Kitulgala is a small town in the wet zone rainforest areas of Sri Lanka. Although it is located in one of the wettest places in the country, it is famed for its stunning beauty, adventure sports and outdoor camping. The Academy Award-winning The Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed on the Kelani River near Kitulgala, although nothing remains now except the concrete foundations for the bridge (and, supposedly, the submerged train cars that plunged into the river in the climactic scene).
The Kelani River is wide at Kitulgala, but it is shallow apart from a deep channel near the opposite bank, so in the drier months it provides a safe and attractive place to swim, wash and play. The river can be crossed by walking out across the shallows and crossing the deep channel in a dugout canoe, which is stabilised with an outrigger.
Sri Lanka’s most recently discovered bird, the Serendib scops owl was originally heard calling by Deepal
Warakagoda in these forests. The hills above the rubber plantations also have mountain hawk eagle, crested tree-swift and Layard’s parakeet. This area has most of the rainforest bird species that are found at the World Biosphere Reserve at Sinharaja, although in lower numbers. However, the secondary forest and cultivation at Kitulgala is more open than the pristine woodlands of Sinharaja, and elusive endemic species like Sri Lanka spurfowl, green-billed coucal and spot-winged thrush may be easier to see.
The agriculture around Kitulgala is typical of the hilly wet zone. The solitary fishtail palm, Caryota urens, which is called ‘‘Kitul’ in Sri Lanka, gives rise to the town’s name. Its sap is concentrated into a delicious syrup, not dissimilar to maple syrup, and crystallized as ‘Jaggery’. It is also fermented to make palm wine. Many birders stay at Kitulgala.