Gal Oya National Park
- with Senanayake Samudra Sanctuary, Gal Oya Valley North-East Sanctuary,
Gal Oya Valley South-West Sanctuary -
Gal Oya National Park lies south-east of the country in the eastern and uva provinces. This park was established to protect the catchments area of the Senanayake Samudraya (lake). This reservoir was created by damming the Gal Oya River at Inginiyagala, from which the name of the park is derived. This reservoir covers 78 sq. kilometers in extent and was named after the first priminister of the country after independence and the instigator of this project. This park was closed to the public for the last two decades due to the Tamil terrorist activates but now is open to the public.
In addition to the national park, three sanctuaries were declared to protect the catchment area of this tank. They are
Together these reserves and the national park cover approx 63,000 ha of land. The park and the three sanctuaries was established by the Gal Oya Development board on 12 February 1954 and subsequently handed over to the Department of Wild life conservation in 1965. There is also a proposal to connect this area with the Maduru Oya National park through the Nilgala jungle corridor (10,360ha). for elephants to freely move form one jungle to another.
Due to the richness of this wetland, the park is a natural habitat for a wide range of fauna and flora consisting of dry mixed vegetation including savannah grass and an extensive green cover. About 45% of the vegetation is evergreen forest, 33% savanna, 9% grassland, 2% cheina cultivations and the balance is water bodies dominated by Senanayake Samudraya. A host of medicinal shrubs and trees such as Aralu, Bulu, Nelli can be readily found in the Nilgala area, while a number of locally known trees such as Vevarana, Halmilla, Veera, Palu, Ebony and Mahogany are found in great numbers.
The park with its thick green canopy is a haven for species of birds and nearer to the Samudraya even migratory birds such as Painted Storks, Pelicans, Cormorants and Teals could be seen. A host of local birds such as the Grey Dove, Malabar Horn Bill and Grey Horn Bill, Koel and a number of water birds are found in this jungle habitat.
In addition to elephants, the park is home to leopards, bear, spotted deer, sambur, wild boar etc. Among other fauna are several species of monkeys, Porcupine, a number of fish species, reptiles and four species of butterflies such as the Crimson rose and Glassy Tiger have been recorded.
Gal Oya is a valley, which has given refuge to several kings in the ancient past. In the 2 nd century BC, king Tissa sought refuge at the Digavapi, a place Lord Buddha has visited in his third visit to Sri Lanka. The Digavapi Dagoba, built in the 2nd century BC to mark the spot where the Lord Buddha sat on his last visit to Sri Lanka, attracts thousands of pilgrims even today. Again in the 13 th century, King Buwenekabahu sought refuge on the summit of Govindahela. This is the tallest peak (573 m) in the area and lies just outside the protected land. The self-proclaimed King Dore Swamy sought refuge at at Nilgala in the 19th century. Henebedde Cave near Vadinagala has a drip ledge and contains a Brahmin inscription. Near the cave are a moonstone, guard stone and balustrade stone. Ruins of an ancient structure are close by.
Access from Colombo (186 miles/300 km) is via Ratnapura, Pelmadulla, Udawalawe, Thanamalwila, Wellawaya, Moneragala and then north from Siyambalanduwa to Inginiyagala.
February 19, 2007