Tour guide to Matale Sri Lanka !
Steeped in culture and tradition, Matale offers an interesting insight into Sri Lanka’s multiple religiosities.
The town of Matale has a very rich history. This province is the only Sri Lankan province with a written record of its culture, in a book called “Aithihaasike Mathale”. It is also the site where the Pali canon, the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition, as preserved in the Pāli language, was transcribed onto palm leaves as early as 29 BC.
During the British colonial period, Matale was the site of a rebellion in 1848 when local leaders, now remembered as national heroes, rebelled against the British garrison in Fort McDowell. Matale is also the birthplace of Monarawila Keppetipola, another Sri Lankan national, who led the Wellasa rebellion. His ancestral home, Kappetipola Walawuwa, is still preserved in Hulangamuwa, in South West Matale.
Matale is of particular interest to those who enjoy architecture, art and history as a number of ancient viharas and statues, some of them with unknown origins, are to be found. A visit to Matale, known also for its lush natural greenery, is a pleasurable dip into Sri Lankan countryside.
Matale is also an important producer of tea, rubber, vegetables and spices. Weather-wise, Matale has moderate temperatures of around 28°C with peak temperatures in March and a monsoon season in September and October.
As Matale lies on the crossroads to all major cities, the traffic here tends to be quite congested.
How to get to Matale, Sri Lanka and how to move around
Getting there - By road
Matale is close to Kandy, only 26 km away. The best way to get to Matale is to take a bus from Kandy. From the central clock tower at Kandy, you can take a private or intercity bus bearing the number 594.
You can also take a train on this same route that is very scenic and highly recommended. The 90-minute trip is quite cheap.
Top tourist attractions in Matale
45 minutes on the Kandy-Dambulla route lies the Muthumariamman temple, a site of great significance for Hindus. Built by the Tamil spice traders of the region, the elegant temple has finely detailed sculptures of the Goddess Kali at the northern entrance and a golden shikara boat on top. The building is very colourful and exceptionally well maintained.
Entry to the temple is free, and it is usually not very crowded. You have to pay only to take photographs though (Rs.100 for exterior shots and Rs.250 for indoor photographs).
Do look out for the five chariots that the locals use during processions in the city.
If you are in Matale, the temple is a good attraction for 1 hour or so.
The Aluvihara Monastery is a troglodyte structure cut entirely from rock. The 120 steps lead you to the top of the temple from where you are treated to a stunning mountain scenery.
The caves here hold quite a lot of sculptures and paintings, some of them containing graphic depictions of humans!
Located just 3 kilometres to the north of Matale, the monastery is of historical importance to Buddhism in Sri Lanka as it was here that the Enlightened One’s teachings and doctrine were transcribed by monks. These transcripts, known as the Tipitala, were housed in the monastery library until 1848 when British troops burnt them trying to arrest a rebel chief.
Today resident Buddhist monks dedicate their time to reproduce these texts on Talipot leaves (Talipot is a variety of palm that is native to Sri Lanka). You can admire their dedication and dexterity when you visit their workshop. You can make a donation to their work. Some of them will offer to write your name on a palm leaf that you can take back as an authentic personalised souvenir.
Entry to Aluvihara is Rs.1500 for foreigners but free for locals. You will have to pay an additional Rs.25 for use of the shoe rack.
Travelling to Aluvihara from Matale by tuk-tuk will cost your in the range of Rs.250 (to and fro). You can take a bus from Matale too for just Rs.7.
Matale Heritage Centre
Just two kilometres from Matale is the Matale Heritage Centre, where you can learn about the crafting traditions of the area. Embroidery, brass work, spice gardens and other workshops are set up in many bungalows across this sprawling campus.
The best part of this visit is the lunch at the centre, which must be booked (groups of 4 or more) before your arrival. It costs just Rs.1000 per person, and you are served three kinds of rice and up to 25 different kinds of curries!
Travelling to the Heritage Centre costs Rs.250 for a round trip on a tuk-tuk, including waiting time.
A choice of appealing places to visit when you venture outside Matale
Situated on the east of the A9 route, the Nalanda Gedige is 20 km north of Aluvihara. This site features a unique architecture, a fusion of Hindu and Buddhist styles, set in an impossibly picturesque locale.
Named after the Nalanda Buddhist University in India, very little is known of the Nalanda Gedige. The walls adorned with murals and shikaras, are similar to temples in India but also hold typically Sri Lankan motifs. Despite the Indian influence, there are no images of gods as the Nalanda Gedige is a Buddhist sanctuary.
Nalanda Gedige is one of the earliest stone buildings to be constructed in the country (8th-11th century BC).
Classical, mysterious and beautiful, Nalanda Gedige is a must-go for everyone.
