Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

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Moonstone Wanderings in Anuradhapura

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Moonstone in the fields to the south of Thuparama, Anuradhapura. A mosaic of several images.

In the waning days of the summer holidays I took a short pilgrimage to Anuradhapura where its ruins, old stones and living traditions drew me back. My days previous to this outing had been spent with friends and our daughter Amy looking for wildlife in Wilpattu National Park. The road to Anuradhapura  was a relatively short detour and helped me complete a summer of Sri Lankan dry zone exploration.

It was the summer of the pandemic and the sacred city was relatively empty-perfect for some solitary explorations and wandering with my camera. Our family has visited several times during our stay in Sri Lanka (see my October 2014 post). Half a century before our time, my father Merrick recalls visiting Anuradhapura on the journey from Colombo to Jaffna. In the 1940s and 50s when they visited, there large areas were overgrown and unexcavated. The town itself had a relatively small population and was not an urban center. The irrigation reservoirs (tanks or wewas) were being restored and rich agricultural areas revived. Now, in 2020 after 72 years of independence and more than a decade after the end of the civil war, Anuradhapura has a new town while its sacred precinct has been preserved for its historical and religious significance.

Amarvathis_panel_with_wheels_1b(B&W)(MR)(06_18)

Panels from the Amarāvatī Stupa housed in the Chennai (Madras) Museum. These 2nd/ and 3rd Century BCE Buddhist limestone carvings were once part of a large complex that was abandoned and only rediscovered in the early 19th Century. Most of the pieces of surviving art are located at the British Museum in London and the Government (Madras) Museum in Chennai. They are exquisite works of art. The stylistic similarity between Sri Lanka’s moonstones and the semi-circular parts of the vertical columns that encircled the stupa (dagoba) are uncanny.

Echoes from Amarāvatī

Two years ago, while preparing the Hills of Murugan exhibition in Chennai, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the Madras Museum, now renamed the Government Museum, Chennai. This repository has priceless collections of ancient Indian heritage and art. The gallery of bronzes is, perhaps, the most famous space but the museum also hosts a gallery dedicated to the once colossal Buddhist stupa at Amarāvatī. This site on the banks of the Krishna river in Guntur district was an early center of Buddhist learning and worship. Its story is well known: from being one of the earliest stupas/dagobas (3rd-2nd  Century BCE) to being abandoned and then broken up for construction material before being rediscovered by Colin Mackenzie in the early 19th Century. Amarāvatī’s most valuable limestone carvings now sit in two museums: the British Museum in London and the Madras Museum in Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai.

There was a great deal to appreciate and observe in the museum. In fact far too much for a single visit. One thing that struck me were the semicircular designs carved in relief that are found at the bottom of the columns below a set of discs or wheels (see image below). These columns originally provided a circular protective wall around the stupa. The wheel or dharmachakra, of course, is an important Buddhist, Hindu and Jain symbol associated with the cyclical nature of life. Some of the images in the gallery have intricate scenes from the Buddha’s life (these are mostly encased in glass that make them difficult to photograph). The majority of disks/wheels (or “lotus medallions”) are relatively plain with concentric patterns radiating out from the center. Some of these would have been a part of a “crossbar” that linked pillars together (see Akira Shimanda’s articles below). James Fergusson and James Burgess refer to these objects as “disks” decorating ornamental pillars (in Sanchi) in their book The Cave Temples of India (1890). In the Madras Museum there are dozens of wheels/discs that seem largely decorative. Some are parts of pillars while others are solid pieces of limestone carved to be a piece of a complex puzzle. However at the bottom of several pillars is a semicircular relief that looks like a proto-moonstone propped upwards. I’m not sure to what extent this striking similarity has been investigated but I assume that others have noticed it before. Amarāvatī’s stupa predates the estimated dates of Anuradhapura moonstones by nearly a millennium and in their day there would have been considerable interaction between these two important Buddhist centers.

Ruwanwelisaya_moonstone_Mirror_(MR)(11_19)

Moonstone mirror study in the fields to the south of Thuparama, Anuradhapura.

Anuradhapura’s Moonstone Gardens

Back in Anuradhapura this summer, I marveled at the connections between Buddhist sites across South Asia. The most famous moonstone (or Sandakada pahana as moonstones are known in Sinhala) in Anuradhapura is located in a complex to the west of the colossal Abhayagiri Stupa. Like all moonstones, it provides an ornate and visually dazzling entrance way to a scared space carved on a large (and deep slap of granite). The concentric layers symbolically progress inwards from outer states of consciousness to the final inner core of nirbana (nirvana). The elephants, horses, lions and bulls, marching across the outer layer are carved with startling likeness.

I appreciate this most famous moonstone but what I enjoy even more is wandering through the less visited parts of Anuradhapura and stumbling across neglected examples of this uniquely Sri Lankan art form. There are at least a dozen or more intricately carved moonstones lying in the shadows of more famous monuments. There are many more plain slab moonstones scattered across excavated sites and hidden amongst overgrowth sites. The Sri Maha Bodhi shrine has several large moonstones at its entranceways. Of course, further away the Vaṭadāge at Polonnaruwa has several outstanding  moonstones (see the March 2017 post).

The classic moonstone is almost never found without accompanying guard stones and balustrades (railings). The guard stones in Anuradhapura are most frequently a guardian male figure with a multi-headed cobra hood. He holds up a vessel (of scared water?) and a wisp while there are often small dwarf characters at his feet. In a few cases, the guard stones are dwarfs. The balustrades are ornate railings on the side of the steps. They usually depict a dragon or fierce creature who’s tongue rolls out to form the railing. Elephants are also depicted as the creature in some balustrades (as seen in Thanjavur).

Though my only claim of expertise is my curiosity in South Asia’s sacred architecture, I’m not aware of moonstone being used in ancient temple architecture in India. The moonstone appears to be a uniquely Sri Lankan art form. From the Amarāvatī pillars there are hints that ideas freely flowed across the shallow seas in the hundreds and thousands of years before the present time. These crosscurrents of people and sophisticated ideas being interchanged across the South Asian landscape reminds us that we still have a great deal to learn from the past.

A Note on the Photography in this Post

More than a century ago the pioneering photographer Joseph Lewton documented Sri Lanka’s (then Ceylon’s)  cultural triangle with a large format, glass plate camera that needed its own darkroom on site. The sepia toned images that are left with us provide a stunning first view of sites before they were restored (see Ismeth Raheem’s publications below).

