Oya: Wonders of an island park
By Lankika de Livera
Our destination was the Gal Oya National Park. As we drove along
the Mahiyangana Road passing Hunasgiriya, artistically terraced
green paddy fields met our eyes and the wind blew strongly across
the road to the Knuckles range of mountains on the other side. Knuckles
was visible in its grandeur shrouded in misty pockets, with gushing
waterfalls that cascaded down the velvety slopes and rocky outcrops.
negotiated the seven hairpin bends and traversed through the Victoria,
Randenigala and Rantambe sanctuary through which the road runs.
On the third hairpin bend you can get a panoramic vista of the Yoda
ela, the Sorabora wewa and another three wewas, all spread out together
amidst the jungle through the green canopy of trees.
along, we came to the nine hot wells at Maha Oya in the Ampara district,
just two km from the main road. Of the nine very hot wells, about
three seemed to be at boiling point, with bubbles coming up.
was early evening when we reached Inginiyagala and went up to the
Wildlife Department Office of the Gal Oya National Park. On the
way, our World Travel Centre Group (with whom we were travelling)
had bought a huge can of petrol and 2T engine oil needed by the
boat in which we were to go on the Senanayake Samudra. The Gal Oya
National Park has to be viewed via a boat ride. There is very little
mainland and the terrain is tough. The Wildlife Department recommends
that the best way to see the park is to go by boat on the samudra
which has many islands.
to our great disappointment, the wind was strong and we were told
it would be too dangerous for a boat ride on the Senanayake Samudra.
We were asked to try our luck early next morning. We drove back
across the bridge that connected the Wildlife Department office
and the mainland on the bund and went back to our little hotel in
Ampara for the night. The next morning we happily got into the boat
at the Gal Oya National Park. Everyone was given life jackets and
we joined in pushing the boat into the water from the rocky shore.
Gal Oya was dammed at Inginiyagala in 1948. Streams such as Hurulu
Oya, Sellakka Oya, Kebellabokka Oya, Menik Ara, Dambadeni Ara, Bubulu
Oya and Dhahamal Oya are tributaries of the samudra. The park comprises
the catchment of the Senanayake Samudra, a large water body with
an impressive backdrop of rocky, forested hills.
entire extent of the park is 25,900 hectares. The Senanayake Samudra
has a depth of 33.5 metres (100 feet) at some points. The best way
to see the numerous islands that are in the midst of the samudra
is by motor boat. The mainland areas could be seen by a four-wheel
islands are covered in greenery, trees and rocky outcrops and elephants
swim from island to island for feeding purposes. We saw a few elephants
grazing on different islands and it was obvious that they had swum
across to get there. Elephant, common langur, the endemic toque
macaque monkeys, leopard, sloth bear, water buffalo, three species
of deer, wild boar and more than 150 varieties of birds have been
sighted at Gal Oya.
of mention are the rare Red faced Malkoha, Spur fowl, Painted Partridge
and Brown capped babbler. Among the fishing birds are pelicans,
cormorants, herons, Grey-headed fishing eagles, White-bellied sea
eagles, Brahmini Kites and other varieties of parrots and barbets.
We were especially aware of the incessant sounds of Coppersmith
Barbets with their distinctive “popo-popo-popo” sounds.
This is a colourful green bird with splotches of red, yellow blue
and black on its face.
cruised along in the motor boat with its silent engine belonging
to the Wildlife Department on the waters of the Senanayake Samudra.
One of the few stops that we were allowed was on the Kurulu Doopatha
(Bird’s Island). We pulled the boat ashore and were greeted
by the stench of bird droppings! As we trekked to the rocky outcrops
of the island through the vegetation, the droppings were so frequent
that whole rocks and trees seemed to be white washed with them.
On the trees were nests of different birds, many with eggs and fledglings
too young to be able to fly away at our appearance.
In the nearby little islands too, there were plenty of birds, their
calls mingling with the gentle lapping sounds of the water. The
sky became overcast as the boat glided along. The islands were silhouetted
against the gloomy sky and loomed large and mysterious till we came
near to witness the vegetation and the feeding .elephants and birds.
spray of water coming into the boat made the journey cool and invigorating.
But we could not proceed to the Makara Kata the point where the
Gal Oya falls into the Senanayake Samudra, as once again the wind
had started blowing hard and the waters were becoming rough. There
are no bungalows to stay inside the park but there is a circuit
bungalow at Ekgal Aru, about 23 km from the park office. There are
rest houses outside the park at Inginiyagala and Ampara. The boat
can be hired from the park to tour it, subject to weather conditions.
attraction in the area that can be visited is “Digavapi Dagoba”
built in the 2nd Century BC to mark the spot where Lord Buddha is
supposed to have meditated during his last visit to Sri Lanka. This
place attracts thousands of pilgrims. The hilly country to the west
of this was one of the last strongholds of the Veddahs. Henebedde
cave near Vadinagala has a drip ledge and contains Brahmi inscriptions.
Near the cave is a moonstone, guard stones and balustrades of stone.
Ruins of an ancient structure are close by.
visible when one passes along the Ampara-Siyambalduwa road, to the
south of Inginiyagala is a massive rock, known as Westminster Abbey,
locally named “Go- inda- hela”. About 1831 feet in height,
it is as big or bigger than the Sigiriya rock and is dome shaped
like Westminster Abbey in Britain.
In the days of the Sinhala kings it had sometimes been used as a
fortress. The only way to climb to the summit is by way of the vines
of trees that hang down. Where the forested end of the ridge meets
the shaft of the rock is an enormous cave, 300 to 400 feet high
and about 150 feet in length. On the summit are the remains of an
old civilization. The ruins of a dagoba, two artificially cut rock
pits, an old well cut in the rock and plastered round with ancient
brick and mortar; a pond built in a natural depression and further
off 152 stone pillars.
districts of Ampara and Moneragala may seem like the back of beyond
for many town dwellers, but once ventured into, you will find that
it does not necessarily have the remote desolation that one imagines.
For their lush greenery, vegetation and unique characteristics of
nature endemic to those areas alone, they are well worth exploring.