by Dishana Uragoda
(Continued from last week)
The drive to Mimure was going to be very slow due to the poor road conditions, which we had already experienced whilst coming into Kumbukgolla. The distance was six km between the two villages and we anticipated to travel at a slow speed, giving us approximately 30 minutes to get to our destination and start setting up camp. We reminded ourselves to collect the repaired tyre from the police station in Mimure. Azard, Udara and Charaka got out of the vehicle and gave an advance escort removing large rocks on the way. Chandi was driving, and I was feeling very tired to help out the three boys outside. Nish and I were making plans to either camp out or move into a school or temple. On some earlier occasions, Nish had been with me on camping trips to Yala with my family, and hence knew the art better than the others.
After about 30 minutes of driving, we managed to get to the police station. The road conditions from then onwards were much better. The policemen were relaxing in the calm and cool evening. As soon as the officer in charge saw us, he beckoned to a constable to go down to the vehicle with the repaired wheel, which made us liven up. The repair of the tyre was done free of charge. We thanked him for his help, and inquired as to the location of the campsite. We were given directions to proceed further on until we came to a bridge. By the side of the bridge was a clear area where we could set up camp. It was close to 6 pm and we had to set up the tents before it became dark.
We reached the bridge, and located on a side was a really nice unpopulated area. The Heen Ganga was calm at the time, but the length of the bridge gave an indication of the force of the water during heavy rains. The surface area in proximity to the bridge was all rock, making the river below look more like a pond with flowing water. I went to the edge of the river and selected a location which would function as a toilet. This was a good camping site for us.
The evening was getting darker and cooler, with a chilly blowing coming along the river valley. We had to settle down fast while daylight was still on. We were quick to the task of unloading and setting up the tents. Villagers had now gathered to inquire about us. They were very friendly and we informed them that we were staying the night there and we wished to climb the mountain Lakegala the following day. There was some degree of privacy for us, as the only houses to be seen were across the bridge. The road in front, the river on one side and a hillock behind surrounded our campsite.
Nish and I set about erecting the tents as we had dealt with this work on our previous trips. Each tent could accommodate three. Nish and I had decided in advance that we were going to sleep in the American-made tent, whilst whoever wanted to sleep in the cotton tent was most welcome to do so. Tharaka immediately volunteered as the third member for our tent, for he may have sensed that the two of us knew more about tents than the others. There was good reason behind selecting the American-made tent, as the thick material was waterproof, whereas the other was of thin cotton fit for camping in hot weather. For obvious reasons, this knowledge was selfishly kept to ourselves.
Whilst some of us were making the final sleeping arrangements within the tents, others had started preparing the dinner. Azard, Udara and Chandi lighted the lamps and set about getting the kerosene cooker running in order to have noodles for the night. Whilst they were busy with that, Tharaka, Nish and myself went for a river bath. By this time, the full moon was up, and the time was past 7.15 pm. It was a beautifully lit night with clear skies. After the long day we had gone through, jumping into the rather cold water for a bath made us feel refreshed.
Since we had previous experience of the capacity of our cooker, Azard and Udara too joined us in the knowledge that nothing would get overcooked. After the bath, Azard went back to the cooker and made sure that the noodles would come out edible. And we did have our dinner that night. After dinner we went to the river below and washed the cooking utensils, plates, and so on. By now half of us were feeling rather sleepy.
It was around 9 pm and silence reigned in the village. It was a good time to use the night cover to go to the toilet. I had arranged my “bed” in advance by laying sheets on it. A makeshift pillow was prepared by stuffing a case with clothes. It was time to go to bed. I realized it would not be a peaceful and quiet night. By now, the wind blowing down the ravine had increased in velocity and the playing wind made a constant fluttering sound on the tent walls. With Nish in the tent, I was confident that there was no way that the tent would fly away. With my mind at peace, I turned off for the night. I awakened once or twice in the night due to falling temperatures and the strong blowing, but in general I did manage to have a rather good night’s sleep.
Lakegala is the tallest and the most imposing mountain in the Knuckles range. When viewed from one angle, it has a needle-like spire, while from another side it has a broad top like an ordinary mountain. The people of the area believe that out of the three visits paid by Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka, one was to Lakegala and not to Adam’s Peak.