In between efforts to document landscapes and ecosystems in the Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot, I wanted to explore the island’s sacred sites and document theses scared spaces  with high resolution images. I originally photographed moonstones and elements of Sri Lanka’s scared architecture with medium format cameras using black & white film. This was not that long ago (2005-2010) and I developed the film and printed the images at home myself. About 12 years ago, the whole world of photography was undergoing a dramatic technological change and it became clear that digital imagery offered powerful tools that were superior to the film gear that I had available to me. Obtaining film and chemicals was difficult and the digital workflow could be done on a personal computer without a darkroom and wet chemicals. My work on the sacred sites has since evolved to utilize these digital tools but I still aspire to create images that do justice to the magnificent art and architecture of these sites

 

SACRED SPACES BLOG POSTS (CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER)

Lockwood, Ian. “Portrait & Panorama in Anuradhapura.”  Ian Lockwood Blog. May 2010. Web.

“            “Slowly Through Past Pallava and Chola Kingdoms (Part I).” Ian Lockwood Blog. July 2011. Web.

“            “Slowly Through Past Pallava and Chola Kingdoms (Part II).” Ian Lockwood Blog. July 2011. Web.

“            “Amongst the Sacred and the Sublime in the Dry Zone.” Ian Lockwood Blog. February 2012. Web.

“            “In Hanuman’s Flight Path.” Ian Lockwood Blog. October 2013. Web.

“            “Elephanta: A Pilgrimage” Ian Lockwood Blog. March 2014. Web.

“            “Early Pathways at Mihintale & Anuradhapura.” Ian Lockwood Blog. October 2014. Web.

“            “Glimpses of Polonnaruwa.” Ian Lockwood Blog. March 2017. Web.

SELECTED REFERENCES

“Amaravati Stupa.” Wikipedia. accessed 10 September 2020.  Web.

Daniel, Shannine. “The Moonstones Of Ancient Sri Lanka: Religion, Art, And Architecture.” Roar. 16 Feb 2018 Web.

Dhammika, Ven S. “Anuradhapura.” Sacred Island: A Buddhist Pilgrim’s Guide to Sri Lanka. 2007. Web.

Falconer, John and Ismeth Raheem. Regeneration: A Reprisal of Photography in Ceylon 1850-1900. London: The British Council, 2000. Print.

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

Images of Ceylon. Web.

Moonstones, Guardstones, Balustrades of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Postal Service, 12 December 2012. Print.

Raheem, Ismeth. Archaeology and Photography: The Early Years 1868-1880. Colombo: The National Trust Sri Lanka, 2009. Print.

Shimanda, Akira and Michael Willis Ed. Amaravati: the Art of an Early Buddhist Monument in context. London: The British Museum, 2016. Web.

Stambler, Benita.  “Maintaining the Photographic Legacy of Ceylon.” Trans Asia Photography Review. Fall 2013. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2020-09-14 at 9:16 pm

Dry Zone in a Biodiversity Hotspot

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A collage of Sri Lanka’s dry zone species and habitats (SE coast near Kumana).

Sri Lanka’s climate zones, split between the wet, intermediate and dry zones each have distinctive qualities and biodiversity. While the wet zone has the highest levels of endemism the dry zone shows close affinity to southern India’s flora and fauna. There are even several slivers of the island with arid climates that are sometimes separated from the dry zone (the Jaffna peninsula, Mannar, Yala etc.). On several trips in the last year, and most importantly the summer during the pandemic, I continued to explore, document and better understand the biodiversity and landscapes of the dry zone.

Although the extent of the dry zone covers nearly two thirds of the island it is not a homogenous landscape and there are significant variations in terrain, forest cover, hydrology and land use in its different parts. The area is characterized by seasonal spells of intense rain (the monsoon) and longer periods with relatively little rain. The North-East (winter) Monsoon, active from October to January, provides most of the seasonal moisture. This June we traversed the three climate zones: we left Colombo in the midst of showers from the South West Monsoon, experienced rain in the intermediate zone near Sigiriya and then had almost all rain-free dry days in Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Arugam Bay.

Panthera pardus kotiya at Wilpattu National park. Leopards are not exclusive to the dry but the large protected areas of Yala, Kumana and Wilpattu offer the best places to encounter them. This juvenile male thrilled our small group with a lengthy encounter in the early morning of a visit in July. Special thanks to Achintha Piumal who alerted us to its presence and got us to the location without disturbing his morning rituals.

Conservation Value of the Dry Zone

The lengthy Western Ghats/Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot, as demarcated by CEPF, is characterized by India’s west-coast mountainous spine as well as (almost) the entire island of Sri Lanka. It always intrigued me that the Western Ghats portion is made up of mountainous habitats while Sri Lanka’s portion includes significant lowland, plains areas in its dry zone along with its Central Highlands and coastlines. In fact, all of Sri Lanka, with the exception of the Jaffna peninsula, falls under the hotspot boundary. It’s a somewhat arbitrary boundary distinction and meant to give a target area for the governments of India and Sri Lanka to value and protect. The Western Ghats plains areas in the shadow of the ghats have been largely converted to agricultural and other human-dominated landscapes. In contrast Sri Lanka’s lowlands, especially in the dry zone,  still have large areas of natural forest cover and this most likely explains the boundary choices.

The largest protected areas in Sir Lanka, the ones that draw visitors wanting a “safari” experience, are all found in the dry zone. Yala National Park in the south-east draws the largest numbers of visitors. Its north-eastern parts, bisected by the Kumbuk Oya, are protected as Kumana National Park. In the central plains around Dambulla/Sigiriya parks protected as part of irrigation reservoirs such as Minneriya, Kaudulla and Kala Wewa host some of the biggest congregations of Asian elephants in the world. Sri Lanka’s largest national park is Wilpattu located on the Gulf of Mannar and stretching nearly to the center of the island at Anuradhapura. After being contested during the years of fighting, Wilpattu has made a comeback. Classic dry zone mammal species like sloth bears, elephants, grey langur, spotted deer are all found at Wilpattu. I appreciate Wilpattu for its forests. Visitors spend hours traversing mature strands of tropical evergreen forest to get to the open areas and wilus (shallow natural lakes that can either have saline or fresh water) areas with bird and mammal densities. There are many significant species of trees on the drive in. I appreciate the Manilkara hexandra (or palu/palai) that are a favorites species for birds of prey, Malabar Pied Hornbills and occasionally, leopards.

Many of the other large protected areas of Sri Lanka including Wasgamuwa, Gal Oya and Madhura Oya and Somawathiya are all in the dry zone. Satellite imagery shows large tracts of dry zone forest north of Vavuniya in the Vanni. These were areas that were controlled by the LTTE for many years and survived the ravages of war. At this stage few of these are being explored by wildlife enthusiast and birders, as far as I know.

