By Renuka Sadanandan Dr. Harin Dias  to hold maiden photography exhibition in Sri Lanka It was a volcanic island in Hawaii and he had made a six-hour trek alone to take some pictures, waiting impatiently for dusk to fall to capture the glow of the lava in the fading light. On the way back he [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Daredevil doc takes a plunge into nature


By Renuka Sadanandan

Dr. Harin Dias  to hold maiden photography exhibition in Sri Lanka

It was a volcanic island in Hawaii and he had made a six-hour trek alone to take some pictures, waiting impatiently for dusk to fall to capture the glow of the lava in the fading light. On the way back he lost his way in the darkness. All he had was a small torch. Hot and exhausted, his one bottle of water long finished, dehydration seemed a very real threat. “That time I was really worried,” he says. Luckily, clambering onto a tall rock, he spotted the lights of a car far away and was able to find his way back.

Dr. Harin displays one of his many leopard shots. Pic by Indika Handuwala

As a visiting specialist anaesthetist Dr. Harin Dias makes a comfortable living in New South Wales, Australia, where he has been these past 20 years. His home overlooks a beautiful lake in the suburbs of Central Coast and he wakes to views of water and birdlife each morning.

Here is a doctor who loves his job- he talks in measured tones of the challenges it entails –older, sicker patients these days with far more health issues whom he nevertheless has to see through complicated operations. Still there’s this other side of him too ever present- that daredevil streak that sees him chasing after volcanos and going diving up close to bull sharks without a protective cage, all to experience and capture the grandeur of nature that never ceases to fascinate him. Photography is a great release from the stress of his work.

Dr. Harin Dias’s first exhibition in Sri Lanka will be on at the Lionel Wendt gallery next weekend, March 2 and 3 and in the 50 plus images he will show, viewers will see nature through his eyes. The landscapes are of Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand, stunning mountain passes, surreal sunsets, also wildlife shots– a lazy leopard draped on a leafless branch, a fast approaching whale shark with just the random portrait, for good measure.

The underwater shots in particular have taken some procuring. Having snorkelled since he was a boy growing up in the sea coast town of Matara, he learnt to scuba dive so he could take better underwater pictures (“you have more time then to compose the shot”) and this has led him to skirt danger many a time, diving with sharks, manta rays and the like. A photograph of a Bull Shark he snapped from just two metres away is one that comes with a chilling story. Bull sharks are man-eaters. One of the sharks, he says, swam right up to him. “You should always face them and they look at you, and if you just stand your ground they go away,” he says. Once on an island off the Great Barrier Reef where he dives regularly he had a scarier experience when the diver he was with panicked and he had to ‘scramble her up’ to safety. “The sharks were circling,” he recalls.

Still that has not stopped him and the fathomless mysteries of the underwater world beckon. This August he will dive in the waters off Tonga, in the South Pacific where the whales come to give birth. “You have to be careful that you don’t get too close,” he says.

Growing up, the young Harin wanted to be a marine biologist but it was not a profession that his parents had heard of in those days of doctor, engineer or accountant choices. So doctor he became, passing out from the Peradeniya Medical Faculty and choosing to specialise in anaesthesia instead of cardio-thoracic surgery- his first choice, being wary of what he saw as the huge syllabus he would have to study in the three months left before the first post-graduate exam was held in Sri Lanka,. “I did well in the exam and they (the examiners) gave me a job in England before they left.” After three years spent specialising in England, he returned to Sri Lanka and then moved to Australia.

Panoramic: Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

The travel bug came early, for his lawyer father would take the family all over the country during court vacations. He it was who gifted Harin his first Brownie camera- and set him on his photography path. Harin’s collection of cameras now encompasses state of the art Canon equipment (5D MK 3 and 7D) and lenses ( “I believe in good lenses”- the 400 L 5.6, the 70-200 f4is L and the 24-105 f4isL among many) and the difficulty is in picking and choosing which to carry on his numerous travels. Very much an expert on the subject he devotes a page on his website ( to his camera equipment. His is an exact art. He knows precisely the effect he seeks to make his landscape shots look like a painting. To this end he uses film cameras — a Mamiya Rangefinder and Velvia film. The quality is beautiful, they’re big negatives, they capture a lot of information, he says. He uses a timer that has a magnetic shutter so that there is no shake. “No touching, it’s absolutely still.”

He has held around four exhibitions in Australia, one of which was for a little girl Sewmini from Unawatuna he has been helping, a child affected by the tsunami. He will go there this weekend to visit the family and do a bit of diving.

Having travelled all over the world, seen Africa, Alaska and India, he says he is somewhat saddened by the destruction he witnesses back home, the beaches of the south diminished by erosion. “About 15 years ago, the beach was pristine at Unawatuna, I could walk the length of the bay.

But now you can’t because the sea has come right in. Yala is overrun by visitors and Wilpattu by poachers.” Still the leopards thrill him. He pulls out a picture of a leopard he photographed at Wilpattu and points out the corneal ulcer visible to his trained medical eye, in the animal’s right eye. Conservation is not easy in our part of the world, he says ruefully, mentioning that in the lake his house back in Australia borders, awareness is such that motor boats are not permitted so as to not pollute the waters or disturb the wildlife.

Basking in the sun: Grey tailed fox at Yala

Nature lover and outdoor man, he is appreciative that his job affords him the resources to explore his many interests -skiing, kayaking, diving, riding his BMW motorbike- with his friends on a Sunday and most of all, travelling.

For the doctor who loves outdoor life and the thrill of adventure, perhaps what he often tells his junior doctors sums it up- “It’s good to be an anaesthetist but this is not everything. When you think of yourself, you have to think of other things as well…it’s all about living life to the fullest.”

‘Following my Dream’, Dr. Harin Dias’s exhibition of photographs will be open to the public on March 2 and 3 at the Lionel Wendt Gallery.

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