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|Year and Month||30 Nov & 01 Dec, 2013|
|Number of Days||2 Days|
|Crew||4 (Sheham, Tony, Wuminda and Me)|
|Accommodation||Mahaweli Circuit Bungalow, Maduru Oya|
|Activities||Elephant Watching, Safari, Hiking, Wild Life, Archeology, etc…|
|Weather||First Day it was free of rains with a lot of cloud cover and it rained towards the evening.Second Day it rained early morning but stopped but remained gloomy till about 12 noon and rained heavily afterwards.|
|Route||Dehiwala->Wattala->Kurunegala via Dambadeniya->Pollonnaruwa->Manampitiya->Maduru Oya and back on the same route.|
|Tips, Notes and Special remark||
|Comments||Discuss this trip report, provide feedback or make suggestions at Lakdasun Forum on the thread|
“—The Elephantidae are a taxonomic family, collectively elephants and mammoths. These areterrestrial large mammals with a trunk and tusks. Most genera and species in the family areextinct. Only two genera, Loxodonta (African elephants) and Elephas (Asiatic elephants), are living.
- Elephas (Asiatic)
- E. maximus Asian elephant
- E. m. maximus Sri Lankan elephant
- E. m. borneensis Borneo elephant
- E. m. indicus Indian elephant
- E. m. sumatranus Sumatran elephant
- Loxodonta (African)
- L. africana African bush elephant
- L. cyclotis African forest elephant
The Sri Lankan Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) is one of three recognizedsubspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to Sri Lanka. Since 1986, Elephas maximushas been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years. The species is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.
The size of wild elephant populations in Sri Lanka was estimated at 12,000 – 14,000 in the early 19th century and according to the latest stats in 2011, there are 5,879 on the basis of counting elephants at water holes in the dry season.—“
It’s said that you never get fed up by watching the Elephants and the Bali (Ali balillei, Bali balillei Iwarayak Nehe). I’m not entirely sure about the latter as unfortunately I ain’t come across many of them but the former couldn’t have been truer. Elephants are known to be exceptionally intelligent with a long memory and have been around for the last many million years or so. Like all the other beings on the planet they too have been undergone many transformations to be like they are today.
It’s such an amazing sight to watch them and one would never get tired of watching, no matter how many times they come across, this wonderful creature. It’s even more wonderful when you get to see them in their natural habitat such as the wild life parks and forests. Lately, I was itching to go see as many of them as possible and when Sheham came up with the idea of visiting Maduru Oya I kept jumping up and down till I was exhausted.
Sheham had been a frequent visitor to the Aralaganwila area and had seen many jumbos in and around but hadn’t had the chance to go and visit the park properly. He’s been talking about the whole area and I was tempted to pay a visit as soon as possible despite the bad weather.
“Today morning Dimbulagala Mountain was covered with mist and it was a very nice sight” was one of his messages sent to me and it sent me to my dream world. I kept imagining the Dimbulagala covered in mist with the trees rising to meet the tiny rays of Sun that’s peeping through the tiny holes of the clouds and dew drops hanging loosely from the blades of light green grass, bees hovering above the flowers humming and collecting honey. Gosh what a sight it must be and I yearned to be there.
The Dimbulagala Rock too had been a very appealing attraction for me and I saw the chance of getting two birds with one stone. I got busy with the preparation and informed as many of my friends as possible but didn’t get many positive replies this being a very last minute journey. The recently re-employed Tony, who had been missing many of our adventures, raised both his arms in confirmation but our long lasting partner Atha had to give in at the last minute due to his new job. So it was down to the three of us but on the off chance I called Wuminda who was busy with yet another audit and doubted his presence.
We were not ready to back out even though only the three of us remained and decided to go ahead with the journey as we’d already booked the Mahaweli Circuit Bungalow. However, on Friday evening Wumi called and confirmed he too would be able to make it as he’d managed to get someone else to finish the work on his behalf. It made things a lot better and we decided to hit the road after midnight around 1.30am.
