Knuckles was inscribed onto UNESCO's World Heritage List as a natural site in July 2010 due to its extraordinary range of flora and fauna, including endangered species such as the western-purple-faced langur and Sri Lankan leopard.
Most travelers take one of two shorter routes to Elkaduwa from Kandy, which take about two hours:
- Traveling the Kandy-Matale Road then taking the turn at Ukuwela Junction towards the Elkaduwa Road (B180). And then when you reach Elkaduwa Junction take the Hunugala Road and continue till you reach the turn off for Sembuwaththa Lake OR
- Traveling the Madawala Road towards Wattegama. From Wattegama you take the road towards Kandenuwara (B461) which comes to Elkaduwa Junction where you then take the Hunugala Road to reach the turn off for Sembuwaththa Lake.
From Kandy we took the Kandy-Mahiyangana Highway (A26) heading towards Digana and traveling on past Teldeniya, Orutota then making a turn off at Udawela Junction onto Rangala Road. This initial route offered scenic glimpses of the Hulu Ganga. At the turn off towards Rangala, we commenced our ascent up the mountains passing the vast Duckwari Tea Estates established in 1880 and climbing to around 800m above sea level. The road conditions were very good - carpeted roads all the way.
As we made our way around the tea estates, forests and small villages, we headed towards Gomara. The weather seemed to change with the sun, clouds and winds. It had an ethereal feel to it- one minute the sun was shining down and the next it had turned misty with clouds gathering overhead giving a very different vibe.
At Gomara we happened upon a natural swimming pool and couldn't resist the opportunity to stretch our legs and take a swim. It had been about 40km from Kandy city centre to Gomara on the route we had selected, but the drive had us taking all kinds of twists, turns and ascents.
The area with the natural swimming pool was a quiet spot so it offered natural privacy. The water was deliciously clean and mountain cool so when we slid into the water the feeling was sublime! We ended up spending the better part of an hour there and by the time we clambered back into the car all of us felt much more refreshed.
From Gomara we took the road towards Panwila. The air smelt clean and fresh and everything was "fifty shades of green" to the eye. And it definitely felt like we were navigating our way around the Knuckles mountains. There was still an abundance of tea estates and my mind boggled at the sheer number of estate bungalows for the management.
Our route lead us to an impressive waterfall called Huluganga Ella located in a small town that had very little to advertise this natural wonder. It's 75m in height and originates from the Knuckles mountain range. We parked our car alongside a path with steps leading down to the water. There was a lookout point from which to take photos and view the waterfall.
It was certainly one of the most accessible waterfalls and on our visit the water flow was strong and abundant. I have always found the sound of a waterfall to be quite soothing, but on this particular visit I was awestruck by the sheer size and power set beneath a small village amongst the mountains.
After the stop at Huluganga Ella we descended the mountains a little but then took a turn at Madulkele Junction and began our mountain ascent again. Our route would take us around the Campbell's Lane Forest Reserve for another 36km through the mountains to Sembuwaththa Lake.
There were still more tea estates, tea pluckers and plantation workers.
The road was carpeted for the most part but seemed to get narrower and steeper. It felt like one wrong move and you'd be plummeting down the cliff and this definitely added to the sense of adventure.
The pictures don't do justice to the beauty of the landscape. For me, it's a must-do road trip!
We passed a few small villages that included Kabaragala. As you can imagine, there was not much by way of tea shops and places to eat, so my recommendation would be to bring a packed lunch or a ton of snacks and drinks to enjoy along the way. After we arrived at the junction that intersected with the Wattegama-Kandenuwara Road (B461) we then took the turn that led towards Elkaduwa.
The journey continued to be filled with unexpected delights, like these school boys who had been dropped off by the bus and were slowly making their way home.
Or these tea pluckers who were hard at work on the tea estate.When we stopped to take a few photos they all turned around and even motioned for us to come and pluck some tea
It was another 4km to reach Sembuwaththa Lake. The road conditions were not great for this final stretch, especially traveling in a low-clearance car. A three-wheeler (tuk-tuk) or 4-wheel drive jeep may be better suited to get up to the lake. We found it a bit hazardous in the car as it had been raining beforehand so the roads were slippery and muddy. There was one particular stretch that was wet and steep and could have easily led a car accident - this was right at the top near Sembuwaththa Lake (after paying the entry fee).
Sembuwaththa Lake is owned by the Elkaduwa Tea Plantations and managed by the Estate Workers Housing Co-op Society of Elkaduwa Estate as an environmentally-friendly and family-friendly project (note - the consumption of alcohol is prohibited). The lake's hydro-power plant powers the small estate worker village within the Elkaduwa Tea Plantation.
We purchased tickets at the ticket office. The entry fee is Rs.200pp for locals and the ticket is valid for 4 hours. There is an additional charge of Rs.50 if you wish to stay longer (note - I'm not sure if this is per hour). Visitors are welcome from 8am till 5pm (but all must depart by 6pm).
From the ticket office there is another 1-2km to reach the lake. There is parking for your vehicle if required.
The first glimpse of the lake was quite impressive - 360' natural beauty.
After parking the vehicle tickets are checked by attendants and then you're free to wander around the lake. There's a boat house where you can take boat rides or hire jet skis. If this doesn't interest you, then it's time to go for a walk through the tea estate to the other side of the lake. It was definitely a unique experience to walk between tea pluckers around the lake (note - you're not supposed to disturb them as they work).
The Sembuwaththa Lake is about 30 to 40m deep, however, swimming in the lake is prohibited. This is largely due to its depth and possibly because of water snakes. A swimming pool has been built for visitors to use. Unfortunately, we weren't that sure about cleanliness of the pool so none of us actually swam.
There are also picnic areas, huts, lookout points, children's play areas and toilet facilities on this side of the lake, all of which have been nicely landscaped and maintained for public use (with the exception of the toilets, which weren't that clean).
We spent a few hours enjoying the natural tranquility of the place. It wasn't overly busy on our visit. There were only three other groups of visitors, two of which were local families and the other was a family from Saudi Arabia.
A few tips if you're thinking of making the trip to Sembuwaththa Lake:
- Consider the challenging driving conditions on 4km Sembuwaththa Lake Road and the 1-2km from the Ticket Office to the Lake (note - this is subject to change)
- Make the trip early so you can maximise any good weather and the 4 hours allowed with your ticket
- Bring your swimming gear so you can swim at the pool or if you want to jet ski or take a boat ride on the Lake
- Bring a picnic or snacks/drinks so you can enjoy your time at the Lake. There are no vendors currently operating at the Lake.
- Bring a camera
After departing Sembuwaththa Lake we took one of the shorter routes back to Kandy. We stopped along the way for tea and cakes at a very simple kade or shop. It had a small table covered with plastic and a few chairs and the owner was very hospitable. Plain teas all round cost Rs.10 per cup and little sponge wafer cakes were not much more at Rs.25per slice. A lovely rustic end to our journey.
Overall, it was definitely one of those glorious days out for our little group. We were all tuckered out with the winding drive, wonderful vistas, unexpected dip at Gomara and the natural beauty and tranquility of the tea estate and Sembuwaththa Lake. Would we do this drive again? The answer was a resounding yes!