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Jungle adventure camping at Hendikema

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By CG Uragoda

(Continued from last week)

We camped under the trees about 100 yards from the water-hole at Hendikema. We slept in hammocks, while our baggage was stored in a small tent erected by the side. Deer and jungle fowl were occasionally seen from the camp. Thanks to the shooting abilities of my friends, all our meals had a share of venison or jungle fowl. The latter was, incidentally, a tough meat. Jungle fowl were always on the run or flapping in the air, and this constant exercise would make their muscles strong and tough when compared to the domestic birds.

We spent nearly a week at Hendikema, and during this period the only other human beings we saw were a party in a jeep that went past our camp. A short time later, the vehicle returned the same way. The man in the vehicle, who was armed with a gun, was recognized as the Chief Magistrate of Colombo, who was very likely camping off Galge. The absence of any other human beings during the whole week spoke of the utter seclusion of our campsite.

Water supply

It is important that a campsite should have a regular source of water. Our original plan to camp at Veddange Vadiya was partly determined by this requirement. The camp would have been erected by the Menik Ganga, which would have supplied water to the camp, as well as provided facilities for bathing. Another reason was the concentration of animals around the water when they came to drink. Heavy rain, however, had negated this expectation, for plenty of water was now available everywhere and animals would not necessarily come to the river to quench their thirst.

The campsite at Hendikema had access to two sources of water. Water for camp use, such as cooking, drinking and making tea and coffee, came from the small water-hole. It was obtained with the help of the ever-present coconut shell ladle, one shellful at a time. It took a pretty long time for a vessel to be filled. It was not possible to have a bath with such a slow supply of water. Fortunately for campers, there was a large natural water-hole a couple of hundred yards away in the thick jungle, off the Buttala-Kataragama track.

Water was easily accessible at this water-hole, which was situated in a large depression in the rock, bordered by overhanging boulders. Almost daily all of us used to walk there together, with a bucket in hand, and thoroughly enjoy a bath.

There were animal droppings on the rock around the water-hole, indicating that wild beasts, including elephant, bear and leopard, had visited the place. At the height of the drought, when the surrounding jungle was parched and the river was quite a distance away, this site would have provided the last haven for water for miles around.

Leopard

The objective of the entire trip was to shoot a leopard. It was to be achieved by providing bait in the form of a deer’s carcass. HD and the other two members of the party went out during the first two or three days and nights and shot some deer in accordance with the permit issued to them by the Department of Wildlife. It was hoped that these carcasses would attract leopard. The bodies were kept at strategic points, so that any leopard which was feeding on one of them could be shot by a person in hiding at a convenient spot.

Every day the three members of the party, either singly or in combination, and accompanied by the tracker, used to visit each of the carcasses. Only one was partly eaten by a leopard, but sitting over it that evening proved abortive. Ultimately, at the end of the trip they did not get a single leopard, and we made an uneventful return to Colombo.

Subsequent developments

In later years, Kataragama itself and the track to Buttala have undergone intensive changes. The suspension bridge across Menik Ganga at Kataragama was replaced by a permanent bridge. The earlier bridge used to swing to and fro when people walked on it in a similar way to the one across Mahaweli Ganga at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. At times the footing of the bridge, which was made of wooden planks, had gaps here and there, caused by these pieces falling due to wear and tear over the years.

Now no vehicles are allowed to drive across Menik Ganga at Kataragama. Built-up structures prevent their entry to the banks of the river. Commercial establishments are not allowed on the Uva side of the river where we had our memorable breakfast of hoppers and sambol. Instead, all shops, hotels and the like are situated on the opposite side of the river where there is a vehicle park.

In place of the cart or jeep track, there is now a fine highway from Buttala to Kataragama. This road is broad and well-carpeted, and the entire distance takes only 20 to 30 minutes by car. This is quite a contrast to the condition of the track prevailing at the time of our trip, when we took several hours travelling from Kataragama to Hendikema, a distance of about six miles.