The following morning we were up in our tent by around 6.30 am. The three occupants of the other tent had a very poor night’s rest. The cotton had given them no protection from the wind, and the strong blowing had just swept through the tent, freezing the three poor occupants. Many a time they had thought the tent would get swept away by the wind, so that Azard and Udara, who had slept in two of its comers, had to hold on to the tent by anchoring their hands into two internal pockets of the tent. It sounded so funny to the three of us who slept in the other tent, but we knew this was no joke. They had no proper sleep, but kept up in good spirit.
Soon we were all out of the tents and decided to go for a wash to the river, which was within a 50-metre walk. The sound and sight of the cool flowing water was exhilarating. It was enjoyable to have a wash in such a gush of clear water, a far cry from the stream we had in the previous village. The riverbed was a large reddish-yellow rock that extended from bank to bank. It created a waterfall almost under the bridge and then gradually sloped down to form a pool of flowing water.
After the morning wash we prepared our breakfast, which had to be rather quick and easily prepared, as we had to climb Lakegala in the morning before the sun could come out and heat the rocky surface. It was rationed to three slices of bread with butter and jam. I thought it was an ideal breakfast which did not involve cooking. It obviously did not go well with the others, who requested a biscuit packet or two to be opened as well.
Just as we were finishing breakfast, we had visitors, who were an elderly Buddhist monk, accompanied by a 10-year old monk and a bunch of little village boys. We were rather surprised, yet welcomed the monks. We were not quite certain of the proper etiquette in entertaining the monks and were also concerned about the impact of this visit on our plans to climb Lakegala. We offered the monks breakfast, although there was little left. The elderly monk very kindly turned the offer down, and inquired after our plans for the day. Quite proudly, we informed the venerable monk that we intended climbing Lakegala.
Then calmly he inquired if we would comply with his request, which was to take the little monk with us to Lakegala. We were dumb struck, for it eroded into our plans. To put it mildly, I informed the venerable monk that it would be hazardous and could not take responsibility for the small priest. We also pointed out that the monk was in slippers which were unfit for mountain climbing, unlike our branded shoes. By then the venerable monk had obviously decided for us and asked us not to bother any more, but take the priest with us, while two guides would also be provided.
We next prepared ourselves for the climb. We dismantled the two tents and quickly packed them into the van. Now, along with the monk, there were seven passengers. Due to constraints in space, the elderly monk did not come with us. We first crossed the bridge and went to the heart of Mimure where the temple was situated, a distance of two km from the campsite. Soon we were driving through the village on a gravel road, which was quite populated on either side. The young monk looked far from peaceful, for he was bossy and haughty.
Soon afterwards, we happened to meet a well-grown man in his mid-thirties, when the monk ordered Chandi to stop the van. He put his head out and ordered the man to come with another to the temple, where we were supposed to leave the vehicle. Our respect towards the little priest had grown by now, and we had a chat with him in order to figure out where all the respect he elicited came from. He said he was a nephew of the elderly monk who was the chief priest in one of the temples in the village.
We reached Mimure temple and waited for a good 15 minutes until the two guides joined us. We left the van in the temple precincts, and began our trek around 10.15 am. The haversack containing food and water was conveniently handed over to one of the guides. Approach to the mountain was through a series of beautiful tiered paddy fields. The monk was leading along with one of the guides and Azard. The rest of us followed with the second guide. Soon after the stretch of paddy was over, we reached thick vegetation with huge trees.
The path had a loose gravel surface on which we had to step carefully. After about an hour of climbing, we were out of the woods and into the steep stretch of mountain. The terrain had changed dramatically to a seemingly smooth surface with long, golden grass. In reality the grass was covering an uneven rocky soil. At this point we regrouped ourselves and walked vigilantly as we heard that the first group had avoided a cobra at that point.
We were passing that stretch of 20-30 metres, when all of a sudden something bit me so very painfully between my buttocks. I was dressed in a pair of denims and the thickness of the trousers prevented me from rubbing the painful site adequately. The pain was unbearable. I then rushed behind a bush and stroked myself vigorously to relieve the pain, and then there was another excruciating bite. The culprits happened to be two jungle ticks that were barely visible to the naked eye.
Once again we started our climb and we found the tall grass very useful, for by holding on to it, we managed to steady ourselves in climbing the steep mountain. The strong sun was beating down on us and there was no shade to take advantage of. We climbed up for another hour or so when Nish said he was going to retire under one of the few solitary trees on the way. Nish was a strong man, but those with heavy appetites and low food intake may be affected more. We spoke to him and he opted to stay there until we came back.
