Sunday, February 1, 2009
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
For a small island, Sri Lanka has acquired a lot of names - Serendib, Ceylon, Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma, Pearl of the Orient - an accumulation which reveals its richness and beauty, and the intensity of affection which it has evoked in visitors. For centuries it seduced travellers, who returned home with enchanting images of a langourous tropical isle of such deep spirituality and serenity that it entered the Western imagination as a Tahiti of the East.
This, sadly, is the same island which, for the past 15 years, has been traumatised by a ferocious ethnic and religious conflict that has punctured the most willful exoticism and burned Sri Lanka into Western minds as the Northern Ireland of the Indian Ocean.
If you ever tasted a cup of good High Grown Ceylon Tea, preferably in the unblended form, you have tasted the BEST TEA there is. Of course, to experience that pleasure, you must go to the central hill country of Sri Lanka. And once you are there, take Route 5 from Maha Nuwara (Kandy) to Nuwara Eliya. This take you through some of the best scenery of the Hill Country. The road takes you by the shores of Mahaweli River from Peradeniya ( don't forget to visit the famous botanical gardens - remember "Bridge on the River Kwai?") to Gampola, long ago a capital of Sri Lanka. From Gampola it is a steep climb with many hairpin curves for some sixty kilometers, through spectacular scenery like this, until you get to Nuwara Eliya, the old British hill resort. To taste that heavenly cup of tea, on the way to Nuwara Eliya, look out for tea factories that advertise tea tasting. You won't forget that unique experience.
Where there are rivers and hills, there are also waterfalls. The tallest one in Sri Lanka is the Diyaluma falls, dropping 694 feet.
Sri Lanka has 1,340 km of sea shore, and most of it is spectacular and full of contrasts. A serene, white sandy cove, next to a craggy promontory with thundering waves beating against the granite boulders. Few miles up or down the beach, perhaps a quaint fishing village, with rugged sea going "oru," a craft akin to an oversized canoe with a history going back to Inca times, drying on the beach. If you happen to be in the area of Ahangama, or Weligama, near Matara, the southernmost city in Sri Lanka, exactly 100 miles (161 km), from Colombo, you might be in for a unique sight - the stilt fishermen of Weligama -. Have your cameras ready and with a full roll of film, because you won't find this anywhere else in the world.
If you like to do some scuba diving, or do some quiet swimming, go past Matara to the four-mile-wide bay at Tangalla. The calm and clear water of Tangalla bay is a swimmers paradise. Perhaps you like some rougher water, to do some surfing--- not to worry, The small towns of Hikkaduwa, Totagamuwa, and Dodanduwa, in the south- west corner of the island are blessed with the ideal beaches for that sport.
Tea With Clouds
Beginning in 1840 British planations in Ceylon began raising tea, which is a variety of Camellia (Camellia Sansis). At first tea was secondary in importance to coffee, until the coffee crops were laid waste by a disease that had no effect upon the tea. In this region tea bushes begin to produce a crop after four years, and usually a few lelaves are plucked by skilled workers every seven days. These mountainous areas with warm days, cool nights, moderately heavy rainfall, and acidic soils are one of the world's prime tea growing areas.
BATH TIME AT ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE AT PINNAWELA
The Meditating Buddha
A statue of the Lord Buddha in an ancient city of Sri Lanka. These invaluable treasures can still be seen in cities like Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Mihintale within 150 miles from Colombo the capital of Sri Lanka
AukanaThis 5th century statue ascribed to King Dhatusena is 42.5 feet (13 m) high and is situated 32 miles (51 km) southeast of Anuradhapura.
Aukana means sun eating. It stands beneath a recently constructed brick shelter, a replica of the enclosure said to have contained it 1000 years ago. The statue is best viewed when the sun rises.A replica of the Aukana statue stands opposite the BMICH in Colombo on Bauddhaloka Mawatha. A smaller replica is found at the Paramananda Purana Viharaya in Kotahena.
Buduruwagala rock sculpturesThe seven colossal figures sculpted into a rock face are generally dated to the 9th or the 10th century. The central figure of the group is the Buddha, standing 51 feet (15.5 m) and is the largest standing Buddha in Sri Lanka. He is attended on either side by two Bhodisattvas, each 40 feet (12 m) in height. Each of them in turn has two attendants.
The figure on the Buddha's right is believed to be Avalokitesvara. The one on the left is believed to be either Maitreya, the future Buddha, or Vajrapani, a Tantric Bhodisattva.The picture shows a section of the rock face with the Buddha and Avalokitesvara sculptures.
