Mahapelessa Madunagala Hot springs (මහපැලැස්ස මදුනාගල උනු දිය ලිං)

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Madunagala Hot Water Springs lie among vast paddy fields between Sooriyawewa and Ridiyagama, Today this hot water well is one of the most popular destinations for pilgrims to the South. The spring was first recorded by Leonard Woolf, Assistant Government Agent of Hambanthota (1908-11) in his diaries recording the haphazard journey through wild animal-infested jungles and boat rides to reach the hot spring where he had taken samples to be analyzed.

The spring was rediscovered again in the early 1960s with the Uda Walawe development project when the areas coming under the Walawe Basin were turned into a vast agricultural area. Embilipitiya was made the primary town of the project where several trunk roads from the main towns in surrounding Embilipitiya were terminated. Sooriyawewa, about 15 km east of Embilipitiya became the central hub of the left bank region of the Uda Walawe reservoir.

In the 1970’s number of elephant calf deaths by falling into the well were reported during the dry seasons. With most water sources drying up during the dry season, baby elephants who tried to satisfy their thirst from the Hot Spring had fallen into the well. With the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka making representations to the Mahaweli Authority two wells with walls were built surrounding the hot springs for males and females in the 1980’s.  These two wells were the only development this spring until the early 2000 and to access it you had to travel over gravel roads and cross a paddy field. Wild elephants were a frequent sight after dark.

In the 2000’s this spring was identified to be developed into a major tourist attraction. Today four wells have been built surrounding the main spring with varying degrees of temperature. The area is now landscaped and separate changing rooms and toilets for the two sexes also have been built. A play area, a mini zoo, and an aquarium have also been built for the children. To enter the area,  Rs 60 is charged from a local adult and Rs 300 from a foreigner.

Unfortunately, the site has been over-publicized and you will find  10-15 busloads of pilgrims during long holidays taking away the mystique of the location found before the turn of the century.

Also See

Map of Mahapelessa (Madunagala) Hot springs

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Traveling Directions to Mahapelessa (Madunagala) Hot springs

Route from Colombo to Madunagala Hot Spring Route from Nonagama to Madunagala Hot Spring
Through : Panadura – Ratnapura
distance : 191 km
Travel time : 3-4 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Siyambalagoda
distance : 32 km
Travel time : 45 mins
Driving directions : see on google map

Hot springs of Mahapelessa – A sanatorium and spa

by Gamini G. Punchihewa
Sunday Observer, 15 July 2007

Sri Lanka is blessed with three Hot Water Springs. Of them the two well known ones are the Kinniyai (off the Trincomalee – Anuradhapura road, while the other one is located lying in the eastern province on the Badulla-Batticaloa road) also from recent years accessible through the Maduru oya project area of the Mahaweli Systems.

Then the third, but in the past was little known is the Mahapelessa Hot Springs nestling in Ruhuna Rata in the Hambantota district (still closer from Embilipitiya in Walawe base). It has now emerged as a tourist attraction after the recent constructions of a sanatorium, spa, five extra concerate tubs and other facilities for the benefit of the tourists both local and abroad.

Past glimpses

Before the advent of the Uda Walawe Multipurpose project in the early 1960’s the route to reach this Mahapelessa Hot Springs encountered a hazardous trek along jungle tracks, foot paths to reach the Mahapelessa Hot springs.

It traversed through the Ambalantota-Ridiyagama Farm road going through the time honoured Arannes (Rock Cave Hermitages) of Mudnagala and Karamabagala Aranna lying within easy reach of this Hot Springs.

The author trek is filled with adventure and thrills by crossing the Walawe ganga cruising in a rowing boat via the Liyangastota Anicut of the Walawe ganga and reaching Bedigamtota on the lower reaches of the flowing Walawe Ganga, where once upon a time stood a ferry. From there the hike is by foot along the groves and groves of Divul/Jule fruit trees (Wood Apple) covering 2-3 miles.

Leonard Woolf’s quotes

Let me recall the famed literary scholar cum prolific author Leonard Woolf, Assistant Government Agent, Hambantota (1908-11), has vividly in those diaries of his (1908-11) recorded his adventurous trek by boat. In his diavies he had made some notable geological data of the chemical analytic properties of Mahapelessa Hot Springs thus 1.8.1910: “I sent water from the spring to the Government Analyst.