In the meantime, the little monk was running way ahead of us with his guide tagging behind. Such a lead was an insult to us. Thanks to the grass, we managed to crawl our way up. After the three-quarter way mark up the mountain was a 50-metre stretch of bare rock at a steep angle of about 50 to 60 degrees. It was a stretch where climbers had used ropes to cross. Above the rocky stretch was once again the grassy terrain, running to the very top.
With the greatest difficulty, we managed to get to the bare rocky segment, and the time was around 1.30 pm. To prevent further embarrassment to us, we sent instructions to the guide to stay on until we came up, since it would be dangerous for the priest to proceed on his own. We were now on all fours and decided to take a break before we started our final ascent on the bare rock. Udara happened to stop at this point. The priest was a good twenty feet above us and we watched this 10-year old with amazement. He swiftly removed his slippers and gave them to the guide to carry, then twisted the long end tit’ his robe around his neck, and started running up the rock.
It also meant that our resting period was over. So we also began to ascend, but on all fours. After about five metres of climbing, one by one the boys declared their inability to continue. We were losing our balance, our grip oil the grass-covered rock was slipping and we had no energy to continue. The climb was becoming far too risky and there was no way we could have climbed to the top. Less than 10 metres onto the bare rocky segment, we decided to call it off. The priest was rather disappointed with us, and we sent a message from below to say that we were going to descend. We rested for 10 minutes or so and began our trek down. Even on our way down, the little monk took the lead. We concluded that his mountaineering abilities were an inborn trait in the people of the area.
It was well past 5.30 pm when we finally came down to the van. By this time, Azard had negotiated with one of the guides for a large jak fruit. His hunger pangs were too strong to control after having only three slices of bread for breakfast and skipping lunch. Soon afterwards we picked up the jak fruit, tipped the guides and bade them good-bye. We were on our way to set up camp again for the night.
By 6 pm the tents were once again coming up, whilst Azard, assisted by Udara, was preparing the jak fruit for dinner.
The rest of us set up the tents and then went to the river for a bath. The moonlight was fantastic once again, and it was rather interesting to watch, from the river below, a young teenage couple court openly on the bridge. It was not the first time we saw these villagers expressing their emotions quite freely and openly. The water was cold is in the previous night, but we splashed around and played enough to heat ourselves. It was another enjoyable bath, after which we went up to the tents to check on the dinner.
Azard and Udara were still around the cooker waiting for the water to boil. The kind villagers, with whom Azard had negotiated, brought dishes of sambol and coconut scrapings. Finally, dinner was ready about 8.30 pm. There was plenty of jak to consume as it was a large fruit, and the hungry bunch was happy that night as they finally managed to fill themselves up.
The following morning was the time for departure. The occupants of the cotton tent were better prepared for the second night, and had not suffered as much as the previous night. After the morning wash at the river, followed by breakfast, we packed our personal belongings first, and then along with the dismantled tents and other belongings, loaded them into the van. We bade goodbye to the villagers and set off to Colombo. We were back on the 15th evening after a wonderful and memorable trip.
(I would never have written this if not for the encouragement and support of my parents, Chris and Padma Uragoda, and my dear siblings, Neluka, Dianthi and Lalith, to whom I am deeply thankful. I ought to say, this was primarily written for the love of my parents, and this is a dedication to them.)
(Excerpted from Jungle Journeys in Sri Lanka edited by CG Uragoda)
Glimmers of hope?
Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?
What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.
‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.
‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.
‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.
‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.
‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.
Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.
Heartfelt hope of the many
The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”
Still utterly hopeless
Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.
Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.
Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.
Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis
By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse
(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)
There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.
The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.
1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.
2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.
3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!
4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.
Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains
We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened
1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.
2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.
3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.
4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.
Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.
1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.
2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible
3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:
Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.
Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.
Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.
Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.
Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.
Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.
Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.
Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.
1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers
All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.
The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of
India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and
There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.
Thomians triumph in Sydney
Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.
Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!
who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:
The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.
Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.
But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.
Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.
A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.
Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.
A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.
The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.
Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.
The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts. But the Thomians had other ideas.
The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable. Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.
It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.
Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.
The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.
In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.
Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.
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