Echoes from an ancient existence

Uru warige Wanniya was surrounded by some of his tribesmen when we arrived at his wattle and daub hut in Dambana. As the chief of the Wannila-aththo or Veddhas, the indigenous people of Sri Lanka, his wisdom and counsel are constantly sought after. His serious eyes held a welcoming glow as I offered him a sheaf of betel leaves and then placed both my hands in his in the way of the traditional greeting of the Wannila-aththo. “Hondamai,” we said to each other, meaning “all is well”. But like many of the phrases and words in the Veddha language, the connotation of the expression changes along with the situation at hand.

Uru warige Wanniya in conversation with us

I stood by and watched as my friend, took her turn to greet the Nayaka Aththo (Chief of the Wannila-aththo) and presented him with our gift of dried tobacco leaves, areca nut and limestone. As he sat cross-legged on a reed mat strewn on a ledge and spoke about the ways of his people, I noticed that only his snowy beard and salt-and-pepper hair pulled into a casual knot gave us an inkling of his age. His body looked strong and remarkably wrinkle-free, although his oldest son, next in line to lead the Wannila-aththo, is about 42 years old.

Throughout most of our conversation and even during our greetings I found that the ready smile of the average Sri Lankan person was missing in the faces of the Wannila-aththo gathered in the little hut. Although their expressions weren’t quite what you’d call stern, they were serious with a gentle, knowing undertone. This was apparently the way of these people, we later learned from Nishantha, our guide; they hardly displayed their emotions. There was scarcely any crying at the funeral ceremonies of the Wannila-aththo, said Nishantha. Perhaps, living as one with nature for centuries had familiarized them with the cycle of life to such an extent, that life as a whole had become something to accept calmly. The word Wannila-aththo itself means ‘forest beings’.

Our discussion with the Nayaka Aththo was in part quite sobering. With laws banning hunting, their children beginning to attend mainstream schools, increasing numbers of Veddhas venturing out into cities in search of jobs and modernisation inching its way towards their settlements, their traditional way of life has long since begun to erode. Acutely aware of this fact, the Nayaka Aththo said, “There is next to nothing that can be done about it.” The tiredness in his eyes reflected the grave responsibility of the herculean task he had come to inherit.

Still, he does everything in his power to ensure that the ways of his people are preserved. Evidence of this was by his side: an assortment of bottles containing various hued liquids. This was the Nayaka Aththo’s collection of herbal medicines and oils prepared according to the age-old knowledge of his people, handed down from generation to generation through centuries. This was different to Ayurvedic medicine practised in the rest of the country, he said. It was his manner to speak only the language of his tribe although he understood us when we spoke to him in Sinhala.

We are led into the jungle

Soon after our chat with the Nayaka Aththo we followed four of the Wannila-aththo into the jungle where we enjoyed the most unforgettable treat: honey made by wild bees. They were quite docile really, for wild bees 🙂 Only one of the Wannila-aththo got stung; but he had his hand deep inside the burrow in the tree, where the bees had built their nest. It was a bit difficult to imagine that the white honey-comb he pulled out of the tree was something natural; the hexagonal wax cells were formed so perfectly that it seemed more likely that humans had made it and put it there.

A beehive is found!

Reaching into the burrow for the honeycombs

Bee-sting!

The honeycomb in offering to the Yakshas

Before sharing the honeycomb, an offering was made to the Yakshas, the ancestors of the Wannila-aththo, so that they would ensure that each time a visit was made into the jungle there would be an abundance of honey. Each bite into the wax would spill drops of the yummiest honey I’d ever tasted. I’m not generally fond of bee’s honey, but this was slightly more syrupy than the bottled stuff I was used to. And it was sweet, but not cloyingly so. It dribbled out of the waxy cells and down my hand. It was the most delicious, glutinous mess. Of course, you have to watch out for the larvae 😀 But one thing is for sure: hereafter my mouth will water every time I see a creamy white honeycomb.

Honey drips out of the waxy cells

Dancing and singing is the most preferred way for the Wannila-aththo to celebrate – this time it is caused by the discovery of honey

A display of archery followed, which unexpectedly gave up the hiding place of a Star Tortoise. The bows and arrows are all hand-made by the Wannila-aththo themselves, and after one of us unwittingly detached the point of an arrow while pulling it out of a tree it had wedged itself in, we watched as it was carefully mended.

The traditional hunting method of the Wannila-aththo

The broken arrow is mended

Forest-being

Not only do the Wannila-aththo feel most at-home in the jungle, but the jungle too seems to embrace them as its own

On our way out we re-entered the Nayaka Aththo’s home to buy some of the mouth-watering bee’s honey. I took the opportunity to ask a question that I had forgotten earlier: are the Wannila-aththo really the descendants of the children of Kuveni and King Vijaya, an Indian prince believed to be the father of the Sinhala race?