 

Granite rocky outcrops are a feature of many parts of Sri Lanka’s dry zone. The Kudumbigala hermitage on the edge of Kumana National Park has some exquisite rocks that are safe from those blasting and quarrying.

Connections Across the Straits

Ecologists and others familiar with the plains of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka’s dry zone have observed the remarkable similarities in climate, soil and geology. It is certainly something I think about every time I fly into Madurai and drive away from this ancient urban settlement. The red soil and occasional patches of thorn forest and sacred Ficus trees, scattered amongst drought-prone fields and granite outcrops, hint at a past that would have looked quite different.

Rom Whitaker, India’s snake man who is based in Tamil Nadu, visited Colombo in 2010 and gave a public talk sponsored by Dilmah Conservation that reminded me of the connection between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. He drew our attention to the fact that Sri Lanka’s dry zone coastal areas were likely representative of what Tamil Nadu’s plains once looked like. Land cover change on the plains of Tamil Nadu, of course, has been happening at an astounding pace in recent decades. However, Rom was hinting at patterns that happened in India much earlier-as in hundreds if not thousands of years ago. Those changes led to a different landscape and perhaps a less-humid climate in plains Tamil Nadu. This topic deserves thorough academic investigation but Rom’s message was conservation- oriented. He was discretely pleading with the Sri Lankan audience to act to protect areas before sand mining, granite blasting, deforestation and other threats destroyed the remarkable magic of the dry zone.

The situation with Sri Lanka’s dry zone is especially remarkable because it historically experienced dramatic land cover change and then recovered. The ancient Sri Lankan hydraulic civilizations that created systems of sophisticated water management and irrigation more than 2300 years ago were all based in the dry zone. The remains of these civilizations and especially their Buddhist sites in places like Ruhunu, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa illustrate of the importance of the dry zone in Sri Lanka’s rich cultural history. It was only later, after repeated attacks and the outbreak of malaria, that the Sinhalese kings moved south-west into the wet zone. That migration left much of the dry zone alone and gave the forested areas a chance to recover. Mark Ashton, Nimal & Savitri Gunatilleke and others in fact state that “the early phases of Sri Lanka’s history therefore suggests that nearly all of the forests now in the dry zone are of secondary origin, having re-established over the last 7-8 centuries.” (Ashton et al. p.12)

The idea that the plains of Tamil Nadu might once have been thickly forested in a way similar to Wilpattu is intriguing. The land cover change and the clearing of these Indian forested areas would have happened so long ago that there are few records of the change. Great kingdoms and empires-the Pallavas, Pandians, Cholas and others-rose and fell over several millennia. Presumably the dry evergreen plains forest was cut back to make room for agriculture during these times. The relatively recent (and well documented) British colonial forestry efforts were focused on wooded, hilly  areas like the Anamalais, Nilgiri and Palani Hills. A modern forest map of Tamil Nadu (see TN Forest Department) suggests that almost all forest cover is in the Western and Eastern Ghats rather than the plains and a few mangrove patches. There are relatively small examples of the dry evergreen forest  in Tamil Nadu and there are efforts in Auroville (see link) to protect and propagate this forest type, but nothing on the scale of what is found across the straits in Sri Lanka.

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Panthera pardus stretching at Wilpattu National park. Special thanks to Achintha Piumal who alerted us to its presence and got us to the location without disturbing his morning rituals.

SELECTED REFERENCES

Ashton, Mark et. al. A Field Guide to the Common Trees and Shrubs of Sri Lanka. Colombo: WHT Publications, 1997. Print.

Conservation International. Biodiversity Hotspots. Web.

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. Biodiversity Hotspots. Web. (see link for Western Ghats projects)

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.. Ecosystem Profile: Western Ghats & Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot (Western Ghats Region). May 2007. Web.

De Silva, Asoka T., Ed.  Sri Lanka’s Forests-Nature at Your Service. Colombo: Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014.

Ministry of Mahaweli Development & Environment. Biodiversity Profile- Sri Lanka Sixth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity. May 2019. Web.

Ministry of Mahaweli Development & Environment. National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan 2016-2022. May 2016. Web.

Lankan Ramblings in the Summer of the Pandemic

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On the road to Thiriyai in north-eastern Sri Lanka during an unseasonal squall.

In the time of the pandemic, visitors to the island dried up and the forests, ruins and beaches that magnetically pull so many from around the world were quiet and empty. Flights into Sri Lanka were suspended and protocols were put in place to minimize the chance for the virus to spread. These were strange and challenging days, that none of us had experienced before. Our family, like so many in the Colombo suburbs, was locked down for three months. The teaching and learning that governs our life’s rhythm shifted gears as we went online and operated classes from home. Time seemed to slow down and it required extra energy to complete basic tasks. We developed new routines to balance work with exercise. We had more time for introspection. In the end, we had it was relatively painless and we were thankful to be in a place where the virus was under control. When the summer holidays came in mid-June we happily set out around our island home, looking to explore the country’s dry zone.

Our family vehicle had been taken apart, restored and repainted over the first part of the year. The COVID crisis had significantly delayed work but there was nothing to do about that and we were locked down at home anyway.  After some rather serious chassis work and new additions, it was put back together in mid-June. It had to pass the annual emissions test, be outfitted with a canopy and have new tires put on and then we were ready to pack it up for an exploration into the dry zone of Sri Lanka.

A collage of summer reflections exploring parts of Sri Lanka’s dry zone. Scenes from Dehigaha Ela (Sigiriya area), Trincomalee, Passikudah, Arugam Bay and Tissamaharama.

Sigiriya, Kandalama & Dehigaha Ela

Our journey took us on a circular loop around the mountainous interior and through the dry zone, revisiting old haunts and then exploring sections of Sri Lanka unseen previously. Leaving Colombo and the wet zone behind, we drove through Kurunegala and Dambulla into the heart of the Cultural Triangle. This area near the rock fortress at Sigiriya sits on the edge of the intermediate and dry zones and sure enough we experienced several monsoon showers. We stayed at one of Back of Beyond’s Dehigaha Ela tree houses. This off-the-grid location was set up by our friend and fellow College of Wooster alum Yohan Weerasuriya. Aside from family visits, we have been using Dehigaha Ela and the nearby Pidurangala property for Week Without Walls experiences that I coordinate for OSC. The serene setting is a fine place to slow down, appreciate Sri Lanka’s rural landscape and explore on bicycle. Our family was joined by colleague, friend and KIS alum Andry DeJong. Because of the COVID-induced curfew, Dehigaha Ela had been closed and we were the first visitors after a long stint. Sigiriya was not open and we experienced the empty surroundings and lesser sites in blissful solitude.

Heat maps from cycle rides in the Dehigaha Ela area.

