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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)



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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