Sri Lanka: Ambuluwawa Tower
Ambuluwawa is a biodiversity complex and Sri Lanka’s first multi-religious sanctuary situated in the central highlands of the country.
A visit to Ambuluwawa Tower had not originally been on our original plan of places to see but we had met a young German couple who had given it an outstanding review and so we persuaded our driver to take us there – and it turned out to be definitely worth the detour!
The tower, or more officially the Ambuluwawa Trigonometrical Station, is located about 5km (about 3 miles) from the small town of Gampola and about 25km (or 16 miles ) from Kandy. Due to the country roads, it takes about 1 hour 10 minutes to reach here from Kandy.
To get to the tower you have to head up a mountain along a winding road, which gets you most of the way there. The last 1.5km is not open to private vehicles so we had to hop out. You could, of course, walk the rest of the way which is what the locals seem to do – but it is steep and will likely be pretty hot going in the heat of the Sri Lankan day. Instead, we jumped into a tuk-tuk, which was an adventure itself as we bumped our way over the pot-holed track and navigated tight bends as we snaked our way upwards. Some sections were so steep that the tuk-tuk huffed and puffed, so our tour guide had to leap out and walk!
Eventually, we reached the top of the mountain and the Ambuluwawa Biodiversity Centre. The Centre was inaugurated by Sri Lanka’s former Prime Minister, Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Jayaratne, popularly known as “Di Mu”, who was born near Gampola. Ambuluwawa Mountain stands approximately 3560 meters (11,680 feet) above sea level – pretty high!
The views across the surrounding countryside and adjacent mountains are incredible. Ambuluwawa is surrounded by many mountains including Piduruthalagala to the east, Bible Rock (Bathalegala) to the west, Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) in the south and the Knuckles Mountain Range to the North. The area is also renowned for the extensive biodiversity of its flora and fauna – I guess that is why they put a biodiversity centre here!
The most striking feature of the centre is the stunning tower that rises 48m (160 feet) above the mountain. It is somewhat whimsical and looks like it came right out of a Dr Suess book. From the base of the tower, you can climb an internal stairway that takes you about a third of the way up and out onto another viewing platform, with spectacular views. If you are adventurous and not afraid of height the stairs continue up the tower, this time winding their way around the outside, getting progressively narrower and more rickety as they approach the top. I didn’t go up but my wife Karen, who likes a challenge, did and she confirmed my fears. On the top section, the width of the stairs narrow to about 12 inches, and the walls of the tower lean outward, forcing you to lean out and over the balustrade. Not for me thank you! I was happy enough staying down below and admire the view.
There are other things to see in the complex, including a miniature version of the tower, which I felt a lot more comfortable scaling and some small temples that pay tribute to the primary religious cultures of Sri Lanka including a stylized Buddhist stupa, a Hindu kovil, a Muslim mosque and a Christian Church
o Go here if you love spectacular 360-degree panoramic views
o Go here if you love culture and wish to celebrate biodiversity
o Don’t climb the tower if you are unsteady on your feet & suffer from vertigo
o Don’t go up if you find riding a tuk-tuk around bends with steep drop-offs scary.
o Definitely a place worth taking a detour to. You can see it in an hour or less!