One of the exquisite tree houses at Back of Beyond’s Dehigaha Ela.

Trincomalee

Four days in this once strategic port gave our family an appreciation for the stunning coastal beauty, rich cultural heritage and sub-surface marine life of Sri Lanka’s east coast. We enjoyed time with our friends the Leighs, Presleys and Bargefredes. Snorkeling, dolphin watching and diving off of Pigeon Island and the Koneswaram temple were highlights. Our last outing was to Thiriyai, the site of an ancient vaṭadāge. It is known to be one of the oldest Buddhist sites in the country and is situated near to an important but long-lost port. The origins of this Buddhist site, with Pallava links, in an a historically Tamil area of the island, hints at a fascinating past of cultural diffusion.

Passikudah, Arugam Bay & Kumana

From Trinco we drove south, navigating its modest town, passing the China Bay airfield and various harbor inlets before crossing the Mahaweli Ganga and heading south towards Mutur. I still have warm childhood memories of Trinco’s inlets, the docks and Swami Rock, from a family visit in the winter of 1977. The geography and bathymetry of Trinco’s harbor and Koddiyar bay, with its deep trench cutting from the continental crust into the Bay of Bengal, are intriguing. Nautical maps give a sense of the submarine contours but don’t seem to do justice to the sheer natural magnificence of the area.

The conflict had rendered the area south of Koddiyar Bay off limits and impossible to get through for many years. Now  a decade or more after the cessation of hostilities, new bridges and surfaced roads make it effortless. Driving south to Passikudah you traverse rich, irrigated paddies and then pockets of deprivation in a sparsely-populated landscape. We overnighted in Passikudah, a crescent moon-shaped bay of large hotels developed after the fighting stopped. It would normally be teaming with foreign tourists in the summer season. In 2020 it was deserted and only a few hotels were open for business. Further south in Batticaloa and its environs, the eastern coastal belt is densely populated with commercial and agricultural communities. We had planned to dive on one of the wrecks off  Batticaloa but put it off for another trip.

In Arugam Bay we were surprised to find a relatively lively and bustling scene. The pandemic and the precautions of mask-wearing seen elsewhere were in little evidence here. Stranded tourists and resident expatriates had found their way to this seaside mecca of South Asian surfing. Our kids took surf lessons, we had Ayurvedic back treatments and we relished the food and fine coffee. We stayed at the tastefully designed Spice Trails, run by KIS alum Prithvi Virasinghe and his wife Silje. One of our mornings was spent visiting Kumana National Park with our recently graduated student and friend Luca  Feuerriegel. He had just completed an epic cycle ride from Colombo to Arugam Bay via several key birding destinations (see his excellent blog post for details). Having my cycle was a great boon and I took a series of solo exploratory rides south of Arugam Bay. Here amidst patches of scrub forest, paddy and meandering streams I enjoyed some of the most pleasant, scenic riding that I have done in Sri Lanka thus far.

Heat maps from the area south of Arugam Bay and Yoda Lake (Tissamaharama).

Pathways and paddy along the Heda Oya south of Arugam Bay.

Tissamaharama

On our loop back to Colombo we drove around the protected areas of Kumana and Yala, through Moneragala and Kataragama to Tissamaharama. We stayed with our colleague Kristin and her husband Madhu and daughters at their place Wild Lotus.  By this time we had been out almost two weeks and so we skipped visits to Yala and Bundala in order to get home for a while.

The Yoda Lake west embankment with the Kataragama hills in the background.

Summer Wrap Up

Just before school resumed in early August I had the opportunity to visit Wilpattu National park and the sacred city of Anuradhapura. This journey, exploring Sri Lanka’s dry zone biodiversity and cultural heritage, helped bring the summer’s journey’s full circle. The next two posts detail the encounters with the natural world of the dry zone and experiences looking for moonstones amidst the ruins of Anuradhapura.

PAST POSTS

“Pigeon Island Explorations” Ian Lockwood Blog. September 2015. Web.

“Amongst the Sacred and the Sublime in the Dry Zone.” Ian Lockwood Blog. February 2014. Web.

“Windows on the Long Road to Jaffna.” Ian Lockwood Blog. April 2013. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2020-08-24 at 9:40 pm

Mannar: Feathers & Frogs on a 2019 Visit

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Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)(non-breeding plumage) on the beach at Pesalai fishing beach (northern coast of Mannar) .

The island of Mannar and Wilpattu National Park continue to be must visit destinations for birdwatchers in Sri Lanka. Last November our friend Pippa Mukherjee visited and we took her up to Wilpattu for an introductory visit.  More recently, in February, we had a long poya weekend that allowed us an opportunity to revisit this far corner of Sri Lanka.

On the February trip we had four days to get up to Mannar and back. That’s not a long time given the distance (@ 320 km from Colombo) and all the nice things to explore on the way. On the journey driving from Colombo we overnighted at the Backwaters Lodge north of Puttalam before continuing on the next day up to Mannar. The Backwaters offers a convenient place to access Wilpattu’s south-western entrance and to do local birdwatching in excellent dry zone thorn forest. This was my second visit and I was interested in trying to see the Indian Chameleon (Chamaeleo zeylanicus)in the surrounding thorn forest. The owners Tarique Omar and Ajith Ratnayaka were both on site for this visit and I enjoyed speaking to them about the area and their story in setting up Backwaters. The family took a rest (it was hot and dry) while I went out to look for Chameleons with their guide Sanoos. It was the middle of the day with hot, bright conditions-perfect for these reptiles I thought. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, no Chameleons were to be found. The area where Chameleons are found hosts some excellent arid zone tropical thorn forest. I marveled at the unappreciated vegetation and was reminded that much of the south-eastern Indian plains also hosted similar systems. Unfortunately it is also the site of a lime stone pit mine and the proposed solid waste dump of Aruwakkalu.

Moonrise over the Nelum Wewa wetlands and tank near to the Wilpattu south-west entrance.

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Jerdon’s Nightjar(Caprimulgus atripennis) at Backwaters.

