Knuckles Mountain range – නකල්ස් අසිරිය

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A wonderful place for hiking and nature tours

In the central and southern parts of Sri Lanka there are several peaks that are highly ecological and rich in bio diversity. These mountains are preserved as forests and are the starting points of many rivers.

 The panoramic views of the Knuckles Range
The panoramic views of the Knuckles Range

Knuckles is one the most important bio diversity environments with range of mountains and a great water and wild life resource.

Loved by travellers for it’s beauty Knuckles mountains has become a hot spot in eco tourism in Sri Lanka.

The Knuckles Mountain Range covers parts of Kandy and Matale districts and is separated from the Central Hills by the Mahaveli Valley to the South and East and the Matale Valley to the West. Its name derived from its shape of a clenched fist, which forms a scenic wonderland. What makes the Knuckles mountain range unique is the geographical character of its location. Perpendicular to the mountain range that runs from Laggala to Urugala runs three distinct but lesser ranges while there are other minor ranges running parallel to it.

There are a total of 34 clearly identified such ranges with in the 62 square miles that makes up 3000-6500feet in height.

The three properties recommended for tentative listing, namely, Peak Wilderness Sanctuary (19,207 ha), Horton Plains (3 109 ha) and Knuckles Range (1 7,825 ha) are all part of the central highlands of Sri Lanka.

The Knuckles Range, though within the Central Massif and of the same geological origin as the other two properties, is isolated from them by the intervening relatively low-lying Kandy Plateau. The highest peak in the Knuckles range is 1904 m.

In certain parts of Knuckles Range, within the Knuckles Conservation Forest, the natural vegetation occurs as a pygmy forest with trees just over waist high. A good part of the area in all three properties still retains its pristine vegetation cover.

All three properties possess both natural and cultural heritage features of outstanding universal value.


Knuckles Mountain Range is important due to the historical value it carries and therefore it can be categorized as one of the valuable heritages in Sri Lanka. The story of Knuckles (Dumbara Hill) goes back into prehistoric periods. It is said that in ancient times it was referred to as Giri Divaina and as Malaya Rata and there is archaeological evidence that speaks of ancient Yaksha settlement in the area.

People believe that the name Lanka is derived which much folklore has gathered over the centuries. The Knuckles Mountain Range is an invariable referent in any salutary appreciation of the last kingdom of the Sinhala Kanda Udarata.

The importance of the Knuckles Mountain Range is obtained from several factors. It has a quality to it because of the mountain peaks, the crystal clear and perennial waterways, cloud forests and exquisite fauna and flora. Pregnant with history running into several millennial and a veritable treasure house of cultural heritage, the Knuckles Mountain Range can be considered a as a mirror to the past.


A remarkable feature of this area is that most of the climatic conditions of Sri Lanka can be found with in the extent of a mountain range. All these hanging climatic conditions can be experienced within half and hour walk through this valley. The location of the hills, the particular effect of the monsoons and the wind factor generate a certain climatic diversity to the area. In fact in these hills one can find characteristics of all the key ecological zones found in the country.


Average annual rainfall lies between 3000-5000ml, and temperature of the region ranges between 5.5 degrees and 35 degrees Celsius. It is through a gap in the mountain that the winds of Southwest Monsoon enter to the Dry Zone. The average wind speed has been measured to be approximately 7.2km/hour and humidity in the range lies between 57%-90%.

Water Resources

Since the main risen in opposition to both the Southwest and Northwest Monsoons, the area enjoys bountiful rainfalls. For this and other reasons, the Knuckles Mountain Range is counted among the richer of the upper watersheds in the country. In fact from these hills flow the richer of the tributaries to the Mahaweli River.

There are three main rivers called the Hulu Ganga, the Heen Ganga and the Kalu Ganga, which begin from Knuckles Mountain Range.

And there are a number of breathtaking waterfalls and small rivers, which can be found in this area. Even today as was in the ancient days water from Knuckles Mountain Range feeds the ancient irrigation works such as Parakrama Samudraya.

Also See

Map of Knuckles Mountain range

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A Range of bliss in the hills

by Dasun Edirisinghe Pix by Sajeewa Chamikara
The Island, 5th November, 2008

The time was 6. 30 in the morning. We had to stop the vehicle at Riverston in the Knuckles range; can’t go ahead due to the mist. We were able to see only ‘Dumbara Anga Katussa’ (Ceratophora tennentii) – it is endemic to the Knuckles range – at that time, but it made us appreciate the wonders of nature. At last, we entered the Knuckles forest which is at the top of the list among Sri Lanka’s bio-diversity hotspots. It is only second to Sinharaja. On the other hand, the Knuckles range is also on top among bio-diversity hotspots under threat. The Knuckles range, popularly known as Dumbara Kandu Wetiya, has more to offer than scenic beauty. It is the richest in bio-diversity and 50 per cent of its flora is truly endemic. The importance of the Dumbara forest comes due to several factors. It has a paradise-like quality to it because of the mountain peaks, the crystal clear and perennial waterways, mountain forests and exquisite fauna and flora. The Knuckles range, which takes its name from the shape of a clenched fist that it forms, spans the Matale and Kandy districts with the comely Mahaweli forming its southern and eastern boundaries. There are 35 hill tops and 17 valleys in the area.

