Thursday, May 12, 2016

     ELUSIVE Prowlers of the NIGHT

From the large sized spot-bellied Eagle Owls to the smallest scope owls, Sri Lanka is home to 12 different species of owls, with two of them found only here. Their large eyes are perfect for night time hunting. Rather bulky head, giving it a stout appearance and the ability to rotate 270o, keen eyesight even at very low light conditions, a Sharpe beak and talons all perfectly merge to produce the ultimate elusive prowler of the night – the owl.
Although owls are considered as nocturnal birds of prey, very few such as the endemic Chestnut Backed Owlet hunts during the day time. It was indeed a rare sighting at Deraniyagala, quite rare species nesting not within the jungle, but in a hole of a wooden utility pole close to a home garden. In this man made habitat, it was astonishing to see that the couple seemed undeterred to all the commotion that was going on.
Owl’s peculiar head bobbing is a result of their asymmetrically placed ears, which help them to pin point their prey in extreme low light conditions. Above all, owls can fly without the slightest hum thanks to their in-built modified feathers. Their calls, all different from one another may repel many in fear of the many myths and legends that have lingered for thousands of years. The Devil Bird or the Spot-bellied Eagle Owl perhaps has the most number of tales, for possibly it is the only bird which possesses a more human like call in the deep jungles of Sri Lanka. Although one might hear their call, to see one in the darkness needs much patience and luck.  
Many owls feed on small mammals, or rodents, but the Fish owl as its name implies has specialized in fishing. As a rule of thumb, if you hear an owl, look for the tallest place possible – preferably an open area or even better a tall dead tree. ‘Owl pellets’ are one of the best ways scientists use to assess the diet of owls. These are in fact the undigested parts of the prey they consume such as bones, nails and fur, which they regurgitate and are often found close to their day roosting sites.

Seredib Scops Owl, one of the small owls recently discovered from the Island, is the last to be added to the list of endemic birds in Sri Lanka. The owl can be found in the lowland rain forest of Sri Lanka. It’s unusual ‘poo-ooo’ call was what helped to locate the bird, and interestingly is similar to a call of an amphibians found in the same habitat, called the Nagao’s ramanella, a type of pug-snout frog. Although till very recently Frog Mouths and Night Jars were considered to be owl- since they too are nocturnal hunters very much similar in appearance to owls, genetic evidences proved that they belong to an altogether different family but in Sinhala their native names still remains as “Bassa” for owls in Sinhala. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sacred Lotus        

This sacred lotus, unlike the royal rose, is not in the stately gardens of the affluent to be cared, watered, pruned and pampered and sung to high heavens. It finds birth in the marshy bog of nature’s sewers, amongst noxious weeds and poisonous reeds. It must struggle for sheer survival in the dark, murky, stagnant waters of earth’s unspeakable netherworld. But even in that gutters amidst the wretched and the depraved, the lotus is looking up at the sun.

Yet, with her roots tenaciously embedded in her muddy bed, she is no pushover. The toughness of her resilience as she fights for space in the stiffing stillness of her seemingly perennial pond of despair. If hope that come to all never comes to her at that exacting hour of her tender days when she needs it, she transcends the injustice of her birth. She rises above the lowly station in the watery ghetto that she was condemned to live in and die.

But she’s made of stronger stuff and the mettle of her stem, having undergone the submerged vortex, sees her through. Whilst her inferior mud mates, content to languidly float upon the water, she soars over the water mark to greet the inviting sun above.

In Sri Lanka some people believe that she is performing her suriya namaskaraya for three days, her worship to the Sun God., and will unfurl her many splendored pinkish petals one by one in his honor and before his radiant eyes. Touched by his warming rays and caressed by nature’s gentle breeze, she will open up her folded bud to reveal to heaven and earth, the divine beauteous blossoms that bloomed from below.

