Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Archive for the ‘Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak)’ Category

OSC Sinharaja Field Study 2014

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Images from Sinharaja rainforest and its edges: Emergent layer on Moulawella, Misty primary forest, mixed cultivation on the north-west edge of the protected area.

Images from Sinharaja rainforest and its edges: emergent layer on Moulawella, misty primary forest, mixed cultivation on the north-west edge of the protected area.

Last week OSC’s DP Geography class spent four productive and memorable days in Sinharaja rainforest collecting data for their internal assessment. This is the 10th OSC class to visit Sri Lanka’s  well known tropical rainforest. Located in the south western Rukwana Hills, Sinharaja is a designated UNESCO biodiversity heritage site and has received widespread recognition for its flora and fauna. A key aspect of its story is the remarkable recovery that the forest has made after being heavily logged in the early 1970s. Today Sinharaja offers a model site to study ecotourism, rainforest ecology and rural home garden agriculture. Our trip provided an opportunity for students to collect field data for their internal assessment, a 2,500 word research paper that accounts for 20-25% of their final grade. As we have done on past field studies, this year’s cohort focused on themes of tourism, biodiversity, energy, land use and home garden agriculture.

Once again, we stayed at Martin Wijeysinghe’s Jungle Lodge. This small guest house has ideal conditions for a forest experience and field study. It sits on the boundary between the buffer and core zone of the protected area and there is easy access to several different habitats. There is excellent secondary forest that attracts most of the endemic birds and a clear stream for guests to cool off in. Electricity is generated by a small micro-turbine, water is heated by solar panels and the food is locally produced. There is very limited cell phone connectivity, something that delights old fashioned teachers but can challenge students used to 24/7 connectivity. Weather conditions were wet during our stay, but the showers came in the afternoon and we had productive mornings in the surrounding landscapes.

This year’s Geography cohort was its smallest in recent memory, with only five students participating. We were supported by Ms. Uthpala De Silva, who assists the secondary school with cover work. She was an enthusiastic participant and was particularly resourceful in helping with translation and building bridges with community members who the students were interviewing. After getting settled into Martin’s on Tuesday afternoon we started the experience with an introductory walk to the Sinharaja core area. That afternoon we traversed the well-worn tourist paths though secondary, and primary forests.

 

Different types of Geographic data being gathered by OSC DP students in Sinharaja. SOcio-economic data from Kudawa residents, spatial data in a household and water quality data from a forest stream.

Different types of Geographic data being gathered by OSC DP students in Sinharaja. Socio-economic data from Kudawa residents, spatial data in a household and water quality data from a forest stream.

Over the next two days students broke into two small groups to gather field data on their individual geographic questions. This year most students had questions that involved the home gardens and human-dominated landscapes on the park boundary. Sajni looked at soil conditions in forest and human-impacted landscapes. Mikka studied water quality and land use. Jitmi researched energy consumption patterns to devise a measure of people’s ecological footprint. Nikita assessed bird diversity to inform his question on differences in land use and habitat. Finally, Ravin looked at tourist numbers and attitudes of local residents towards the increasing importance of tourism as a strategy to improve livelihoods in the area. A highlight was building relationships through our guides with the Kudawa community. Most of these people make a living growing tea and other crops on small parcels of land (home gardens). For several men and women, guiding tourists provides an important secondary source of income. We explored remote home garden pockets to gather data and enjoyed several traditional village meals. Jackfruit curry, gotukola sambol and a special forest mushroom curry were gastronomical highlights.

Stages in generating micro hydroelectricity in Sinharaja. The examples here are simple alternators hooked up to pipes in the forest but there are other more powerful gnerators set up with funds from the ADB and other donors. Entrepreneurs can now sell electricity back to the CEB since the  area is being hooked up to the gird.

Stages in generating micro hydroelectricity in Sinharaja. The examples here are simple alternators hooked up to pipes in the forest but there are other more powerful generators set up with funds from the ADB and other donors. Entrepreneurs can now sell electricity back to the CEB since the area is being hooked up to the gird.

Chandra's house in Kudawa, overshadowed by the forests of Sinharaja (and Moulawella peak). Traditional lunch prepared by Martin's daughter in Kudawa.

A typical home garden scene in rural Sri Lanka. This is the Kudawa home of Chandra, Sinharaja’s first female nature guide. It is overshadowed by the forests of Sinharaja (and Moulawella peak). The food image shows the scrumptious traditional lunch prepared by Martin’s daughter in Kudawa.

