Sometimes we all feel like we need a getaway. However, going on vacation for multiple days is not exactly feasible given our often-tight schedules. Which is why we look for weekends to spend a day or two away from the routine humdrum of life and get some peace and tranquil.
Usually, when you think of weekend getaways in Sri Lanka, you think of places like Galle, Hikkaduwa or Negombo – you know, the beach. But did you know that Kurunegala has so much to offer when it comes to a getaway? You can’t obviously chill by the beach with a cocktail or go whale watching, sure; but what you’ll get is a much more unique experience comprising of a good mix of some Sri Lankan heritage, adventure, religion and the ol’ fashioned drink with your friends by a lake thrown around. Sounds interesting? Cool. Let’s find out how it’ll go down.
Getting to Kurunegala
First things first. How to get there? Well, two hours by train if you take the train from Colombo Fort. Also, around two hours if you drive. (1 hour if you’re an experienced Need for Speed player). And of course, you can take the bus; mind you, this can be rather cumbersome. But, if you feel like if you do want to take the bus there are two buses to take that operate from Colombo to Kurunegala; route no 05 and route no 06. Route no 06 has A/C buses but route no 05 does not. However, buses in route no 05 do arrive quicker than route no 06. You could also take the highway bus to Negombo from Colombo and board an A/C bus to Kurunegala from there, and it would be a rather comfortable journey (mostly because you won’t have to listen to Ajith Muthukumarana telling you about his catastrophic love life in the form dis-tan-tan music throughout your journey).
Things to Do
So, you got yourself to Kurunegala and now the question begs, what to do around here? Boy, there’s a plenty. Allow us to show you the ropes.
Watch the Sunrise from The Top of Athugala
Kurunegala is famous for the iconic rock which is shaped like a sleeping elephant (hence the name Athugala – “Ata” is elephant in Sinhala) overseeing the city and you should indeed climb it. But, trust us and do it during the dusk, the view you’ll be treated would be uh-may-zing.
Visit the Lake in Bathalegoda
When you think of a lake and Kurunegala you immediately think of the Kurunegala Lake. Well, there’s also the Bathalegoda Lake in the vicinity;, and it is beautiful. (Much more beautiful than the Kurunegala Lake if we’re honest). It’s an ancient lake built for the purposes of irrigation. If you look around, you’ll find a few rock inscriptions describing its history. The lake is very scenic with its opalescent waters, lush banks and it offers you a very placid environment.
Climb a rock
Why do you think the annual cricketing encounter between the two most prominent local schools, namely Maliyadeva College and St. Anne’s College is called “The Battle Of The Rocks”? Yup, you guessed it right; there’s a plenty of rocks in and around Kurunegala. Fun fact – the ones in the immediate vicinity of the city are named after animals. Yep, you heard us right; it’s not just the Athugala. You get Aandagala (Eel-Rock), Eluwagala (Goat-Rock) and Ibbagala (Tortoise-Rock) among others. So, what you should do is, get a local to show you around and have a climb. It’ll be quite the adventure and you’re sure to feel tremendous after you reach the top of the rock.
Eat Out, Of Course
You won’t get a lot of fancy dining in Kurunegala; but, we’ve lined up quite a few interesting eateries in Kurunegala at your disposal.
A bit far away from the city but you’ll get quality and delectable food for a very reasonable price. The place has a rural Sri Lankan theme. The lunch is a buffet and it is very Sri Lankan. The place is clean and tidy with a very pleasant ambience. And, they have fresh juices which are recommended; be sure to check those out.
Located in the middle of the city, this is a place that serves Indian food. The food is very authentic; and, the price is surprisingly very low (starting around LKR 50-100). It is, of course, a vegetarian café and you’ll get a range of dosas, vadei, idiappam, Indian style Rice and Curry and the likes here. This place is highly recommended.
This place is quite straightforward. Reasonable price, good food, good staff and a good atmosphere. Their variety in selection is why you should check them out.