On the fourth day she will reveal her innermost soul and bask in beauty, bathed in the sun’s spotlight blazoning her loveliness. Her petals will gradually draw back pushing forth the yellow pod within her that encases her seeds. She will generate her own heat, so that when she blossoms her petals will be 30 centigrade whilst around her the air may even be only 10 C. The heat she expels creates an aroma, which draws bees and insects to her inner core to drink her nectar and feed on her pollen. In so doing she becomes a benefactor of nature, providing all creatures small and microscopic the where withal they need to eat, mat, live and propagate.  

Then her autumn dawns and its melancholic tinge brushes her petals grace, heralding the onset of her winter days. One by one, they wither and fall and she herself arches toward the waters to shed her seeds, to sow the nelums of the future, to procreate her species. Then with one last sad sigh at the inevitable cycle of life in this cruel world, she bids the sun farewell and droops to die in the watery grave that was one her cradle.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Elephant Orphanage

There’s something joyful about baby elephants. Just the sight of them lolloping about is heartwarming to see. At Pinnawala, there are plenty of opportunities to observe junior jumbos and their amusing antics and even reach over and pat their prickly heads or have a turn at feeding milk.
In the year of 2011 there were 15 births took place following a successful breeding program. The naming ceremony that followed was quite the occasion with tourists gathered to witness the christening of a lively jostling bunch of jumbos. The visitors even enjoyed the privilege of having a baby elephant's name after them. As a result, some of the youngsters today have names such as Elvina, Trinkie and Binuki – a diversion from traditional names such as Mahasen, Kumari and Kandula.

While there have been no births since 2011 the breeding program is set to begin again. Of the 15 youngsters, most have already weaned from their mothers, but still remain close to maternal protection and company. This is seen especially during bathing times, which occur soon after feeding times twice a day. The herds shuffle along in a long column and cross the road to reach Ma Oya- a sight that is reminiscent of some great migration. The youngsters huddle close to their mother or huddle close to their mother or hardly ever wander too far, except on a few occasions when the fun and frolic of daily ablutions become all too exciting.

With a timetable of feeding, bathing and more feeding and more bathing, the orphanage is haven for elephants to get about their daily routine. However, several babies remain in the enclosure while the herd sets out to the river. These few are some of the youngest in the orphanage and have been brought to the orphanage by the Wildlife Department. Orphaned in the wild these jumbos find safety and comfort at Pinnawala. Less than 1.5 years of age, they are fed staggering quantities of milk and feeding times are extended for longer periods than that of the rest. These moments are crowd favorites as the youngsters gulp down all too eagerly, liters and liters of milk, and the show of impatience involving shoving, and nudging each other makes for endearing moments. While the rest lounge around in the river the orphaned babies who are without an adult elephant to tend to them, instead receive the care and attention of a mahout who bathes them at the enclosure.

Aside from milk some youngsters have already begun feeding on solids, such as coconut palms. Kitul palm and logs, and jack fruit branches. Often, older youngsters use size to their advantage to block smaller members from reaching the piles of feed. The playground bullying leaves highly disgruntled baby jumbos who can only resort to antics of indignation. Some have learnt the virtue of patience early on, standing dolefully in blinking silence for a tidbit to come their way. There’s much to see around Pinnawala from one enclosure to the next, aside from one enclosure to the next, aside from the daily rituals of feeding and bathing. And the baby jumbos add much more character with their colorful temperaments. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

