A little over a 5 hour drive inland from Colombo leads you to one of the more overlooked mountain towns in the country. Maskeliya is known for being a breath of fresh air with its picturesque views of fertile greenery filled with tea plantations along the banks of the Castlereagh Reservoir with sacred Adam’s Peak as a majestic backdrop. However, the mountain town does hide a secret under the Mousekelle reservoir that is relatable to the lost city of Atlantis. Under the reservoir lies the old, and only sunken town in Sri Lanka as a result of a government development project. An eerie reminder of a town once thriving with life.

Top Reason to Visit

Being a mountain town surrounded by majestic mountains all around certainly makes a sunken town sound rather unnatural, and is exactly what makes it the top reason to visit Maskeliya. The sunken town only surfaces during severe droughts in the central province where haunting structures can still be seen, some well preserved, some completely dilapidated. It really does make for the perfect reason to visit the mountain town.

While You're There

Breathe in that fresh air:

Isolated by the lush greenery of tea estates that make up most of the town, and magnificent views of mountain ranges, namely Adam’s Peak, Maskeliya is the perfect getaway from all the hustle and bustle. The British built ‘Fishing Huts’, now transformed into traveler’s accommodation units is the most ideal and unique way to experience the grandeur of this isolated town. Its rustic backdrop makes for that breath of fresh air you have been waiting for.

Lest we forget:

A memorial is laid around 20 - 28 KM north west from the town area to commemorate the lives that were lost in Sri Lanka’s worst aviation disaster that took the lives of 191 passengers, of which 182 were Hajj pilgrims, and the remaining 9 being the flight crew in 1974. The only recovered part of the Martinair flight 138 aircraft that collided with the Saptha Kanya (Seven Virgins) Mountain range located in the area was the plane’s tire, which now serves as lasting memorial.

An eerie reminder:

With the growing population of the country, the government decided to build the Moussekelle reservoir to increase energy generated through hydropower. This entailed the flooding of the old town of Maskeliya, with all its structures still standing in 1968. The old town was believed to have been lost forever with many of its architectural monuments losing their significance in a watery grave. However, more recently, the severe droughts the country experiences during the months of February - June dries up a major part of the reservoir, which makes it possible to explore the old town that is quite haunting to many. With kovils, temples, mosques, churches, and even bridges largely intact and well preserved in its watery grave, it is rather an unorthodox experience for tourists and locals alike.

Insider Advice

Travel: Getting about Maskeliya is quite difficult due to its remoteness, which make tuk-tuks and busses quite difficult to come across. Therefore, it is advisable to rent a vehicle, which can be easily done when in Colombo.

Weather: The ideal weather in the town is generally experienced during the months from December - May, making it the best time to visit if you are looking to just unwind in a ‘Fishing Hut’. However, the months from February - June is when the town experiences scanty rainfall that leads to the old town resurfacing.

Money: Credit and debit cards are virtually useless in this area, since the shops do not accept any form of plastic, so it is imperative that you have cash in hand with small notes like LKR 20s, LKR 50s and LKR 100s.

Clothing: Casual / light wear is the best way to go here.

Safety: It is quite remote, but still surrounded by a friendly and accepting society. Just be mindful of your belongings. After all, you can never be too careful.

Meals and refreshments: There are a few established eateries, which are scattered across the town that can whip up some delicious local cuisine.

All in all, Maskeliya may be a little town that does not possess much of a significant history, but certainly has a rustic charm like no other. Coupled with the haunting sunken old town, there is a hauntingly compelling reason to visit the little mountain hamlet.

Title image by: Jehan Gamalathge
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