“Didn’t sleep, plan to leave early and pick you up by 1.00 am just to save time. We’ll try n see some jumbos on the way” – Sheham sent the message on the dot of midnight. I too couldn’t fall asleep and glad to get out early but when I called Wumi he was mumbling in his sleep wondering what on earth was going. When I told him that we’ll pick him before 1.00am, he was wide awake and muttering under his breath kept the phone. On the other hand, Tony was very keen and ready to leave early and that’s what we did in the end.
We entered the airport highway and used the free distance up to the Wattala turn off and picked Tony near Mabola. From Ja-Ela we took the No 5 bus route which runs through Narammala and Dambadeniya to Kurunegala. The whole country was asleep and for some people the day wasn’t over yet, for us it was yet another super dawn. We ate up miles listening to Tony’s tales mixed with Sheham’s experience too, while Wumi adding a few of his own in between cat naps.
Tony spoke nonstop mainly putting the blame on us for not him being able to join our previous adventures and amid all his whining, we reached Manampitiya just as the daylight broke through the eastern end bathing the whole area with the virgin rays of the sun. There were a few passengers who’d got off from the Batti-bound night mail walking along the road still bleary-eyed and sometimes straying too dangerously towards the road.
We took the turn off the main road towards the Maduru Oya and after about 4km sighted the first of hundreds jumbo we saw during our stay on the right munching slowly. The fella was about 100m away from a nearby house and the people were there too. He was so huge easily topping 7 feet but the light was too dim to take a pic despite all the settings the camera offered. Elephants and Peacocks for people live in Maduru Oya area are like cats and dogs for us here in Colombo.
They are simply in abundance and you’re going to see so many of them just by driving along the road. However, the elephants in this area known to be fiercer than many others areas and the reasons could be that their homeland is being invaded at a ferocious rate by the people and many electric fences are being erected restricting their movements and some illegal electric fences kill quite a lot of their fellow elephants. So it’s no wonder they are hostile towards the human and most of the time, you need to be extra careful travelling along those roads.
We reached the bungalow around 5.45am and our jeep and the driver Nalaka was already there waiting for us. We met our caretaker Jayathilaka and left our baggage inside the van and got onto the jeep with whatever we needed for the day-long journey. We had our breakfast ready sliced bread with tempered onions and boiled eggs. For lunch we were gonna make noodles and we took a portable cooker with us including all the cooking utensils.
- Maduru Oya National Park
- Museum at the National Park
- The Canal dug from Ulhitiya to Maduru Oya
- The Main Dam of the Reservoir
- Maduru Oya Ancient Sluice
- The Z-D Canal
- Namal Pokuna Ruins
- Herbal Pond & Maara Veediya, Dimbulagala
- Collection of Panos
We reached the ticket office just after 6.00am and the park workers and trekkers were just stirring from the previous night’s sleep and some were brushing their teeth and we had to wait at the ticket office about half hour till they materialized from their quarters. I’ve put a pic with all the ticket prices among the pics. Having bought our tickets and the trekker on board, we left towards the mega Maduru Oya Reservoir hoping to see elephants. Just at the edge of the reservoir there’s a bungalow which you might have to book from the wild life department. It gives a fascinating view of the reservoir itself.
Facts of the Maduru Oya National Park
This was established under the Mahaweli development project and also acts as a catchment of the Maduru Oya Reservoir. The park was designated on 9 November 1983. Providing a sanctuary to wildlife, especially for elephants and protecting the immediate catchments of five reservoirs are the importance of the park. A community of Vedda people, the indigenous ethnic group of Sri Lanka lives within the park boundary in Henanigala.
Maduru Oya is the one of the four national parks originated under Mahaweli Project (others are Wasgamuwa, Flood Plains and Somawathiya) and its land mass is 58,849.6 hectares and ranked among the 3rd biggest in whole SL.
Even though the Maduru Oya is under Mahaweli Authority’s jurisdiction, the National Park is controlled by the Wild Life Department and inevitably there’s a tug-of-war between these two agencies. To make matters worse Army Special Forces too residing in the vicinity with one of their massive training school adding fuel to the fire underneath.
Keeping all that in mind, we reached the bank of the reservoir which is around half full as the monsoon rains are long overdue. It was a spectacular sight as the ground is covered with lush grass and the reservoir is bordered with huge grey black rock boulders and the morning sun reflecting mystic hue off the water surface. Wild buffalos were feeding on the juicy grass while many different kinds of birds were lining the water looking for breakfast. The area was so vast and I didn’t know from where to begin taking pics.