His report is thus:- Total solids 554 parts per 10,000: chlorine 248.0 do:- lime 95.0-do-: Nitrates: Nil: Suplphantes – present (small): The water contains high properties of lime (including magnesium), but otherwise does not appear remarkable”. Leonard Woolf too had trelked the same jungle route by a rowing boat crossing over at Bedigmatota old ferry and hiking its foot path.

When I came down to the Walawe project in 1970 (from the Gal Oya Project) on transfer I too covered the same boating trip to reach Mahaplessa Hot Springs and walking the distance.
New motorable roads

Still later after the emergence of the Uda Walawe Multipurpose Project launched by the Gal Oya Development Board in the early 1960s vast strides of land development, human settlements for cultivation of the sprawling lands for rice and food crops, major industries-Agro-industries came hand in glove new opening up of metalled roads to link up with the main trunk roads lining to Galle, Matara, Middeniya-Tanamalvila, Bandarawella, Mirijjavila (close to Hambantota).

In the aftermath of such new opening up of roads ramifying the developed area of the Walawe basin by the Gal Oya Development and River Valleys Development Boards, Sooriya wewa (lying close to Hambontota and even Tanamalvila), in the Left Bank area of the Uda Walawe reservoir, metamorphosed into an accessible road route to link up with the main trunk roads to Galle-Matara-Hambantota-Tanamalvila.

From Embilipitiya to Sooriya Weva is about 12 miles away. Off Sooriya Weva deviation along the Veharagla lies its Irrigation Branch bund road. From recent years (under the Asian Bank Development Fund) with Japanese aid a fine carpeted roadway off Padalangala (on the main Pelmadulla-Embilipitiya-Nonagama Highway, had been constructed road that leads to Sooriyaweva falling into Mirijjavila (close to Hambantota) on the main trunk road of Colombo-Galle-Matara-Hambantota-Tissamaharama.

Along this carpeted road leading to Sooriya Weva and Mirijjavila, at its 6th mile post is another deviation on a gravel road being the access road to Mahapelessa Hot Springs covering about 2 miles. So the closest distance from Embilipitiya on the carpectted road to the Hot Springs is about 12 miles.

There is yet another route to gain access to reach this Mahapelessa Hot Springs from Mirijjavila (close to Hambantota) on the Colombo-Galle-Matara-Tissamaharama high way, from the turn off at Mirijjavila leading to Sooriya Weva covering about 25 miles on its carpeted road.

Dr. R. L. Brohier, the doyen of our ancient Irrigation works and ancient tanks, and prolific author on these pertinent topics in his ‘Seeing Ceylon’, has spun an amusing legend about Mahapelessa Hot Springs, where they go to die. When death was fast approaching according to this hoary myth, it says to breathe their last, they sought this Mahaplessa Hot Springs!
Where elephants go to die

Even in the past and now, when fast development of lands and settlement of farming communities, are under way, elephants haunt the area going on the rampage destroying their cultivations, dwellings even killing them after chasing them on the road or into their settlements.

In recent years elephant drives were carried out, but strange enough as the elephant knows his traditional habitat, they come back to their traditional homeland and raiding their crops causing some glaring instances a few deaths.

Some time back in 1970s and 1980s the dry season, baby elephants in their utter quest to quench their dire thirst, a couple of them had accidentally fallen into it and were drowned in the hot spring well.

Baby elephants deaths by drowning

We then members of the Walawe District Committee of the WildLife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka based in Colombo, the Walawe District Committee made representations to the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka (Walawe Special Area) based in Embilipitiya, it being the forerunner to the River Valleys Development Board which originally was in charge of its administration covering the Walawe area got the periphery of the walls of the Hot Springs raised, where even two separate partitions were apportioned for males and females together with a suitable changing room for bathers were constructed. After the periphery of the walls were raised, there were no such fatal baby elephant tragedies of drowning.

In 1988, both the academic staff attached to the Peradeniya and Katubedda, Moratuwa Universities, led by Professor S. P. Dissanayake (of the Peradeniya University), while Professor Dayantha Wijesekera of the Katubedda Campus, as well had risen to the occasion in conducting such research activities which were co-ordinated by the academic staff drawn from the Edinborough University as well.

