Lanka?s boulder stream rivers are the ideal setting for white water rafting. This is the best way to see the stunning environment what this region has to offer. Many tours are arranged and it begins with days of action, rafting the white waters.
This high adventure is suitable for fish time ?go for it? rafters and experts alike. Along one ride you can pass the scenic location outside. Rafting has become a very popular exciting get safe adventure sport option.
Approximately 80 kilometres from Colombo on the A7 - the road to Nuwara Eliya via Avissawella - is Kitulgala, a pleasant town whose name is derived from the kitul tree, vast numbers of which grow in the area. Kitulgala had a brush with fame when it was chosen as the location for David Lean's 1957 epic, Bridge on the River Kwai. The film crews and stars may be long gone, but many still stop here to gaze across the Kelani River where once stood the most famous bridge in cinematic history. You have to use your memory to fill in the missing timbers, but as the film is screened so often that shouldn't be a problem.
The town is situated on a particularly delightful stretch of the Kelani River that incorporates rock-strewn sections and rapids, often enclosed by high banks of tall bamboo, conditions ideal for the sport of white-water rafting. As a result Kitulgala has become the capital of white-water rafting in Sri Lanka.
The Kitulgala run is 6.5 km in length and takes about 90 minutes to complete. It rates between grades 2 and 3 and there are seven rapids to tackle, each with their own unique names. On a run down the river you run into the likes of Virgin's Breast, Butter Crunch, Killer Fall and the Rib Cage. As the names suggest, they each have their own distinct character.
A calm stretch in the river between two rocky outcrops on either side is the site where the bridge from the film Bridge on the River Kwai was constructed nearly half a century ago. The water flows silent here, deep and sluggish. Yet within months nothing was left of the wreckage from the bridge and train, it having been either salvaged or pilfered.
A most interesting rapid is the Head Chopper. The water picks up speed and forces its way through a channel on the right bank of the river. The speed shoots the boat around the corner and directly into the path of a low-lying branch. The adrenaline rush is brought about more by the sense of speed than actual proximity to the branch. For taller rafters, though, it is very advisable to duck!
Contrary to the image it portrays, white-water rafting is not a sport that requires immense physical strength. An average level of fitness and a calm disposition are enough. The ability to swim is an advantage but not strictly essential, for each rafter is provided with a Personal Flotation Device. However, rafting is not advisable for those with heart ailments, epilepsy or who are simply uncomfortable in water. Being under the influence of intoxicants is also inadvisable. A second choice is the Sitawaka run, which takes place on the Sitawaka river off Avissawella. Lasting for 2 hours, this run is classified between grades 3 to 4. Because of the higher degree of skill involved only those with prior rafting experience should give it a try.
For groups of 10 or more experienced rafters, specials runs can be arranged by the operators. One run starts at Ulapane, near Nawalapitiya, and heads down to Gampola on the Mahaweli River, Sri Lanka's longest river. It has rapids graded between 2 and 5 and takes about 3 hours to complete.
Another spectacular run is on the Kotmale River near the Hatton - Nuwara Eliya road. It starts just below St. Clair's Falls, lasts for nearly 6 hours, and offers rafters challenging rapids ranging from grade 4 to 5. The run takes place at a much higher elevation than the others and offers magnificent views of the mountains. The higher elevation also means refreshingly cold water!
While the alternative runs offer exhilarating rafting, they are definitely for the more experienced enthusiast. Kitulgala is the popular choice as a result of its position on a main tourist route and because of its facilities. And the water does offer a full complement of holes, laterals and standing waves to keep keen rafters content.
When contemplating Kitulgala take into account that the Kelani River is dam-controlled. The best time to raft is during the period May to December. In April the water levels can be too low, resulting in more technical rapids. During periods of heavy rain the water flow can become too fast to maintain safe rafting. Levels, however, do drop surprisingly fast, reducing the river to its normal state.
There is an interesting alternative on Poya days. For the three days either side of the full moon holiday, operators offer Black Rafting. Given sufficient ambient light, these nighttime forays down the river are a totally different experience. Each rafter is kitted out with a headlight.
The Kitulgala and Sitawaka run costs between Rs 3,500 and Rs 4,500 per person for rafting including lunch.