In order to get the data gathered all groups had to do a fair amount of walking in sunny, humid conditions. There were significant physical demands as streams were forged, jungles traversed and mountains climbed in search of data. Leeches were discouraged with the famous Sinharaja leech socks and various liquid deterrents. Students and their teachers suffered little more than a few small itchy bites. The afternoon showers helped moderate the climate and on Thursday afternoon there was time to cool off in the stream near Martin’s. On the final morning we took a fast-paced trek up to Moulawella  Peak (fondly renamed “cell phone mountain” by Ravin for its clear G3 reception). Here, on a clear, rain-washed morning we appreciated the landscape taking note of vast areas of protected rainforest as well as the patchwork of tea gardens, pine plantations and other landscapes to the north and west.

We returned to Colombo on May 2nd with ample field data and experiences not to be forgotten. The class is now working to process and analyze the data, while using the school’s GIS software to provide original maps of the study site.

 

Cane () species, a favorite fro elephants, on the steep slopes of Moulawella peak.

Katu Kitul Palm (Oncosperma fasciculatum), a favorite highland palm for elephants who can get to them. Photographed on the steep slopes of Moulawella peak.

 

Selected biodiversity from a short trip to Sinharaja: Clockwise from upper left: Yellow Fronted Barbet, Fungi in secondary forest, Orange Billed Babbler, large Land snail, SL Green Pit Viper.

Selected biodiversity from a short trip to Sinharaja: Clockwise from upper left: Yellow-Fronted Barbet (Megalaima rubricapillus), fungi in secondary forest, Orange-Billed Babbler (Turdoides rufescens), large land snail, Sri Lanka Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus trigonacephalus).

Looking south from Moulawella on a clear morning on our last day. This is a composite of four images taken with a Nikon D-800, thus producing a very, very large image. It has been reduced for this format but clicking on the image should give a better sense for the vast protected area in Sinharaja's heart.

Looking south from Moulawella on a clear morning on our last day. This is a composite of four images taken with a Nikon D-800, thus producing a very, very large image. It has been reduced for this format but clicking on the image should give a better sense for the vast protected area in Sinharaja’s heart.

OSC Class of 2015 DP Geography group on Moulawella with their teacher and guides (Gunaratna & ). It was a remarkably clear day with uninterrupted views of Sri Pada. Picture courtesy of Uthpala.

OSC Class of 2015 DP Geography group on Moulawella peak with their teacher and guides (Ponaiya & Gunaratna). It was a remarkably clear day with uninterrupted views of Sri Pada. Picture courtesy of Uthpala De Silva.

 

Looking north from Moulawella’s 760 meter peak to the Central Highlands. Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak (2,243 meters) is a point on the distant blue ridge to the right of the center.

Looking north from Moulawella’s 760 meter peak to the Central Highlands. Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak (2,243 meters) is a point on the distant, blue ridge to the right of the center. This image has also been cropped and reduced but it was clear to Horton Plains and beyond.

 

2014 Sinharaja Study Area (click on image for full 150 DPI A3 version).

2014 Sinharaja Study Area (click on image for full 150 DPI A3 version).

SINHARAJA RESEARCH

Sinharaja rainforest has been host to a number of significant scientific studies in the decades since logging operations ceased in 1977.  Several landmark ecological studies have been conducted over the last four decades. This includes the two-decade long forest dynamics study of a 25-hectare plot by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute , Peradeniya University and several other notable institutions. A classic study on the composition and spatial organization of mixed species flocks by Sarath Kotagama and Eben Goodale from 2004 serves as a model study and journal article for OSC students.

An intriguing development in the western corner of Sinharaja is how it is being used as a location to host “reconciliation workshops” for students from all over the country. The basic idea is to bring teenage students from government schools in the conflict affected areas in the north and east of the country and foster an appreciation of nature to help provide a more lasting peace. “Reconciliation through the Power of Nature” is facilitated by the tireless work and enlightened thinking of Professor Kotagama and the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) with support provided by Dilmah Conservation. Martin hosts these student-teacher groups at his lodge and there are illuminating posters illustrating the goals and outcomes of the three day workshops for Jaffna schools.

SELECTED  REFERENCES

Abeywickrama. Asanga, Sinharaja Rainforest Sri Lanka. Web. 2009.

DeZoysa, Neela and Rhyana Raheem. Sinharaja: A Rainforest in Sri Lanka. Colombo: March for Conservation, 1990. Print.

Gunatilleke, C.V.S, et al. Ecology of Sinharaja Rain Forest and the Forest Dynamics Plot in Sri Lanka’s Natural World Heritage Site.Colombo: WHT Publications, 2004. Print.

Harrison, John. A Field Guide to the Birds of Sri Lanka. UK: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Kotagama, Sarath W and Eben Goodale. “The composition and spatial organization of mixed-species flocks in a Sri Lankan rainforest.” Forktail. 2004. Print.

Lockwood, Ian. “Into the Wet: Field Notes From Sri Lanka’s Wet Zone.” Sanctuary Asia. August/September 2007. 3-11. Print. PDF.

Lockwood, Ian. “Montane Biodiversity in the Land of Serendipity.” Sanctuary Asia. July 2010. Print.