Rediscovery of Hendikema

The new road did not exactly follow the old track we originally took. The two deviated a few hundred yards here and there, but both roads passed through Galge. On traveling along the new road, I tried to locate Hendikema several times for nostalgic reasons. On all these trips, I was accompanied by Dr Walter R Gooneratne, who himself had been to Hendikema in the days gone by. Once we stopped the vehicle and walked into the jungle, but the place eluded us.

In 1996, when we were staying at Dambakotte near Galge, we made another attempt, though trackers of the Department of Wildlife Conservation had not heard of Hendikema. Walter and I again went looking for the place. He identified a turn-off to Muduntalawa, which he remembered was close to Hendikema. He ultimately discovered the place, which was about a hundred yards from the main road. What faced us was a pitiable sight. Treasure hunters had apparently blasted the rock, and the water of the kema, which at the time was shut off from view, was now visible in its entirety. The tiny hole through which water was withdrawn with the help of a coconut shell ladle has been destroyed. There were pieces of blasted rock fallen all over the place.

We later heard that a tracker had discovered a few coins from the site. In fact, we saw a couple of coins at the bottom of the water-hole. These provided a possible explanation for the turn of events that led to the blasting of the rock. Treasure hunters, armed with metal detectors, would have received signals from the coins in the water-hole. Mistakenly thinking that these were emanating from hidden gold, they would have blasted the rock. In retrospect, these coins would have been the thank-offerings of pilgrims who would have quenched their thirst at the water-hole.

I noted the possible location of our old campsite, but we could not find the whereabouts of the other water-hole where we used to bathe. The tracker, who did not know of the existence of the water-hole, feared that bear or elephant might be lurking among the trees if we went in search of it in the thick jungle.

Intermediate Zone

Intermediate Zone was a buffer between cultivated land and National Parks or Strict Natural Reserves. Shooting under permit during the open season was allowed in these areas. Many doubted the advisability of having these zones.

When the issue of licenses to shoot any animal was totally banned since 1964, Intermediate Zones were abolished, and these were annexed to National Parks. The Intermediate Zone around Galge became Block 3 of the Ruhuna National Park.

Hambegamuwa to Kumana

I, along with three others, went by jeep in June 1964 to Karawelgala, which was 10 miles from Hambegamuwa. We turned off at Tanamalwila, and drove along a jeep track, which is a far cry from the road that now runs to Balangoda through Hambegamuwa and Uggal-Kaltota amidst beautiful scenery. Throughout our three-day stay, we were at the Karawelgala school by courtesy of its headmaster.

In 1955, Hambegamuwa became the focus of public attention as a result of large-scale illicit cultivation of ganja in the jungle. The army and the police were employed to carry out ‘Operation Ganja’, which was aimed at destroying plants and suppressing its cultivation. This campaign became a major issue at the 1956 general election, and the newly elected government appointed a commission to investigate it. We did not see any evidence of ganja, but the headmaster told us that the meat he served us was cooked with a touch of ganja in order to soften it.

The school was in the middle of the village, and we were told that a few days earlier a wild elephant raced along the road through the village. Inmates ran helter-skelter into their houses. However, we did not see any elephants during our stay, though we heard loud trumpeting behind the school. We rushed out, flashing our torches, but we failed to see the animal. We were told that such trumpeting was a frequent occurrence.

The next day we visited places of interest in Hambegamuwa where the tank was large and the view enticing. One of the archaeological sites we visited was a complex consisting of three large, naturally occurring water-holes, placed one below the other. They were connected to each other through two openings in between. When it rains, the water that runs along the sloping rocky slab above fills the uppermost tank.

The overflow from it then fills the second, and so on till the third is full. It may be imagined that the monks from the monastery used water from the top tank for drinking and cooking, while that from the lowest tank was employed for washing. In this way the best use of water would have been obtained, for if washing was done in the top tank, its overflow would have contaminated the contents of the two tanks below.



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Features

UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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