Towards the edge, we noticed a big herd of spotted deer (Sri Lankan Axis Deer) which consists of about 100 or so animals of all sizes. The atmospherical haze made it very difficult to get a clear shot of the dam but our driver Nalaka duly obliged by going in circles all around but ever shy deer wouldn’t wait for us to get close enough. Wumi enjoyed his full 1200mm lens on his new Canon and Sheham too had his massive 50-500mm lens with him. Tony and I had our point-n-shoots ready but most of the animals were well beyond our range.
The giant Buddha statue at the dam was however visible and we had fortunately got the permission to visit the dam and the ancient sluice. We went passing many birds mainly peacocks and storks with many other unknown ones to me. Driving to the edge of the water we saw a few traditional fishing boats coming from far. Our guide informed us that they are allowed to fish from 3pm to 9am in the reservoir. You might have heard about very famous Tank Dried Fish (Wavu Karawala) in the North Central, especially in Minneriya, Pollonnaruwa and surrounding areas.
There’s so much tank fish readily available in those areas and they’ve invented this method to keep them longer so that they won’t be wasted. Further away, we got the first glimpse of the jumbo inside the park. He was all alone staying at the edge of the water feeding on grass and sun bathing. We quietly crept up on him and stayed well away from his reach and took pics. He sensed our presence and started moving around as if being scared but we knew better not to get any closer.
There were hundreds of buffalos playing around and the small ones were very cute and felt like cuddling them. The elephant got uneasy due to the mayhem created by the buffalos and some of them even balked at us for intruding their land. After taking so many pics we left them for their run and went searching for more. Anyway we were feeling very hungry too and found a nice rocky slab off the water and decided to breakfast without further delay. Aroma of the tempered onions made my mouth salivating and Tony hurriedly and expertly unshelled the eggs which we wolfed down with sliced bread and washed down with orange juice.
After a hearty meal, we chased after more deer and took loads of pics with a couple of birds too. After the tour of the reservoir we took to the roads inside and followed them further in to the jungle. I was getting frustrated of not seeing enough elephants and kept peering through the hole in the roof all around searching frantically. All of a sudden, while I was looking towards a hill I saw a few black spots and looking closely figured they are actually elephants.
Elephants on a hill? Exactly that’s how I felt but it was very true. We all were very amazed by the sight and there were nearly 10 of them nibbling at the grass and we were wondering how on earth they climbed so high. The hill was about 200-300ft high and it was one helluva chance we came across them. I was beaming and kept my eyes peeled off for more and after a very short distance they were there onto our left, about a dozen or so about 100ft or so away. However upon our arrival, they slowly backed into the jungle and I felt sad coz wanted to see them as long as possible.
Another 500m or so away we came across this weirdly shaped Nuga Tree. It had creeps falling down but at the bottom about 6-8ft high, there was a huge gap. Our guide informed that it’s called “Ali Panawa” where the elephants come to scratch their backs. The ends of the creeps look like a comb with sharp edges and they’re ideal for scratching the thick elephants’ skins. Naturally, the tendency is high for the elephants to roam around here as this is their scratching ground.
We drove deep into the jungle, and came across a tree full of nests of Wadu Kurullo (Baya Weaver nests). There were about two dozen or so nests in different stages of completion and sizes. Some were woven with raw grass which hadn’t gone their typical bleached-out hay color. It was very nicely done and we spent about 5mins taking as many of them as possible onto our already overflowing memory cards. We then passed a derelict building which looked like a school hall and a few SF soldiers were there too.
All of a sudden we came a clearing and to what looked like a dam and a sluice gates with soldiers on top of it. There was another small boutique like structure with an army tent erected next to it. This place is where SF trains their soldiers. Those newly recruited soldiers are given tracking, navigation, survival and jungle warfare training in the jungle. Already there were about a 20-30 of them and the place was the sluice gates of the canal that brings water from Ulhitiya Reservoir to Maduru Oya through a 3.75mile-long rocky tunnel built in the early 80s.