Sri Lanka Survey Department. Sheets 80 & 81 (1:50,000). Colombo: 1994. Maps & Spatial Data.

Warakagoda. Deepal et. al.  Birds of Sri Lanka (Helm Field Guides). London: Helms Guides, 2012. Print.

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

Vigallon, S. The Sinharaja Guidebook for Eco-Tourists. Colombo: Stamford Lake Publications, 2007. Print.

 

PAST BLOG POSTS ON SINHARAJA

 

A Map showing Sinharaja in relationship the surrounding area. This utilizes the same Landsat 8 image from the land use map above.

A Map showing Sinharaja in relationship the surrounding area. This utilizes the same Landsat 8 image from the land use map above.

2013 OSC Field Study to Sri Pada

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Collage of native flora on the forest trail to Sri Pada's 2,243 meter summit.

Collage of snapshots of native flora on the forest trail to Sri Pada’s 2,243 meter summit.

Every December it is my privilege and pleasure to lead a group of DP I (Grade 11) OSC students up the slopes of Sri Pada in order to study the mountain’s ecology and appreciate its value as a stronghold of biodiversity in a rich Sri Lankan cultural landscape. This year I invited the DP Biology class and their teacher Tim Getter to join our group of eleven DP ES&S students. We were supported by our teaching colleagues Sonalee Abeyawardene and Celine Dary  (so there were added opportunities to explore ideas of pilgrimages in literature and converse in French during our three days out!). Several students had just completed a heart-pounding SAISA tournament in Muscat and hopped from their airport bus onto ours as we headed up into the Central Highlands on a clear Monday morning.

Vertical zonation studies of floral diversity on the forest path to Sri Pada

Vertical zonation studies of floral diversity on the forest path to Sri Pada (center and right) and degraded forest near the Fishing Hut (left). Max, Chadoo and Teresa laying the transect and looking for plant diversity.

The Moray Estate Fishing Hut#1.

The Moray Estate Fishing Hut#1.

ES&S task sheets from the 2013 Sri Pada learning experience.

ES&S task sheets from the 2013 Sri Pada learning experience.

A contrast in habitats. A monoculture landscape of tea and non-native shade trees overshadowed by undisturbed sub-montane tropical rainforest in the Peak WIlderness area.

A contrast in habitats: a monoculture landscape of tea and non-native shade trees overshadowed by undisturbed sub-montane tropical rainforest in the Peak Wilderness area.

Looking for orchids  and other delights in the grassy meadow below the peak (altitude 1900 meters). John visits a favorite area..

Looking for orchids and other delights in the grassy meadow below the peak (altitude 1,900 meters). John visits a favorite, familiar area…

For all students, be they biologists or ecologists in ES&S, the three-day visit to Sri Pada and the Peak Wilderness area offers a unique opportunity to conduct field studies in a biologically rich but anthropogenic influenced landscape. The trip is a unique learning experience, one that is perhaps less appreciated by students in the moment but invariably remembered with great fondness. As usual, we based ourselves at the Moray Estate Fishing Huts. These three rustic cabins are rented out to ecotourists and people willing to put up with simple amenities in order to experience a uniquely beautiful location. Significant time was spent simply getting to the huts and back but once at the Fishing Huts there were all sorts of opportunities for learning. The huts lie at the boundary between manicured tea estates and mid-elevation sub-montane tropical rainforest. This year I highlighted four themes of study for the trip:

  • Theme 1: Land Use Variation (anthropocentric vs. natural ecosystems)
  • Theme 2: Forest & Vegetation Types
  • Theme 3: Vertical Zonation
  • Theme 4: Biodiversity in a ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’
Appreciating abiotic factors and the role of decomposers: snapshots from the study on the slopes of Sri Pada.

Appreciating abiotic factors and the role of decomposers: snapshots from the study on the slopes of Sri Pada.

Our main study day was on Tuesday December 10th (my brother Brian’s birthday!) when the ES&S class ascended the peak. Based on the fitness and gear that the group, I decided to make it a day trip and not spend the night on the top. We went with light packs for the day and were able to conduct a series of line transects as we gained altitude on the peak. The idea was to observe and record changes in plant diversity as we traversed human and natural landscapes and gained altitude on the peak. I had decided to leave my heavy camera gear in Colombo and was armed with a lightweight Canon Powershot, GPS and small temperature probe. The small allowed me to take quick snapshots of the wealth of plant life on the forest trail- and the detail isn’t too bad. Because the hike is physically demanding, there was little time to linger but the group managed at least five transects at different elevations and habitats. We got to the temple around 1:00 –it was pleasantly empty as the season was still a week away from starting. Our lunch of peanut butter and Nutella wraps was shared with a wandering Australian, we rang the temple bells, appreciated the summit temple and then headed back down. One of the students- Max who had been in Muscat playing football for OSC -had a sore knee and we took the last bit slowly. This facilitated a meandering conversation and time to observe the forest much more closely. It was dark by the time we got back to the Fishing Hut.

