Blossoming in the reservoir bed of Moussekelle | Sunday Observer

Blossoming in the reservoir bed of Moussekelle

30 April, 2017
The purple flowers blossoming in the reservoir bed of Moussekelle.
The purple flowers blossoming in the reservoir bed of Moussekelle.

Tea estates lie over mist-laden hills and valleys as far as you can see. Shades of bright and light green carpet the hills and reflect a kaleidoscope of patterns as sunlight embraces them playfully from between the veils of mist that shroud the land creating a beautiful panorama.

Sri Lanka’s central highland is home to an abundance of settings that leave you feeling blessed to witness the sheer beauty of nature. Among them is Maskeliya, a small town up in the hills where some of the most breathtaking landscapes on the island are found.

Maskeliya has a unique charm. A five-minute walk from the centre of the town takes you to beautiful tea estates.

Tea pluckers, whose day begin in the wee hours, are miles ahead as they move amid the greenery, their fingers swiftly plucking the tender leaves they collect in baskets tied to their backs. The tea leaves are sent to one of the nearby Tea Processing Plants, the modern name for the tall tea factories built of corrugated metal that dominate the lush green landscape.

Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak is the venerated mountain at 2,223m above sea level that followers of the four main religions hold sacred. The climbing season, when visibility is good for viewing a peerless dawn from its summit, is from the December Poya Day to May (Vesak). At other times of the year, Maskeliya is forgotten by visitors although the town is an intriguing combination of ancient and modern tea country lifestyle.

Picture postcard

After my first visit to Maskeliya last March to document the ruins which were submerged in the waters of the Mousakelle reservoir, I had always wanted to see Sri Pada (Adams’s Peak) from the higher elevation of the bank of the Moussekelle reservoir.

I missed that shot because the reservoir was dried up due to the prevailing drought in the area. This time, the scenery from the bank of the reservoir was amazing and almost like a picture postcard.

My second visit was based on two reasons. One, I have a photograph of the Sri Pada peak in my collection dating back to the years 1800-1900, with which I wanted to compare the present one. The second, more obvious reason was to witness the awe-inspiring environs of Maskeliya and Moussekelle reservoir bed where the flowers boom in a picture perfect setting.

At Maskeliya, I was alternating between photographing monuments in the reservoir bed in the morning light and listening to the long songs from the Kovil at the summit of the Maskeliya town looming over the reservoir bed. As I stood on the old road, I glimpsed an old stone-arch bridge of Maskeliya which was submerged by the Moussekelle reservoir, laid across the old Maskeliya town to reach Nallathnniya.

The old photograph which I possess was shot from the same location around 1800-1900 where I was standing at the reservoir bed.

Perhaps, this photograph was taken by British tea planters of Tea Plantations in Maskeliya. I managed to shoot the photograph standing in the same position and then I compared it to the present one.

Although the landscape has not changed, some of the elements have physically changed due to the construction of the Moussekelle reservoir. Comparing the two pictures, I imagined an enchanting atmosphere that must have prevailed in the bygone era of Maskeliya town and its suburbs.

My second reason for the visit is the enchanting scenery of the purple wild flowers on the reservoir bed.

The villagers say, with the drying up of the reservoir due to the prevailing drought, one can see colourful flowers of yellow, blue and purple blossoming in the reservoir bed. They bloom for two or three months and these flowers can only be sighted when the reservoir dries up.

Sri Pada pilgrims

A villager who came to the reservoir bed for fishing in the small stream, said, the flowers grow in bunches on thin plants which grow about three to four feet in height. A large number of Sri Pada pilgrims and casual visitors throng the reservoir bed to see these flowers.

Another striking feature in the reservoir bed I visited was the magnificent Sri Shanmuganathar Swamy Hindu Kovil, today, known as Sri Kadireshan Kovil by the village folk in the Maskeliya old town.

The stone built Kovil was constructed during British rule in 1817 at the centre of old Maskeliya. This Kovil has a history of 100 years in the plantation area.

Before the Kovil got submerged by the reservoir, it was a place of worship for Hindus mainly, and Buddhists. The Kovil was located on Main Street in the Maskeliya old town on the way to Sri Pada from Hatton on the land of Brownlow Tea Estate.

The Sri Sanmuganathar Swamy Kovil used to be a common religious centre to attract Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims to Sri Pada. At the very beginning this was the only temple for Hindus and was called ‘Kutty Kathirgamam’ by devotees. It was then administrated by one Chettiyappapillai, and later handed over to his son M.T.C. Sivalingampillai.

At the main shrine chamber there is the old idol in the country of God Sri Shanmuganathar Swamy with six faces carved on a single stone brought from India.

It is said that this is the second idol carved with six faces of Shanmuganathar Swamy in one stone. The other is said to be somewhere else in the Northern peninsula.

However, during the Sri Pada season, this Hindu Kovil had become a place of worship for Buddhist pilgrims too. This old Hindu Kovil was submerged along with the entire Maskeliya town, in the inundation of Maskeliya Oya to form the Moussekelle hydro power reservoir in 1968.

When the water level of the reservoir recedes during the drought, the old Kovil surfaces and the Poojas are conducted in the Kovil by a self-appointed Swamy known as, Kengan.

All the stone statues of deities except one statue which still stands in the shrine room of the ruined old Kovil at the reservoir bed, had been brought to the new Sri Shanmuganathar Swamy Kovil at the summit of the Maskeliya new town and kept for veneration.


Having climbed a series of steep steps, I reached the summit of the Maskeliya new town and entered the new Sri Sanmuganathar Swamy Kovil, located in a cramped site.

But inside it is calm and quiet, where serenity blended with devotion. I worshiped the deities in each chamber in the Kovil which are installed inside chambers for the convenience of devotees. During my stay at this sacred place, I witnessed a large number of Hindu devotees coming to conduct Poojas.

Every year, festivals such as Pongal, Deepawali, Nawarathri, Saraswathi Poojas etc, are conducted according to the Hindu religion, culture and rites. Apart from this, the Kovil conducts beautiful Thers (chariots), drawn from the Kovil premises through the streets of Maskeliya, during the Panguni Uttaram festival which falls in April every year.

The local and foreign tourists on their way to Sri Pada stop at Maskeliya and worship at this Hindu Kovil. It is a main worship site to thousands of people of the area and is one of the leading Hindu Kovils in the plantation area.

To visit Maskeliya is to sense both, the past and the present in a happy combination. The rich green beauty of Maskeliya will leave you spellbound and enchanted.

Visitors are very much rare during the off season. They are greeted warmly by shopkeepers. The fresh hillside air and the inspiring views of forested hills and tea-clad dales with the shimmering Moussekelle reservoir far below and Sri Pada looming in the distance, would leave you speechless. 


I could remember ,during my days as a kid of 8 years, around the early fifties, when the climate was much cooler and very cold in the Nuwara Eliya district, when even during the afternoon we could not bare the cold during mid day and when the natural forest cover was over 40 % or so. Today we see tropical clothing worn by the people in theses areas even during the cold season. The strict natural forest cover is barely 15% . The explosion of the population from about 5 Mn. To over 20Mln. Is this all going to lead us to a perilous experience. There has been no sense to development , with the objective of fraud, bribery and corruption been the goal. Dedication has been substituted by greed and false fronts. Accountability by falsity, culture of conduct by pummeling into submission to strange and vague personalities.