Demodara Nine Arch Bridge (දෙමෝදර අහස් නමයේ ආරුක්කු පාලම)

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This viaduct was built at Gotuwala between the two railway stations – Ella and Demodara during the British Colonial period is the largest in Sri Lanka. Located almost 3100 feet above the sea level, this 99.6ft high bridge is called “Ahas namaye palama” (Nine skies bridge) in Sinhala. When one stands underneath it and looks up there is a beautiful sight of ‘nine skies’ through the nine arches, hence the Sinhala name. This bridge is also called ‘The Bridge in the sky’ due to the sheer height.

This massive bridge is built entirely of solid rocks, bricks and cement without using a single piece of steel. The bridge was finally commissioned in 1921.

There is a popular story to say that when construction work was commenced on the bridge, the World War 1 broke-out and the steel consignment assigned for this site was seized and was used for war related projects. When the work came to a standstill the locals came forward and build the bridge with solid stone bricks and cement without steel.

A rather unknown story was published in the Maubima news paper about the origin of this bridge. According to this article,  The construction of this  bridge was given to a person call P.K. Appuhami living in Kappatipola in Melimada.

The builder of Nine Arch Bridge at Demodata
The builder of Nine Arch Bridge at Demodata

According to one of his grand sons now living in this house, P.K. Appuhami was born in 1870 and has been popular drummer and a devil dancer. One day he has lost a drumming competition to another drummer during a thovil ceremony and has returned home in the traditional devil costume.

At that time the railway was being constructed and and the Britisher who saw him in the costume got frightened seeing him near Ohiya Railway Station. But later a relationship was built up between them and Appuhami has helped the construction of the railway by supplying labor to the Britisher.

When the construction reached gap between two hills the British engineers got worried due to a quagmire at the bottom of this gap.  Securely anchoring the columns of a bridge to the ground was issue.  Appuhami by this time has secured the trust of the engineers by then and requested to hand over the construction of this massive bridge to him. After rejecting the first time, they finally agreed to hand over this mammoth task to Appuhami.

He has started work around 1913 and got his men to topple large rocks to this gap until they filled up the bottom and then he has built the brick columns on this rock bed. He has completed the work within about an year and the cost of construction was so low, that the Britishers were unsure of the structural integrity of the bridge.

Appuhami assured that he will lie down under the bridge on the first train voyage across this and he is said to kept to the promise when the railway line was first commissioned.

Based on forklore in the area it is said that the English offered the balance payment and he carried four cart full of siver coins from Colombo and that he provided meals for the Parabedda and Puranwela villagers for 2 days and also gave them one silver coin each.

Also See

Map of  Demodara Nine Arch Bridge

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Traveling Directions to Demodara Nine Arch Bridge

Route from Bandarawela to Demodara Nine Arch Bridge
Distance :15 km
Travel time : 30 mins
Driving directions : see on google map

‘Demodara looping the loop’ marvel

Dalily FT – March 15, 2014

What has been accepted as a marvel in railway construction is the theme of a recently released set of two stamps (both of 5 rupees denomination.)  Categorised as ‘Civil engineering marvels of Sri Lanka Railway,’ the stamps depict the spiral railway track at Demodara and the Noine arch viaduct at Gotuwala. The diamond format stamps are a rather rare shape.

Demodara railway station on the Main Line is located between Ella and Uduwara railway stations in Badulla district in Uwa province. It is 277.71km away from Colombo Fort railway station with an elevation 912.50 m high above mean sea level. The station has only one platform with a crossing loop.

Popularly known as ‘Demodara loop’, the spiral railway is recognized as one of the most fascinating colonial railway civil engineering marvels in Sri Lanka. The need for its construction was to transport the production in tea estates in the Uva region down to Colombo.

A broad gauge line was being constructed and the engineers and surveyors found that elevation of hills apart at Demodara was too much for the track to negotiate from one side to another. With maximum inclination allowed in the CGR (Ceylon Government Railway as the department was known) being one foot per 44 feet (1/44) an innovative track design had to be devised.
According to folklore, when the engineers were wondering how to they could proceed beyond Demodara, a farmer had suggested to them to build the track similar to the way his turban had been tied. This suggestion had got them thinking and of course, whether they actually followed his advice is not known.

However, they cracked open the problem and the final design enabled them to take the track to a higher elevation as required for it to reach the height to the point where it could ascend to the central hills keeping to the specified gradient.

The Demodara Loop is where the track passes under itself, going around the loop and emerges from the no 42 tunnel. The Loop is 441 feet long. The station is situated exactly over the tunnel.  Also that’s the center of the crossing point of the loop. This type of loop is known as the ’spiral loop’ or ’circular loop’. It is also known as ‘Demodara looping the loop’. It is considered the only loop in the world with a railway station situated exactly over a tunnel at spiral loop.

Among the better known loops are the Septemvri – Dobrinishte two tunnel loop in Bulgaria and the one tunnel Tehachapi Loop in California.

The station, the spiral railway line, the tunnel below and the ‘Black Bridge’ across the Baulu Oya were complete and commissioned in 1921.

The bridge in the sky

The second stamp features the nine-arch viaduct at Gonawala. Also known as ‘arch bridge,’ ‘nine heart bridge’ and the bridge in the sky,’ it was a popular and commonly used method in yesteryear railway engineering prior to the development of more advanced bridge-making designs. In spite of the more modern and hi-tech designs and new types of materials, these old solid bridges are yet in use.

The 100-feet high viaduct between Ella and Demodara railway track has been built entirely of solid rocks, bricks and cement without using a single piece of steel.  It has survived for 94 years. At the time of construction this was considered to be the longest viaduct in the East.

First day Cover of 2014 stamp celebrating the engineering marvel of Demodara Bridge and Nine Arch Bridge at Demodata
First day Cover of 2014 stamp celebrating the engineering marvel of Demodara Bridge and Nine Arch Bridge at Demodata

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