Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
Close to Polonnaruwa
Minneriya Giritale National Park (8890 ha) with magnificent ancient Minneriya man-made reservoir (3000 ha) stealing the limelight, is located in close proximity to three more wild life parks of Sri Lanka Holidays: Kaudulla National Park to the north, Wasgomuwa national Park to the south and Flood Plains National Park to the north-east. Furthermore Minneriya Giritale National Park is situated within the famed Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka that features no less than five UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Culture): Anuradhapura to the north-west, Polonnaruwa to the south-east, Sigiriya to the south-west, Golden Dambulla Rock Cave Temple to the south-west and Kandy to the further south of Dambulla.
Location of Minneriya-Giritale National ParkMinneriya-Giritale National Park is located just 20km north-west of Polonnaruwa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Culture) of Polonnaruwa district of the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. The boundaries of Minneriya-Giritale National Park to the north, west and east are outlined by the roads, Habarana -Polonnaruwa highway, Sigiriya -Moragaswewa road and Katukeliyawa-Diyabeduma roads respectively.
The setting of Minneriya-Giritale National ParkMinneriya-Giritale National Park has vast ancient Minneriya irrigation reservoir bisecting it in the north-south axis, all the way from southern boundary to the northern boundary of the park. At the south-east corner of the park is Giritale Wewa ancient irrigation reservoir.
Altitude of Minneriya-Giritale National Park ranges from about 100m on the plains to the 891m at Nilgala (Sinhala: Blue Hill) Peak, the highest point within the park.
The climate and weather of Minneriya-Giritale National Park
Minneriya-Giritale National Park is located in the dry zone of the island: the mean annual rainfall is 1164mm. Mean day and night temperatures at Minneriya-Giritale National Park is 28 degrees Celsius.
The climate of Minneriya-Giritale National Park is tropical monsoon with dry season during the period of May to October.
Reaching Minneriya-Giritale National ParkMinneriya-Giriatale National Park has a very convenient gateway: Habarana. Habarana, an important transportation hub of the cultural triangle is the intersection of A6 main road of Colombo-Ambepussa-Habarana-Trincomalee and A13, A11 main road that runs from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa via Habarana and Minneriya. Minneriya National Park, located 182 km away from Colombo, though in the utter wilderness, can be reached by railway too. Minneriya railway station, which is close to the entrance of the park, is on line that runs from Colombo to Trincomalee via Polonnaruwa. Minneriya railway station is between the railway station of Gal Oya Junction (close to Kaudulla National Park) and Hingurakgoda railway station. This Gal Oya Junction in Polonnaruwa district mentioned herein oughtn’t be confused with famous Gal Oya National Park in Ampara district)
Entrance to the Minneriya-Giritale National ParkEntrance to the Minneriya-Giritale National Park cannot get any better: it is where the A11 main road touch the railway line.
Vegeation at Minneriya Giritale National ParkThe park has wide range of habitat types, from dry tropical forest to wetlands, grassland and terrain earlier used for slash-and-burn (chena) cultivation.
Best time to Visit Minneriya Giritale National ParkSri Lanka Holidays wild life parks afford the sight of herds of wild elephants and other mammals throughout the year. However during the period of May to October (dry season of north central and eastern plains) Sri Lanka Holidays tourists are afforded the grand spectacle of a vast gathering of wild elephant. The gathering of elephants should not be mistaken for migration of elephants from the nearby wild life parks. The gathering is a phenomenon unique to Minneriya Giritale National Park. Kaudulla National Park has its own ancient irrigation reservoir called Kaudulla reservoir; Giritale sanctuary is located on the banks of Giritale reservoir; Wasgomuwa National Park is sandwiched between River Mahaweli ganga, the largest river of Sri Lanka and River Amban Ganga; Flood Plains National Park has Mahaweli ganga dividing it into two halves all the way to Somathiya Chatiya National Park to further north-east. In spite of the water bodies in and around the other national parks, elephants therein have found that the open grassland on the banks of the vast ancient Minneriya irrigation reservoir is the merry land to run riot during the dry season: drink and bath; feast and play; jostle and hustle to the content of their jumbo hearts.
