Handapanagala wewa | Sunday Observer

Handapanagala wewa

16 July, 2022
The Handapanagala tank in Wellawaya with  the looming mountains  of Uva in the background
The Handapanagala tank in Wellawaya with the looming mountains of Uva in the background

Although we had always wanted to visit the Handapanagala wewa (roughly translated as ‘rock where the moon shines’), it just did not happen, due to lack of time after my return trips from the Uva Province. However, one late afternoon on a return trip from Buduruwagala in Wellawaya, we got a chance to visit the Handapanagala wewa.

The Handapanagala junction is about five kilometres from the Wellawaya town, from where it is a further four kilometres to the Handapanagala wewa, which is in a breathtakingly beautiful, remote setting.

At the time of our visit, the tank was partially dry due to the prevailing drought.

One can imagine how beautiful it would be when the water level is higher.

Source of irrigation

The ancient Buduruwagala Buddhist site

Fed by the Kirindi Oya, which springs from the Uva hills, the Handapanagala tank is one of the most important sources of irrigation for the Uva region.

The tank can provide irrigation water only for the Maha (October-December) season, and that too, only if the seasonal rains fall. Besides paddy cultivation, farmers in the surrounding areas cultivate vegetables, fruits and maize.

Handapanagala colonisation scheme

With the setting up of the Handapanagala colonisation scheme in 1958, the whole area became developed, teeming with farmers’ settlements. Inland fishing is also the major livelihood that depends on the Handapanagala tank.

From dawn to dusk, inland fishermen of Handapanagala reap a rich harvest of fish. At the time of our visit, we spotted several fishermen engaged in fishing using nets and canoes.


The Handapanagala tank nestles in a picturesque mountain frontier encompassed by a serene range of mountains that roll on and on as far as the eye can see. Vadinahela, the highest peak in the area, dominates the mountain landscape. In the distance horizon looms the awe-inspiring Poonagala mountain range which overlaps Namunukula and the far off Haputale mountain ranges, punctuated by the breathtaking Ella gap which could be prominently viewed from any elevation.

Vadinahela overlooks the placid tank of Handapanagala. From the bund of the tank one could enjoy the captivating mountains silhouetted in the distance.

Herd of elephants

A memorable sight at Handapanagala is the herd of elephants which come to quench their thirst. The Handapanagala tank being a prime haunt of the roaming herd of elephants, tourists and wildlife photographers, trek to enjoy this splendid sight of elephants grazing in the catchment area of the tank and frolicking with their calves by the water’s edge.

The waters of the Handapanagala tank had receded in the dry season leaving stretches of parched earth and prickly shrubs that sprang from it. Boulders had also emerged from the tank bed allowing birds to catch their prey easily.

Standing on the edge of the tank bund, we listened to the loud and incessant cry of the birds which dispelled our fatigue as did a gentle breeze which wafted with the setting sun.

A variety of birds

A great many varieties of birds came within our sight. A lone hawk eagle was circling high in the air and sat on the dead tree near the tank. Bemused by its unsettling cries we looked further away. In the distance we saw flocks of many wading birds, busily scouring the tank bund, while a herd of free-roaming cattle was grazing near the tank bed.

We spotted a group of spot-billed pelicans huddled far away but just within our sight. They appeared to be still in their vigil over the water. In the distance, mixed flocks of more wading birds came into view.

Watching these birds and their many antics could easily make you lose your sense of time and we were tempted to remain in the comfort of our surroundings.

The landscape

The landscape around Handapanagala is dotted with forest cover and interlaced with a stretch of teak plantations where elephants live. There are a number of medium and small mountains looming over the region. One can also find rock caves, rock pools and ancient dagabas in ruins.

Buduruwagala, the famed enchanting Mahayanist Buddhist site of rock carving lies just around seven kilometers away from the Handapanagala tank.