Where beauty and the beast blend | Sunday Observer

Where beauty and the beast blend

26 January, 2020

When the legendary British Army Dr Major John Davy discovered and branded Nuwara Eliya in 1819 as Little England where the colonial rulers could take a break for rest and recuperation, little did he realise it was to become one of the most sought after holiday locations for Sri Lanka’s elite down the ages.

But Nuwara Eliya can also be far from the cozy, flowery, relaxing hideout where wildlife can be found in all its pristine colour and rarity. And unlike in the past when men with guns were rarer than monkeys, it has one outstanding place of absolute rugged beauty.

It is where mostly foreign tourists tend to outnumber primates even though the shy bear monkey can be found in numbers but take to the cover of the high branches at the sight of a human that will test his patience to the maximum.

This is Hakgala which its keepers choose to call a botanical garden but in effect is a true Forest Reserve where Sri Lanka’s national bird, the jungle fowl scratch the earth for worms and lavae and leopards roam its verdant perimetres of thick forest cover hunting for prey.

But Hakgala is also a place where capturing wildlife forms can be like a lottery jackpot, for the Park opens to visitors hours past the early morning mountain mist and closes at sunset when most of its denizens break their cover and emerge from the surrounding canopy.

Some men leave Hakgala with stories that can often make the best wildlife documentaries with photographic evidence of a jungle cock streaking in lightning speed across a footpath into the cover of a thicket and perhaps eaten by a hungry lurking leopard.

A tourist doing a casual stroll along Hakgala’s fenced perimetres hid himself behind a rock for nearly half an hour, his patience tested to the maximum, waiting for what looked like a jungle cock to end its feeding under a bush and cross a footpath.

When it did, it was by a stroke of luck that the flightless bird was caught on camera at the final split second before it flashed by, ending his frustration but yet elated that the brightly coloured featured creature gave him his reward.

Even adventure at Hakgala can strike the most discerning by luck or come at a price. A local tourist was fortunate that his face was not bitten off or ripped in two, when the troop leader of a group of feeding endemic toque monkeys charged at him apparently objecting to his presence and photographing his females with babies.

A Park worker taking a group of European tourists around in a golf buggy said the incident was uncommon and certainly making the point that Nuwara Eliya can also have another side of intriguing beauty.

“They may be accustomed to people but still they are wild animals and their temperament must be respected,” he said.

But photographing bear monkeys can be a different preposition. Crawl up to it, show it respect and it will stare at the unwelcome intruder obliging him with its bunny-like picture as did one large male after it fought off an invading but brave giant squirrel feeding on the same tree.

The best time for anyone visiting Hakgala to savour its flowery fascination is in the months of May and June when bloom time is at its magnificent essence. Roses and lilies can be its main attraction while an old oak tree can go unnoticed.

There is also what is called a Fernery, more like a patch of rain forest that puts Hakgala on a traveller’s bucket list. A whole day can be spent inside Hakgala’s rich diversity of fauna and flora and time could pass by without nudging the visitor.

The British may have lost Nuwara Eliya and perhaps may not have been bothered at all, but it will always remain a treasured piece of nature’s art for travellers in search of both bewitching beauty and awesome adventure.