Beautiful Sinharaja Wanantharaya, the UNESCO-declared World Heritage Forest is situated 117 km from Colombo travelling via the towns of Horana and Matugama.
The entry to Sinharaja from this direction is through the village of Kudawa. The forest can be reached from many other directions too, including the much-used route via Ratnapura.
The Sinharaja is 21 kilometres long laterally and 7 kilometres wide longitudinally with a width of 3 kilometres at its thinnest point. This makes the Sinharaja a strip of land long in latitude, covering an area of 11180 hectares. The forest at its lowest is 270 metres above sea level and at its highest rises to 1060 metres. Human habitats surround the jungle in the form of 19 small villages. Sinharaja has 9 hills of which the tallest is Hinipitigala, which peaks at 1170 metres.
Historically the forest is filled with folklore and the people in the villages will tell you stories from bygone days that have been passed from generation to generation. They may show you places, giving names and elaborate details to justify their beliefs; some of which seem purely logical. The name Sinharaja Wanantharaya means Forest of the Great Lion. This name itself is connected with a story of a huge lion that lived in a cave in the forest a very long time ago (lions are now extinct in Sri Lanka) and marauded the nearby villages. The story goes to say that a brave giant from one of the villages came to fight the lion and killed it by throwing large boulders at it. The villagers will show you the great lion's cave called Sinha Lena (Picture) and also the mound of rocks called Yoda Gal Goda, which are supposed to be the rocks with which the giant killed the lion. True? False? Who knows? The smoke is there, then surely there would have been some fire.
Many streams straggle from the high ground of the Sinharaja forest and become tributaries to bigger rivers. Hence, the land is wet. The rainfall in the area is at a substantially high rate throughout the year, which makes the waterways rush and gush, adding a further dimension of beauty to the land. A small waterfall decorates the Sinharaja near the Kudawa village. It is called Duhuvili Ella, perhaps named after the dust like spray that surrounds the vicinity when the water is at full flow.
There are footpaths in the forest that connect the boundary villages to each other. They have been constantly used by people who associate themselves with the forest. The hunter, the woodcutter and the fruit gatherer have all left their footprints and of late the thieves and the destroyers have come too, using the same footpaths. The sadness can be seen as those in love with nature do their utmost to protect the Sinharaja whilst those in greed vandalise with scant regard to what is valued as a World Heritage Forest.
Sinharaja to the visitor is mainly the flora. The birds and the animals are there, but it is the trees, the flowers and the plants of such variety that give the Sinharaja its prominence as an attraction to the nature lover. Efforts are being made to ensure the preservation of the Sinharaja. Visitors are welcome; as long as they go in, leave nothing behind and take nothing from the forest accept the beautiful memories of Sinharaja as it lies in its magnificence, just as nature created.
Sinharaja Wanantharaya has not asked anything from anyone for its sustenance. For thousands of years the forest has given protection to the birds, the bees and the butterflies. It has been home to the elephant, the leopard, the deer and sambhur. It has mothered the tree, the creeper and the stream. The forest has been kind and has unselfishly offered shade even to the ones who came to wreck and destroy it.