Rather than drive around via Tantirimale, we went to Mannar driving through the western dirt track that runs through Wilpattu. It is shorter (in terms of km traveled) and there are opportunities to see and appreciate Wilpattu’s forests, wetlands and classic wildlife. The only hitch is the approach over a sometimes flooded causeway and the few kilometers of seriously beat up road. There had been rains and we drove over the causeway with about 10 cm of water-not too dangerous but getting close, it seemed to me. On the road we enjoyed an encounter with a bull elephant, Malabar pied hornbill flyovers and numerous mongoose encounters. We were happy to have our high clearance 4×4 vehicle for the journey. The stretch from the northern Wilpattu entrance to the Mannar causeway passes through an exceedingly dry landscape. Some of this has been controversially cleared of the appreciated thorn forest and allocated to house former IDPs from the conflict and tsunami. The arid conditions make it an exceedingly difficult place to eke out a living it seems to me.  Very few the newly constructed houses showed signs of life. It is only on the approach to Vankalai Sanctuary that the road runs through rich agricultural lands that benefit from tank (especially Giant’s Tank) irrigation. The area that once house the famous Pearl fisheries is fascinating. The beaches are desolate and seemingly pristine- all very eerie given that this stretch of coastline hosted the immensely productive pearl fishing communities for several hundred years before being overfished at the end of the 19th Century . The ruins of Fredrick North’s bungalow are the only reminders about a very different past. He was the Governor of Ceylon (1798-1805) soon after the British took over.

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On this visit we returned to the Palmyrah House, the island’s most comfortable accommodation that the kids and I had stayed at several years ago. It has since been refurbished and it was a treat to have the whole family enjoy its site and situation. What I appreciate most is the presence of a naturalist who assists with birds and natural history. This time it was Gayomini, a young woman who is working on completing her dissertation at Colombo University. Our stay was relatively short but we visited Talimanar, Vankalai and several other places on Mannar. The Greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) were present in large numbers but at a great distance. Lenny and I went out before sunrise to try and get pictures and had reasonable success. Perhaps more importantly, we located pied avocets (Recurvirostra avosetta) -apparently some of the first sightings of the season. Ajay and other would later go on to record large flocks (40+) of this rare visitor. The other highlight of the time in Mannar was looking for saw scale vipers and frogs at night. There were large numbers of the Common Tree Frogs (Polypedates maculatus) and it was good fun photographing them with studio flashes. We returned to Colombo via Madhu and Tantirimale -our only regret was that the actual time in Mannar was unsatisfying short!

Phoenicopterus_roseus_at_Mannar_1a(MR)(12_17)

Greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) at Mannar (December 2017).

Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)(non-breeding plumage) at Pesalai fishing beach (northern coast of Mannar) .

Polypedates_maculatus_at_Mannar_01a(MR)(02_19)

Common Tree Frogs (Polypedates maculatus) at Palmyrah House.

The Pearl Banks in the 19th Century. A two part painting from Palmyrah House.

Landsat map of the north-west coast of Sri Lanka processed by the author. Double click on image for large 150 DPI version.

PAST MANNAR POSTS

Lockwood, Ian. “A Season of Birds-Mannar.” Ian Lockwood Blog. February 2017. Web.

“     . “Mannar: Far Corner of Sri Lanka.” Ian Lockwood Blog.  November 2017. Web.

 

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

De Silva, Anslem. Amphibians of Sri Lanka: A Photographic Guide to Common Frogs, Toad Caecilians. Published by author, 2009. Print.

De Silva, Anslem and Kanishka Ukuwela. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Reptiles of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishing, 2017. Print.

Gnanam, Amrith. Discover Mannar Sri Lanka. Colombo: Palmyrah House, 2017. Print.

Kotagama, Sarath and Gamini Ratnavira. An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. Colombo: FOGSL, 2010. Print.

Warakagoda, Deepal et al. Birds of Sri Lanka. London: Christopher Helm, 2012. Print.

Mannar: Far Corner of Sri Lanka

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Baobab on the north shore of Mannar.

Off the Grid (OTG), OSC’s outdoor and adventure club explores different corners of Sri Lanka seeking adventure, new destinations and fresh opportunities to learn from our host country. In October we took a three-day visit to the island of Mannar on Sri Lanka’s west coast. The low lying, bone-dry island is steeped in myth but distant from the well-worn tourist track of most visitors. Mannar is most often visited by birdwatchers looking for flamingos and wintering birds (see my post from March 2017). On this trip, OTG was looking for opportunities to build a relationship with a local NGO engaged in mangrove and coral reef conservation.

We originally had a large group signed up but, in the end, only three students joined the trip. Theo from DP2, Madeleine from DP1 and MYP3 student Lenny. Kamilla Sahideen, the other OTG faculty leader, joined us and we were driven by Anthony who is fluent in three languages and one of the best drivers that the school hires. The Recycling & Sustainability service group (represented by Lenny and myself) and Reefkeepers (represented by Madeleine) were particularly interested in how a small community was dealing with solid waste management and coral reef conservation.

Tantirimalai_Buddha_1b(11_17)

Tantirimale Buddha.

Getting to Mannar was a significant part of the adventure and we had stops at Negombo, Tantirimale, Madhu, and Vankalai sanctuary on the way up. On the island we had an opportunity to visit the historic fort, the grave site of Adam & Eve, Talaimannar pier and the last point of land before Adams bridge. Each of these places is interesting in their own way-for me it was the living mythology of the location that stood out. In Mannar we stayed at the Four Tees guest house, a place well known to birders. They have reasonable rates and the owner Laurence is friendly, hospitable and surely one of the most knowledgeable hoteliers on the island. Our meals were simple (but scrumptious) and mostly taken at Mannar’s City Hotel and other road- side eating joints. Out visit coincided with the onset of the North East (Winter) monsoon and the showers that we experienced were beginning to fill up tanks and ponds that are dry for most of the year. In this arid, near desert part of the island, the relief for people and wildlife was palatable.

Vidataltivu_abandoned_house_PAN_1(11_17)

In Vidataltivu

The focus of our trip was to spend time in a small village, Vidataltivu, located off of the Mannar-Jaffna road. Vidataltivu’s location in an area once trapped in the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE is still haunting. Many of its buildings, built with generous quantities of cement in an art deco style during the 1960s, lie abandoned and empty. There are signs of normalcy returning in the active fishing harbor but the town seems far short of full recovery. The Vidataltivu Ecotourism Society (VETS) is a small organization that was started to help protect the area’s mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs from unsustainable fishing practices. They are composed of a handful of young people who have worked with their neighbors to protect the area. UNDP has helped to support their efforts and worked with the community in fixing up the fishing harbor’s docks, providing VETS with a boat and sponsoring various capacity building exercise. Santhiapillai Augustine was out contact from UNDP who helped try to line up the permissions. Edison, one of their leaders now works with the DCW while working on a graduate degree in Ruhuna University and worked to help facilitate our visit.

