Kitulgala is a small town in the west of Sri Lanka. It is in the wet zone rain forest, which gets two monsoons each year, and is one of the wettest places in the country. Nevertheless, it comes alive in the first three months of the year, especially in February, the driest month. 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). Kitulgala is also a base for white-water rafting, which starts a few kilometres upstream.
Just across the Kelani River is a primeval forest with lush tropical flora, while it is home to about 54 rare species of birds. Though in a lesser density, most of the rain forest bird species that are found at the Sinharaja rainforest can be sighted at Kitulgala. Elusive endemic species like Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Green-billed Coucal and Spot-winged Thrush too are seen in the woods. The hills above the rubber plantations are populated with Mountain Hawk Eagles, Crested Treeswifts and Layard’s Parakeets.
The stretch of the Kelani River, 5km upstream from the village of Kitulgala provides seven grade two and three rapids suitable for white water rafting. The upper section is suited for the experienced white water rafting adventurers while the lower section is suited for the beginners of white water rafting. In between the rapids are a few calm stretches of 6.5 km. The Kitulgala run takes about 90 minutes to complete. Each rapid brings off its own distinctive character. Their colourful names which include Head Chopper, Virgin’s Breast, Butter Crunch, Killer Fall and the Rib Cage could perhaps carry indications as what you can expect.
The river flowing through the village is exceptionably enjoyable.
Though generally broad, at Kitulgala, the Kelani River is shallow for the major part of its width and provides safe locations to swim and enjoy the waters and surroundings especially during the first three months of the year. The other bank can be accessed from the village by wading out in the shallow waters and then by a traditional outrigger canoe. The name of Kitulgala is derived from the Kitul Palm Tree (Sinhala: Sago Palm tree) that is found in abundance in the village of Kitulgala. Kitul palm syrup is a necessary ingredient in preparation of various traditional Sinhalese sweets.
Numerous varieties of Bananas together with other fruits and vegetable are grown in the village of Kitulgala. The restaurants and Hotels at Kitulgala are famous for traditional Sinhalese rice and curry supplemented by the dessert of curd sweetened with Kitul palm honey.