A forgotten past

Veherabandigala is believed to have been built during the third and fourth century, according to the formation deciphered in two aged and weatherworn inscriptions at the site. Through the worn-out letters, experts have come to deem that the complex was most likely built by King Gothakabhaya, also known as Meghavanna Abhaya.
The multitude of structures scattered throughout the complex are Padhanaghras or Meditation Houses as suggested by the labels pegged at most edifices. It is said that during ancient times the Temple grounds encompassed an area of 85 acres. From which only about 30 acres have been uncovered today while the rest are hidden deep within the thick jungle, covering the periphery of the uncovered area. Some of these Padhanagharas seemed to be larger than others and is believed to have been accommodation of monks. According to historians about 300 such Padhanagharas are located in Veherabandigala.
If you visit here, when you following the narrow winding paths, at times you can observe scattered remnants – such as olden toilet stones, altars – and unusual patterns that differed from the typical Padhanaghara designs at Veherabandigala. When you are observing this place you will come across some of the most unique structure of all. This building is a Jantaghara, or a room reminiscent of a present day sauna. The walls of this structure is much higher and in the middle there is a square hollow that could have served as a place to either light a fire or to keep water. It is said that this building functioned as a space for relaxation for monks long ago, where they came to rejuvenate after applying medicinal herbs.
When the sun dappled ground with grass softening the hard soil below, it presents an inviting expanse to sit and enjoy the shade of the innumerable trees. The greenery over here seemed to possess a quality of being evergreen despite the harsh rays of the sun. A stupa, built of brick dominated the site while more edifices spread the extent of the temple grounds. Still more were hidden in the shrubbery area, behind the stupa.

Rasnakewa Raja Maha Viharaya is dived to two sections which are the upper and lower terrace, the temple is believed to have been built in the time of King Makavana Abaya (254-332 AD) for Arahats. To one side of the lower terrace, under a tree there is a great stone slab which proved to be a flower altar. A fascinating tale tells of the origination of the name of the temple that at one time had 12 villages conferred. Long ago when people in the villages made sweet meats and other cuisines, they had first offered a portion to the temple before tasting the food. Therefore, the temple was knows as the ‘Rasa Nokawa’ or ‘Not having tested’, which later had become Rasnakewa. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sweet by Nature

Hidden away in the Deniyaya town, the little hamlet of Anguruwadiya is one of the place in Sri Lanka where you can find people who are making treacle and jaggery. When a kithul palm (Caryota urens) stands with a flower at a timely stage, it’s a huge advantage for those who are living there life from this business. Kithul Palm tree grows abundantly in the region and need little or no attention for its upkeep. All that is required is a wait for the flowering to take place. A tree can bear up to two flowers a year and an experienced tapper can identify when the time is ripe for tapping. The kithul flower is really an inflorescence where its thick stem bears a cluster of flowers.
When the stem extremely is filled with cluster and is on the verge of unfolding, it is mature enough for tapping. With a knife and clay pot on the tapper, he first pauses to say a quick prayer before hoisting himself up a ladder of sorts. Long staffs laid against the palm tree are tethered with woody creepers at regular intervals, to create footholds to make the ascent along this improvised ladder. There he position himself on the crude platform at the base of the inflorescence.
The crescent shaped inflorescence can easily be seen from a distance with its free end drooping heavily with the cluster of flowers. About two days prior to making the cut to release the sap, the sheath enclosing the flower is removed and a small incision is first made at the base of the stem. To this bruise a medicinal paste is administered to trigger the draining of the sap. It is then draped with cane and an arecanut sheathe or in some cases a polythene sheet to gather the flower in place and protect from wind.
These tasks must all be conducted with caution as the flower stem may break, and a wooden bracket is also placed to firmly prop the stem. Tapper unravel the draping to release the pressure and promptly makes a clean cut at the free end, releasing a rain of flower clusters. The flower is draped once more in a tight sheathe and the clay pot is secured just below the cut to collect the now ‘tearing’ flower.

Thelijja, or the smoky sap can thus be collected twice a day, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon, for as long as six months. On average 30 bottles of treacle can be produced from each flower and in some cases a maximum of a 100. After that a large wok is placed over the fire to which the sap is poured through a filter and allowed to boil. Then they are regulating the heat required to reduce the sap to treacle. When the treacle thickens to a detectable consistency. The toffee brown ooze is poured into coconut shells and left to cool. Within a short span of 15-20 minutes the shells’ contents transform to a dark brown and harden to form jaggery. The final product is known as ‘Kithul Hakuru’ and it’s famous in Sri Lanka especially to drink tea with them. Instead of sugar you can take a bite of Hakuru and drink the tea. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Beautiful North