The Legend of the Canal
“According to our guide, this was a tedious task as the canal bed was made of hard rocks and the Canadian Engineers who built the Maduru Oya Reservoir under the Mahaweli Project planned to bring in water from Ulhitiya via this. There were two engineers who were brothers and they decided to dig at either end and meet in the middle. It’s also said that they decided to commit suicide had they failed to meet in the middle.
So they had started digging at both ends and the broken rocks were so much that they were used to build the whole Maduru Oya Dam and the nearby roads too. Fortunately they had met in the middle and completed the project successfully. The tunnel is 3.75 miles (6km) long and about 20ft wide and at the open. However, our guide said the inside of the tunnel can easily have access to two Lorries which can go parallel with no problem. The depth is also said to be more than enough to submerge a large container.
The folklore goes deeper and according to them the engineers wanted to check if they could fill the whole reservoir in 48hrs but highly doubted it. So without removing any of their heavy equipment from the reservoir floors such Lorries, earth movers, cranes, etc. they opened the sluice gates and let the water flow in. What happened afterwards took them by surprise as the whole reservoir filled to the brim submerging all the equipment unrecoverable. Some say that they did it deliberately to destroy their equipment so that nobody could lay their hands on them.”
We were very much fascinated by the engineering marvel taken place there. We could get down to the canal and could see the menacing looking rocky walls either side of the canal. Sheham in the meantime gave some free consultation for the soldiers’ solar panel. We then left the place and went to another very special place. It was the place where they removed the broken rocks by heavy trucks. The path into the canal was dug very deep and now is full of water. During the dry season, you can go some distance towards the mouth of the cave like tunnel.
After visiting this and having a sip of water we got into conversation with the driver and the guide. Our guide’s name was Uruwarige Prasanna who’s playing for the indigenous people’s cricket team and they were on TV as well. He’s married to the daughter of the younger brother of the leader Uruwarige Wannila Aththo. It was such a pleasure to meet one of our indigenous people. They now have to do jobs like these to make a living as their normal life style has been changed greatly over the last couple of decades.
The dark clouds kept threatening to come down and on our way we saw 3 elephants crossing our path in a hurry and vanishing into the jungle. They were too fast for us to take a pic which was a pity. We reached Henanigala Entrance and parked our vehicle to have lunch and a dip in the Henanigala Tank. Tony and I got into the water while Wumi was pondering over it all the time and went bathless in the end and Sheham decided to catch up on some sleep.
After a nice cool dip, we got busy cooking our lunch of instant noodles but it wasn’t gonna be enough for 6 of us. We had planned food only for 4 people and it was a very bad mistake as we didn’t add the driver and the trekker to our list. Fortunately the Henanigala village was nearby and we went to a shop about 1km away and bought more noodles. Having cooked the biggest pot of noodles in our lives we served mega helpings to our guide and the driver while we used one of the polythene bags to have a Noodles Sawan with leftover bread slices.
Eventually we had more noodles and Tony and Sheham had to do overtime with the food consumption. We could see the dark clouds closing in and the rain wasn’t far away. Even though we were ready to go, we decided to stay while the rain passed away. It rained very heavily obscuring our view with a veil of water and a monitor chose the time to venture into the land and take a detour skating out the new visitors into his territory.
In about half an hour or so, the rain ceased but the road was so muddy. Unfortunately the contractors had filled the roads with earth up to about a foot and a half and the whole road was like a muddy cake. When we tried to tackle it the tires kept screeching without moving forward. Ours wasn’t a 4X4 and the tires too weren’t suited to tackle this path and about 10m into the path the jeep was leaning dangerously onto the right shoulder and I feared it might fall. We were royally stuck and after about 5mins and all the road maneuvering instructions we spotted the tractor, the king of muddy tracks (even they fought alongside soldiers in the Mullativu jungle as they were the only maneuverable thing) and thankfully the officers at the entrance got him to help us pull the jeep with the rope attached to the gate.
You can watch the rescue effort video here.
