"Mulkirigala" Mulkirigala by tayloretc

Mulkirigala Travel Guide: 0 reviews and 17 photos

Mulkirigala is a temple–monastery complex on and carved into a massive stone outcrop – outcrop isn’t really the right word, it’s more like a massive stone pillar rising abruptly out of jungle – about 20 kilometers off the coast north of Tangalla. It is similar to the much larger temple complexes in the Cultural Triangle, and dates from about the same time, but is less visited.

It’s not the easiest place to get to, with a “main” road up that would be generously called a single lane, and public transportation leaving you several kilometres left to walk. This outcrop/pillar is hidden on the approach. You won’t know you’ve ascended until you’re already looking down.

From the base of this rock pillar you climb about 700 steps, crossing three terraces with fantastically-painted rock-carved temples, before reaching a spectacular view south to the sea and north to the hill country. For the more adventurous, there are trails to some hard-to-get-to caverns for meditation that wind through the jungle and rocks away from the terraces and stairs.

The temples were restored during the 18th century, and most of the paintings and plaster work dates from then. There are original paintings still visible in one of the temples on the third terrace, though (some posted here), and fragments of ancient temples in the hard-to-get-to caverns.

The colors are gorgeous. From the bright light of the equatorial sun (which washes colors away) your eyes take a moment to adjust to the cave interiors and you realize you’re surrounded by fields of red and yellow and orange flowers populated by blue and red and gold gods and demons and disciples. Or you’re reading the graphic story of the Buddha. Or looking at vibrant representations of the 16 holiest places in Sri Lanka. Or standing with your hand on the handle of the cool and elegant door to the Naga temple. (If you dare to look inside all the brilliant colors disappear into the blackness of a long, deep tunnel.) (Some of the plasterwork is here.)

The climb from the third to the fourth terrace is the hardest. There are two ways up: a longer, steep, zig-zagging stairway, or a shorter, steeper, ladder cut into the face of the vertical stone. We climbed up the ladder, with its shaky handrail, and came down the stairway, with its 6-inch deep, 18-inch high steps.

The name “Mulkirigala” has a story – ask the resident guide. While I was there the resident guide was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic young man, Sampath, who had been showing people around, including the more interesting and off-the-beaten stairs bits, for 8 years. I don’t know whether he’s the only guide there; I do know he supports an extended family, was generous with his knowledge with my driver, speaks better English than he lets on (but is kind of shy), and wants very much to learn German.

Mulkirigala is not supported by Sri Lanka’s tourist board, which means whoever the guides are they rely entirely on tips for their living. The entrance fee is Rs100, and there are donations boxes all along the way which go towards upkeep.

Back to Thalpe or on to Katarangama.

  • Last visit to Mulkirigala: Sep 2009
  • Intro Updated Jan 11, 2010
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