Snapshots of the OSC Biology class and their teacher Tim Getter in action. On the right the ES&S  class descends from the Peak through sub-montane tropical rainforest.

Snapshots of the OSC Biology class and their teacher Tim Getter in action. On the right, the ES&S class descends from the Peak through sub-montane tropical rainforest.

On the final morning we were able to look at a patch of degraded forest and a eucalyptus plantation. These habitats offer a fascinating contrast to the sub-montane forest. There are numerous invasive species colonizing these disturbed areas but also a gratifying number of native species also making a start. Down below us the biologists completed a biotic index study of two streams (one from the forest and one from the tea estate). We were moving back to Colombo by 10:30 and school wrapped up two days later. Now, as we begin a new term, the classes will be sifting through their data, science journals, photographs and memories to consolidate their learning on Sri Lanka’s sacred mountain.

Past OSC school trips to Sri Pada have been reported in this space:

  • OSC Class of 2010 (Sri Pada 2008 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2011 (Sri Pada 2009 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2012 (Sri Pada 2010 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2013 (Sri Pada 2011 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2014 (Sri Pada 2012 trip)
OSC's ES&S students on the last steps and then summit of Sri Pada.

OSC’s ES&S students on the last steps and then summit of Sri Pada.

Looking over the Peak WIlderness area to the east of the peak from the summit temple. The Fishing Hut and Moray Estate is on the far left.

Looking over the Peak Wilderness area to the east and south of the peak from the summit temple. The Fishing Hut and Moray Estate is on the far left.

Scenes from the Sri Pada temple area.

Scenes from the Sri Pada temple area. This was a week before the pilgrimage season officially opened up and the temple area was serene and quiet.

Sunset over Sri Pada.

Sunset over Sri Pada. Taken on Monday December 9th after a cold stream traverse.

Pre-Season On Sri Pada

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West face of Sri Pada  a bit lower than the summit from the Ratnapura path.

West face of Sri Pada, a bit lower than the summit from the Ratnapura path.

In recent years the annual pilgrimage to Sri Lanka’s sacred peak of Sri Pada has grown and the mountain is visited by thousands of pilgrims, hikers and others during its six month season (between the December and Vesak poyas). For most visitors this means an experience of negotiating the pathways with large numbers of people and at times there are human traffic jams amidst the cloud forest trails. One solution to this challenge of congestion is to visit the peak during the off-season. You gamble with the weather but if the timing is right and you are lucky, you can experience the peak, its landscape and ecology much the way that the very first pilgrims did thousands of years ago.

Last month I had the opportunity to do precisely that as I led a small group of students and teachers up to Sri Pada two weeks before the season started on December 27th. This is the 6th year that the OSC IBDP Environmental Systems and Societies has visited Sri Pada to learn about it ecology and cultural traditions. The group was small but filled with enthusiasm and energy for the challenge. Like our school it was international group: one Korean, a South African, a Japanese Sri Lankan, a Peruvian Sri Lankan, a Maldivian, a British-Sri Lankan and then me! As has been our tradition, we based ourselves at the Fishing Hut and then hiked to the peak on the 2nd day. We carried up food and gear in order to spend the night on the temple floor. Once again the temple authorities (there were only two young men on duty) helped facilitate our stay and gave us a room to use.

The dominant land use in the Central Highlands is large scale tea plantation agriculture. Surprisingly there are still some areas being cleared for new plantations. The image on the right shows new tea gardens being established on degraded lands (presumably a former abandoned estate). However the close proximity of the sub-montane forest is notable.

The dominant land use in the Central Highlands is large scale tea plantation agriculture. Surprisingly there are still some areas being cleared for new plantations. The image on the right shows new tea gardens being established on degraded lands (presumably a former, abandoned estate). However the close proximity of the sub-montane forest is notable.

OSC students and teacher before and during the trek to Sri Pada.

OSC students and teachers before and during the trek to Sri Pada.

The first day is spent getting from Colombo to the Fishing Hut. There are opportunities along the way to discuss and evaluate the impacts of large-scale plantations agriculture and hydroelectric schemes on the areas ecology and the country’s economy. The Fishing Hut sits at a confluence of human-dominated landscapes and the mid elevation sub-montane forest that has never experienced logging or degradation. The key learning part of the trip happens on the 2nd day as we hike up through tea plantations and sub-montane forest before entering the cloud forest zone near the upper parts of the peak. The opportunity to observe vertical zonation as we ascend the peak is a key learning outcome of the trip. We witnessed flowering Rhododendron arboreum trees and large tree ferns (Cyathea sp.) as well as a host of small flowering plants (Exacum sp., various Impatiens sp. etc.). At times some of these plants and larger understory species (especially Strobilanthes sp.) had taken over the concrete path ways! It was amazing to witness the resilience and recovery of the ecosystem in the brief months that pilgrims had not walked the pathways.

