Pahiyanagala is said to be the largest natural cave in South Asia and believed to be the site of the oldest human habitation in Sri Lanka. Human remains dating back over 30,000 years have been discovered by archeological excavations at Pahiyangala – proof that pre-historic man lived in the cave which is said to be big enough to shelter over 3,000 people.
Caving may not be an activity that is popular in this country as it is elsewhere but we do have some sites that have the potential to attract caving enthusiasts, such as Fa-Hiengala or Pahiyangala as it is more commonly known, believed to be the site of the oldest human habitation in Sri Lanka.
The cave derives its name from a famous Chinese Mahayana Buddhist traveller monk Fa-Hsien who chanced upon the cave and made it a temporary resting place while on his way to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) during a visit to the island in 600 A.D. At over 150 feet in height and 282 feet long, Pahiyanagala is said to be the largest natural cave in South Asia and was formed by wind erosion along a minor fold axis of the 40-metre high rock cliff.
Visitors have described is as an impressive cave, and being off the beaten track, free of the crowds which throng the usual tourist attractions. The cave is a suitable destination for a day trip as it is not too far from Colombo, being near Bulathsinhala in the Kalutara district, and can be reached through Ingiriya and Horana or Kalutara for those travelling from the south-west coast beaches. It is accessible from the Athura-Niggaha road off the Horana-Bulathsinhala-Agalawatta road.
Human remains dating back over 30,000 years have been discovered by archeological excavations at Pahiyangala – proof that pre-historic man lived in the cave which is said to be big enough to shelter over 3,000 people. The main cave is reached by a long flight of stone steps and visitors can see different soil strata where valuable fossils of pre-historic man have been found along with their skeletal and food remains.
Excavations in the 1980s by the Archaeological Department revealed bones of people and wild animals, remains of food, sea shells, and stone weapons of different sizes. The cave has a shrine room that is complete with a massive statue of a reclining Lord Buddha and the site is said to be especially popular with Buddhist pilgrims on Poya days. There is a small museum in the temple complex which also houses a training centre for Buddhist monks. Those keen on visiting sites like Pahiyangala can be categorised under a new form of tourism called geo-tourism which has great potential in the island as there are a number of interesting sites.
Geo-tourism is a new concept in tourism much like eco-tourism, which is designed to draw visitors interested in the island’s flora and fauna. The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau has even prepared a map of 201 sites of geological value that it hopes will become a draw among local and foreign tourists. The authorities want to popularise these sites mainly among specialised audiences such as students and foreign scientists to encourage them to visit the island.