Because this was formerly in territory controlled by the LTTE there is a strong SL Navy presence in Vidataltivu. Their base at the edge of the Vidataltivu harbor blends in with the surroundings and it is a non-threatening arrangement from the point of view of a visitor. The harbor is active with fishing boats who specialize in catching crabs just off shore. However, the Navy’s concerns about security have made it very difficult for tourists to take short rides into the water from the harbor. The jurisdiction of the coastal area has recently been transferred to the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). I had worked in the weeks before our trip to get the necessary permissions and we came with written permission to conduct a study tour from the DWC. We thought that our group might be allowed to visit both the mangrove and the coral reef. In the end, we were only able to see the mangrove and will have to wait to visit the reef on a future visit.

Our trip was much too short but it did allow for us to get a sense of Mannar, Vidataltivu and the surrounding area. In general, I think all of us were impressed with the serene beauty of the low lying island, the palmyra trees, lagoons and infinite horizons. People were friendly and gracious in our interactions. We were, however, dismayed to observe large quantities of plastic waste on the roadsides, lagoons and beaches: it is clear that issues of non-biodegradable solid domestic waste pose a serious challenge for the citizens of Mannar. Some of this waste may be coming over the sea but most of the waste that we saw (broken buckets, plastic bags, shoes, wrappers and water bottles) that was on roadsides and near to Mannar’s human settlements. It is of course a problem felt at a national and global scale and Mannar is not alone in this challenge. On the positive side, I was happy that Laurence the proprietor of Four Tees welcomed us and then politely reminded us not to bring any plastic whatsoever into his premise.

As we were heading back to Colombo we stopped by the Mannar salterns and were treated to a sighting of the Greater flamingos-about 60 of them who are apparently resident all year long.  OTG looks forward to returning to Mannar to build on the relationships that were started on this visit.

Greater flamingos taking flight near Mannar town. These are apparently a resident group of about 60 individuals.

 

Google My Maps showing trip route and significant points.

 

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Gnanam, Amrith. Discover Mannar Sri Lanka. Colombo: Palmyrah House, 2017. Print.

Glimpses of Polonnaruwa

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Polonnaruwa Vadatage as seen from the west side in late afternoon light. (October 2016)

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa offers visitors glimpses into Sri Lanka’s rich lithic history. Set alongside the large man-made tank Parakrama Samudra in the north Central part of the island, Polonnaruwa is one of the great ancient cities of Sri Lanka. King Parakramabahu (1123-1186) is thought to have been responsible for much of the enormous sculptures, temples, dagobas, palaces and other buildings that were once part of a thriving cosmopolitan city.  After upheaval and invasion the city was abandoned in 1293. Nature took over and it was not until the 19th Century that the Polonnaruwa’s sublime treasures and architecture were revealed by the nascent Ceylon Department of Archeology.Joseph Lawton, a British photographer based in Kandy in the mid to late 19th Century, documented Polonnaruwa before it was being excavated and restored to what we now appreciate (see the album of his images courtesy of the Victoria a& Albert Museum below).

Our family has visited Polonnaruwa on several different occasions. On our first visit in January 2006 I used medium format cameras and black & white film to photograph the notable points of interest. In October 2016 we made a short visit to the area as we explored major site and places off the beaten track in the Cultural Triangle. Reflecting the change in technology my 2016 images were all taken with a DSLR camera and phone. While the restoration activity of several site at Polonnaruwa is of a high caliber it has also involved the controversial erection of steel roofing over key monuments, notably the Gal Vihara. These structures change the ambiance and impose a modern veneer on the original rock cut carvings.

Reflection of the Polonnaruwa lion at the king’s council chambers.

Seated Buddha at Gal Vihara (“stone shrine”); rightly considered to be one the finest examples of Buddhist rock sculptures. (October 2016).

Gale Vihara cave Buddha. Study from two slits in the bars with an 85 mm lens. October 2016.

The colossal recumbent Buddha hewn from the granite bedrock in the 9th Century CE at Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa. See Joseph Lawton’s image from 1870 to get a sense for the original setting prior to it being protected by scaffolding.(October 2016).

Mirror study of the Polonnaruwa Vadatage moonstone facing north. (October 2016)

Study of Polonnaruwa Vatadage (south) guard stone in evening light.

Vatadage at Medirigiriya, as seen from the south side. This stunning archeological monument and site of spiritual importance is slightly off the beaten track in the Polonnaruwa vicinity. It dates back to between the 7th Century CE.

SACRED SPACES BLOG POSTS

“Amongst the Sacred and the Sublime in the Dry Zone.” Ian Lockwood Blog. February 2012. Web.

“Early Pathways at Mihintale & Anuradhapura.” Ian Lockwood Blog. October 2014. Web.

“Elephanta: A Pilgrimage” Ian Lockwood Blog. March 2014. Web.

“In Hanuman’s Flight Path.” Ian Lockwood Blog. October 2013. Web.

 “Slowly Through Past Pallava and Chola Kingdoms (Part I).” Ian Lockwood Blog. July 2011. Web.

 “Slowly Through Past Pallava and Chola Kingdoms (Part II).” Ian Lockwood Blog. July 2011. Web.

 

SELECTED REFERENCES

Dhammika, Ven S. “Gal Vihara.” Sacred Island: A Buddhist Pilgrim’s Guide to Sri Lanka. 2007. Web.

Dhammika, Ven S. “Polonnaruwa.” Sacred Island: A Buddhist Pilgrim’s Guide to Sri Lanka. 2007. Web.

Falconer, John and Ismeth Raheem. Regeneration: A Reprisal of Photography in Ceylon 1850-1900. London: The British Council, 2000. Print.

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

Images of Ceylon. Web.

Lankapura: Historic Images of Ceylon. Web.

Neranjana, Gunetilleka et al. Sigiriya and Beyond. Back of Beyond Sigiriya: Colombo, 2016. Print.

Raheem, Ismeth. Archaeology and Photography: The Early Years 1868-1880. Colombo: The National Trust Sri Lanka, 2009. Print.

Stambler, Benita. “Maintaining the Photographic Legacy of Ceylon.” Trans Asia Photography Review. Fall 2013. Web.

Victoria & Albert Museum. Joseph Lawton’s Polonnaruwa Images from 1870. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2017-03-30 at 8:10 pm

A Season of Birds in Sri Lanka- Mannar

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Flight of Greater flamingos (P roseus) at Vankalai Sanctuary near Mannar.

Flight of Greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) at Vankalai Sanctuary near Mannar.

Greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus rosesus) and visitors. The larger numbers- in the thousands-were behind me in the glare of sunlight.

Greater flamingos and visitors. The larger numbers- in the thousands-were behind me in the glare of sunlight.

For a relatively small island Sri Lanka has a number of different landscapes, each of them hosting diverse assemblages of life and rich cultural traditions. The island of Mannar on the north west coast is a place that is quite different from the wet forest of the Central Highlands and southern ranges that feature prominently in this blog. The land is low, barely a few meters above sea level, the climate is exceedingly dry and the area is sparsely populated (with humans). Other then the rich layers of Mannar’s history, now mostly lost in sand and surf, or the quirky feral donkeys that wander the streets, it is the non-human migrants that draw visitors up to this isolated corner of Sri Lanka.