Three types of forest from Sri Lanka's Central Highlands: lowland rainforest, montane forest and cloud forest.

Three types of forest from Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands: lowland rainforest, sub-montane rainforest and cloud forest.

Flowers in the shadow of the peak. (Satriyum nepalense, Rhododendron arboreum and Impatiens sp.)

Sonalee Abeyawardene and students from OSC ascending the Hatton path steps to Sri Pada shortly after joining the concrete steps from the fishing hut trail. The Japanese Dagoba is visible on the regular Hatton pathway.

Sonalee Abeyawardene and students from OSC ascending the Hatton path steps to Sri Pada shortly after joining the concrete steps from the fishing hut trail. The Japanese Dagoba is visible on the regular Hatton pathway.

Rare and endangered wildlife from Peak Wilderness: Purple faced langurs (Trachypithecus vetulus) and the rare and endemic  Emerald Sri Lankan spreadwing (Sinhalestes orientalis) identified with the expertise of Karen Conniff. Apparently it was last recorded in 1859 but then rediscovered by Matjaz Bedjanič in Balangoda. We found the dragonfly on the summit near the sacred footprint while the langurs were photographed on the Hatton path in forest patches surrounded by tea.

Rare and endangered wildlife from Peak Wilderness: Purple faced langurs (Trachypithecus vetulus) and the rare and endemic Emerald Sri Lankan spreadwing (Sinhalestes orientalis) identified with the expertise of Karen Conniff. Apparently it was last recorded in 1859 but then rediscovered by Matjaz Bedjanič in Balangoda. We found the dragonfly on the summit near the sacred footprint while the langurs were photographed on the Hatton path in forest patches surrounded by tea.

Up at the 2,243 meter summit of Sri Pada we caught our breaths, congratulated ourselves on making the climb without injury and then realized that we were all alone in this most holy of holy sites. Mist rolled up from all sides and enveloped us in a moist cocoon. It was chilly and fleece jackets were unpacked along with a late lunch. Occasionally the mist withdrew to reveal glimpses of the lower forests and valleys of tea. When it did, bright sunlight bathed the temple in a silvery glow and projected bits of the peak onto the nearby clouds (the elusive Brocken Spectre effect). The actual sanctuary housing the sacred footprint was locked up but we sat on its side and stared out at the drama of clouds, sunshine and changing landscape. A dragonfly (see below image) had found its way to the temple and clung to a lamp post. This turned out to be the very rare and endemic Sri Lankan spreadwing (Sinhalestes orientalis). Later an officer from the Wildlife & Conservation Department came up and we compared notes on what we had seen.

That night the group turned in early (where else would you get teenagers volunteering to go to sleep at 8:00 pm?). I awoke a bit after midnight and wandered around the temple to take in the views of the heavens and lower settlements. The temple was deserted and it was cold with a steady wind blowing in from the east. All the clouds and mist had cleared from the summit. The feeling and view was sublime in a way that I have not witnessed on my fourteen previous visits to the summit of Sri Pada. Without the distracting brightness of sodium vapor and fluorescent lights, one is given a very different view on a clear night. Many of the surrounding valleys and hills lay in inky darkness-areas that fall within the Peak Wilderness area. Far above, stars, planets and occasional shooting stars filled the sky. As if a reflection of the heavens, there were clusters of lights in the hills and lower valleys. Ratnapura to the south, Maskeliya to the north and, perhaps Hambantota to the distant south-east were visible. The radar station on Sri Lanka’s highest (2,524 meter) peak Pidurutalagala was a bright beacon to the north east. Colombo cast a dull glow along the western horizon. Two or three large thunderstorms were active over the coast to the south and distant lightening illuminated banks of clouds.

I was able to rouse two members of my team- Harshini and Yo- who joined me on the steps by the temple. They used my bulky tripod to take time-lapse images of the views that illuminated the darkness in surreal ways. Harshini, a talented and energetic young photographer, has posted her photos of the trip at Mixbook. Several hours later after an interlude of sleep we were up again to watch the birth of a new day. By now there were other visitors, almost all foreign with guides from Nalathani, who had come up to the peak. The sun soon rose over the Horton Plains horizon and cast a gilded glow on the lower ranges before projecting the mountain shadow that I had been hoping to see. Our whole team was able to witness it leaving all of us with an unforgettable experience. As usual most of the other visitors were intently enjoying the sunrise to the east, ignoring the drama behind them! They soon hurried down and once again we were all alone on the sacred summit. We lingered and stayed several more hours to get a sense of the landscape before going down the Ratnapura steps to Nalathani. The view was exquisitely clear with unforgettable views in every direction. On the decent-always a bit painful with 4,600 plus concrete steps to negotiate- there were no shacks set up to buy tea from or get our tired feet massaged at! Nevertheless once again a small group of OSC students and faculty returned from Sri Pada’s ancient summit with a great sense of fulfillment.

