"A horrifying taste of Hell!" Matale by mafi_moya

Matale Travel Guide: 5 reviews and 13 photos

Matale (pronounced Martyr-lay) is a small fairly non-descript town north of Kandy, on the fringes of the hill country. While there's not really enough there to make it worth spending the night, it's an interesting day trip from Kandy or a stop-off for a few hours if you're heading up towards the cultural triangle. There's not much in the town itself other than a taste of small town Sri Lanka, but on the road north there are some spice gardens and a temple built against a rock face that is well worth a visit.

Aluvihara Rock Monastery

A couple of kilometres north out of Matale town, on the Dambulla Road, is the entrance to Aluvihara Rock Monastery, a temple complex - part of which has been built out of the rock face of the hill behind it. To me, this was a more interesting and far less crowded experience than the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. There's a small cave (mind your head!) containing a golden reclining Buddha and several smaller caves for offerings. The highest point of the temple offers a great view of the surrounding hills and it's a lot easier to climb than Sigiriya!

This is where the Mahavansa - the famous Buddhist chronicle - was originally inscribed on palm leaves by monks. There's a museum where they still practice the ancient art of writing on palm leaves - you can have your own bookmarks made if you like, and there's some photos of elephants and visits by British royalty in colonial days.

For tourists however, the most fascinating sight is a cave museum showing how various sins are punished in Hell. So you have life-size frescoes of prostitutes being boiled, murderers being torn apart by goblins, adulterers eaten by wild animals, rapists having their brains scooped out with a spoon... can't remember the exact punishment for each crime but you get the idea! It's surprisingly graphic (you can see the look of horror on the victims' faces and even the eager delight of the demons as they get on with the torturing!) and not for the squeamish and perhaps not one for the kids (unless they're young boys, who'll probably love it!).

There isn't an official entrance fee but you'll be expected to give a donation. Buses run along the main road from Matale and will drop you right outside - alternatively get a tuktuk or walk (although it's a fair way in the heat). There is an alternative way out at the back of the temple, which gives you a pleasant walk on the surrounding hills.

  • Last visit to Matale: Jul 2002
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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