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 Post subject: Ritigala - mountain of magic and mystery
 Post Posted: Sun Jan 29, 2006 6:37 pm 
Ritigala - mountain of magic and mystery

Written By: Karel Roberts Ratnaweera
@ WS / 29Jan2006


It had long been my childhood dream to at least see Ritigalakanda—Ritigala as the anglicized say—if not climb it. The dream was inspired by the Pandukhabaya legends which also I had been following from those early days.

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The truth is that I was fascinated and intrigued by all fugitives who had to live on inaccessible rocks and mountains to escape the authorities. Nothing can compare with their adventure stories. Robin Hood obsessed me no end.

Pandukhabaya came high on my list ever since we learned about him at school. He lived for four years in the foothills of Mihintale, on Dvaramandakanda after his mother the beautiful Ummadacitta smuggled him off to a peasant in return for the latter’s child because Prince Pandukhabahaya’s ten uncles were out for the infant’s blood. Later, in early manhood, he gathered a band of men around him and they fled up Dimbulagala where they sojourned for four years planning and scheming how they would outwit the ten princes, one of whom Abhaya, was the only one in sympathy with the young , pursued prince.

Ritigala is also in the Polonnaruwa district. It was a brilliant afternoon the day we decided to ‘do’ Ritigala in the course of a domestic tour on which we were invited by a local tourist agency, with an excellent tour guide who we shall just call Sena.

As the luxury coach swung into the Ritigala area, just to see the mountain gave this writer goose pimples. It was early afternoon and the sun dappled its myriad patterns on the jungle road. On the way, Sena our guide gave us an excellent description of Ritigala and what you should and should not do while climbing or even simply standing at its foothills. He also gave out a signal that no visitor to the mountain was to take away even a leaf as a souvenir from the rich plants to be found covering the mountain.

As Ritigala loomed closer and larger as the coach approached it, afternoon shadows were deepening and people were looking out for elephants! But Sena was unperturbed—for the moment.

We disembarked and a cool breeze enveloped us with the rustle of the trees fanning our spirits. Vehicles festooned with creepers and medicinal plants were turning up by the tens and parking in the cool parking area. It is said that the top of Ritigala is covered with the rarest medicinal plants from the Himalayas. Legend has it that these rare plants were scattered by Rama when he was on wing, as it were, from the Himalayas to the South of Lanka. Rama was trying to vanquish the demon Ravana who was making a play for Rama’s beloved Sita, the story goes.

In the course of scattering these rare plants and herbs on Ritigala, they took root and can be seen to this day on the summit of the mountain which no one can reach easily, or for that matter even with difficulty.

As we climbed with some trepidation in the light of what our guide had told us on the way, this writer got the greatest thrill of her life when we reached Pandukhabaya’s original look-out post from where enemy activity was observed. Nothing that Hollywood has ever made on glitzy celluloid—not even the adventures of Robin Hood-- could equal the excitement that coursed through my veins on climbing the half walls and boulders to the look-out post and finally get inside.

It was open to the sunlight and green trees, and one could not help thinking that it was the same bright blue sky that would have met his gaze as it did ours. Perhaps the vegetation may have changed in some ways, in some ways altering the horizon—but never the sky. One wondered what it would have looked like on a bright, moonlit night!

Having gazed and gazed into the far horizon, with only a cloth hat to keep the fierce sun out—but the air was cool—we reluctantly got down as the guide was keeping a mental eye on elephants after three o’clock in the afternoon. However, it was a consoling thought that we would once again have to walk through Pandukabhaya’s palace and courtyards on the descent down Ritigala.

However, a rather unfortunate incident marred the time spent on this mountain of magic and mystery. A member of our group plucked a leaf, pocketed it and then found himself and members of his family ‘stranded’ and in their own words feeling as if the world was revolving round and round (which it does, anyway) and they lost their way down, in short. The rest of the party, having made the descent (we had climbed about less than halfway up the mountain), had to wait about half an hour before the lost party finally made their appearance, looking frightened and guilty.

When this writer’s thin gold bracelet got entangled in a shrub and fell to the ground, I did not pick it up without the guide’s permission.

There is an eel which inhabits the square pond somewhere close to the foothills of Ritigala. It is said to disgorge gold from its mouth all the time. We did not see it but I thought I should have put it into the pond instead of donning it again. Funnily enough, the chain-bracelet was spirited away in the course of a shifting operation not long after!

As the afternoon shadows deepened, our wise guide said it would not be safe to wait as elephants were known to occupy the pathways leading to the vehicle parking lot and if they did, it might have been our plight to wait till daybreak the next day before we could proceed,while Mihintale Resthouse waited for us for lunch!

Fortunately it was the day after Poson Poya and one can only imagine what a sight a moon-bathed Ritigala would have presented!


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Written By: Karel Roberts Ratnaweera


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