I first heard stories of Mannar from my father who used to cross with his family to Rameshwaram from the pier at Talimannar. Prior to flight availability in the 1950s (initially in war-surplus DC-3s) and later the protracted conflict in Sri Lanka (1983-2009), the ferry service offered one of the easiest ways to get between Sri Lanka and India. It is a short journey across to Rameshwaram (there were unverified stories of people swimming over to watch a film and return the same day!). These were the sort of romantic stories, as well as those of shipwrecks, pirates and pearl divers that I grew up with. In 1984 my father Merrick, brother Brian, school friend Kevin and I had tried to explore the coral-fringed islands near Rameshwaram, but by then the political situation had deteriorated and we made little progress in exploring beyond the famous temple town.

Of course, the history goes far, far back to mythological times when Hanuman’s monkey army helped build a sea bridge (Ram Situ) from Rameshwaram across to Lanka to battle Ravana and rescue Sita. Those shoals in the Palk Straits, Adam’s Bridge, are still there as the maps below illustrate. There have occasionally been disputes about their origins and satellite imagery has been used to prove supporting and counter claims. At the moment the ferry is history and the sand banks and tiny islands of Adam’s Bridge are quiet. It is difficult to get out to Adam’s Bridge because of the international boundary and contemporary fishing controversies between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. Mannar island, however, is a destination that has few restrictions. There is a crumbling Dutch-era fort, scattered Baobab trees, long quiet beaches and little else to see unless you are into birds…

Birds are what took my kids and me up to Mannar on our first visit in 2016. The shallow mud flats and saline lakes between the mainland and Mannar attract large numbers of wintering birds. In fact, Mannar and in particular Vankalai sanctuary, must be one of the best places in Sri Lanka to observe waders, water fowl and -if you are lucky- some of the thousands of flamingos that fly in to spend several months in the area. In 2016 the kids and I had a wonderful introductory trip along with the Duncan family. We got a sense of the area’s geography and enjoyed seeing many different birds. I’m still a bit of novice when it comes to identifying water birds and I was happy to have Will Duncan’s expert guidance identifying the myriad birds that we were seeing. In early 2016 there were no flamingos that made it south of the Jaffna lagoons. But by the end of year they had arrived in the thousands, prompting the necessity of a visit.

I returned with Lenny to photograph the flamingos that had returned en masse this year. I had been alerted by Sadeepa Gunawardana, a very talented Colombo-based wildlife photographer, of the opportunities to see the flamingos in Mannar. A poya three day weekend earlier this month provided the window that we needed to do the six hour drive up. In Vankalai we spent time with the Department of Wildlife Conservation guide Irfan to get a sense of the location and where best to go for early morning photography. Several other groups of Sri Lankan birders and photographers were also staying at Four Tees. The owner, Laurence is an outstanding and knowledgeable local resource who was clued into all the places to see birds. The food (Sri Lankan prawn curries etc.) was delicious and clearly this was the place to be to swap stories and share advice. Lenny and I had two days of good birding and photography. We started early (4:45 am), waded through lagoon sand and mud and waited in a hide for the light to illuminate the masses of pink and white. It was an amazing experience though I learned that it is quite tricky to get close to flamingos without them being disturbed. All in all it was a fulfilling trip and my next task is to plan a field study around some of the ecological and human interaction issues in Mannar.

 

GIS-generated map of the Mannar area.

GIS-generated map of the Mannar area. Double (or triple) click for larger A3 version.

Landa nd surface cover study of Mannar island based on a Landsat image from January 2016. Double click on image for larger A3 version.

Land and surface cover study of Mannar island based on a Landsat image from January 2016. Double click on image for larger A3 version.

Sunrise at Vankalai Bird Sanctuary (January 2016)

Crimson sun at Vankalai Bird Sanctuary (January 2016)

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

Birdlife International Asia. Web.

Birds Guide for Vankalai. Vankalai Bird Society. ND. Pamphlet.

de Livera, Lankika. “Haven for birds in war-ravaged Mannar: Vankalai declared a sanctuary.” The Sunday Times. 24 January 2009. Web.

Hettiarachchi, Kumudini. “ A cry from the wilds of Mannar.” The Sunday Times. 26 June 2016. Web.

Kotagama , Sarath and Gamini Ratnavira. An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. Colombo: FOGSL, 2010. Print.

Pethiyagoda, Rohan. “An Electric End to Vankalai Sanctuary?” Daily Mirror. 6 June 2016. Web.

Vankalai to be a Sanctuary. The Sunday Island. 21 January 2009. Web.

Warakagoda, Deepal et al. Birds of Sri Lanka. London: Christopher Helm, 2012. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2017-02-28 at 9:55 pm

West Coast Explorations: Wilpattu

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Forest reflection with full tank at Wilpattu.

The west coast of Sri Lanka looms large in myth, ecology and geography. Ecologically-speaking, the west coast is defined by its dry and semi-arid climatic zone. The coastal area supports several important fisheries and a string of human communities live off these resources from Negombo to Puttalam and Mannar. Offshore there are surviving coral reefs that can be reached from the Kalpitiya peninsula. Inland from the Gulf of Mannar is Wilpattu National Park, located in the north-west portion of the island. Adam’s Bridge, the string of shallow sandbanks that separates Sri Lanka from India, is linked to the epic Ramayana. These shoals and islands are said to be the remnants of a bridge that Hanuman’s army built for Rama in their pursuit of defeating Ravana and rescuing Sita from captivity in Lanka. The area is equally important in the Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of the Sinhalese. It records the founder of the Sinhalese Prince Vijaya landing on the copper-colored shores of Tambapanni (today known as Kudramalai) (Mahavimsa).

Signature wildlife and habitat from Wilpattu National Park: From top Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus), cliffs over the Gulf of Mannar at Kudramalai, elephant in core area, and cycad inside the interior.

Signature wildlife and habitat from Wilpattu National Park: From top Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus), cliffs over the Gulf of Mannar at Kudramalai, elephant in core area, and cycad in Wilpattu’s interior.

Charismatics actors on the Wilpattu stage: Sri Lankan leopards photographed on the same day in July 2016.

Charismatics actors on the Wilpattu stage: Sri Lankan leopards photographed on the same day in July 2016.

