and two elephants
A rustic holiday
bungalow in Dambulla in the midst of a mahogany and teak forest
planted by my brother-in-law as his contribution to conservation
was our destination. I was up before the first streaks of dawn,
as we were leaving at 4 a.m. when it was still dark and the roads
were clear of traffic.
been to Dambulla many times to see the rock cave temple and the
wall paintings dating from King Kirti Sri Rajasingha's time and
the Maha Raja Vihara Cave Tree named after Vattagamini (89-77 BC),
the Buddha statutes, etc. I used to be fascinated by the Dutugemunu-Elara
battle mural. But I had never been to a mahogany forest in Dambulla
and was excited at the prospect.
sun broke through, an orb of brilliant red. It was a magnificent
sight, the beautiful sky, soft pink and the soothing green paddy
fields dotted with white herons and jacanas tripping lightly on
lotus leaves in the waterways with the blue gray hills in the distance.
we were at Dambulla. We passed the newly-built cricket stadium and
a school with eager young children in white uniforms and well-oiled
plaits doing shramadana, and came to a rutty gravel path which led
to the forest site. Dipping in and out of potholes and muddy pools,
our vehicle squeezed past cows, bulls, bare-bodied children, sarong-clad
men on bicycles with womenfolk with open umbrellas perched on the
pillion. A rustic gate was the entrance to the forestland; Thirty
acres of newly forested mahogany and teak, growing tall and healthy.
Only six years old as yet, these trees were an effort at reforestation
in the dry zone by one individual.
manager was there to greet us. Baggage was unloaded and we rested
for a while before breakfast. Mounds of red rice string hoppers
appeared before long and steaming hot plates of freshly uprooted
bathala yam, katta sambol, scraped coconut, fresh eggs and lake
fish curry followed. How quickly the food vanished. Piping hot green
tea and plantains from the garden rounded off a wonderful breakfast.
of mahogany and teak planted in diagonal, evenly spaced rows, we
walked on and on, enjoying the coolness. We had stout shoes and
sticks to ward off snakes in the undergrowth. We didn't come across
the snakes but we did see two eagles.
We walked till
we came to the edge of the forest. In the distance we saw a farmer's
hut and thought we would visit the watakolu patch. Sene lived in
a wattle-and-daub mud hut with bamboo splinters showing through
cracked clay. The roof was thatched. There was a wooden door in
front but no windows and the cow dung floor was polished to smoothness.
Beside the hut was a rustic bench on one side and on the other a
wooden plank just off the ground, which served as a bed. In a corner
was a rolled reed mat and a coir rope for hanging clothes. On the
ground was a water pot. That was all he had.
simple his life was and how astounding that he could be content
with so little. There was not even a chair to sit on. Outside were
a brick fireplace, a cooking pot and a coconut shell for water.
The vegetable plot was just outside his hut. Large luscious watakolu
and pathola hung down from a coir rope trellis and sticks supported
the creepers. He also had green chillies and cucumber and a small
plot of paddy. He was preparing the soil with a mammoty when we
us with a smile though he had sweat running down his face, and had
no objection to our walking into his hut. We didn't wait long as
we didn't want to disturb him but he seemed to enjoy a chat. We
felt guilty when we left him thinking of the luxuries we enjoyed.
Cow dung and mud were his lot. But he seemed a happy man in his
Later we went
to a horse farm, at Ibbankatuwa almost opposite the megalithic archaeology
burial site. There were about 50 horses grazing on 150-acres of
Next was a river
bath in the "Mirisgoni Oya". I thought it was a strange
name to give a river and had visions of huge jute gunny bags hurtling
down the stream with red-hot chillies, floating willy-nilly, spilling
their contents of miris. Nobody seemed to know how the name was
derived. I didn't fancy getting into a river and getting chillie
powder in my eyes but nevertheless the river bath was invigorating.
In the late
evening we went to Kekirawa just for the drive. The tranquillity
of the verdant countryside was like balm to a wounded soul.
day we went to the Minneriya wildlife park not far from where we
stayed. Our tracker at one point asked us to divert from the main
track and go into a wide open plain surrounded by forest. We waited
silently for over half an hour in quiet reverie.
was rewarded. Two elephants emerged from the forest. They ambled
along across the plain just in front of us. Soon after, five others
joined them. We watched with popping eyes as more elephants walked
past us. Two young bull elephants fought each other for dominance
and others playfully entwined their trunks.
A little while
later a huge herd of elephants came along. There was an extraordinarily
tall elephant that towered over the herd. A baby elephant that could
hardly walk tottered beneath his mother's knees. They were very
close to us but did not seem to notice us. If they did, they totally
elephants kept coming up at intervals to join them in twos and threes.
They came and they came in a seemingly never-ending stream. Some
stroking each other, and others eating the little shrubs on the
way. They ate grass in a leisurely way and showed no signs of moving.
I have visited
wildlife parks many times, but have never seen such a large number
of wild elephants in the open in such close proximity. We counted
102 elephants in just that one place. What a sight. We looked and
we looked as these elephants nonchalantly ate grass without a backward
glance at us human beings gazing with fixed focus at such a panoramic
It was nature
at its best and a rewarding experience for us nature lovers lusting
for excitement. Life is full of unexpected wonders.