A hidden world of green carpets | Sunday Observer

A hidden world of green carpets

18 December, 2022
An elephant at the Somawathiya National Park
An elephant at the Somawathiya National Park

The sounds of birds in the wee hours in the jungle are soothing, as wild elephants come in search of food to the edge of the river bank where an electric fence blocks their way to the sacred site. Pilgrims feed the wild elephants as they are accustomed to visit the pilgrims’ rest.

Dawn is a fascinating time at the park. A curtain of mist enveloped the plain landscape, seemingly creating several thick layers of vegetation of the shrub jungle. The herd of cattle, painted storks and wild elephants began to roam in the meadows and waterways in the park.

We woke up at 4.30 am in our spacious room at the David Wickramaratna Seradu Piyasa (pilgrims’ rest) in a picturesque setting along a tributary of the Mahaweli Ganga near the sacred site of the Somawathiya Chaitya within the dense jungle canopy of the Somawathiya National Park.

The pilgrims clad in white sweep the sacred ground of the Chaitya at 5.30 am. Armed with my Nikon camera, I left my room to capture the vibrant sunrise. Standing on the sacred ground of the Somawathiya Chaitya, I captured the beautiful sunrise as the sun gradually rose in the Eastern sky.

Somawathiya National Park

Situated 266 km North-East of Colombo, the 37,762 ha park is one of the four under the Mahaweli Ganga development project. It is home to villu ali (savannah elephants) along with migratory birds, seen in the marshes. The park adjoins the Trikonamadu Nature Reserve and Flood Plains National Park.

The Somawathiya Chaitya is within the Somawathiya Wildlife Sanctuary. It was built with an enshrined Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha by King Giriabaya for his wife, Queen Somawathi to worship. The Chaitya is on the West of the Mahaweli Ganga, in the Polonnaruwa district. The Mahawamsa, however, says it is on the Eastern embankment of the river. The change in location is thought to be the result of the river changing its course over time. During the rainy season, the area around Somawathiya goes under water, and apparently the current road lies on the river bed of the ancient Mahaweli Ganga. Filled with mysteries and phenomena, this Chaitya is venerated by thousands of pilgrims who throng the ancient site set deep in the jungle 45 km North East of Polonnaruwa. After an overnight stay at the Somawathiya sacred site, we decided to explore the jungle road in the Somawathiya Wildlife Sanctuary along with the Trikonamadu natural reserve towards Seruvawila. Most pilgrims who visit Somawathiya Chaitya bypass the jungle road towards Trincomalee.

It is late morning and we are yet again on an adventure on the gravel road, from the Somawathiya Chaitya heading towards Seruvawila which connects to the A15 highway. This road, which previously had a tractor track to cross the numerous waterways, now has bridges and a road providing connectivity to the Eastern Province.

Sand dunes

A few kilometres from the Somawathiya Chaitya, the road turns into a dusty gravel road. We came across a massive iron bridge built across the Mahaweli Ganga, and caught a glimpse of the untouched crystal clear sand dunes on both sides of the river flowing down the Somawathiya National Park. It is visible only during the dry season when the waters of the Mahaweli Ganga recede.

In some places in the jungle close to Kandakadu is a cluster of army camps. Further up, we spotted a mango farm with a bountiful harvest, and on the right are vast stretches of paddy fields. The jungle gave us company. A herd of wild elephants crossed our path and a crested serpent eagle posed for us. The landscape kept changing with every turn on the road. Open grasslands, villus and streams followed us everywhere. There was no traveller or even a local around. We drove on, crossed paddy fields at Kandakaduwa until the Trikonamadu Natural Reserve interrupted us.

The landscape changed again and we saw open grasslands and a dense jungle, but the gravel road was still with us. We entered the uninhabited jungle patch known as the Trikonamadu Natural Reserve dotted with marshy villus, wild animals and rare bird life. The gravel road stretched ahead as far as the eye could see. We were fortunate the road is motorable it being the dry season. In the rainy season, the road becomes muddy and is difficult to drive even on a 4X4. Travellers are advised to avoid this road during the rainy season.

We see two women with a child in the middle of the jungle. They speak only Tamil, selling peanuts and water-lily flowers to travellers. They smile and walk towards us asking us to buy peanuts. We wonder how they live with children in this wild animal infested jungle. Almost two hours later, having crossed the Verugal Aru, a tributary of the Mahaweli Ganga, we reach the desolate village of Kinnerikulam dotted with wattle and daub huts, close to the A15 Trincomalee-Batticaloa highway. Most of the people living here are farmers battered by LTTE terrorist attacks.

A prominent noticeboard stands in the village, educating people about child abuse. It is a great service by the Government and World Vision, the best way to educate people on this unending crime. These two national parks nestling along the Mahaweli Ganga have around 20 marshy lands or ‘villus’ enriched with nutrients. Nature buffs, archaeologists, photographers, pilgrims and wildlife enthusiasts have endless possibilities to explore the hidden beauty and ancient glory of the parks.

We journeyed 55 kms passing the shrub jungle and marshy villus in an animal infested jungle in our quest to explore the jungle stretch from Somawathiya to Seruvawila on the gravel road. We were thrilled to explore the many exciting sites along the way, experiencing the beauty of the unexplored jungle in which we felt deeply humbled.