Road to vakarai is stretched out in the distance like a gray ribbon. Passing the Kayankerni New Bridge and Panichchankerny Bridge, which runs a length of 133m across the beautiful river paving the way to easily get through. There are palm fronds everywhere around the road which makes the road more colorful.  When the pooja times comes in the kovil in Verugal, there is a soothing sound which is played by the young boys in the kovil. If you come in the morning you will be able to enjoy a lovely meal of pol sambol and string hoppers from the kovil area before you proceed your journey.
Proceeding to Verugal Aru over the Verugal New Bridge into Trincomalee district from Batticaloa, you can see the gopuram of the large kovil. It’s an extremely sacred site where you have to take off your slippers at the edge of the kovil land. The Verugalpathy Sri Siththira Velayautha Swamy Devasathanam in Verugal, Mavadichenai is said to be a place where one of the three arrows of Lord Murugan had landed. The gopuram itself was still in its cement form. When you enter you will experience how simple is the temple is, also it’s extremely quiet, except for the sound of the morning pooja.

When you reach Trincomalee, one of the place that you need to visit is the Lanka Patuna Samudragiri Viharaya (The temple on the rock by the sea). This is the place where price Dantha and Princess Hemamala set foot in Sri Lanka, carrying the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha. Buddhist kingdoms in India were faced with great threats during that time., hence King Guhasive of Kalinga, sent the sacred tooth relic with his son and daughter-in-law to kind Siri Meghavanna of Sri Lanka for protection. The royal duo brought their sacred package amidst great difficulty and secrecy and landed in Lanka Patuna where they stayed the night before proceeding to Anuradhapura. The surrounding of the Lanka Patuna Samudragiri Viharaya is very quiet and tranquil. There is a golden statue of Lord Buddha standing serenely, overlooking the blue ocean. The view from this point is breathtaking…..

You can next visit Seruvila which also in the Tricomalee district. This place is considered to be one of the most revered sites as it is linked to Lord Buddha’s eighth visit to Sri Lanka. It is said that the relic of the three Buddhas prior to Gautama Buddha; Kukusada, Konagama and Kashyapa too had been enshrined in this region. Following the parinibbana or passing of Gautama Buddha, the Lalata Dathi or the forehead bone relic was enshrined in the stupa at Seruvilla, according to his wishes. The significance of Seruvila Raaja Maha Viharaya has not diminished with time. Even today there are lots of people coming from various part of the county to see this place.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Three Sri Lanka Holidays Packages To Die For

Sri Lankan beaches are probably the most beckoning of all the beaches of the world. There is something about the sand in these beaches that make Sri Lanka holidays irresistible. The beautiful countryside, the country's loving people, beautiful accommodation facilities and several diverse packages available all conspire to make Sri Lanka a top tourism destination. Here are some of the best packages;
- Family holiday packages - Many of Sri Lankan beautiful hotels are located on the island's pristine beaches. This makes possible several diverse and affordable vacation packages to suit everyone. Families looking for holidays to Sri Lanka as such have a lot to choose from and look forward to. The activities available are also just as diverse; sun bathers, fishing fanatics and people who like to sample various exotic cuisines and cultures all have a field day when they come to Sri Lanka.
- Wedding and honeymoon packages - Sri Lanka is the undisputed haven for romance. The island has several settings all apt for taking your vows and several others for holding the befitting after party. The unspoilt destination of Trincomalee for instance has one of the world's finest harbours. This plus the wonderful beaches and a thriving market are all it takes to make a honeymoon memorable.
- Sightseeing and adventure packages - As a nation, Sri Lanka has one of the leading frequencies for parties, festivals and public holidays. It is therefore a great place to visit if you are adventurous. It is good that many Sri Lanka tours are modelled around these festivals; tourists therefore have their work already cut out for them. You can participate in commemorating Buddha's birthday during Vesak in May or scale the Sigiriya Rock Fortress for some sightseeing.
Sri Lankan culture and attractions have evolved over many centuries and therefore provide a lot for any discerning visitor. The island blends Buddhism, natural beauty and an easy-going way of life that enchants even the most unsentimental of visitors. Sri Lanka holidays provide something memorable for everyone.