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Sunday, 03 July 2016





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Kumana: Bright feathers, ancient glory

Our regular trip to Kumana occurs every year not really during the ‘season’. This time however, the visit was not only to see the animals, but also to venture along untrodden tracks to discover hidden wonders of the ancient civilization dotted here and there in the jungle.

In the previous trips we visited several ancient places, but left out a few sites which were inaccessible due to damaged tracks in the park. So this time we intended to see many of the sites that were left out previously.

Our team comprised Chintaka, Susantha and I, together with our sons who are first time visitors to the park and loved to see animals and spend a night in the jungle. We drove in Chintaka’s 4DR5 Mitsubishi jeep which is comfortable even in the mud filled off beaten tracks in the jungle.

Every time we went into the jungles we stayed in the bungalows. But this time we decided to put up at a campsite as it was more adventurous, and chose the Galamuna campsite to spend the night. During our two day visit, we planned to see a few archaeological sites and spend a few hours in Kubukkan Oya.

As usual, we entered the Kumana National Park with our guide Nalinda, a young man with much knowledge about the wilds. We passed the Yoda Lipa and drove further into the jungle. From the well-trodden road we turned into a side path. The recent rains had washed away the roads, leaving large dips and dives. The jeep skid and slid as we entered the muddy plain.

We did not see many animals except a couple of hawk eagles on the dried up trees, may be because it was early in the morning and the dew was still visible on the grass. We had travelled for one hour when our jeep stopped and our guide got down. We had apparently arrived at Kiripokunahela, the first site on our itinerary.

We kept our food parcels under the seats of the jeep and closed the doors, as we had been warned that food left outside would be a happy feast for the monkeys. There was a footpath leading to a rocky outcrop across the muddy plain, with a massive rock boulder looming over us.

We climbed over the boulder and stepped into the cave. The floor was smooth, perhaps due to sloth bears or leopards seeking refuge in the cave. The face of the rock massif had grooves etched round it to prevent rain water from flowing into the cave. Under the rock massif a line of Brahmi inscription carved out of the rock was clearly visible on the rock surface. A few feet below the rock surface is a rock art drawn by unknown hands who lived and hunted animals in the jungle more than a thousand years ago.

We came back to the jeep as it was time to have breakfast. Soon we were eating bread and seeni sambol while we bounced to our next location.

After an hour’s drive across the plains, lagoons and mangrove swamps we arrived at Babaragasthalawa, a massive rocky boulder with a drip-ledged cave. There was a footpath leading up to the small hillock. Overgrown with green shrubs and with rocks as footholds, we climbed up and passing a thick brick wall, entered a large open cave where we found a reclining Buddha statue.

On a previous visit we observed this statue left in a pathetic condition, with the stomach dug into and the head smashed, by treasure hunters. But this time we noticed that it had been restored. The damaged Buddha statue, we learnt, had been reconstructed by officials of the Archaeology Department, several months ago.

We assumed this had been a reputed Buddhist monastery during the pre-Christian era. There are a number of drip-ledged caves and flights of steps carved into rocky surfaces of boulders around Babaragasthalawa.

From Babaragasthalawa we set off to our campsite, Galamuna along the Kubukkan Oya. As we drove along the banks of the Kubukkan Oya we came across massive mud holes on the road, and survived due to our 4x4 drive. We camped one night on the banks of the Kubukkan Oya, sleeping under the stars after a hearty meal cooked by Susantha.

At Galamuna one can see a set of huge stones laid across the Kubukkan Oya. It is said, in ancient times the villagers of Kumana diverted the waters of Kumbukkan Oya to irrigate their paddy fields. The stone structure across the Oya is still visible in Galamuna where the Wildlife Department has set up a campsite for its visitors to the park.

On the way to Galamuna, we observed the Kumana village through the Kumana Villu which was dried up due to the drought. Nothing much remained of the village except for coconut trees.

The second day we dedicated to see the animals. We first visited the most revered Kuda Kebiliththa Devale, lying on the banks of the Kubukkan Oya. A small shrine had been built for God Kataragama. The shrine lay without the Kapurala, and we worshipped for blessings and a safe journey. Most visitors to Kumana spend a little time here to get divine blessings from God Kataragama while they tour Kumana.

Kumana is also well known for its wildlife, and more for migratory birds. As we returned to the road it seemed as if the jungle had finally awoken on our second day. Herds of wild buffaloes dipped in the lagoons, deer seemed to be everywhere, and a lonely elephant sprayed water in the water holes. Suddenly, we saw a crocodile basking in the sun, which retreated quickly into the water on our approach.

We were fortunate to see a rear Black Necked Stork and Painted Storks, Egrets, Godwits, Ibis and many more in their great numbers, creating a picturesque setting. The Bee Eaters were flying everywhere while Malabar pie horn-bills sang rhythmically as they moved from branch to branch.

Our attention was suddenly drawn to a massive tusker, which one of our members had spotted and shouted to us to halt. Although we have visited National Parks several times before, it is the first time that we spotted such a big tusker. Though the Kumana bear and leopard evaded us, we were happy that we had been able to see many animals during our journey.

Before we left Kumana, we visited the much famed Okanda shrine, also dedicated to God Kataragama, and lying on a massive rock boulder just outside the main gates of the Kumana National Park. There were a few devotees, and right now the shrine must be busy like a honey comb because the Hindu devotees who come from the North on the Paada Yaathra pilgrimage stop at the Okanda shrine and make rituals and get blessings before they make the final leg of their journey, through Kumana and the Yala jungles to Katatagama.


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