By the waters of Handapanagala | Sunday Observer

By the waters of Handapanagala

4 July, 2021

Although I had always wanted to visit the Handapanagala Wewa (roughly translating as ‘rock where the moon shines’), it just did not happen, due to lack of time after my return trips from Uva Province. However, one late afternoon on a return trip from Buduruwagala in Wellawaya, we got a chance to visit the Handapanagala wewa.

The Handapanagala junction is about five kilometres from the Wellawaya town, from where it is a further four kilometres to Handapanagala Wewa, which is located in a breathtaking beautiful remote setting. At the time of our visit, the tank was partially dried due to the prevailing drought. One can imagine how beautiful it would be when the water level is higher.

Fed by the Kirindi Oya, which springs from the Uva hills, Handapanagala tank is one of the most important sources of irrigation for the Uva region. The tank can serve irrigation water only for Maha (October-December) season, and that too, only if the seasonal rains fall. Besides paddy cultivation, farmers in the surrounding areas cultivate vegetables, fruits and maize.

Farmers and fishermen

With the setting up of the Handapanagala colonisation scheme in 1958, the whole area became developed, teeming with farmers’ settlements. Inland fishing is also the major livelihood that depends on the Handapanagala tank. From dawn to dusk, inland fishermen of Handapanagala reap a rich harvest of fish. At the time of our visit, we spotted several fishermen engaged in fishing using nets and canoes. The Handapanagala tank nestles in a picturesque mountain frontier encompassed by a serene range of mountains that roll on and on as far as the eye could see. Vadinahela, the highest peak in the area, dominates the mountain landscape. In the distance horizon looms the awe-inspiring Poonagala mountain range which overlaps Namunukula and the far off Haputale mountain ranges, punctuated by the breathtaking Ella gap which could be prominently viewed from any elevation. Vadinahela overlooks the placid tank of Handapanagala. From the bund of the tank one could enjoy the scenery of captivating mountains silhouetted in the distance.

Water for elephants

A memorable sight at Handapanagala is the herd of elephant that come to quench their thirst. The Handapanagala tank being a prime haunt of the roaming herd of elephants, tourists and wildlife photographers, trek to enjoy this splendid sight of elephants grazing in the catchment area of the tank and frolicking with their calves by the water’s edge.

The waters of the Handapanagala tank had receded in the dry season leaving stretches of parched earth and prickly shrubs that sprung from it. Boulders had also emerged from the tank bed allowing birds to catch their prey easily.

View from the birds

Standing on the edge of the tank bund, we listened to the loud and incessant cry of the birds which melted our fatigue away, as a gentle breeze mellowed the setting sun.

A great many varieties of birds came within our sight. A lone hawk eagle was circling high in the air and sat on the dead tree near the tank. Bemused by its unsettling cries we looked farther away. In the distance we saw flocks of many wading birds, busily scouring the tank bund, while a herd of free-roaming cattle were grazing near the tank bed.

We spotted a group of Spot-billed Pelicans huddled far away just within our sight. They appeared to be still in their vigil over the water. In the distance, mixed flocks of more wading birds came into view. Watching these birds and their many antics could easily steal your time and we were tempted to remain in the comfort of our surroundings.

Among the other endemic birds frequenting Handapanagala are Painted Storks, grey herons, black winged stilts, Spot-billed pelicans and hawk eagles. If you are a photographer, would like to visit the Handapanagala tank, you need DSLR camera and at least a telephoto lens range from 300mm to 600mm is a must to record these birds’ life.

The landscape around Handapanagala is dotted with forest cover and interlaced with a stretch of teak plantation where elephants live. There are a number of medium and small mountains looming over the region. One can also find rock caves, rock pools and ancient dagabas in ruins. Buduruwagala, the famed enchanting Mahayanist Buddhist site of rock carving lies just around seven kilometers away from the Handapanagala tank.

It is all too easy to be mesmerised by the wildlife and the rustic, panoramic landscape of Handapanagala Wewa for hours on end. However, with a long trip ahead, we had to say goodbye, stealing only the memories that we would cherish for a lifetime.