Mathara Bath Kade
Now, this is a very interesting one. People in Kurunegala take their Rice and Curry very seriously. They insist that food is a big part of their lives and they insist that Rice and Curry is what makes food great. And when they eat Rice and Curry, they eat a lot of it. And that’s kind of how things roll in Mathara Bath Kade. They will give you some very Sri Lankan Rice and Curry, for a very Sri Lankan price (a very low price that is). They will give you a very generous portion of Rice and Curry and they will insist on you that you should finish it. Also, if you feel like the portion (which is a plenty already) is not enough and you need more, you can get a refill with no questions asked.
The place has a very blue-collar ambience but having lunch here can be quite the experience.
Visit the ruins of ancient capitals
Kurunegala was an ancient capital of Sri Lanka. So was Dambadeniya, which is about an hour away from Kurunegala. And, so was Panduwasnuwara (which is around a 2 or drive from Kurunegala); which in fact was the second ever kingdom in the country. There’s also the ruins of a 13th Century Rock Fortress in Yapahuwa and you should definitely visit these places. Let’s dig in.
The second ever kingdom in Sri Lanka ruled by King Panduwasudeva. This is a time where Buddhism even was not introduced to Sri Lanka. Here you’ll find ancient ruins of hospitals and palaces and various building complexes. The most exciting thing you’ll find here is the ruins of “Ektam Ge”; i.e. the ruins of the tower where the princess “Unmada Chithra” was held, as per the famous Sri Lankan legend.
An ancient Sri Lankan capital. It was famous in its day because it used to have a temple which held the sacred tooth of Buddha. An ancient temple is still there and a visit there will expose you to some very prestigious history lessons.
Yapahuwa Rock Fortress
Yapahuwa is another ancient capital of Sri Lanka. If you visit here, get ready to be enthralled. It’s a rock fortress in ruins, of course; but boy doesn’t it look magnificent. You’ll find a rock-carved lion here of which the craftsmanship is simply immaculate and brilliant. Trust us, you will visit here and leave in awe of how unique and brilliant ancient Sri Lankans were with their architecture.
See what Buddhism is like
Kurunegala remains historically and presently predominantly Buddhist. People here naturally identify themselves strongly with Buddhism and that has always been the case. Which is why there are a lot of ancient Buddhist temples around the area. Visit these and you’ll find yourself with a lot of respect and marvel about Buddhism. Here are a few temples we think you should visit.
Athkanda Raja Maha Viharaya
Athkanda Raja Maha Viharaya is an ancient crypt temple which is located within the city limits of Kurunegala. According to “Mahawamsa”, the temple was built by King Suratissa. You can find unique Sri Lankan roof paintings denoting various aspects in Buddhism including “Sath Sathiya”, “Mahindagamanaya” (Arrival of Mahinda Thero of India to Sri Lanka who essentially introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka) and many more. You could also find some antiquities from a bygone era on display if you visit the temple.
Ridee Viharaya (Silver Temple)
Ridee Viharaya, located approximately 20 kilometres away from Kurunegala is another ancient temple built during the reign of the legendary Sinhalese king Dutugemunu back in 2nd century BCE. The temple is named Silver Temple because the temple is said to be the location of the silver ore which provided silver for the completion of Ruwanweliseya in Anuradhapura, which is one of the most iconic landmarks in the country.
The temple is full of ancient ruins, paintings, sculptures and carvings which are truly unique. We won’t spoil you with the details so you will go there and check those out.
Get a little bit more ……. Pre-historic
Around an hour of drive away from Kurunegala is the town of Alawwa, which is the vicinity where the Hakbelikanda Aranya Senasanaya is located in; which is a Buddhist temple located in a rather remote area.
Visiting the temple itself is an experience; you’re sure to find it to be a very relaxing place located inside a very remote forest area. But, the gem here is that a little hike away from the temple, you will find yourself amongst caves which pre-historic people have said to be dwelled in.
The area is very remote and very unheard of but exploring the area is going to be a very different kind of experience.
Hopefully, after a rather exciting couple of days in charming Kurunegala, it’d be time to saddle up and get back into the rat race. But before you do that, take an evening to head out to the Lake Round in Kurunegala, sit by the cool breeze of the lake in a nice restaurant, get a couple of drinks with your friends and maybe do a little retrospection.
We will see you in Kurunegala.