Busy and disorienting KURUNEGALA is the biggest town between Colombo and Anuradhapura, capital of the Northwest Province and an important commercial centre. The town also sits at a major junction on the roads between Colombo, Dambulla, Anuradhapura and Kandy, so you may well change buses here. There’s no great incentive to visit Kurunegala in its own right, though it makes a convenient base for exploring the cluster of sights situated in the southwestern corner of the Cultural Triangle.
Kurunegala enjoyed a brief moment of eminence in Sri Lankan affairs during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries when it served as the capital of Sinhalese kings Bhuvanekabahu II (1293–1302) and Parakramabahu IV (1302–26), though hardly anything remains from this period. The present-day town is a tightly packed honeycomb of busy streets – a rude awakening if you’re coming from the sleepy backwaters of the Cultural Triangle. Apart from a pretty stone clocktower and war memorial from 1922, which stands watch impassively over the hurly-burly of the traffic-clogged centre, its main attractions are the breezy Kurunegala Tank, north of town, and the huge bare rock outcrops that surround the town, and lend the entire place a strangely lunar air. The inevitable legend professes that these are the petrified bodies of a strange menagerie of giant animals – including an eel, tortoise and elephant – who were threatening to drink the lake dry, only to be turned to stone by a demoness who inhabited the waters. If you’ve an hour or so to kill, it’s worth walking or taking a tuktuk up to the enormous Buddha statue atop Etagala (Elephant Rock), immediately above town, from where there are fine views.