That was a walk in the park for the tractor and we decided to take the road outside the park and re-enter from the main path and visit the museum too on the way. On the tarred road back again we saw some Bee-eaters on the electric fence and a bit further away on a leafless tree were 3 Hornbills pecking at each other. Wumi knew the names of many birds and we missed having an experienced bird watcher like Dhanushka with us. There were many eagles too but the names were impossible to get. The sky got blue yet again with clouds making some artistic features as if to say sorry. All of a sudden we saw a huge elephant onto our right and he was raising his trunk and threatening us while splashing dust all over him. He took a few steps towards us and Nalaka was itching to run along as this fella was known for his notoriety. There were a couple of guys on a motor bike and they said he’s called the “Hairless” as he has no hair on his tail.
After taking so many pics we decided to leave the fella and go back into the park but not before there were many other birds and monkeys met us on the way. Entering back to the park we thought of visiting the museum. It was mainly a collection of dead elephants’ skulls and skeletons of deer, buffalos, snakes and even crocs. It’s a collection of two rooms and the one on the left bore a collection of about 20+ elephants’ skulls. Most of them were killed by shooting and one elephant had been shot 15 times before the fellow succumbed to his injuries.
Some of the skulls were so huge and one person can’t wrap his arms around one. Looking at the collection of the skulls and reading how they were killed brought tears to my eyes. They were freely flowing down my cheeks before I knew it and had to wipe them away before anyone saw me. It was such a heart-breaking sight and two tiny skulls belonging to baby elephants were such a tragic. I left the room with a heavy heart and wondered into the other to find many skulls of deer with their horns and a couple of full skeletons of pythons too along with a couple of crocs and many others.
Then there was this gorgeous butterfly on the plant and he didn’t go away and we managed to get macros shots almost the lens touching the fellow. We got into the park yet again near the reservoir but the dark clouds were coming thick and fast and in no time it started pouring with rain. We knew it was hopeless to tackle the jungle in the rain and it was getting past 4.30pm and decided to call it a day and visit the ancient sluice at the dam.
Ancient Sluice and the Current Dam
We got back on the track and headed further on passing the SF camp and saw the notice saying 4km to the Ancient Sluice and pushed ourselves on. As I mentioned before you need permission to visit the place and we reached the gate and having identified ourselves, the guards let us through. We were driving along the dam of the reservoir and soon we saw an elephant and Nalaka said he’s called the 3-legged elephant due to the fact that he’s unable to put down his front right leg. Apparently the fellow was shot in the leg below the knee and the wound got infected and the leg below the knee is bent forward at an awkward angle making it harder to put it down and walk.
He’s been in the same place for the last few days and it won’t be long before he dies either of the infection or the starvation. The vets who’d checked him have confirmed that there’s nothing they could possibly do to save him. We felt very sorry for him and when he got flapped his years I noticed that there’s no flesh in his neck and around the ear and the skin has shrunk to his bones. It was such a sorrowful sight and I wish I could take some fresh grass and give him to eat. How painful and difficult for the fella to stay like that? I hope he dies a peaceful death soon without suffering that much.
Passing him we came across another 4 elephants that were very healthy and huge and one of them was a bit away from the other three and Sheham recognized it to be a female one and her tummy was bulging which means only one thing that she’s pregnant and a baby elephant is on the way to this cruel world. They had to practically drag me away coz we wanted to see the sluice before it gets dark. Leaving them we came across another mud covered fellow which was all alone. He looked very fearsome with mud sticking to his skin making him look more brown than ash-grey. Hurrying on we came to the dam and the serene-looking standing Buddha statue made me feel very calm.
It was so nice and the peaceful look on Lord Buddha’s face was all I need to calm my nerves after the shock of seeing that innocent elephant. I prayed for him and asked for a quick and painless death come upon him. The water spill and the surrounding area were so nice in the fading sunlight and we could see for miles on either side of the dam. All of a sudden Sheham called me over and showed a spot about 2km away along the Maduru Oya and all I could see was with my naked eye was a row of dots. We all thought it must be the water buffalos and Sheham was very curious to check it out and got his gigantic long lens and looking through that exclaimed “They are all Elephants”.