The Knuckles Range as seen from Sri Pada looking due north. The city of Kandy is in one of the lower valleys inbetween.

The Knuckles Range as seen from Sri Pada looking due north. The city of Kandy is in one of the lower valleys between Sri Pada and Knuckles.

Mountain_shadow_on_Sri_Pada_Pan#1sb(LR)(12_12)

Mountain shadow projected by Sri Pada , looking west towards Colombo over the Peak Wilderness forests.

“On our third visit… we hoped of seeing the marvelous shadow of the peak projected above the low ling mist clouds, and stretching beyond the bounds of the Island far away into the surrounding oceans. Faint and not very clearly defined at first, as the sunlight became stronger, the outline and body of the gigantic pyramid-shaped umbra grew sharper, darker and more distinct; and as the sun rose higher in the heavens, the titanic shadow seemed actually to rise in the atmosphere; to tilt up and gradually fall back upon the mountain, shrinking and dwarfing in dimensions as it drew closer and yet closer to its mighty parent, until absorbed in the forest for which the mountain is clad, it was wholly lost to view. So singular a sight, -one so strangely magnificent, and even awe-inspiring, can be seen nowhere else in the Island, perhaps nowhere in the world. As the mist and clouds dispersed, the extensive views that opened out became sublimely grand. North and east, below and beyond us, were range upon range of mountains, the valleys and slopes of which from Maskeliya to Rambodde, from Dinmbula to Haputale…”

extracted from Adam’s Peak by William Skeen (1870) (p. 222-223)

West view from Sri Pada showing mountain shadow shrinking over the Peak Wilderness forests.

West view from Sri Pada showing mountain shadow shrinking over the Peak Wilderness forests.

Temple summit on Sri Pada looking east.

Temple summit on Sri Pada looking east.

Looking south from Sri Pada over sub-montane forest in the Peak Wilderness area.

Looking south towards Sinharaja from Sri Pada over sub-montane forest in the Peak Wilderness area.

West view panorama from the lower steps of Sri Pada. The last shadow of the peak is still visible.

West view panorama from the lower steps of Sri Pada. The last shadow of the peak is still visible.

Temple doorway on Sri Pada's summit, looking south.

Temple doorway on Sri Pada’s summit, looking south.

Written by ianlockwood

2013-01-21 at 4:39 pm

Winter Study and Pilgrimage to the Peak

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Sri Pada East face in the bright light of a winter day as seen from Moray Estate on December 12th morning.

The pilgrimage season to Sri Pada begins with the poya in December.  The weather is always a little unpredictable at this time with the North East monsoon still being active with gaps of cool, dry weather mixed in with violent thunderstorms. For the last several years I have been taking small groups of OSC IB Environmental Systems & Societies students up to the peak during the same time. My goals have been to give them a sense of ecosystems and the changes in structure, plant types etc. as you ascend. A trek up to the peak through the Peak Wilderness forests give one an excellent cross section of changes in vertical zonation. On the path there are numerous managed landscapes (plantations, hydroelectric schemes etc.) to observe and study. Most importantly the trip gives students a chance to be outside and to feel and breath what has previously been taught in the classroom.

Now that I have fairly decent spatial data of the area, we have been looking at the variety of land uses in the Central Highlands.  Starting with rubber plantations and home gardens  in the lower elevation and then moving up through patches of undisturbed forests through non-native eucalyptus and pine forests there is a good deal to observe and study. In the mid elevations we passed through the enormous and expansive tea plantations that are the most important feature of Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Finally as we pass through the Moray tea estate we encounter the undisturbed montane forest that represents the original vegetation of the hills. The walk up to the peak is mostly spent in these forests but near the summit (after 1,800-2,000 meters) vegetation typical of cloud forests is more prominent (Rhododendron sp. trees, Cyathea tree ferns etc.).

We had an energetic group of seven students that were able to do the walk with relatively minor difficulty. Last year several students had suffered from dehydration and altitude sickness-like symptoms that prevented us form making it to the summit. This year, under similar clear sky conditions, we went slowly. It got cloudy later and half way up to the summit  a deluge came down. Thankfully we had made it to a tea shack on the main path. It was quite wet by the time made it to the top where we spent the night. Leaches were a major distraction and the physical challenge of getting up the mountain through the wet forest made it challenging to facilitate learning on the pathway. At the top I shared my Paths to the Peak exhibition brochure with the temple monks, the first time that ‘ve brought it up. Thankfully we were able to get a room to stow gear while most of the group slept on the floor with other pilgrims. The next day’s dawn was beautiful though it lacked the first light and hence mountain shadow. We returned via the Hatton steps and we’re having brunch by 11:00. The 4,600+steps are a real nuisance on one knees and legs and few in the group weren’t limping through the rest of the week. I would prefer to take the decent more slowly but there were schedules to keep and we had the team safely back in Colombo by 3:30.