Midway between Kurunagala and Anuradhapura lies Yapahuwa, erstwhile capital of the kingdom of King Bhuvenaka Bahu between 1271 and 1283. It was King Bhuvenaka Bahu who brought the sacred Buddha tooth relic with him here. However, after the invasion of Sri Lanka by South Indian kings when the tooth relic was carried away to India, Yapahuwa was largely abandoned except by the Buddhist monks who continued to live and pray here.
The ruins of Yapahuwa are a testament to the splendour of yesteryears. Built on a rocky mountain, it was a palace as well as a military camp. The Yapahuwa fort is similar to the Sigiriya fort in terms of construction and style.
Typical Buddhist attributes like a Bodhi tree and the remains of a Stupa are found here amid caves that served as shelters for the monks. In addition, military structures like battlements, moats and ramparts can also be seen. The main attraction here is the ornamental staircase, preserved in near perfectly state.
Climbing up the steep staircase lined with pierced stone windows, stone sculptures of Indian gods and pottery, you reach a museum that houses the remains that were unearthed here thanks to archaeological excavations. You can also walk around the fortress and admire the cave temple near the stairs.
Kurunegala was a royal capital for half a century. Today, it is the capital of the North Western Province. Situated at 116 metres above sea level, it offers a great view of the surrounding coconut and rubber plantations. Eight great rocks encircle the city and are named after the animals they resemble most. The largest of these is the Elephant Rock, ‘Ethagala’, atop of which sits a 27-metre giant Buddha statue. The Bauddhaloka Viharaya here is a prominent Buddhist shrine.
The Kurunagala Royal Complex houses what is left of the palace and resting spot of the tooth relic. Nearby, there is a large man-made reservoir used by the kings to supply water to the farmlands of the region. A memorial for the soldiers who perished in World War I was later erected here.
More recently a 67-foot high granite Samadhi Buddha statue was carved out from the rock in the small town of Rideegama next to Kurunegala. It was a local reaction to the destruction of the Bamiyan statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan by the Taliban. This novel initiative came to life thanks to the initiative of Amaramoli Thero, a Buddhist monk, and expertise from India's famous sculptor S.M. Ganapathi Stapathi.
Matale offers on the best lakes in Sri Lanka
Sembuwaththa translates to “Gold Vessel”, and truly, the Sembuwaththa Lake is a tourist gem hidden away amid the hills.
The lake is 25 kilometres from Matale, close to Hunnas Falls. Although it is not safe to swim here, you can spend a lovely day having a picnic here or camping out or hiking through the foothills of the Knuckles Mountain Range.
Fed by many streams, this idyllic lake is also a source of hydroelectric power.
Where to admire wildlife in Matale
Knuckles Forest Reserve
The Knuckles Mountain Range is situated in the heart of the island. It is so-called as five of its highest summits (Kirigalpottha, Gombaniya, Knuckles, Koboneelagala and Dotulugala) together form a set of knuckles in a closed fist. The area was revered in ancient times as it was thought to be the dwelling of Yakshas.
The reserve spreads over Kandy district and Matale district has been designated as a conservation area, called the Knuckles National Heritage and Wilderness area. The three main rivers find their source in the Knuckles Range (Hulu Ganga, Heen Ganga et Kalu Ganga) and their waterfalls and pools offer the reserve great scenery and wonderful settings for hiking and trekking enthusiasts.
The trails that pass through rivers, forests, tree plantations and lush vegetation are perfect for nature lovers who don't mind the mud and the steep climbs at places. The area is unspoilt at most places and offers quite many opportunities to enjoy Mother Nature's lovely endowments.
If you are planning to hike, you should start early, and carry some fresh water and snacks with you. The weather can change any moment and so, be prepared for wind and rain.
The Forest Department can provide you with information on guides and lodgings available on site: http://www.forestdept.gov.lk/web/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=121&Itemid=125&lang=en
Fun things to do with children in Matale
Matale Children Park
This landscaped garden around playgrounds and play areas offers children visiting the park a welcome breather. There is a café where you can buy ice cream and drinks for your kids. A a small gift shop and lots of shade make this a great place to go with cbildren or stop off on the way. There is a tiny entry fee to maintain this place.
Great things to do in Matale
Shop for lacquerware
Matale is famous for its lacquerware. The method employed by traditional craftsmen is unique in the world as the work is done with the finger or thumb nail and nomachine is employed. Although you can buy lacquerware from other cities, the ones that you find here are made by the best craftsmen on the island.
Visit Hunnas Falls
The Hunnas Falls lie close to Kandy, erstwhile royal capital of Sri Lanka, lies. It is considered to be one of the most picturesque tourists spots in the entire country. Travellers compare the views to that of the Scottish highlands! The area is lush and green. It is misty in the morning and temperature never climb higher than 22°C. Take a walk in the hilly countryside to enjoy the sights around the waterfall.