The name “Wilpattu” is connected with the large bodies of water that dot the densely forested landscape of this part of Sri Lanka. Wilu or villu is translated in Tamil as a natural pond. For anyone familiar with the dry plains of Tamil Nadu there are striking parallels in the climate, soil and ecology. Except, in Wilpattu the natural vegetation is intact and the protected area is a living examples of what the plains south of Chennai must have once looked like before they were cleared in ancient days for croplands and other hallmarks of civilization.

Since hostilities came to an end in 2009 my family and I have been slowly exploring the west coast of Sri Lanka. During the last three years we have had a chance to visit Kalpitiya, Wilpattu National Park and Mannar Island. Wilpattu has become a special destination for a number of reasons. I grew up with stories of my father’s childhood visits there in the 1940s and 1950s. My grandmother Dorothy recalls family trips with sloth bear and chital encounters in her chronicle Glimpses: The Lockwoods 1928-1980. Wilpattu was Sri Lanka’s first national park (established in 1938) and being roughly half way between Jaffna and Colombo it was a favorite place to visit on road trips. When we first moved to Sri Lanka Wilpattu was closed because of fighting and the very real danger of landmines. In the years since we have been getting to know the area better. We have usually stayed outside of the park and then hired local jeeps for the day. There are a series of DWC bungalows that I am looking forward to staying at when the opportunity arises. I still feel like we are just scratching the surface and I’m looking forward to further explorations and longer periods in Wilpattu’s magical forests.

Forest raptors of Wilpattu: Crested Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) in first two images and Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) all photographed on the forest road into Wiplattu’s core area.

Forest raptors of Wilpattu: Crested Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) in first two images and Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) all photographed on the forest road into Wiplattu’s core area.

Afternoon light panorama at the heart of Wilpattu.

Afternoon light panorama at the heart of Wilpattu.

REFERENCES

Gunatilleke, Nimal et al. Sri Lanka’s Forests-Nature at Your Service. Colombo: Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014. Print.

“Sri Lanka’s Wilpattu Ramsar Wetland Cluster.” Ramsar. 28 January 2013. Web.

“Trips Filed under Wilpattu.” Lankdasun. web.

Wikramanayake, Eric D. and Savithri Gunatilleke. “Southern Asia: Island of Sri Lanka off the coast of India. WWF Ecoregions. ND. Web.

Wijesinghe, Mahil. “Wilpattu…… in the times of Kuveni.” Sunday Observer. 23 May 2015. Web.

Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva. Sri Lankan Wildlife. Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Guides, 2007. Print.

“Wilpattu certified as a wetland of world importance.” Sunday Times. 10 February 2013. Web.

Piecing together 1:50,000 topo sheets of the west coast & WIlpattu purchased from the Sri Lanka Survey Department.

Piecing together 1:50,000 topo sheets of the west coast & Wilpattu and a Sri Lanka Landsat mosaic procured from the Sri Lanka Survey Department.

GIS-generated maps depicting forest cover, rivers, water bodies and protected areas in Sri Lanka. I utilized a variety of publically available data in their creation (acknowledged in bottom right annotations). This is Draft #1 and I’ll make updates in the future.

GIS-generated maps depicting forest cover, rivers, water bodies and protected areas in Sri Lanka. I utilized a variety of publicly available data in their creation (acknowledged in bottom right annotations). This is Draft #1 and I’ll make updates in the future. Double click for full sized 150 DPI A3 versions.

Written by ianlockwood

2016-09-11 at 1:41 am

Early Pathways at Mihintale & Anuradhapura

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Steps at Mihintale

Steps at Mihintale

The sacred site of Mihintale has immense significance in the narrative of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was here in the 2nd Century BCE that the Indian emperor Ashoka’s son Mihinda is thought to have taught Buddhist dhamma to King Devanampiyatissa, the ruling Sinhalese monarch. After many years of reading about Mihintale and visiting nearby sites I finally had a chance to make my own first pilgrimage with my family.

Mihintale lies within sight and only 8 kilometers east of the massive dagobas and ruins of historic Anuradhapura. It sits on and amongst a boulder-studded, forest-encased hillock. From a distance the gleaming white dagobas- especially the large Mahaseya – are visible emerging from the canopy. The forest is dry mixed evergreen and is a reason in itself to take the time to visit the area. The architecture of the sacred sites is infused amongst the caves, boulders and forests of the hills. We had journeyed up Sri Lanka’s west coast on a mid term break looking to explore coastal sites, Wilpattu’s protected areas and then some of the sacred sites in the northern part of the Cultural Triangle. The pictures from this post highlight some of the sublime sites in both Mihintale and Anuradhapura. As with most of my work these days, they were shot digitally and then processed into black & white back at home. They join a growing body of work on sacred spaces in Sri Lanka and southern India that I am working to prepare for exhibition.

Elephanst carved in schists surrounding the  Kantaka Chetiya

Elephants carved in stone surrounding the Kantaka Chetiya

MIhintale

Scenes of and from Aradhana Gala (Invitation Rock) where Mahinda preached his first sermon.

Mihintale pan

Aradhana Gala looking south. Ritigala is the distant hill in the clouds (to the south-east) in  the left corner.

Mahaseya study in positive and negative.

Mahaseya Dagoba study in positive and negative.

Thuparama and Jetavana Dagobas in Anuradhapura.

Thuparama and Jetavana Dagobas in Anuradhapura.

Abhayagiri moonstone details and neighboring lion guard stone.

Abhayagiri moonstone details and neighboring lion guard stone.

Mirror study of the Abhayagiri moonstone.

Mirror study of the Abhayagiri moonstone.

 

REFERENCES & FURTHER LINKS

Dhammika, Ven S. “Mihintale.” Sacred Island: A Buddhist Pilgrim’s Guide to Sri Lanka. 2004. Web. October 2014.

Fernando, Nihal et al. Stones of Eloquence: The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Studio Times, 2008. Print. This book encapsulates the lithic saga of the island…a wonderful resource and especially as we stayed at the principal author’s son’s Back of Beyond guesthouse in Anuradhapura.

Hanh, Thich Nhat. Old Path White Clouds. New Delhi: Full Circle, 1991. Print. A classic retelling of the Buddha’s life that helps one understand the threads of the teaching in the historical sites of Sri Lanka.

Three Blind Men. Sri Lanka – Mihintale & Kaludiya Pokuna. Web. Check out these stunning photographs and albums of the area by my friends Dominic Sansoni and Sebastian Posingis.

 

 

Written by ianlockwood

2014-10-28 at 4:31 pm

Amongst the Sacred and the Sublime in the Dry Zone

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Thiray Vadatage south gate

Thirayai Vatadage 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 Vatadage Buddha

Medirigiriya details

Medirigiriya details

Medirigiriya Vadatage from the west.

Medirigiriya Vatadage 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

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