Runakanda Conservation Center
Since I saw photos shared online by many who visited Runakanda, I was anxious to pay a visit there. I was fascinated by the wildlife available in the area especially the macro biodiversity. Runakanda situated adjoining Sinharaja, Sri Lanka's main rain forest ecosystem, it shared many common featured with Sinharaja Rain Forest.
Road map From Baduraliya, google map only mark road till Hadigalla, from there one has to go strait to Puwakdola junction and take left turn to Runakanda(Marked in green at the bottom of the map)
Reaching Runakanda was far easier compared to Sinharaja and it is much more peaceful when compared with Sinharaja Kudawa entrance since it is still not much popular among the general public. Runakanda can be reached from Colombo within two and half hours via Ecpressway 01 through Dodangoda exit. The route is along Kottawa -> Dodangoda -> Mathugama-> Agalawatta-> Baduraliya -> Hadihalla -> Puwakdola to Runakanda. The distance from Colombo to Runakanda is around 100 km via this route, and it can be easily reached by a car. Road is in good condition apart from very few places which still can me managed with little care.
One should inform Runakanda Conservation Center before you go there as they have to get tickets for visitors from Baduraliya Forest Office in order to visit Runakanda reserved forest. There is no other place to stay in the area apart from Runakanda Conservation Center managed by Mr. Udaya, a conservationist and the only available resource\guide to explore the area at the moment. The conservation center has two rooms which can accommodate around eight guests at a time.
Last week due to cancellation of our Doowili Eli hike, myself and Niroshan decided to go to Runakanda and explore the area. Leaving Kottawa around 5.30 in the morning, we managed to get to Runakanda Conservation Center around 8 after having breakfast from a road side boutique in Agalawatta. We were looking for "Siritunga Gramasewaka" s place since we have turn left from Puwakdola. Last few meters to "Siritunga Gramasewaka"s place was difficult to reach (they were planing to concrete that part.) due to bad conditions. However, when we reached the end of this road we were at "Siritunga Gramasewaka"s place and there were no clear path ahead or a no signs of a Conservation Center. Finally we managed to find a ascend through an abandoned tea plantation with help of a neighboring child. We were warmly welcomed by this wired looking guy with a long beard at the Conservation Center, we know who he is because of his many show offs in Facebook. But the guy looked better in person then what he pretend to be in Facebook.
Group of butterflies feeding on something on the river bank
Apart from us there was another guest at the center, at first I thought he is also working there due to his familiarity with the environment but later got to know he is another nature lover who frequently visits Runakanda. We waited sometime at the center while Udaya working on getting lunch prepared. There is an interesting photo collection Udaya has at the center, almost all of them managed to inspire me about Runakanda and its biodiversity. Before starting our trial, Udaya gave a small introduction to Runakanda, its biodiversity, history and cultural background of Runakanda and what one should expect there. My concern was which how long the trial was and what lenses will be useful during our hike, because I have been heart a lot by taking all my photography gears along hikes where I haven't even take out some of those gears. Everyone thought I was lacy, but in my experience I knew I was doing the right thing. I only packed my landscape and macro lenses in to the backpack leaving behind more heavy telephoto lens.
There is about 1.5 km from conservation center to the place where trials start. This scratch of the road is difficult to manage in several places. however, a car can manage it in most part. We have chosen to go to a small waterfall in the area, just before starting our trial Udaya came across a Five Bar Swordtail, a beautiful and somewhat rare butterfly. However, when we started the hike and got down to river Maguru, we found around hundred or more butterflies on one place on the river sand bank. Udaya said it was the highest butterfly collection he has seen in Runakanda till that day.
We crossed over to the other side and continue on a path through forest, those paths were leading to houses inside forest. The forest had been dried out due to recent drought, yet there were lots of water streams flowing inside with crystal clear water. From few hundred meters in to the wild, we came to a large stream and continue along it. There were lots of endemic fresh water fish species in those streams. Udaya named few of them, but I couldn't keep track.
Endemic Amphibians Endemic Amphibians
Looking to track a Malabar Trogon We had lunch on the way to the waterfall and get back on the same route. It was around four in the afternoon when we returned to the conservation center after having a long bath in river Maguru. There were lots of birds on the Kanda tree close to conservation center, eating Kanda fruit. Some of them occasionally came to the bird feed. I have managed to capture a good shot of Yellow-fronted Barbet under dying light and thought of giving it a try in the morning. Yellow-fronted Barbet
We work up early in next morning with the calls of birds. There was a flock of Orange Billed Babblers, another endemic bird confined in low country wet zone of Sri Lanka. But the light was not that good, so I only watched them but didn't attempt to photograph. They vanished before light become better, but few other bird species have replaced them including Yellow-fronted Barbet, White-browed Bulbul, Black Bulbul.
Yellow-fronted Barbet Yellow-fronted Barbet
We left the Conservation Center again to explore Runakanda from a different dimension. This time we chose to go to see Pahanthuda waterfall. The trial starts almost from the same location but continue on a different path. In this trial we saw our first Sri Lanka Kagaroo Lizard as well as a traditional fishing method.
A traditional fishing method Sri Lanka Kangaroo Lizard
This time we came across a more permanent Kithul Wadiya inside Runakanda. We climb down from there to reach river Maguru and continue our walk along the river to Pahanthudawa falls. From there it was about 750m to the fall along the river over boulders.
Pahanthudawa Waterfall (Lower cascade) Pahanthudawa Waterfall (Upper cascade and the base pool resembling a Pahana)
Pahanthudawa waterfall was not that high compare to many waterfalls in hills, but it must be glorious when it is raining. There are two parts in the waterfall, upper part drop in to a pool like resemble a "Pahana" and second part drops through a rock resembling a burning point of a "Pahana" which as given its name. Two pools in each part seems to be very deep and it is not recommended to bath in either of them.
Wide view of Panathudawa EllaHaving a cool dip
We had our lunch enjoying the beauty of Pahanthudawa falls and start our return journey, there were few nice pool like areas in Maguru Ganga which are suitable for bath. We chose one of them and had a cool dip crystal clear water from Runakanda & Sinharaja rain forests. It was very refreshing.
It was around four in the evening when we got back to Runakanda Conservation Center and after a cup of tea from Udaya, we say goodbye to him with hopes to come back.
Mr. Udaya Chanaka - Caretaker and guide Runakanda Censervation Center
Mobile: 071 469 9306
Land Line: 034 374 7996