Minneriya BirdlifeMinneriya National Park is home to no less than 160 species of birds. A visit to the bund of the enormous Minneriya irrigation reservoir is bound to be great joy to the bird enthusiasts, birders and ornithologists. King fishers and flycatchers, of many different sizes and degrees of brilliancy keep vigil over the shores of the lake. In the backdrop of contrasting vegetation and habitats of the Minneriya Wildlife Park, an enormous array of birds could be sighted. Among the migrating birds are Common sandpiper, Woodsand piper, Kentish Plovers. Malabar-pied Hornbills, Rufus Woodpecker the globally endangered Lesser Adjutant are among the forest birds. Add to these are of course the endemics to Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Crimson-fronted Barber, Sri Lanka Grey Horn bill, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, Brown-capped Babbler, Emerald Dove, Green Imperial Pigeon.
Minneriya MammalsMinneriya National Park provides sanctuary to 24 species of mammals: Leopards, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Wild Boar, Wild Buffalo, Grey Langers, Purple-faced Monkeys, Porcupine, Indian Pangolin and Mongoose. Oh! Yes the elephants, herds of elephants.
Minneriya Amphibians and ReptilesMinneriya Wild Life Park is home to nine species of Amphibians: common tree frog and slender wood frog are commonly seen. Among the 25 species of repitiles known to have found sanctuary in the park are Red-lipped Lizard (endemic), water monitor and land monitor, mugger Crocodile.
Minneriya Accommodation OptionsSri Lanka Holidays tourists visiting Minneriya Park afforded with the opportunities to enjoy the luxury of eco-oriented lodges and hotels in the wilderness of Habarana, Giritale and Kandalama and Dambulla. At the high end of the range are Hetitance Kandalama at Kandalama, Cinnamon Lodge at Habarana, Chaaya Village at Habarana , Deer Park Hotel at Habarana and Amaya Lake at Dambulla.
Kandy (1684-1706 AD), Minneriya irrigation reservoir of Sri Lanka Holidays was built by King Mahasena (276-302 AD), who reigned at Anuradhapura.
Rajavaliya narrates: king Mahasena taking the services of Yakkas, constructed the Minneriya irrigation reservoir and dammed up the River Kara-ganga channeling its water to Minneriya. Considering the signs indicated by gods, he constructed an anicut across the River Talwatu-oya and bringing under cultivation twenty thousand paddy fields and caused to be constructed seventeen irrigation reservoirs, namely; Muvagamuva, Suralla, Didora, Mahaminiya, Kokkavava, Puskumbura, Rattalla, Mahaluvava, Suluguruva, Kalavana, Kimbulvana, Vatamodaragalla, Belipitiya, Vadunnava, Siruvalya, Rantisa and Minihiriya, taking the services of Yakkas during the night and of men during the day time.
Today, River Kara-ganga mentioned in Rajavaliya is called River Ambanganga. King Mahasena conferred vast Minneriya reservoir, together with 80,000 amunas (Sinhala: amuna is 2.5 acres of land that yield 5 bushels of rice) of land that it waters to jethavana dagoba monastery which he had built in Anuradhapura of Sri Lanka Holidays.
Yakkas (Sinhala: demons) indicated in Rajavaliya refers to a tribe of a savage non-human beings of great strength and super natural powers that was believed to have existed in the ancient times in Sri Lanka and India. Having Yakka tribe to engage in heavy construction work in the night is consonant with the belief, that prowess of those non-humans were believed to rise to stupendous proportions with the descent of night. The Mahabharata, one of the greatest two Hindu epics composed in Sanskrit, the language of Gods, (the other being Valmiki’s Ramayana) too narrates the heroic beings of untamed Yakka Tribe: Ghatotkacha, a most loyal son born to she-demon Hidimbi of ferocious Yakka tribe by Bhima was recognized as invincible demi-demon being with the descent of night. Gods indicated in Rajavlaiya, according to the Buddhist literature, are believed to be superior beings of great resplendence and immense merits and virtues in other planets who could assist the human beings, if they so desired.