There must be hundreds of them by the look of it and we all (even the other tourists who were hovering about) gathered around and took our turns peeping through the LCD screen. We were amazed to see a row of elephants numbering easily 100-200. They were all scattered along a long line and I was so frustrated to have missed our re-entry due to the rain. Had we gone in, we easily could’ve seen them up close. Gosh what a sight it must’ve been.
Having spent some time there we decided to head downhill to see one of many thousands of miracles of SL architecture, the ancient sluice of Maduru Oya.
The legend of the Ancient Sluice:
“The ancient sluice on the old ruptured earthen bund of the Maduru Oya was discovered in the 1980s. The sluice made up of stone slabs and bricks, is about 30 feet (9.1 m) high, 30 feet (9.1 m) wide and 219 feet (67 m) long. The upper sluice was built in two phases, the first of which dates to before the 6th century BC. The lower sluice is believed to be older than that.
Buddhist ruins of shrines, temples, dagobas, statues, and hermitages are found in Henanigala, Kudawila, Gurukumbura, Ulketangoda, and Werapokuna belonging to various periods of Sri Lankan history. Early Brahmi inscriptions from first to third century AD have been discovered in Kandegamakanda.”
Seeing this miraculous thing and reading the legend on the notice there filled my heart with pride about my ancestors. What great people they must’ve been to build things like these more than 2000 years ago. The very first one was apparently more than 2500 years old. This is where the Canadian engineers got the shock of their lives having seen this. It must’ve made them look foolish coz even with all the latest technology, this kind of thing is not easy to build.
The sluice is protected by an electric fence as the Elephants roam around. This was a sensible move coz those jumbos might wanna take a swing at it depending on their mood. We left there keeping our heads high but felt very sad deep inside when the current dilapidated status of our country and its people. We’re now nothing compared to them and I can’t think of how on earth we became to where we are today. Such a tragedy!!!
On the way back the rain came in full force and the driving was so hard. We managed to reach the bungalow but our luck had run out as the electricity had gone out due to the rain and possibly a tree had fallen breaking a cable. However we were without electricity but fortunately we had 3 torches between us which helped to get changed and have a wash. The bungalow is newly furnished and the washrooms are clean.
We were ravenous and fortunately our caretaker Jayathilaka managed to cook a super meal of Beans, Dhal, Cucumber Salad, Fish, Mallun and crispy Papadam with steaming rice and we ate as if there was no tomorrow. Having gobbled down the hearty dinner we settled onto a long night and went to sleep completely at peace feeling fully content. It was a grand day and we were looking forward to the upcoming day when we planned to visit the Dimbulagala.
Morning came and I woke up around 5.00am managed to rouse everyone from their dreams and got ready. Unfortunately it was raining heavily and my heart sank. In the meantime we decided to go for a drive around hoping to get a glimpse of a jumbo as the villagers say the elephants come to the roads when it rains. The reason for it is not quite certain but we wanted to have a look all the same. Having got ready, we left and drove for about 4-5km without success and got back feeling very hungry.
Thankfully Jayathilaka had cooked a grand meal of Sambol mixed with fried Sprats, Potato curry with steaming rice. We didn’t need a second invitation to help ourselves and I can vouch for his wife’s cooking. Feeling full and happy, we bid our farewell to the Mahaweli Bungalow and headed towards Aralaganwila where we need to take a left for the mighty Dimbulagala. As soon as we came out of the premises, there was this lady carrying an infant with another kid waiting for a bus and Sheham was kind enough to give her a ride.
She’s in fact working for the Sub Post Office at the Mahaweli Project and meeting her got us some very valuable information. The villagers in the area are living in fear of the elephants especially when it rains, they’re scared to get to the roads as the elephants tend to come to the roads very often during showers. There were a lot more people waiting for the bus; unfortunately we had no enough space for them all. She told us a few folklores about the elephants.
“According to the villagers, one should not blame the elephants even in secret. They shouldn’t even think bad things about them as the villagers believe the elephants can feel it and will come to pay a visit to those who talk ill of them.”
“Another one is that if an elephant kills a human, he stays close to the funeral house so long as the body is there. People say it’s because the elephant is sad for what he’s done and want to kind of show his sadness and say sorry. When the body is buried, the elephant usually goes to the cemetery and pay his respects to at the burial site”
How fascinating those stories are and we had no qualms about them as she unveiled them. Those people live every second of their lives with those giants and if there can’t be many who know them better. Having dropped her at her mother’s place we continued and along the way Sheham took a turn to show us the killing ground of the elephants which is called the Z-D canal.