Because Sri Lanka is considered the cradle of Theravada Buddhism, comparatively little has been chronicled on Mahayana history in the island, despite its influence from time to time. Therefore the Buduruwagala figures are a source of controversy.
MaligawilaFifteen miles south of Moneragala is Maligawila, one of the Ruhuna's most remarkable ruins. A great falken Buddha, 34 feet (10.5 m) high and 10 feet (3 m) across the souhlders, was carved completely from a single stone and then transported and raised here on a lotus pedestal. The statue dates back to the early 7th century and is tentatively identified with an enormous monastic establishment called the Ariyakari Vihara.
Statues from Dambulla Caves
Dambulla is a vast isolated rock mass and it was here that King Valagam Bahu took refuge in the 1st century B.C. He later turned the caves into a rock temple. Some of the frescoes are over 2,000 years old and there is a colossal figure of the recumbent Buddha carved out of the living rock, some 14 metre long
Weligama is situated at the southern corner of Sri Lanka, about 15 miles (24) Km from the historic city of Galle. Just half an hour's drive from Galle, along majestic coconut groves, brings you to the breathtakingly beautiful Weligama Bay. It is no wonder that the famous German scientist philosopher Ernst Haekel who in 1882 set up a marine zoological laboratory in Weligama called this secluded haven "Bella Gemma" the lovely gem and the pearl of Taprobane (another name for Sri Lanka) !
Besides the picturesque bay, Weligama is famous for an off shore islet where a French Count built his dream house, which stands to date as both a tourist attraction and an exclusive guest house. Weligama is also famous for the beautiful sun-drenched beaches and the spectacular sight of stilt fishermen whom you will find nowhere else on the island.
Most of my childhood memories are associated with Weligama because for the most part I grew up in Weligama. Over some 50 years ago my father set up his photographic business at Weligama, and decided that the whole family should move in there so that we (four of us all brothers) can have better schooling. Accordingly, I had my primary school education first at Sidhdhartha Vidyalaya (school), and then at Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya, both till to date are landmark establishments in Weligama. I studied at Sri Sumangala until I moved on to Rahula College, Matara, where I had my high school or secondary education before entering the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. I can claim with pride that my late father's foresight to move his family to Weligama paid its dividends when I entered the prestigious University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, as the first ever person to do so from Weligama.
My sweet memories of school day adventures in Weligama are mostly associated with my schoolmates at Sri Sumangala. I remember to this day how an adventure trip to the Ganduwa island off the main land turned into a nightmare when I almost drowned in the attempt to reach the island by swimming across the shallow sea between the main land and the islet. However, in those good old days adventures were done together with your mates. Therefore, there was always help at hand and fortunately I was rescued.
SUNSET AS SEEN FROM A WELIGAMA BEACH
A TYPICAL WELIGAMA BEACH SCENE
FISHING BOATS PARKED AT KAPPARATOTA BEACH, WELIGAMA
A UNIQUE AND BREATHTAKING SPECTACLE OF THE STILT FISHERMEN AT WELIGAMA
A CLOSE-UP OF A STILT FISHERMAN IN ACTION AT WELIGAMA
GANDUWA, THE OFFSHORE ISLET WHERE A FRENCH COUNT BUILT HIS DREAM HOUSE
WELIGAMA HAS A HISTORY NOT UNEQUAL TO THOSE OTHER PLACES OF ANTIQUITY IN SRI LANKA. THE FAMOUS KUSTARAJAGALA IS A ROCK CARVING DEPICTING A BODHISATVA (POTENTIAL BUDDHA) AVALOKITHESWARA. THE ROCK CARVING DATES BACK TO SOME 1500 YEARS, AND IS SURROUNDED IN MYTH AND LEGEND
A FULL PROFILE OF THE ROCK CARVING AT KUSTARAJAGALA, WELIGAMA
Although I have lived in England for more than half of my life, I make it a pilgrimage to visit my home town Weligama at least once a year. It is a pilgrimage for me because this (almost) annual return to my home town gives me the only opportunity to visit my parent's graves and pay my respect to their memory. This alone is rewarding enough for me to visit my home town Weligama, tucked away on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. If there is any other leisure, pleasure or beneffit to gain from visiting Sri Lanka, it is just a bonus for me.
