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After the elephant charge, exploring the parks around Arugam Bay

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by Dianthi S. U. Wijeratne

(Continued from last week)

The following morning looked gloomy with an overcast sky. The sounds of the birds were the same as on any other day. The river looked quite full. Most probably it had rained upstream, since the water looked like chocolate milk. Fortunately we had taken drinking water, which was used for cooking purposes. We had to be satisfied with the river water to wash ourselves. After a quick breakfast, the damage caused by the elephant was inspected. It was small wonder that nothing had happened to either engine. The mechanic who was brought from the village confirmed this, much to our relief.

It rained almost the entire day. It was miserable being in the campsite. In addition to all we had gone through, I found a garuda, which is a giant-sized centipede about six inches in length, crawling on our tent. It had rained so hard that some of the tents were falling apart as the earth to which they were tethered with spikes was soft and the roof of the tents was heavy with collected water. One tent was so full of water that certain personal belongings were floating inside. Even though it was miserable being at the campsite we had no choice but to wait till the police report regarding the accident was taken for insurance purposes.

The following day we decided to pack up and return home one day earlier. The police officers had told my husband that our vehicle had been about the twenty-fifth that had been damaged by elephants. We were later informed that the elephant, which damaged our vehicle, was being referred to as “Mitsubishi”, after the make of our pick-up.

After that fateful day I decided never to go to Wasgamuwa again, and none of us has been there since. Having nightmares about elephants chasing me is nothing new since that day. I doubt my ever wanting to go there again. With the experience we had, I personally think it would be a good idea for park officials to hand over flares to trackers to be used in an emergency.

National Parks around Arugam Bay

Having checked the maps for a couple of days and after consulting others, a decision was made to go to Arugam Bay through Tanamalwila. Though it was a longer route, the drive was supposed to be easier than via Belihul Oya. Seventeen of us, including three children, set off in three vehicles just before 3.30 am on our long journey on July 20, 2002. Traveling to these war-torn areas, which were out of bounds for 20 years, was made possible as a result of the on-going peace process.

On reaching Udawalawe we stopped at the causeway to watch a herd of elephants in the National Park grazing in the morning sun. Later on, as it became warmer, the herd gradually retreated into the jungle. Having broken journey and flexing our muscles at Udawalawe, we proceeded to our destination, of course breaking journey several times in between. There were people in our party who had never been to Arugam Bay all their lives. I was told that I had been to the place at a very young age but have no memories of it.

Lahugala

Eight miles before Potuvil is Lahugala National Park. I have visited the place as a child with my parents and brother. At the time I remember having stayed in the bungalow overlooking Lahugala tank. There were two rooms in the bungalow, one of which my elder brother and I shared. I also remember my brother waking me up early morning to show me elephants, which usually feed on beru grass. I was so sleepy that I found it difficult to keep my eyes open, but somehow managed to keep awake.

We were too scared to walk to the other room to wake our parents. We, therefore, kept an eye on the elephants, for which the tank was famous, till the sun came out. Lo and behold, was I not angry with my brother for having woken me up early and having kept me awake for so long, only to find that we had been staring at some huge rocks!

On our recent trip in July 2002, we learned that this bungalow had been demolished during the height of the war, with a few walls remaining. The rocks that were visible many years ago, were all covered with large trees that were growing around them. An army camp had been set up by the main road nearby. On our visit there were no barricades on the access road, but I am sure a couple of years ago no vehicles would have been allowed to pass the camp without permission, and hardly anyone would have dared to go that way either.

We were lucky to see quite a large herd of elephants in the far corner of Lahugala tank. At Kitulana tank, the other reservoir close by, we again managed to spot a few elephants feeding on the same type of grass.

By lunchtime we reached Arugam Bay which has been internationally selected as one of the best places in the world for wind surfing. There were quite a number of tourists who were surfing and it was a welcome sight after all these years of hardship and war. The view of the beach was really enticing, and a sea bath in the bay is a must.

Magul Maha Vihare

After lunch at the hotel, where we were served the largest prawns I have ever seen, we again visited Lahugala National Park. Having watched a few elephants at Lahugala, we visited the nearby Magul Maha Vihare. A Buddhist monk explained to us that this was the place where King Kavantissa had married Vihara Maha Devi. Its very name, magul implies a marriage. Apparently the princess had been floated alone in a boat at sea by her father, the king, at Kelaniya in order to safeguard his capital from the wrath of the gods.

The princess survived the trip. King Kavantissa had been informed that a princess was drifting round Kirinda near Yala. On hearing this the king had gone to a village and asked the villagers ko Kumari?, which meant, “where is the princess?” That village was hence referred to as Komari and the name has survived to this day. The king then went to Sangamankanda, which was the village next to Komari, whence he could access the beach. There he was told that the princess had drifted away and was in ara gamey, meaning “that village”. Hence the name Arugam was coined. Sangamankanda is only 10 miles away from Arugam Bay.

