Ritigala strict natural reserve, Sri Lanka

We hope this guide helps you with hiking Ritigala. For more such travel guides, tips, detailed itineraries, and anything related to travel, subscribe to the newsletter and follow us on social media – Instagram, Pinterest, and Youtube.

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