Namal Uyana forest in Sri Lanka
Some 8km off the Dambulla to Anuradhapura road, around 15km from the cave temples, the Jathika Namal Uyana, or Namal Uyana Conservation Forest is a remarkable natural phenomenon, preserving not just the largest extant forest of the indigenous na tree, or ironwood, in Sri Lanka but also a 550-millionyear- old range of rose quartz hills, the biggest such deposit in South Asia, which rises lunar-like from the verdant woodland. The ‘na’ is Sri Lanka’s national tree, often planted close to Buddhist temples where its fragrant, four-petalled white flowers are a popular offering during puja. The forest, legend states, was planted by Devanampiya Tissa , and later became a monastic retreat – various monastic remains are dotted around the site.
From the entrance, a path leads for about 1km though the forest, at its prettiest from April to June when the na trees are in bloom, to a ranger’s hut, the ruins of a moss-covered dagoba, surrounded by a low wall decorated with pink-quartz stones, and a few other hard-todecipher ruins. From here another trail climbs gently up the hillside (ask a ranger the way), the forest increasingly giving way to quartz outcrops; you’ll pass a tiny waterfall, where the rock is stained almost black by the flowing water. It’s about a ten-minute hike across the pinky-grey rockface above the tree canopy to the pleasantly breezy summit of the first low mountain, surmounted by a small pink fibreglass Buddha, from where there are magnificent views across to Dambulla.