Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Archive for February 2014

Sundarban Revealed: A Spatial Appreciation

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Landsat View of Sunderban. Click on image for full A3 100 dpi version.

Landsat View of Sundarban. Click on image for full A3 100 dpi version.

There is a forest at the northern end of the Bay of Bengal. It is a forest like no other and spread over a vast area where two of South Asia greatest rivers meet the sea after their long journey from the high Himalaya. The Sunderban is this vast, 10,000 square mangrove forest and it’s a place that in the 21st Century still embodies wilderness in its rawest, most beautiful and sometimes terrifying form.  Political boundaries separate it between Bangladesh and India but once inside the maze of mangrove trees there are few signs of any human presence. The area hosts impressive plant and animal diversity and is well as one of the most secure locations for wild tigers to breed in.

For the last 40 years NASA satellite shave been imaging the Sunderban and the results have produced some of the most enigmatic images of the earth’s surface. With the Landsat data achieve now available for public use I have been exploring recent imagery from the Landsat 8 satellite. The data that I processed and displayed in the above image is very fresh- it was collected in late January and early February this year by Landsat 8. It’s given me a chance to virtually revisit a forest that was once a favorite place to go to for birding and photography expeditions.

Collage of 6x6 format black & white images from visits to the Sunderban in the late 1990s. Taken from my www.highrangephotography.com site.

Collage of 6×6 format black & white images from visits to the Sunderban in the late 1990s. Taken from my http://www.highrangephotography.com site.

FURTHER LINKS 

Denzau, Gertrud et. al.  Living with Tides and Tigers – The Sundarbans Mangrove Forest. Dhaka, 2009. Print. See Web link for book. This book is produced by the most authoritative people on the Bangladesh Sunderban. This include Rubaiyat and Elizabeth Mansur and their colleagues Dr. Gertrud Neumann-Denzau and Dr. Helmut Denzau. I had the privilege of interacting with them all on several memorable trips into the Sundarban.

Chakravortty, Somdatta. “Analysis of end member detection and subpixel classification algorithms on hyperspectral imagery for tropical mangrove species discrimination in the Sunderbans Delta, India.” Journal of Applied Remote Sensing. 7(1), August, 2013. Web.

Chowdhury, Biswajit Roy. The Sunderbans: A Photographic Field Guide. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2007. Biswajit is a good friend who published my early work on Nilgiri tahr in Environ magazine. He is involved in wildlife conservation matters from his base in Kolkata.

Kolkata Birds Lead by the energetic Sumit Sen there are excellent trip reports, images and resources on major birding sites in West Bengal and the North Eastern States.

Lockwood, Ian. “Bangladesh’s Declining Forest Habitat.” Sanctuary Asia. June 1998. Web.  I wrote and photographed this with the idea of providing an overview of Bangladesh’s forest areas. The Sunderban features prominently in it.

Montgomery, Sy. Spell of the Tiger: Maneaters of the Sunderbans. New York: Houghton Mifflin 1995. Print.

NASA Earth Observatory. Sundarbans, Bangladesh. 15 October 2006. Web.

Sirajul Hussain Photography. (Facebook link) Siraj is an old friend who I exhibited with in Dhaka many years ago. He has some of the finest pictures of the Sunderban area.

The Guide Ltd. The best way to visit the Bangladesh Sunderban is with the family-run Guide Tours travel agency. Hasan Mansur and his family have been helping people to experience the Sunderban intimately for 20 or so years. I owe all of my best experiences there to them.

Note on etymology of Sundarban: there is some variation on the ways that Sunderban is spelt base on the source. The name can either be literally translated from Bengali as the “beautiful forest” or as a distinct name based on the dominant Sundari (Heritiera fomes) tree.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-02-27 at 7:55 am

Posted in GIS related, Landsat Images

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Amongst the Sacred and the Sublime in the Dry Zone

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Thiray Vadatage south gate

Thirayai Vadatage south gate

During the Week Without Walls trip that was highlighted and mapped in the previous post our small group explored the rich links between historical sites and their dry zone ecology in the central and north-eastern part of Sri Lanka. Notably we spent time at the Ritigala Hermitage (now part of the Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve), Medirigiriya, Thiriyai and Pidruangala. All of these sites have important historical links but, either through design or the passage of time, have fused together with their natural surroundings. The vegetation of Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone is categorized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as “Sri Lanka Dry Zone Evergreen Forest” (code IM0212). In its undisturbed examples it is composed of dense thicket of trees, shrubs and lianas adapted to a long season of no rain with a short period of rain during the North-East monsoon. The canopy height is never as high as the evergreen rainforests found in the wet zone but I have been awed by the numerous examples of large dry-zone species that we encountered. Sri Lanka’s dry zone has interesting similarities to the dry forest eco-region of the area to the east of the southern Western Ghats (code IM0204). Our group had an introduction to this eco-region with a night walk at the Popham Arboreum on our first night. We encountered a gray slender loris (Loris lydekkerianus), several sleeping birds and later a large Indian rock python (Python molurus) crossing the road. The group walked -not exactly soundlessly- amongst the regenerated forest that is now a living example of what ecological restoration can achieve in the eco-region. I would definitely like to bring another group of ecologists back for a daytime visit and study.

In the subsequent days we visited the archeological sites in the Sigiriya-Trinco area. This is what makes up the series of images in this post. For what is surely the best visual overview of Sri Lanka’s archeological treasures, Studio Times’ Stones of Eloquence is a must-have resource. It has chapters on all of the significant historical sites in Sri Lanka with a focus on the country’s rich Buddhist history. The book was produced by Studio Times in 2008 with major contribution for Nihal Fernando, Anu Weeriyasuiya, Christopher Silva and others. The connection between these authors and Back of Beyond is not a coincidence and many of our site choices on this Week Without Walls were inspired by this publication. Nihal Fernando is one of Sri Lanka’s preeminent photographer and his use of Black & White imagery to present these sacred sites is inspirational.

