Leech Attack at the Knuckles Mountain Range

About twenty kilometers east of Kandy lies the Knuckles Mountain Range, pronounced by locals as “nuck-less”. This is one of the most infrequently visited corners of Sri Lanka’s hill country, which is surprising, given its beautiful expanses of untouched forest, easy accessibility from Kandy, and softly curved mountaintops which indeed resemble knuckles. By all rights, this park should be one of the region’s touristic highlights.

Knuckles Mountain Range

Maybe it’s the leeches. We intended to walk the Dothalugala Trail which leads past waterfalls and up to a viewpoint. Sure, we’d been warned that the path was infested with them, but whatever. We’re men, not sniveling sissy-boys who run squealing from harmless pests like leeches. Or so we thought…

Two kilometers into the hike, I noticed movement on the ground. A leech! Huh, the information was accurate after all, and I bent over to examine it. This wasn’t the black, full-bodied leech I’m used to, but a teensy worm-like thing crawling along the dusty ground. Almost cute! And, look, Jürgen, there’s another. And another! And oh my god the ground is covered with them! They are on me! Run!

Knuckles Mountain Range Landscape

And run we did. Back down the path, swatting at our legs in terror, every once in awhile pausing to bash leeches off our shoes with a rock, or flick them off our legs with a stick. During the panicked retreat, I knocked at least thirty leeches off me. Two managed to sink their hooks into my flesh, and one succeeded in latching onto Jürgen’s leg. It was like a scene out of the most horrifying terror movie you can imagine, only more horrifying. Once we reached safety back on the paved road, we immediately disrobed down to the undies and examined each other like overgrown monkeys.

Luckily, there was a second, leech-free hike out to a viewpoint known as Mini World’s End. This two-kilometer walk was a breeze, and soon enough we found ourselves at the edge of the mountain, with cliffs that dropped straight down to the plains below. The view was magnificent, stretching for miles in every direction. We sat down to drink some water, which felt blissfully cool against throats bruised raw from terror-squealing, and enjoyed the amazing scenery.

So in the end, it was worth the anguish. We were utterly alone in the Knuckles park, and didn’t see another tourist the entire day. To get there, we just hopped a bus bound for Mahiyangana, got off at Hunasgiriya, and then took a tuk-tuk for eight kilometers to the Conservation Center. Total journey time, one hour each way; round-trip cost, $3 per person. Not bad. If you go yourself, wear leech socks… or just be a little tougher than us. Shouldn’t be that hard.

Location of Knuckles Conservation Center on our Map

Knuckles Mountain Range jungle
Knuckles Mountain Range plants
Knuckles Mountain Range plants leaves
Knuckles Mountain Range lake
Little fish Knuckles Mountain Range
Knuckles Mountain Range weather
Knuckles Mountain Range views
Knuckles Mountain Range terrace fields
Knuckles Mountain Range birds
Knuckles Mountain Range goats
Knuckles Mountain Range tea
Knuckles Mountain Range forest
Knuckles Mountain Range sun and plants

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Jean Novotny

    Your post about the leeches is hilarious!  I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time!  But then, I don’t have leeches trying to attach themselves to my body either!  I love to check my email in the hopes of finding the newest post.  I thoroughly enjoy your writing and the pictures are breathtaking – telling a story themselves.  Thank you for bringing different parts of the world into my home!  ~~jn

  2. Dre

    If you’re in Sri Lanka and hiking though the hills during the wet season, chances are that you get attacked by leeches… A precautionary method is that you spray Salon-pass or apply some widely available herbal pain relief balm you could easily find before the hike. Applying knee down helps you in two ways; less pain to your legs on the go and keeps leeches away… Other local methods are to pour some salt-water or soap-water if they have already hanged to your skin.Do not try to pull them off forcefully if they are already clinging-on. If any of their tiny leach tooth stuck in your skin, it will bring scratchy, burning feeling to your wound for some years to come…!!

  3. Ian

    Living in Sri Lanka, as I do, I was confident that I knew all about leaches and where not to go. How wrong can you be!. Staying one week-end at a very good hotel near Kandy we decided to take on the rigours of their 9 hole golf course. Beautifully manicured fareways and billiard table quality greens. We were safe wern’t we?Around the 4th hole I felt something trickling down my leg and looked to see a stream of blood turning my white shorts a lovely shade of, well, red. Realising that the blood was eminating from a place that was far higher than I was comfortable with I made a dash to the hotel to get said predator removed.The staff were very helpful and kindly pointed out that there was a very large patch of red that was spreading rather too rapidly across my backside. Throwing modesty to the wind, the shorts came off quicker than I thought possible revealing a pair of undies dyed to a shade Calvin Kline would have envied. Unfortuately, the staff had not been versed in the art of leech removal and proceeded to pull the backside one off. Being about the size of Jabbah the Hut, it proved a difficult operation and blood, literally was everywhere. Copious amounts of it. I think we got through 4 towels. After 5 minutes both were gone but, to this day I bear a scar on my right leg that is a reminder to all of the voracious appetite of these little buggers.  

  4. Chanu

    thing with leeches is that their saliva contains an anesthetic so that you won’t feel when they drinking blood out of you. i’m a sri lankan(from colombo) and all my life I’ve been scared of leeches. but last year i spent a month in kandy and now im the Hercules when it comes to leeches  

  5. Morgan

    Beautifully captured pictures of flaura and fauna!I live in the tropical rain forest regions of India,close to srilanka and have frequently come across leeches in jungles.I doubt if the leech socks you mentioned could be of a great help.The best preventive measure is to be alert all the time and keep checking your body to look for any insect,leech stuck in your clothes.


    I have studied ayurvedic medicine. Leeches are used in cleansing the blood. To clean blood  of all the impurities leeches are extensively used. I had the experience of leeches when I was on a trip to Srilanka.The place is really captivating and beautiful. If you are bite by leeches, the best medicine to use is salt. 

  7. Miller Isabel

    Lovely pictures of scenery of Sri Lankan nature!
    I had very bad experience of leeches.The most difficult part is

    they are difficult to locate and even if you locate them,it is

    way too hard to remove them from our body.I’ll try to use salt as

    suggested in comments next time.But being an adventurous by

    nature,leeches won’t deter me to hike on Knuckles mountain range

    and many more in future.

  8. Dympna Morgan

    We were thinking of going to Sri Lanka on vacation this autumn/winter – we are now having very serious second thoughts 🙁

    1. Mike Powell

      Don’t let a few leeches keep you away 🙂 Really, during our 91 days in Sri Lanka, the only place we saw leeches was at the Knuckles Range. And we would have been fine, if we had simply listened to the warnings of the guards. Sri Lanka is an amazing country, and you shouldn’t pass up the chance to visit!

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