According to this research paper, by these teams, it has been disclosed that for one minute duration, 10 litres of geo-thermal energy could be generated. In such revelations, mention has also been made that 11 such hot springs which are located in this very thermal underground covering the other two wellknown two such Hot Springs at Kinniyai (Trincomalee) referred to earlier in this article, and at Maha Oya (off Batticaloa) Badulla Road.

Madunagala Hot Springs

Primary Source : Gamini G. Punchihewa
Daily News -31 July 2004

Natural hot springs are located in three areas of Sri Lanka. First is the hot spring nestling in the eastern province at Kanniya – off the Trincomalee-Anuradhapura road , while the next is at Maha Oya (also in the eastern province) on the Badulla-Batticaloa road and finally the third one is in Mahapelessa Hot spring (also known as Madunagala Hot Spring), lying in the deep south of the Hambantota district. The world over such hot springs were named as healing mineral thermal waters.

The reason being that these thermal waters contain medicinal properties to cure ailments like skin eruptions and other rheumatic pains. Even our ancients, particularly the Buddhist monks living in ancient cave hermitages had made the best use of these healing hot springs for body and skin ailments.

Till the emergence of the Uda Walawe multi-purpose project in 1962/63, the Mahapelessa hot springs was unknown.

Under the Uda Walawe project the whole of the Walawe basin got transformed into a vast developed area teeming with multitudes of farming communities filled with sprawling rice fields, a network of agro-based industries, and still another network of roads ramifying in connecting with the main trunk roads.

Embilipitiya is the metropolis of the Walawe project. It has now blossomed from a sleepy hamlet into a boom town linked by trunk roads to other cities like Galle, Matara-Ambalantata-Hambantota-Tissamaharama-Kataragama and even to Wellawaya.

Hence during its constructions spearheaded by the River Valleys Development Board, Sooriyaweva (about 10 miles from Embilipitiya) has become the hub of the left bank region of the Uda Walawe reservoir. To reach Mahapelessa, one access road is through Sooriyaweva.

Mahapelessa (Madunagala) Hot springs
The path towards the Mahapelessa (Madunagala) Hot springs
licensed under CC BY 3.0 by Pol van den Scheetekens

From there lies the Viharahagala branch irrigation channel bund road – now converted into a fine carpet road – deviating from Padalangala (about 7 miles from Embilipitiya) that leads to Sooriyaweva and Mirijjavila (close to Hambantota), to fall into its main highway of Tissamaharama highway. From Embilipitiya to Sooriyaweva is 10 miles.

From this carpet road leading to Mirijjavila via Sooriyaweva, close to its 6th kilometre post (from Padalangala on the Nonagama highway), lies the access road to Mahapelessa hot springs running into about 6 kilometres on a graveled carpeted roadway. From Mirijjavila to Mahapelessa on this carpet road is about 25 miles.

Dr. R. L. Brohier in his ‘Seeing Ceylon’ has spun a thrilling but fascinating tale that the elephants, when they were in dotage, went to breathe their last at this Mahapelessa hot springs!

Elephants even now roam around this Mahapelessa area of the human and farming settlements causing damage to crops, human habitations and even loss to human lives.

During the dry season, in the past, baby elephants were in the habit of falling into the hotwells, when they came for water by accident.

Hence to avert such fatal accidents, the Mahaweli Authority (Walawe special area) based at Embilipitiya (presently in overseeing this Walawe basin area) in the 1980s had got the periphery of the walls of the hot springs raised and two separate partitions were also made to cater to males and females. Thereafter, no such elephant tragedies had happened.

The first well contains the original hot springs where the water is fairly hot. A pipe had been constructed from the original well to feed second well where the water is lukewarm.

Villagers say that when rice was cooked from the hot water obtained from its original well, it waters act as a preservative against the cooked rice getting stale quickly.

Mahapelessa (Madunagala) Hot springs
Mahapelessa (Madunagala) Hot springs
licensed under CC BY 3.0 by Pol van den Scheetekens

Leonard Woolf had recorded the chemical properties of the hot water springs of Mahapelessa. Its diary entry of 1.8.1910, says thus: “…I sent water from the spring to the Government Analyst. His report is thus: “Total solids 534 parts per 10,000; chlorine: 248.0 -do-; lime: 95.0 -do-; Nitrates: Nil. Sulphates: present (small). The water contains high properties of lime (including magnesium), but otherwise does not appear remarkable.”