Steps & guardstones at Thiriyai... a collection of angles and views.

Steps & guardstones at Thiriyai… a collection of angles and views.

New bridge near Thiriyai (looking south).

New bridge near Thiriyai (looking south). Road access to many areas in the north and east has been significantly improved in the years after the Tsunami and end of the conflict.

Steps amidst dry evergreen forest at Thiriyai. This is a sublime, little visited Buddhist sanctuary with interesting historical links to the Tamil communities  that live in the area.

Steps amidst dry evergreen forest at Thiriyai. This is a sublime, little visited Buddhist sanctuary with interesting historical links to the Tamil communities that live in the area.

Seated Buddha amidst forest and gardens at Medirigiriya.

Seated Buddha amidst forest and gardens at Medirigiriya.

Thiriyai south guardstone.

Thiriyai south guardstone.

Medirigiriya Vadatage Buddha

Medirigiriya Vadatage Buddha

Medirigiriya details

Medirigiriya details

Medirigiriya Vadatage from the west.

Medirigiriya Vadatage from the west.

FURTHER LINKS

Dammika, Ven. S. Sacred Island: A Buddhist’s Pilgrims’ Guide to Sri Lanka. 2007. Web. 7 February 2014

Fernando, Nihal et al. Stones of Eloquence: The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Studio Times, 2008. Print.

Lankapura  http://lankapura.com/ (a good site for historical images & maps  of Sri Lanka)

Raheem, Ismeeth. Archaeology & Photography – the early years 1868 -1880. Colombo: The National Trust of Sri Lanka, 2010. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-02-16 at 4:08 pm

Explorations in Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone

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Sigiriya from the south as seen from Pidruangala on a damp, monsoon-soaked morning.

Sigiriya from the south as seen from Pidruangala on a damp, monsoon-soaked morning.

In the last week of January OSC’s students and teachers fanned out across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka to learn outside to the traditional classroom walls. The focus of these trips was varied and encompassed a number of curricular goals, outdoor experiences, service opportunities and explorations of our host nation. There were a wide variety of transport methods: buses, vans, a flight north and even bicycles. Students explored ruins of past civilizations, surveyed coral life underwater, slept in tree houses, helped out in Tsunami-affected communities, sampled bird populations in a rainforest, tweeted about Jaffna’s recovery, abseiled off of waterfalls and much more. The outcome of students and teachers electrified by their learning was clear for all to see at the conclusion of the trips and has been evident as we reflect back on the experiences and learning.

This year aside from coordinating the program I led a small group of students on what I called an exploration of Sri Lanka’s dry zone ecosystems. I was supported by Marlene Fert and we had eleven Grade 10 & 11 students on the trip. My idea was to expose the group to sites that blend culture, history and ecology off the beaten tourist track. We were based in the shadow of the rock fortress at Sigiriya and port town of Trincomalee. Originally we had planned to visit Pigeon Island, but the stirred up seas from the tail end of the North East monsoon made this impossible. My family and I had made two trips in preparation for this study trip (see blog posts from April 2013 and October 2013) and I wanted to was provide a similar, yet climatically different WWW experience to the Sinharaja WWW trip. Ironically we experienced a good deal of rain in the dry zone, but never enough to negatively affect our plans.

Scenes from the dry zone int he wet season...Dehigaha Ela and Pidrangla

Scenes from the dry zone int he wet season…Dehigaha Ela and Pidrangla

Back of Beyond’s properties at Dehigaha Ela and Pidruangala provided the perfect place to be based at. They are both situated in serene dry zone mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, they have super staff that provide a home-away-from-home atmosphere, the accommodation (some in trees or caves) is beautifully earthy and there is (thankfully) only intermittent cellphone connectivity! While there we took a day trip to Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve and a night walk in the Popham Arboretum. In Ritigala we explored the ruins of monastic communities and other evidence of past civilizations.

Biodiveristy, both livging and dead, see on our visit.

Biodiveristy, both living and dead, seen on our visit.

A highlight was visiting two archeological sites that both host important Buddhist vadatages (relic houses) and other significant sacred ruins. Medirigiriya is an impressive site with nearly two thousands years of recorded history. It sits off the main Habarana- Polonnaruwa road and is free of tourists. North of Trincomalee is the ancient Jaffna kingdom port of Thiriyai with a very old and important Buddhist vadatage set on a low hillock amidst mixed evergreen and deciduous dry zone forests. Thiriyai was apparently it is the “Thalakori in the 2nd century AD map of Ptolemy” (Wikipedia). Images from these sites will be highlighted in an album in the next post.

WWW Dry Zone Explorations map #1 (with edits)

WWW Dry Zone Explorations map #1 (with edits)

Here is the poster (below)  that I put together for the WWW exhibition held on 20th February 2014. The Landsat imagery is much more recent (from the week after the trips came back).

WWW Exhibition Poster (originally  A1 size with 300 DPI)/ Reduced to 72 dpi here.

WWW Exhibition Poster (originally A1 size with 300 DPI)/ Reduced to 72 dpi here.

 

FURTHER LINKS

Dammika, Ven. S. Sacred Island: A Buddhist’s Pilgrims’ Guide to Sri Lanka. 2007. Web. 7 February 2014 (see Medirigiriya  Thiriyai)

Fernando, Nihal et al. Stones of Eloquence: The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Studio Times, 2008. Print.

Lankapura  http://lankapura.com/ (a good site for historical images & maps  of Sri Lanka)

Raheem, Ismeeth. Archaeology & Photography – the early years 1868 -1880. Colombo: The National Trust of Sri Lanka, 2010. Print.