Govinda Hela of Siyambalanduwa – A mountain trek and an ancient fortress


Govinda Hela,  the mount of Govinda, is an ancient fortress of King Buwanakabahu, stands indomitable over the Jayanthi Tank, challenging the adventure traveler to conquer its peak.  Complete with winding forest paths and steps carved out of the rock, the final ascent up to the top is up an aluminum ladder on a flat-faced steep rock.

Standing five hundred meters tall over the rivers, tanks, bunds and elephant infested jungles Govinda hela was once the unreachable fortress of King Buwanakabahu of 6 century AC, the rulers of Eastern Digamadulla when the tyrant Invading King Kalinga Maga was ruling the ancient Rajarata, the kingdom of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

The mountain re-discovered by Colonial British was named Westminster Abbey, a poor comparison, and tribute to this majestic creation of nature. The trek along the footpath begins from the Sri Buvanekabahu Viharaya at Siyambalanduwa; about 300 km from Colombo, in the Moneragala district and the incumbent priest of the temple is a gracious host, assisting the dire needs of the climbers in times of trouble.

Westminster Abbey or Govinda Hela

Govinda Hela, a protected forest reserve, has probably the largest number of ebony trees in a single location. At every nook, corner and turn amidst hundreds of rocks stand sentinel, both aging and young ebony trees, with mature specimens dark black in colour.

Rocks of all sizes – small, large and giant, some forming deep caverns – dominate the forest. Trees with vines snaking around their trunks and thick scrub complete the image of the wilderness. The winding paths and stepping stones are often treacherous not due to moisture but a carpet of dry leaves.

The forest reserve is the home to numerous species of birds as well as large families of wild boars, who tend to surprise the unwary travelers. The two km trek upwards is not for the weary and faint-hearted and the likelihood of getting lost without a proper guide is high in the jungles surrounding Govinda Hela.

After crossing two bridges and traveling nearly half km the trek tends to become perilous with many steep rocks and high slopes.  The trek had been more difficult nearly one decade back when the climbers had to negotiate uneven rocks and a rope ladder to reach to the top. Gladly the conditions have changed for better with newly constructed cemented steps at some parts and aluminum ladders installed over the rock faces.

After the daredevil climb, the view from the top and cool breeze compensate the attempts, the weariness, and the aching limbs. The ruins scattered on the top are the remains of a palace and a monastery but the main attraction is the ‘Hulan Kapolla’, a space between two rocks through which a gushing wind blows, with the loud but unmistakable “ho, ho” sound of a strong blast. Climbers gather around to test the power of wind and to revel in the cooling breeze.

Yet the climax of the climb is the view from the top, expanding beyond the boundaries of Gal Oya basin covering reservoirs, mountains, and streams, belittling the creations of the man at the feet of nature’s grand creation.


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