Highway Museum at Kiribatkumbura – මහා මාර්ග කෞතුකාගාරය

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Highway Museum

Highway Museum -photo by : http://serendib.btoptions.lk

At the 68th milestone on the A1 Colombo- Kandy trunk road, is the railway crossing where the upcountry trains crossover to the Colombo line.

Almost diametrically opposite, on the right hand side of the road, are a large number of memorabilia ranging from steam rollers, tar boilers, weighing scales, a scarifier, stone rollers, a wooden bridge, etc., evoking nostalgia and the grandeur of a bygone era.

There is an orange-coloured building at the start of the premises, towards the Colombo end. It houses a steam roller (run on steam) which was used at the beginning of the 19th century. There is also the scarifier, which is an instrument used for the breaking of metal scrap in waste in the road building process. The building also houses the Bull-roller which was run on elephant power, in the pre 19th century era.

Highway Museum

Highway Museum -photo by : http://serendib.btoptions.lk

Stored here is also a tar barrel which had been used in the process of road building, and was retrieved at the time the museum was established in 1989.

There is also the weighing scale which had been used to weigh firewood, when it was used as the raw material source of energy. Also, at that time it was prevalent to use stones as weights. These were also retrieved at the time of the formation of the Museum in 1989 during the tenure of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. In the storeroom of the Museum there is a tool set, which had been used in the building of the highways. What is more, there is also a replica of a 300-metre bridge, which is made out of wood; a model of the amazing Bogoda Bridge, in the Badulla District. Also housed in the building is the steam roller which runs on oil.

Highway Museum

Highway Museum -photo by : http://serendib.btoptions.lk

What is striking about the backdrop is that at the time that this equipment was used, the 19th century, roads were not tarred but made of gravel. It was at a time when the operations were run by the Public Works Department, which had the roads and the buildings under its purview. That was prior to the establishment of the Department of Highways in 1985.

The RDA Central Province Executive Engineer W.G. Wilson explained to The Nation that there were four layers of metal used in road construction. They were, four inches, two inches and three-quarter inch, which had been used in the era of yore.

Highway Museum

Highway Museum
photo by : http://serendib.btoptions.lk

Colombo University Professor of History, Indrani Munasinghe, in her book, “Road Transportation of Sri Lanka,” along with the second book of the Colonial Economy of Sri Lanka By Public Works Department Engineer P.M. Bingham of 1918, and the research of the Institution of Engineers Vice President and former General Manager of the Road Development Authority, Daya Mallawarachchi, who is the author of fifty-five engineering publications says:

Highway Museum

Highway Museum
photo by : http://serendib.btoptions.lk

“There were four miles of recognized roads in Trincomalee when the British came to Sri Lanka in 1786, prior to their capture of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815. It is also said that the Colombo-Kandy highway was commenced in 1817 and completed in 1832. But since Dawson died in 1829, Major Thomas Skinner took the project forward. He retired after a half a century of service in the field of Ceylon highways. That was the time when elephants were used to carry loads of cargo for even bridge construction, prior to the introduction of traction engines.”

Highway Museum

Highway Museum
photo by : http://serendib.btoptions.lk

It is also pertinent to note that the traditional Colombo-Kandy, highway which is 72 miles in length today, was originally 85 miles, where the path was through Hanwella, Avissawella, Ruwanwella, Hettimulla, Mawanella and Balana Pass, and was completed in 1832. It is also pertinent to note that the 1848 Road Ordinance had it that all Ceylonese, between the ages of 18 and 60 had to serve compulsorily, and all the rich who opted out, had to pay in terms of Shillings, the British Currency.

It was also in the year 1841 that the Colombo-Kandy road was metalled. At the time gravel carts plied on the roads, prior to the introduction of the first automobile which was introduced to Ceylon later.

According to the research findings, it has been revealed that by the year 1971, there were 781 miles of roads, 643 miles of gravel road, and 1,036 miles of natural roads, which come to a total of 2,461 miles in the country.

Highway Museum

Highway Museum
photo by : http://serendib.btoptions.lk

Going by the historical details, the first steam engine came in 1879 and the first automobile was imported in 1902. Until that time the roads were gravel, and metal roads were used when the modes of transport were horse-drawn carriages and bullock carts.

It was then that engineer Thilak Wijesinghe was instrumental in construction of the High Level Road which was laid in 1932. Wijesinghe was also instrumental in the construction of the Ella-Wellawaya Road, widely considered one of the most scenic highways in the country, going through verdant vistas of the central hills, to the very heart of dry zone country. The construction of all the roads, which totalled 2,344 miles in 1865, increased to 3,762 miles in 1905.

There has been a tremendous improvement of the development of highways, during the period between 1927 and 1956; where there were 4,235 miles at the start, this increased to 11,589 miles. Also, 574 miles were constructed during the tenure of the Director of Public Works, T.B.D.S. Munasinghe. Until the arrival of automobiles, there were the metal roads and until 1930 there were 2,960 Lorries on all roads which were managed by either the Public Works Department or the National Highways Department.

Today, there are 11,600 roads which have been classified by the Road Development Authority and are managed by the RDA and the Provincial Councils. Up to 25,000 roads have been classified as C and D class, all of which have been classified at 65,000 miles and 100,000 kilometres.

Of Bridge construction – the British constructed a bridge for boats at Kelaniya and also at Peradeniya, out of satinwood and there was a timber bridge at Kalutara in 1959. The Gampola suspension bridge was built in 1859 and subsequently replaced by a steel bridge in 2002/ 2003. The Kalutara steel bridge was built in 1876 and was replaced in the early 1980s. The Victoria Bridge was built in 1985 in Colombo. Today, there are 4,400 bridges in Sri Lanka under the classifications of Highways A and B, managed under the Road Development Authority.

 

by Ravi Ladduwahetty

Also See

Map of Highway Museum

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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.

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Traveling Directions to Highway Museum

Route from Colombo to Kiribatkumbura Highway Museum

Route from Kandy to Kiribatkumbura Highway Museum

On : Colombo – Kandy Route
distance : 110 km
Travel time : 2.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
On Kandy – Colombo Road
distance : 11 km
Travel time : 30 mins
Driving directions : see on google map

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