Natural high! | Daily News


Natural high!

I get up at crack of dawn to climb Gonagala Cliff mountain known locally as deer rock look-out, , which is situated near the 2,000 year old temple, where the monks of Anuradhapura, and later the Kings Of Kandy, meditated. Some people believe there are 14 kilometres of secret tunnels from Kandy to this idyllic spot, but it has never been proven, despite being much talked about, like the treasure hidden inside the mountain area, marked by rocks with snake drawings etched into them.

The climb is relaxing and fun at the beginning, if you are not carrying a rice and curry banquet breakfast on your back to the summit and all the little treats that go with a delicious Sri Lankan breakfast. I am reminded, as I stop to photograph some brown headed barbets through long grass, that the delicious food prepared early morning is only for those who reach the top. As we twisted and turned through a secondary forest, we went past rain trees that were good for shade, planted by British Planters, now spreading everywhere creating a natural umbrella from the harsh sunlight. The plants growing underneath, I learn, sniffing and smelling the leaves as we pass, are Kaha Kona plants with pretty yellow flowers, which help fix nitrogen in the soil. As we climb higher up the the mountain side, we go through arches of Hinguru vine, known as Hingur -Wal, a prickly grass type of plant that grows everywhere and gets stuck to our clothes. The leafy pathways turn into a series of narrow steps that cling to the mountain side, allowing us to discover yet more plants and bushes as we walk ever higher. Then, one has to negotiate a sheer rock face, with only a tiny place to squeeze through and escarpments that, at one wrong move, will have you plummeting into the abyss below, and if the fall does not get you, the prickly plants will.

The view from the rock edge at the top is well worth the climb, revealing the incredible vistas of Hunus Giriya, which means Geko; the Knuckles Range to the right; and behind, the Hantana Mountains-Katusu Konda, used in Spielberg’s film Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. I learn, during breakfast, that the treasures, which Harrison Ford was seeking, are only too real and there are many treasure-seekers always on a quest to find the hidden jewels buried by their regal ancestors to protect them from invading forces. As breakfast is laid out on a woven mat from Dumbara- Knuckles, with traditional Kandyan clay pots and plates covered in banana leaves, I am amazed by the divine selection of Sri Lankan food that the team has brought with them. I sit and contemplate life, as breakfast is decorated with wild jasmine flowers and fresh fruit, cut up on another green leaf. Sitting on the edge of the cliff feels as good as life can get, and I marvel about how much history has passed this way. I take pictures of the mountain ranges and the Mahaweli River Valley, as the early morning curtain of mist slowly clears revealing yet more scenic views. On the other side of the bank, I can see many varieties of birds, some 84 species of birds with 8 endemics can be spotted in the area on a good day.

I learn, while eating handmade rotti and sweet seeni sambol, that there is a prison on the other side of the Victoria dam, where they are holistically trying to get the inmates back on track by getting them to work in the paddy fields planting and growing rice. Between sips of the herbal porridge, Kola Kanda, and dips with pol rotti into the river fish curry, I start to notice other landmarks, like the provincial council building and the much loved local cricket ground. After a cup of tea, also out of a clay cup, and a banana leaf platter of mix of tropical fruits, which I am told will give me energy for the descent, we head off past another giant rock and large ledges, where one can imagine monks meditating, it is so serene and peaceful one does not feel like leaving this nirvana like space. At one point, we tried to squeeze ourselves between two rocks joking about whether we all need to loose weight after such a hearty breakfast, and through this small break in the granite there is yet another spectacular view of the area and I used a stick to stop me sliding in places where the path is particularly densely covered with leaves has become slippery from the muddy forest canopy underneath.

In contrast to the forested way up, we descend through wild flower scrub on the other side, and discover lots of different plants, especially Hinguru. Here, we come across lizards, ranging from common ones to big land monitors, coming out to sunbathe near termite mounds, where they pose in the sun with their giant claws, waiting for their mid-morning snack of bugs and ants. Stopping in places to take pictures of the wildlife, which includes wild boar, barking deer and porcupine quills, that are dotted around the area, while Nidikumba, Adana Hiriya and Balu nguta plants fill the air with heady perfumes. Here, you have to be careful of the village animal traps which are metal wire contraptions known as madu, used for catching wild boars. Picking them up, one realises just how remote we are from the rules and regulations of Colombo. The villages still catch their own fish with a hook and line and trap animals for their meat, building with mud from the river, they do not need to go to shops as they live off their home gardens, where they grow everything herbs, fruits, spices and all kinds of exotic vegetables. Even the materials to make the furnitures in their houses.

I learn from Bandara that, Archeological department recently discovered old rocks from ancient monastery buildings, proving some kind of link with the 2,000-year-old temple a few minutes walk away, where bits of historic paintings of flowers can still be seen on the underside of the rock. As I learn more about Nidansalakunu treasure, with marks of the sun, moon or snakes going back to ancient times to avoid these powerful jewels being captured by the Indians and later colonial invaders, butterflies flit by and a pair of Black Hooded Oriels fly overhead, reminding me that natural highs are always the best ones. Learning how valuable these historic treasures are to the country, helps me overcome my fear of finding snakes behind or under rocks. After all, Hollywood would not have made such an epic story as Indiana Jones and The temple of Doom if there was not some grain of truth in these ancient legends. Legends that are as alive today with treasure seekers always on the look out for mystical markings and lost hidden gems over the passage of time. Making Sri Lanka truly a treasure island in the Indian Ocean worth exploring. Climbing up to a cliff with a view is always exciting; however as Banadara a naturalist put it “Observing animal behavior is enthralling! It’s absolutely mesmerizing to identify and learn about their every movement. Why they act the way they do is like a puzzle ready to be solved.”

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