Below is an excerpt from the Ceylon Today (19 Nov 2013) with a quote from an officer of Weheragala Wildlife Department:
“Animals from the Maduru Oya National Park always use the Z-D canal to get to the other side, but the problem is that the canal provides no exit path for the animals. Thus they get stuck. This has been going on for some time and we have informed the Mahaweli Authorities about this sitution.”
“The area comes under the Mahaweli Authority and it is up to them to build a way for the animals to get out. If not, we will have to keep rescuing these animals and this takes up much of our resources as well much effort from our staff.”
The Z-D canal is 30ft deep and during heavy showers a large quantity of water moves through it making it extremely dangerous for animals to get out should they fall into it. We went to one of the sluice gates where many elephants’ and other animals’ lives have been claimed over the years. It’s about 50ft in height and the path is made of kind of L and V shaped concrete parts and if an animal goes through the gate, they’ll be shattered into tiny pieces by hitting at a ferocious rate on those hard pieces. This is certainly a killing field for the animals and wonder what the Mahaweli Authorities gonna do about it.
Even we came up with an idea of fixing a hard metal mesh about 100ft away from the gate so that the animals will not go any further making the rescue efforts easy. They could also build two paths either side so that stuck animals can easily get out without having to mount rescue efforts wasting so much man power and resources. It’s such a heart-breaking thing to witness those innocent animals being killed at regular intervals when we can do something about it. All we can deduce from this is two agencies (Mahaweli and Wildlife) are playing a tug-a-war by sacrificing those innocent lives.
Namal Pokuna Ruins
Then it was time to leave for the Namal Pokuna ruins and we made it well in time. Getting off the van we made one of the fatal errors in our travelling careers. We forgot or simply didn’t bother to carry some water with us. It almost drove us crazy in the end but the falling rains and the herbal pond saved the day. Going through the temple, we reached the ruins which must’ve been a huge complex and the remaining structures tell the story of our architectural marvel to the whole world.
Herbal Pond & Maara Veediya
From the ruins we took the path onto our right and went up hoping to reach either the Herbal Ponds or Akasa Chaithya. We had no guide but two doggies joined us from the ruins and followed our steps. One was a black one and the other was brown and Tony had his own names for them calling “Kalu Naguta” and the “Sudu Naguta”. The path more or less goes around the Dimbulagala Rock and one can find a path with a guide to the top of it as well. The undergrowth is too thick and we found so many caves along the way where monks had stayed meditating. The Sangaraja Kashyapa Thero had also stayed in one of the caves.
Surprisingly enough none of the dogs came near or went inside the caves. Sheham noticed this and afterwards we kept a close eye for this. They always avoided the caves and if the caves are too close to the path, they would come through the forest and join the path. It’s either out of bounds for them or they might avoid dirtying the places on purpose by knowing the importance of them. What a mysterious thing it turned out to be. All the caves had drip edges and some had kind of artistic things carved below them and letters too.
The ignorant visitors had left polythene bags, biscuits and ice cream wrappers along the path. Please don’t ever leave anything like that. No matter how many times we preach this, people still tend to do these kinds of stupid things. We reached a kind of junction where the path forked into two and there were sign boards too. The one to the left was heading towards Herbal Ponds and the one on the right was towards Akasa Maligawa. We’d planned to visit the Akasa Maligawa thus took the right path. There are arrows marking the path as it can be very difficult to find your way there. We saw black, yellow, pink and white arrows pointing the ways marked during many different times.
However, at some point, the dogs stopped abruptly and we saw the arrow marks going towards the right but Tony said he can see the arrow marks to the right coming down. Since they were marked coming down we took the left hand path and the climb was getting steeper by the second. In a few hundred meters we were at a kind of observation point with a flat rock. On it was written CP6 in pink but it was meaningless to us. We then noticed the dogs are nowhere to be seen and thought they’d called it a day and headed back. However, they had wanted to show us the path to the Akasa Maligawa but knowing we weren’t heading that way, decided not to follow us crazy heads. Gosh I wish we’d either taken the right side path or those doggies could speak a few words.