For further reading on the ecology, landscapes and culture of Sri Pada see my Serendib (2008), Outlook Traveller (2007), International Schools/IS (2007) and Frontline (2011) articles.

OSC students and teachers before climbing and on the way up to Sri Pada (December 2011).

Droppings, devotion and diversity on the path up to Sri Pada. The first image is of an unmistakable leopard stool specimen. The middle image is of a Hindu shrine on the way up through the little used Moray Estate path.

Starting the hike up to the peak through tea estates. Storm clouds to the east will soon bring on a deluge on our walk up through the montane forest.

North view over Maskeliya from Sri Pada in moonlight.

West view from Sri Pada in moonlight showing the two longer pilgrim paths through the Peak Wilderness forests to Kuruwita and Ratnapura.

South view towards Sinharaja from Sri Pada in the early morning.

North view over Maskeliya from Sri Pada in daylight.

Moon setting over the Peak. Two nights before had been the Poya night marking the onset of the Sri Pada pilgrimage season and we were fortunate to witness this scene in the early hours of December 12th.

Written by ianlockwood

2012-01-10 at 4:44 pm

Agasthyamalai, A Mountain of Significance

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Three part series showing the west face of Agasthyamalai from the pilgrimage rest area at Athirumalai. The images were originally shot with a 35mm point & shoot camera on print film (Fujicolor) and then scanned (rather poorly). (February 2002).

Before I came to Sri Lanka and got to know Sri Pada so intimately I was drawn to a surprisingly similar, yet little known, mountain of great significance in the southernmost Western Ghats. Agasthyamalai, as I have written in the past, is no ordinary mountain. It is a mountain with unique physical, biological and spiritual dimensions. Many other mountains in the Western Ghats dwarf its 1,868-meter peak. Yet Agasthyamalai has an aura that transcends simple height and size. It stands sentinel amongst the craggy ridge that makes up the Ashambu Hills that lie south of the Shenkottah Gap. The area around Agasthyamalai is well know for its high levels of biodiversity and multiple habitats  that are spread over Tamil Nadu and Kerala’s border region in protected areas such as Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) and Neyaar and Peppara Wildlife Sanctuaries.

Ten years ago I took a sabbatical year off from teaching to better explore and document the ecology, landscapes and culture of the Western Ghats, from Kanyakumari up to Mahbaleshwar. In particular I wanted to get to know the environs of Agasthyamalai better and realized that it would take patience and numerous trips to various state capitals and New Delhi to get the required letters. I may have lived in India for most of my life, be married to an Indian and speak bits and pieces of several Indian languages but my pale complexion always seems to raise suspicion in officials on the lookout for neo-colonial bio- thieves. Nevertheless, my efforts were rewarded and I ended up taking four or five different trips into the area during that year. An account of the most memorable trip was published in Sanctuary Asia and  I later wrote an overview of the area for Frontline. However, I still have several images that have not made it into publications and that are worth sharing now. My motivation in revisiting those trips to Agasthyamalai came from ATREE, the Bangalore-based conservation research organization, that has used several of my images and writing in its recently published Agastyar  newsletter on the area. This summer I met several member of the KMTR team, including Soubadra Devy, while visiting ATREE’s GIS lab and head office in Bangalore. Their focus in this issue is on the religious pilgrimage in the KMTR area, something that poses delicate conservation challenges given the emphasis on involving the community in conservation efforts.

Cover images from Agastya, ATEE's handsome newsletter on their conservation work in the KMTR area. The images shows pilgrims preparing a puja at dusk near the small Agasthya shrine on the summit of Agasthyamalai (April 2002).

Perhaps the most unique unpublished image that I have from the Agasthymalai summit trips is the mountain shadow taken on the summit of Agasthyamalai. These were my pre-digital days and it was taken with a cumbersome, awkward looking box (a Noblex panoramic camera) with a rotating lens to produce an uninterrupted 11 cm long negative or positive image. To this day it, along with many other medium format slide  & color negative images, sits awaiting my attention.  My initial focus has been to present our pilgrimage to the peak in black & white and I have hesitated to mix it with the color work.