Every time I visit this beautiful beach resort of Weligama, memories of my childhood and early youth flood through my veins bringing fresh hope and expectation to life. The hum drum life of daily commuting from a suburb of London, and working in a vast metropolis called London condition anyone's life to a clockwork object barely alive. My yearly visit to Sri Lanka and my return to Weligama recharges my batteries in readiness for another year of stressful life in a materialistic European capital. Weligama is rest, relaxation and re-habilitation for me. At least for a few weeks I turn my back to stress, tension, pressure and the rat-race. So, long live Sri Lanka! long live Weligama!!
Now that you are in Weligama click below for Parts 2 and 3 of my narrative for the IMAGES OF THE PRESENT and IMAGES OF THE FUTURE where you will meet my nephew Sajeewa and his family.
|The gray langur, with the jet black face (shown here) and the macaque, or the red monkey are seen scattered in pockets of jungle habitats in Sri Lanka and sometimes even in the small villages. The larger of the two species, the langur, lives in large groups among the trees and is usually pacific in nature. Groups of these monkeys are a common sight at some of the Buddhist temples in the dry region, and most often seen begging for give-aways, or if un-successful, stealing, from the unsuspecting visitor. |
The red monkey, with a brown colored coat and a pinkish face, is rather aggressive, and quick tempered. This species, if provoked, have known to attack humans occasionally. There are several other species of monkey in the Sri Lanka jungles, but they are confined to the hilly and mostly inaccessible areas and for this reason are rarely seen by the average visitor to the island.
The Gray Langur
The peacock, largest of the pheasants, is native to Sri Lanka and India. It is often the male of the species that is shown in photographs, showing the beautiful plumage. This bright coloured plumage is a way of attracting the females of the species. Hence the simile "proud as a peacock". The female (pea hen) lacks the beautiful ornamental feathers or the bright coloring.
Although native to Sri Lanka, the peacock population has decreased considerably, for, at one time it was considered a delicacy and peafowl were hunted down indiscriminately. Pea fowl are easily and readily tamed, and sometimes can be seen in the lawns of some of the hotels, and bigger private residences.
For Hindus in Sri Lanka, peacock holds a special place too, for Skanda the God of Katharagama sits with his wives astride a peacock. Lord Vishnu, one of the major Gods, also is often shown with a peacock in the background.
There are four species of deer in the plains and jungles of Sri Lanka. Spotted deer, barking deer, mouse deer and the Sambhur (elk). The Sambhur is somewhat darker than the others, and is the biggest, about five feet at the shoulders, and perhaps the most handsome. The "spotted deer" shown here is by far, the most common, and can be seen in large herds in some of the national parks and most of the open plains, specially in the northern dry sector.
Elephant is the 'beast of burden, or the "tractor" of the jungle. It can easily haul twenty foot sections of hard-wood from the middle of the jungle to the road, generally finds its own food, and only demands loyalty and a good word from it's trainer, the mahout. For, if the mahout ill-treats or mistreats the elephant, there are numerous recorded cases, where the elephant will take revenge, and in most cases fatal to the mahout.
It is estimated that there are about 2,500 to 3000 elephants in Sri Lanka, and about 500 of them are tame, and are used for work. In rural areas it is fairly common to see an elephant on the side of the road, with a big bundle of coconut leaves in it's mouth, coming home for the night with the mahout riding on its' back.
The common heron, that is seen everywhere in the island, apart from being a sight to behold when in flight in a large group, also serves as a pest controller in the rice fields. It's primary food source, the crabs that live in the fields, could raise havoc in the terraced rice paddies, if not controlled. An occasional fish or a baby snake that may wonder into it's path is sure to be made into heron poop too!.
Throughout history elephants have played a major role in Sri Lanka's affairs. The kings of Sri Lanka rode to war on elephants back. The elephants guarded the palaces and temples, as evident from the many carvings on granite at the ancient temples, in cities like Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruwa. Even today the most treasured item for the Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the "tooth relic" of Lord Buddha is carried on the back of an elephant during the Kandy Esala Perahara.
Another working elephant
One of the three bee-eaters found in the island (one a migrant) this resident bird is widly distributed both in the wet and dry zones. It feeds on insects, the favourite being the dragon files which it catches on the wing performing aerial acrobatics that will make the finest air ace blush. This super specimen was seen at Diganwala in the Yala National Park.
| Leopard is certainly an endangered species in Sri Lanka, and to see one perched on the branch of a tree is a unique and fascinating sight.|