The monk also showed us the unique moonstone found there, which had a mahout etched on every other elephant. According to him there is no other moonstone in the country which shows a mahout on elephant back.

Likewise, he said that another unique factor was the stone border seen around the magul maduwa where the king and princess were married. Generally, such borders depict figures with large protruding abdomens, known as bahirawayas, but this one had a lion alternating with a punkalasa, which is a pot with coconut flowers. This is considered a sign of prosperity. The entire magul maduwa is of stone.

There is another place that carries the same name and the same legend that King Kavantissa was married there. It is situated on the track that runs from Yala to the temple at Situlpahuwa. Like the temple near Lahugala, this monument too is in thick jungle, where once we saw a large elephant feeding a few yards from the monastery.

However, this Magul Maha Vihare has no significant archaeological remains. There is a rock cave with a drip ledge above, which signifies an ancient monastery, the refuge of monks who lived a spartan life led by meditation. The priest at the temple near Lahugala told us that his Magul Maha Vihare was the real one.

Kudimbigala hermitage

The next morning we set off through Panama to Kumana, which is about 23 miles away. There were vast paddy fields on either side of the road before and after crossing the bridge over Hada Oya. Then one enters the thick jungle. The route we took was a seasonal pilgrim path from Potuvil to Kataragama. The pilgrims cross Kumbukkan Oya at Kumana, and entering Block 2 of Ruhuna National Park, reach Kataragama during the season.

On the way, we visited the famous Kudimbigala hermitage. It was a fair climb to the top. On the way, in rock caves, there were a couple of small rooms known as kuti used by individual monks to meditate. There were ponds, dagabas, and a few other ruins to be seen. The monk who met us said that terrorists had blasted the library and destroyed all the books that were in it. The three dagabas on three different rocks had been broken into and treasures stolen by vandals within 100 days of the start of the peace process.

The same vandals had poured coconut oil, which had been kept there for pilgrims to light lamps with, on a limestone Buddha statue. This act of theirs had destroyed the appearance of the statue but not the faith. An unusual finding was the presence of a fresh water well on top of the mountain.

Hanging on a tree was a bell made of a hollow log. A strip of wood about two inches wide and three to four feet long, fashioned out of a hollow log, lay by the side of the path. While we were on top of the mountain with the priest, it was time for the monks’ lunch. One of the monks thumped a similar bell that was hung in a comer with a piece of wood in a slow motion and gradually increased the tempo, followed by a decreasing sound. This was an indication to the rest of the monks who were meditating that it was time for alms. That was also an indication for us to take our leave.

Kumana

We passed Okanda Murugan temple. There were hundreds of devotees seen at this temple. They were cooking their own food in very large pots and pans.

We came across the famous Bagura plains near Kumana. It was a vast extent of land which had been famous for deer, but we did not have the pleasure of seeing a single. The drought was so severe that very little water was seen anywhere. In the party that accompanied me, only my father had been to Kumana before, and therefore only he knew what was where. Kumana was famous for birds, but we saw only a few of them.

The road was in a pretty poor condition, and this made the journey very tiring. We finally came to the former Kumana campsite. We were surprised to see two buildings namely a kovil or Hindu temple built on the bank of Kumbukkan Oya and a sales outlet nearby, which had not been there some years ago.

We traveled a little further down Kumbukkan Oya and had our lunch. The water in the river was stationary as in a lake, for its mouth (moya kata) had been blocked with sand due to the drought. It was a serene sight, with the thick jungle on either side and the blue sky reflected off the still waters.

One could just imagine how the campers of days gone by would have enjoyed their stay here. Of course, the water that remained was too stagnant for a bath, though it was most inviting to wash off one’s tiredness. After lunch we turned back to return to Arugam Bay. On the way at dusk we saw around ten jackals in a pack running back and forth across the road, probably looking for food. I managed to spot five elephants during the entire trip. My father informed me later that he had been to Kumana on several occasions, but he had never seen an elephant. I was quite pleased with myself on hearing this.

We noticed farmers burning logs on the side of the road near the paddy fields. These fields cover a large area and extend as far as the eye could see. I understand that a group of owners get together and light similar fires right round the paddy field in order to prevent elephants from destroying the crop.

I did a more recent trip to Kumana in the latter part of December 2002. While returning at night, I noticed a tusker feeding in a paddy field, while the house in which the owners lived was quite close by.

This was just outside Arugam Bay. When questioned why she did not chase away the elephant, the woman in the house mentioned that in that case the tusker would pull down her hut. Fortunately for her, the elephant was disturbed by our vehicles, and he jumped over the barbed wire fence and left the field.

(To be continued)

(Excerpted from Jungle Journeys in

Sri Lanka edited by CG Uragoda)



Features

Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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Responding to our energy addiction

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by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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