The splendor and grandeur of Minneriya Reservoir of Sri Lanka Holidays was narrated in the Sri Lanka travel book titled Ceylon, Beaten Track authored by W.T. Keble, 1940, Colombo in no ordinary terms. Quote. It seems incredible that man conceived and made Minneriya reservoir, the loveliest of lakes, so rich in all that is beautiful, so savage and untamed, and a true refuge from civilization. It is monstrous to say that the lake was made only that men might have rice in plenty to eat. It is the expression of the spirit of a mighty king who ruled over the great Sinhalese civilization. It was made for the glory of man become god, whose power was great enough to make his fellows the builders of what his mind conceived and his great heart loved to look upon, something wide and spacious, something grand and limitless which carried power and life to thousands, and yet had no want and felt no loss. He chained the force of nature for man, in a work small enough to feed his body, but found large enough to fill his soul and overflow into the grandest and widest conceptions of his being. The villager may well see the God in the spirit of the lake, for truth and beauty meet here in earth and water, in hill and valley, and in the great mirror that gives back the heavens to the eyes of gods and men. Unquote
Following the death of King Mahasena, in the tradition of Sinhalese attributing the greatest reverence to the most venerable men, the king was thenceforth remembered as Minneri Deviyo (Sinhala: the guardian deity of Minneriya). The dam, 24 miles in length, ranging in height from 40 to 90 feet, and averaging 80 feet for many miles was repaired by King Parakrambahu the great (1164-1197), the builder of Parakrama Samudra reservoir (Sinhala: Sea of Parakrama).
Rediscovery of Minneriya reservoirFollowing the decline and fall of ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura (437 BC-845 AD) and Polonnaruwa (846AD - 1302AD), the population abandoned the north central plains of Sri Lanka to shift to Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunagala, Gampoloa, Kotte and last to Senkadagala Nuwara Kandy. When the desolation reigned supreme in the north central plains, Minneriya reservoir was the only ancient reservoir of immense expanses that survived the dire effects of centuries of abandonment. The bunds of great ancient Minneriya irrigation reservoir never breached. The bunds of Minneriya tank stood steadfast at all times as the lone sentinels over waters they confined.
The Minneriya reservoir was first discovered to the western world by a member of the Madras (Chennai) Council at Fort of St. George (or historically, White Town), by the name of John Pybus, who arrived at Kottiyar Bay, Trincomalee in the year 1762 and passed through the wilderness to Kandy seeking an audience with King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1780). The king, who was at war with the Dutch, spurred by his Nayakkar relatives at Kandy had sought to forge a treaty with the British in Madras against the Dutch. No treaty was drawn out. During the war with Kandy (1761-1766), the Dutch used Trincomalee as a base for the incursions towards the Kandyan territory. By the year 1763, the territories under Dutch control extended in the interior until Minneriya and Madavacchiya.
In 1803 Minneriya was chosen as a military post, and was occupied by British regiment of Foot. It is said, only thereafter, the region of Minneriya, which had for long been described on maps of the time as "mountainous unknown country" began to take more realistic shape in cartography and in narrative.
In 1817, Dr. John Davy, the chief of medical Staff of Colonial British Army in Ceylon, narrated how man had all but deserted the woods of Minneriya. Dr. John Davy found a few families, bound by the ties of nativity, living in a cluster of huts on the banks of a channel of water that flowed out of Minneriya reservoir.
In 1820, Ralph Backbone, the revenue collector of the District of Mannar, where the pearl fishing was done at great scale, traversing over what he narrated as "overgrown and tortuous jungle paths which trailed over sun-scorched plain" found Minneriya reservoir surrounded by marshy land which could yield to extensive cultivation of rice.
