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The Makandawa Forest Reserve is one of Sri Lanka’s richest and most unspoiled rainforests. It covers an area of 1155 hectares and lies close to the village of Kithulgala, one of Sri Lanka’s centers for adventure sports. The reserve hosts a plethora of rare and endemic flora and fauna. It also hides one of Sri Lanka’s well known ancient treasures; the Belilena Cave. Makandawa is also the selfsame rainforest where the famous World War II movie, ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’.
This secondary lowland rainforest has several interesting geographical features; such as crystal clear natural rock pools, waterfalls, wonderfully challenging trails that meander through the thick tropical rainforest, and of course the Kelani River running right through the jungle. As such it is a great place to go hiking, whitewater rafting, birdwatching or butterfly watching. There are also a number of adventure sports that you can engage in in Kithulgala.
For those interested in the flora and fauna; there are a number of rare species to be observed here. These include fish such as the Asoka Barb, Black Ruby Barb, Black-lined Barb and the Stone Sucker; as well as 54 rare bird species such as the endemic Sri Lankan Orange-billed Babbler, Green billed Coucal, the Chestnut-backed Owlet, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Ceylon jungle & spur fowl, Layard’s Parakeet, Ceylon Lorikeet, Common Hill Mynah, the Black-rumped Flameback, Sri Lankan Crested Drongo, Ceylon Grey Hornbill, and the Sri Lankan Brown-capped Babbler; and several species of endemic butterflies, dragonflies and reptiles. The most commonly seen mammal is the Grizzled-tailed giant squirrel, while the Red Slender Loris is more rarely seen.
The Makandawa forest receives rainfall mainly during the two monsoon seasons. During these seasons the Kelani River runs wild and wide making it impossible to cross without a boat; and a traditional dugout canoe with an outrigger is commonly used by the locals for this task.
The Belilena Caves were the habitation of the Balangoda Man; an ancient species of men who were discovered to have lived many thousands of years before the calculated beginnings of mankind. They lived for a period between 32000 and 9000 years ago and used advanced techniques and tools to hunt and survive. The skeletal remains found here in excavations, were dated to be from 16000 years ago and are some of the oldest in the world.
The Bridge over the River Kwai was an award-winning 1957 British-American war film. Shot in the jungles of Makandawa, this complex and touching story depicts British prisoners in a Japanese military prison camp in Burma during the Second World War. The imprisoned soldiers are ordered to build a bridge across the river Kwai for military purposes. Though based on a bridge in Thailand, the actual shooting of the film took place at a bridge in the Kithulgala region jungles, where a wooden bridge was built across the Kelani River especially for the shooting. It was later dismantled to protect the ecology. However, there still exists an innocuous looking old wooden sign on a lonely narrow trail in Makandawa, directing visitors to the location of the filming.