I had actually witnessed the shadow that February on the lower slopes of the mountain as I ascended with pilgrims from the Kerala side. I was dumfounded to experience it having only read about Mountain Shadows  in the context of Sri Pada and higher mountain ranges such as the Himalaya. But this image was taken after spending an unforgettable night with my companions from the Dhonavur Fellowship. We had been exposed to a violent storm with winds, lightening and heavy rain without any shelter other than a plastic tarp. Out of that experience emerged one of the most amazing and glorious mornings that I have experienced in the Western Ghats. Here is an extract from the Sanctuary Asia piece:

Dawn is a magnificent affair and makes the stormy night worth all its fear and discomfort. As the rays of the new day begin to fill the sky, they paint the cirrus clouds in fantastic hues of gold and scarlet. A kestrel is hovering over the precipice near the summit and Grey-breasted Laughing Thrushes are chattering in the trees by the Agasthya shrine. Looking north, we are blessed with a view of  the dark evergreen  forests of the  Mundanthurai range. The azure mountains stretching beyond the Shencottah gap and up towards the Periyar Tiger Reserve are imposing.

Then something incredible happens. The sun, just a hair above the horizon, projects the conical shadow of Agasthyamalai into the light haze of the west, creating a surreal pyramid-shaped shadow that shifts as I walk along the summit. This is a phenomena often observed by mountaineers on high peaks at sunrise. It is well recorded on Sri Lanka’s Adam’s peak, but this is the first time I’ve seen it happening in the Western Ghats. The magical shadow doesn’t last longer than ten minutes and disappears when the sun slips behind a low cloud.

Mountain shadow on Agasthyamalai in the Ashambu hills of the southern Western Ghats. The image was taken on Fuji Velvia 120 film using a Noblex panoramic camera mounted on a tripod. To the right of the shadow is the slope of Agasthyamalai and then the ranges to the north. Visible in the center and below are the lower forests of Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary.

Another view of the vertical western face of Agasthyamalai seen from Athirumalai. Shot on 35mm color film with an SLR (February 2002).

Snapshots from three summit attempts to Agasthyamalai in 2002. Clockwise from upper left: Getting to Kanakati, at a puja ceremony with other pilgrims, with the modest Aastyar statue, sheltering with the Daniel brothers and Dr. Abraham under a tarp held up by a tripod and umbrellas, Agstyar statue close up. With Dhonavur friends after reaching the summit in April 2002.

Leaving to return...Agasthyamalai and its western face, seen through spring foliage from the north west of the peak in Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary.

Written by ianlockwood

2011-12-03 at 4:10 pm

Wrapping up Paths to the Peak

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Barefoot Gallery with Paths to the Peak on a quiet Wednesday evening.

The Paths to the Peak exhibition ran for two successful weeks at the Barefoot Gallery with a finish on June 5th.The arrangement and choices of images was greatly assisted by the keen eyes of Sebastian Posingis and Dominic Sansoni of Three Blind Men. Their office with Rukshan Jayewardene is directly above the Gallery and they were on hand during the whole process to give feedback on the setup. Laying out the actual frames was facilitated by the able talents of Jayatissa and Chandrashekra who are wizards with lining up and placing frames. Nazreen Sansoni and her assistant Rasika provided support and logistics from the Barefoot Gallery and it was a team effort. I designed and printed a 34-page exhibition catalog with Softwave (available at the Barefoot Bookshop). The exhibition featured 41 images and two A1 posters with write-ups on the landscape and ecology of Sri Pada (the culture poster never quite made it). There were also two A1 size maps that I made using ArcMap 10 (see below).

Maps showing Sri Pada area from the exhibition (originally displayed as A1 mounted prints)

During this time the exhibition attracted positive coverage from the Sri Lankan press. There were reviews in the Daily News. Malaka Rodrigo, who I know through Field Ornithology Group, wrote an appreciative review in the Sunday Times. He has climbed the peak 18 times so it was gratifying to receive his  endorsement. Shabna Cader had a conversation with me on the opening day and wrote up an article for The Nation. The opening was covered in the Daily Mirror in their gossip page (see below). R.K. Radhakrishnan from the Hindu came by and we had a chat about the show and the less visible links of the Sri Pada work to my previous efforts on the Western Ghats. His review emphasizes the trans-boundary aspect of the exhibition. Frontline ran a series of pictures and my essay from the Catalog at the same time that the show was up. I have placed several of the exhibition highlights in a Gallery on the High Range Photography site.

Gossip pages from the Daily Mirror (21 May 2011)

Written by ianlockwood

2011-06-27 at 8:01 am

Sunday Afternoon at Barefoot…

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Jazz band playing at Barefoot. Jerome Speldewinde (guitar and vocals),Ray Gomes (Bass), Christo Prins (drums),Revel Crake (guitar), Rodney van Heer (Saxophone) Paths to the Peak on the side walls.

There’s no better place to be on a Sunday afternoon in Colombo.

Jazz at Barefoot with panoramic images from Paths to the Peak. Rodney van Heer on saxophone.

Barefoot Gallery on a Sunday afternoon, somewhere between the guests, the band and Gallery.

Written by ianlockwood

2011-05-30 at 4:29 pm