Dawson Tower at Kadugannawa (කඩුගන්නාව ඩෝසන් කුලුණ)

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Anyone travelling to Kandy along the Colombo-Kandy Road has to negotiate many bends – some of them hairpin bends – as they go up the Kadugannawa incline. At the last and sharpest of these bends, the road forks; and one goes through a tunnel, wide and high enough for a bus or lorry to pass. The other road makes a wider bend and goes a few feet over the rock.

This is the highest point in the climb – the Kadugannawa Pass, which was the lookout point in the former Sinhala kingdom.

This tunnel has been a landmark for over 175 years. Until about 25 years ago, all motor traffic to and from Kandy went through this tunnel. When it was found that the new long vehicles could not negotiate the sharp hairpin bend, another road was constructed with a wider bend and no overhead encumbrances.

When the climb is over, and the travellers approach Kadugannawa town, they will see to their right, a tall white column on the side of the cliff. One gets a better view of the column when travelling in the opposite direction from Kadugannawa town.

This is the Dawson Tower, erected to commemorate Captain Dawson, who built the Colombo-Kandy Road.

Governor Edward Barnes wanted a new road built to Kandy as the old road was long and circuitous. The old road was along the Kelani Valley, via Ruwanwella to the Ma Oya Valley, then up the incline to Gampola and on to Kandy.

After the Kandyan rebellion of 1818, the Governor wanted to have tighter control of the Kandyan territory (the old Sinhala Kingdom) and for this, a shorter and more direct road to Kandy to move troops and government officers quickly, was essential.

Governor Barnes appointed Captain William Francis Dawson of the Royal Engineers to execute this task. Captain Dawson studied the terrain, marked out the route and planned the building of the road, phase by phase.

Work commenced in 1820 and was carried out under his immediate supervision. The stress and strain of working in a hot and humid climate and exposure to the frequent changes of weather and to diseases as he worked through jungle land, brought about his premature death on March 29, 1829, when the road to Kandy was still not complete. Folklore says Captain Dawson was bitten by a snake and had to be taken to Colombo where he died.

Captain Dawson was a popular much admired and respected man. His friends and admirers decided to erect this column or tower to commemorate his service in this gigantic task, and they chose this spot on the top of the Kadugannawa Pass, as the best place for a memorial to him.

No better spot could have been chosen. The road up to the point is testimony to his engineering skills. He worked without bulldozers, backhoes and other machinery and the technical know-how that today’s road builders have.

Sumana Saparamadu
Sunday Observer,- 11 September 2005

Also See

Map of  Dawson Tower at Kadugannawa

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Traveling Directions to Dawson Tower at Kadugannawa

Route from Colombo to Dawson Tower at Kadugannawa
distance :102 km
Travel time : 2.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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