From the observation point we headed on to our left following the steps but the path was getting very difficult and having no water with us made us pant like dogs. Finally we reached a point where the path went downhill and there was writings on rocks pointing right to the Akasa Maligawa and uphill where we got down to the Herbal Pond. We took the right towards the Akasa Maligawa but had come back to our original path in a circular way. Fortunately Sheham figured this and when we looked at the GPS tracker it showed that we were going in a full circle.
There were 3 boys coming down from the same path and they too confirmed that we had missed the path to the Akasa Maligawa but suggested we do the Herbal Pond instead which is close by. Every one of us was thirsty and exhausted coz we had kind of done a circular trail all around the Dimbulagala Rock. Sheham decided to sit and wait but encourage Wumi and me to go see the Herbal Pond and come. Tony too being the oldest of the bunch didn’t wanna push much on his battered legs and kept company with Sheham while Wumi very reluctantly followed me uphill.
As those boys had said, the Herbal Pond was about 100-200m away from where we stood and Wumi felt very happy in the end about joining me coz the view from there is simply amazing. We saw from Hasalaka towards Welikanda in panoramic half circle miles into the horizon. There were many caves in the top too. This is also where it’s called “Maara Veediya” and we have no idea why it’s called that. It’s built on a rocky slope by digging into the rock and making mud walls to create house-like places for the monks to stay. Wumi said it’s called Maara Veediya because the journey is close to death.
We followed carefully up the rocky slope. There was sign of an iron fence being there once but now it’s almost gone making it extremely difficult and dangerous for visitors to get there especially when it’s raining and windy. There are two ponds the first being very clean and I drank from it deeply pacifying my screaming lips and parched throat. Passing it, we went further along and at the end was the Herbal Pond. Dileepa, one of the boys who’s from the same area, confirmed this to be the Herbal Pond. All of a sudden it started pouring with rain covering the entire area with mist and we couldn’t see anything but the rain falling like a blanket. It was a fascinating experience but we felt sorry for Sheham and Tony coz they had no shelter and must have got soaked to the bone in the downpour.
Fortunately those three boys had 2 umbrellas with them and having shared our biscuit packet with them we decided to wait till the rain eases a bit. The caves were safe from the rains thanks to the drip edges carved into the stone above. After about an hour of waiting, we decided to defy the relentless rain and take our chances. We loaded all the valuables into my bag and gave an umbrella to Wumi and helping each other got out of the Maara Veediya and followed the path downhill in the rain.
Almost down, Dileepa said that there’s a skeleton which is being used by the monks to meditate in front of it training their minds and to realize the uncertainty of the life. The skeleton was from one of the monks who had stayed there and after a brief visit to the place we reached the Dimbulagala Temple. We were soaked so much and didn’t have the heart to explore the temple and as if on cue, Sheham and Tony came with the van having walked nearly 3km back to the Namal Pokuna to pick the van in the rain.
We bid our farewell to the boys and made good time to and passing Pollonnaruwa stopped to buy the famous Wewu Karawala (Dried Tank Fish). Thereafter we reached Minneriya where we saw a flock of Elephants in the distance. Looking through the camera we counted 12 of them in a cluster but felt sad not being able to get close enough. We came to the junction where the road branches off toward Trinco, Sheham suggested we drive a bit and check for Elephants but we didn’t have enough time to do that. Passing it we noticed a pair of elephants at the roadside dressed with a colorful cloth. This is where they offer elephant back safaris to the tourists.
Passing them all, Tony showed us a fascinating sight of a Thala Mala. It was in full bloom and we took pics of it while having some juicy mangoes. Well after this, we settled down finally in our seats giving a much needed break for our cameras.
Dear me; by looking at the word count made me nearly faint. It’s gone 7,600 words and counting. It was a roller coaster journey and I’ve been writing like the London Marathon for the last few hours or so, gosh I’ve lost the time too.
Ok folks, I’ll leave you for now and hope you’ve enjoyed my rubberized fairy tale. Take care and enjoy the few panos too…