In 1831 Major Forbes of the 78th Highlanders of British Colonial Army narrated Minneriya: "scattered over with elephants, buffaloes and spotted deer; and the winged race in every variety of form congregating on the margin of the waters, or flitting along its narrow inlets." Major Forbes also narrated how he "crossed the remains of a canal which is said to connect Minneriya to the Ambanganga at Elahera, from whence it was supplied with water." Major Forbes continuing his narrations says: Not withstanding the great expanse of water in the tank of Minneriya, the principal embankment was not required to be of such great extent as those of much smaller reservoirs: its outlets are on a level with the deepest parts, so that, while any water remained, the supply of rain for two years would not have caused this lake to become exhausted. It is apparently a work by which man has successfully combated the caprice of seasons, and the revolutions of nature.
To read more of this canal please refer Water world: Ancient Sinhalese Irrigation and Conservation of water.
Rehabilitation of Minneriya reservoir and reclamation of surrounding land for rice paddy cultivationAlthough the bunds of MinnerIya reservoir has stood steadfast against the ravages of centuries, two of the three ancient sluices lay blocked and useless until the year 1902. In 1902 the sluices of Minneriya reservoir was repaired. Though the reservoir held great promises for irrigated paddy cultivation in the surrounding regions, the anopheles mosquito, the dreaded carrier of malaria resulted in call to the land unheard.
Restoration of major irrigation works of Sri Lanka started in the 1920s and became an integral part of government’s activity in the 1930s. This trend continued till independence of Ceylon from British Colonialist Rulers in 1948 during which time Minneriya Reservoir, Parakrama Samudra Reservoir, Elahera Canal were restored.
It was only in the year 1933, an offer from Hon. Don Stephen Senanayake, then Ceylonese Minister of Agriculture was heeded: 400 farmers arrived to colonize the land surrounding the great man-made lake of Minneriya. The colonization took place under the patronage of Sir Graeme Thomson, then governor of British Ceylon. [In 1933, British Ceylon was yet to become Free Ceylon.] The glorious heritage of ancient irrigation was continued into the age of modern Sri Lanka by Don Stephen Senanayake (1884–1952), the first Prime Minister (1947 -1952) of Free Ceylon, with Gal Oya- Senanayake Samudra irrigation scheme.
Such was the contribution by the illustrious son of Lanka, Charles Percival De Silva or C.P. De Silva (1912 -1972), who dedicated his lifetime to the Minneriya colonization scheme, firstly as a civil servant (1935-1952), secondly in the capacity of a most prominent and most respected cabinet Minister (1956-1970) of the successive governments, he was called Minneriya Deviyo (Sinhala: the god of Minneriya) after the honorific title of King Mahasena, the creator of Minneriya reservoir. In modern history of Sri Lanka, C. P., as he was popularly known, was the only mortal, who was in the hearts of the grateful populace, elevated onto the status of a god. And that too, in his own life time. In that sense, C.P., it could safely be said, beat even the great King Mahasena. Sri Lanka must not fail to pay due tribute to C.P, the Modern Minneriya Deity as well as to King Mahasena, the ancient Minneriya deity. May both of them attain Nirvana, by virtue of their great merits.
In 1972 Free Ceylon changed its name to Sri Lanka, adding honorific Sri or Shri (Sanskrit: resplendent, illuminated with light and enlightenment) to the most ancient name of the island: Lanka. The ancient tradition of irrigation was continued again by President Junius Richard Jayewardene (1906 - 1996) with grand Mahaweli Multi-Purpose Irrigation Scheme during his tenor (1978- 1989) as the executive President of Sri Lanka.
Facilities around Minneriya-Giritale National ParkBank: Habarana and Dambulla
Hospital: Dambulla and Polonnaruwa
Post Office: Habarana, Giritale and Dambulla
Market: Habarana and Dambulla
Petrol station: Habarana, Giritale, Minneriya and Dambulla