In the vicinity of the Mahapelessa hot springs, there are two ancient rock cave hermitages coming down from time immemorial. These are namely, Madunagala and Karambagala Arannes. In ancient times Arahants (highest sages), had lived in those rock cave shelters tucked away in these two ancient monasteries – Madunagala and Karambagala.

Such Arahants and Buddhist recluse monks had exclusively made the best use of these thermal healing waters to cure varied ailments arising out of rheumatic pains and other skin eruptions. Those Arahants and Buddhist hermit monks there had regular hot water baths at Mahapelessa hot springs. Even visitors from home and abroad have their hot water baths. With the new road linking Mahapelessa along the carpet road of Padalangala-Sooriya Weva-Mirijjavila there have been an influx of tourists both local and foreign.

Once with some of my visiting friends from Colombo, we visited the place on a public holiday, when the premises was thronged with visitors having refreshing hot water baths that we had to wait long to squeeze into the wells to have a splash of thermal waters.

In foreign countries like Russia and Siberia where such thermal sprigs are located, senatorial, spa wells have been constructed. Even at such sanatoria, bath indoor and outdoor treatment are afforded to such patients seeking thermal treatment.

It is gratifying to note that from recent times, the Southern Provincial Council in collaboration with the Hambantota Pradeshiya Saba have risen to the occasion in getting such a complex established where presently construction works are going headway.

Its entire complex as envisaged in their plans would consist of a Spa, a sanatorium, bath tubs, concrete seats (to be constructed around the periphery of the Hotsprings), provide both indoor and outdoor patients suffering from such disorders like rheumatism, skin diseases and the like. Local medicinal plants and herbs would be used in the preparation of the prescribed medicines.

There would be changing rooms, water for the patients seeking treatment, and a pharmacy stocked with native pharmaceutical products. The whole scheme is estimated to cost Rs. 15,000,000. The suitable buildings are expected to be completed before the end of this year.

Mahapelessa (Madunagala) Hot springs
Mahapelessa (Madunagala) Hot springs
licensed under CC BY 3.0 by Pol van den Scheetekens

From sources I have come to know that both the University authorities of Peradeniya and Moratuwa had done extensive research studies into the analytical compounds of the Mahapelessa hot springs in 1998.

The Peradeniya University team was led by Professor S.P. Dissanayaka, while that of the Moratuwa University by Professor Dayantha Wijesekera. Such research activities were co-ordinated by the academic staff drawn from the Edinborough University, as well.

According to this research paper by these teams, it has been disclosed that for one minute duration, 10 litres of geo-thermal energy could be produced. In these revelations, mention has also being made that 11 such hot springs have been identified which are located in this very thermal underground geo-belt, covering the other two well known two hotsprings at Kanniya (in Tricomalee), and at Maha Oya off the Batticaloa – Badulla road.

Some time back, it was reported that the Army stationed in Trincomalee had stumbled upon still another hotspring in the outskirts of Trincomalee.

With the forthcoming tourist complex looming over the hot springs of Mahapelessa, the villagers around its vicinity are having brisk sales of their hard earned chena produce and other cereal products.

Among them are green peas, cow-pea, Indian corn (Badainguru), ground nuts (rata kaju), kurakkan (in packets), Next come local fruits like mangoes, papaw, water solon, local vegetables, drumsticks (murunga),

The children display an array of ornamental grass pieces festooned with tiny flowers to be adorned in city houses in the drawing rooms. Dried beli flowers picketed are also available for sale. Instant herbal drinks made out of these beli mal (flowers) are also ready at hand.

These vendors drawn from women, damsels and even children have said that they are economically benefitted by their sales to the tourists. But they have appealed to the authorities to construct permanent stalls, as their sales are carried out in scanty cadjan sheds.

The elders on the other hand voiced that tourism promotion work was good for the betterment of earning some extra income. But they cautioned that the authorities concerned should be vigilant over the potential evils of corruption that may creep in surreptiously.

They contended that immoral activities like child prostitution may raise its ugly head, when foreign tourists move about around this place, as have already perpetrated into other tourist resorts like Hikkaduwa, Negombo and Chilaw.

Both the incumbents of the Madunagala Aranne and Karabagala Aranne expressed their reservations about the new tourist boom contended that is going to overtake at Mahapelessa hot springs, as the youths are still unspoilt in their morals.


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