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In the past, Rumassala was known as Buono Vista, a name that dates back to the colonial period, and most likely a corruption of ‘Buena Vista’, or Spanish for ‘pleasant view’. Regardless of origin it is indeed an accurate description of the place they chose to name, for the top of Rumassala hill offers what are arguably the best coastal views along the southern coast of Sri Lanka. The calm waters of Galle bay provided safe anchorage for numerous ships that plied the Indian Ocean maritime routes, transporting vast quantities of spices, minerals and precious stones. During this period, ships used the southern end of Rumassala known as Watering Point to take in fresh water before setting off on long voyages. Remnants of the old jetty can still be seen today, although it’s now used by local children as a diving platform instead of a service point for ships. The small cemetery along the road contains the final resting places of many British civil servants and sailors, some lost in tragedies at sea when the mighty Indian Ocean claimed yet another victim. Reading the inscriptions on the headstones provide an interesting insight into the past of Galle and the people who lived here.
Both the forests and the ocean around Rumassala are rich in biodiversity. The forest is home to many species of birds, reptiles and mammals including several endemic species, as well as rare medicinal plants. Groups of purple faced leaf monkeys can be seen playing on the trees while white-bellied sea eagles soar above the water looking for a midday meal. At the base of the cliff and beneath the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean are coral and rocky reefs harbouring a wealth of marine biodiversity.
Although the reef has been badly affected over the last decade by both human and natural causes it still provides interesting snorkelling for those who care to don a mask, fins and snorkel, and venture out to explore the underwater world. The entire Rumassala area including both the forest and coral reefs are now protected as a sanctuary due to its valuable biodiversity. Rumassala hill and the surrounding area that encompasses Unawatuna are steeped in legends and folklore. According to the Ramayana, the ancient Sanskrit epic, Hanuman the Indian monkey warrior god required several medicinal herbs in order to treat the wounded in his army during his battle against the demon king Ravana of Sri Lanka. Unable to find the herbs on the Island, Hanuman returned to India and brought back a piece of the Himalayas with the required plants but accidently dropped it at Rumassala. Local villagers attribute this as the source of many rare medicinal plants found in the area to this day. Atop the hill there is a large glistening Buddhist dagoba popularly known as the peace pagoda, built with the assistance of Japanese monks. At the entrance to the temple there is a large statue depicting Hanuman. A walk around the peace pagoda provides magnificent views across Galle bay, with the Galle town and Dutch fort visible on the far side. It’s easy to spot sailing yachts out on the water or fishing boats heading out to sea or returning to shore with their day’s catch. In a way it provides a distant but distinct glimpse of Galle and its life. The forested hills in the interior and atop Rumassala, the beach, the fishing boats and the town of Galle with both the past and present, you have all of Galle before your eyes.