Knuckles Mountain range
Knuckles Mountain range

The highest mountain top in the Knuckles range is Gombanigala, which is 1904 meters in height. Gombanigala, followed by Knuckles (1862 meters), Kirigalpoththa (1646 meters), Dumbanagala (1642 meters), Kalupahana (1628 meters), Wamarapugala (1558 meters), Dothalugala (1553 meters), Kehelpothdoruwagala (1528 meters), Pathanagala (1514 meters), Thelambugala (1331 meters) and Lakegala (1317 meters). Environmentalist of the Sri Lanka Nature Forum, Sajeewa Chamikara said that the area, declared a forest reserve in 1981, encompasses 21,000 hectares belonging to the Kandy and Matale districts. About 17, 500 hectares of the Knuckles range had been declared a Conservation Forest in 2000. It is the first Conservation Forest in Sri Lanka.

Among the fauna found in the Knuckles range, amphibians find a special place. In Sri Lanka, there are 53 amphibian species and of them 29 are endemic. Of these 29, 20 are living only in the Knuckles range. the Marbled Cliff frog known as Dumbara Galpara Mediya (Nannophrys mammorata), lives in the streams of the Pitawala Pathana in the range.

The Dumbara mountains are also home to 22 of 74 endemic reptiles. Sri Lanka has 173 reptile species. The 22 endemic species are found only in the Knuckles range. The Dumbara mountains also shelter five of the 12 endemic lizards in Sri Lanka, which has 15 lizard species. The endemic species found there are, Three banded green lizard, Kangaroo lizard, Horn lizard, Pygmy lizard and Forest lizard. The area is also full of birds. Fifty per cent of the birds found in Sri Lanka live in the Knuckles forests. It is worthy of the epithet, ‘Bird’s Paradise,’Chamikara explained to us at their natural habitats.

There is rich bio-diversity spreading not only in the natural forests but also man-made ecological systems. Most forest varieties, including tropical rain forests, dwarf forests, intermediate montane forests, dry mixed evergreen forests, reverine forests, wet pathana, dry path and shrubs forests are in the Knuckles range. Paddy fields, chena cultivation, tea estates, cardamom cultivation, pinus forest cultivation and acasia forest cultivation are man made green valleys in the Knuckles.

There is yet to be completed a broad study on flora diversity of the Knuckles range, but according to a study conducted by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), there are 1033 flowering plant species in the area. Of them, 160 plant species are endemic to Sri Lanka. About 27.4 per cent of plant species in Sri Lanka are recorded in the Knuckles range and 173 endemic plant species have been recorded there. It is a unique feature of this range, he said.

“We can indentify Keena (Calophyllum trapezifolium) and Nelu (Strobilanthes pulcherrima) at the tropical rain forests in the Knuckles range. There are Mal Weralu (Eleocarpus gladulifer), Malaboda (Myristica dactyloides) in sub mountain forests and plants, such as, Metidula (Actinodaphne stenophylla) and Etaweewa (Drypeter gardneri) in the intermediate montane forests.

‘There is massive plant diversity in dry mixed evergreen forests, including Mora (Dimorcarpus longan), Badulla (Semecarpus nigroviridis) and Milla (Vitex altissima),” Chamikara said, adding that Thimbiri (Diospyras malabarica), Kotadimbula (Ficas hispida), Atticca (Ficus racemosa) and Etamba (Mangifera zeylanica) exist in the reverine forests in the Knuckles range.

Waterfalls in the forest increase the natural beauty. Dumbara ella, Udaduvili ella, Veddapeni ella, Seru ella, Diyakerella, Meemure ella, Rathninda ella, Kalupahana ella, Huluganga ella and Rathna ella are the waterfalls in the area. The Kncukles is the main catchment area of Sri Lanka’s longest river Mahaweli. The Hulu ganga starts from the western slope of the range, the Kalu ganga starts from the northern part of the eastern slope and the Heen ganga starts from the southern part of the eastern slope. They are the main catchment waterways of the Mahaweli river. In addition, Hasalaka Oya, Theligam Oya, Heen Oya and Karambaketiya Oya also offer water for the Mahaweli River. These waterways dazzle in the morning sunlight, fascinatingly. The

Dumbara mountain range is bordered by 77 ancient villages, such as Dandeni Kumbura, Poththetawela, Kahagala, Dammanthenna, Divulgaspathana, Etenwala, Walasmulla, Rmbukwewa, Udagala Debokka, Galamuduma, Pallegala Debokka, Meegahamada, Medakele, Meemure, Kaikawala, Gomare, Wadawala Kanda, Nellikele and Narangamuwa. There are a few families in these villages and there are no people in most villages due to hardships. Their main income is farming. Most of them use traditional methods based on indigenous knowledge. The region is environmental- friendly, but few persons enter the forest to hunt animals. Some people try to encroach on forest land and do not allow to mark forest boundaries. This is not friendly to the forest and it would lead to this unique golden mine of bio-diversity disappearing.

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