“That is not true,” said the Nayaka Aththo. “Kuveni was of the Yaksha tribe, one of the tribes living on the island when Prince Vijaya arrived on its shores. We are descendants of the Yaksha tribe too. So while Kuveni is of our tribe, we didn’t descend from her. Our history dates back centuries before Kuveni and Vijaya. Our people have been living in this country for more than 125,000 years.”

The Nayaka Aththo is a mine of folklore and wisdom

We were silent as we digested this information. A flurry of new questions flooded my mind, making it impossible for me to voice any of them. Nishantha, ever the dependable one, must have had his eye on the time, because he said that if we had finished with our questions we should probably leave soon.

“We have questions enough to fill up a whole day!” exclaimed my friend, which brought a twinkle to the eye of the Nayaka Aththo. He smiled; I think he may have even laughed quietly. Maybe at sometime we will come back, just so we can talk for days.

© The Magic-Bean Trippers
Prior written consent of the authors must be obtained to reproduce, copy, modify or adapt any part of this blog or any of its contents.
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Sometimes it’s about the Journey, not the Destination

It’s widely held that as far as diversity of destinations is concerned, travelling within Sri Lanka is one of the most rewarding experiences. But as we found on the road from Kandy to Mahiyanganaya, the journey can be just as thrilling, if not more so, than the destination. The winding road leading through mountains and valleys, afforded some spectacular views and interesting stops along the way.

While passing by the turnoff to the Victoria Golf Course, the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium and the largest limestone quarry in Sri Lanka was interesting, it wasn’t until we got to the Hunnasgiriya region that I really started enjoying the ride. The highway, cut into the sides of steep mountains, had that sparkling-new look and the drive was smooth and comfortable. We rolled down the windows to let in the fresh, cold air, as we passed by panoramic valleys and mountainsides covered in pine forests.

The refreshing wind in my face reminded me of the road-trips I used to take with my family as a child. It was one of the things I used to look forward to when we would decide to go away for a holiday, so much so that I would reserve the back seat of the family van, the windiest spot in the vehicle. I found a singular exhilaration in losing myself in the roar of the wind, my hair fluttering wildly around my head and the people, shops, paddy fields, tea bushes and muddy puddles hurtling by in one blurry vision after another. We rarely open the windows on road-trips now, perhaps because of the increasing pollution. So it was a pleasantly unexpected flashback to see the world whiz by, as the fresh breeze of Hunnasgiriya roared in my ears.

As impressive as the changing backdrop of peaks were, there was one that stood out conspicuously. Its olive green sides rose to form a dark knoll that was surrounded by clouds. This was Medamahanuwara, on the pinnacle of which the ruins of the Ahas Maligawa, or Sky Palace, are located. Although it is off-limits to visitors, Nishantha, our guide, related the story of the palace. Built around the 17th Century by King Senarath, it was also used as a fortress. Later on, after the British arrived, Sri Lanka’s last king Sri Wikrama Rajasinha used the palace as a hideout. It’s believed that when King Rajasinha was at the Sky Palace, the British had ridden by the mountain in search of him. But as the peak was covered by clouds they hadn’t seen the palace. When they were returning however, the clouds had cleared and they spotted the king’s hiding place, which was then named Ahas Maligawa.

The peak of Medamahanuwara, where the Sky Palace used to be

It’s easy to see why those Brits rode right past! The white Buddha statue on the left is located in Hunnasgiriya town.

When we reached Hunnasgiriya Town, we took a short detour down Loolwatta Road into a tea garden that held stunning views of the surrounding mountains, including Medamahanuwara. While we were up there marvelling at the array of peaks and valleys, a tuk-tuk drove up and a man stepped out with a massive sack. Swinging it onto his back, he hurried between the tea bushes down the steep incline, nimble-footed as a mountain goat. As I gaped at his agility, it occurred to me that his house was probably at the bottom of the hill. This was his daily commute!

The tea garden overlooks a pine forest and purple hills in the distance. The highway winds its way around hills on the right.

More of the spectacular views

We were surrounded by the most breathtaking scenery

Back on the highway, at regular intervals there were little shops with signs inviting travellers to a meal of freshly-made pol rotti. This was another of the joys of driving through Sri Lanka’s countryside: the opportunity to sample some of the mouth-watering local food. It appeared that in this region of Hunnasgiriya it was pol rotti with katta sambola that was popular.

At the shop where we stopped, there was a little breakfast buffet of other distinctly Sri Lankan foods like curried dhal and beans with rice, in addition to the pol rotti and katta sambola. So while we waited for the rotti to be prepared, we helped ourselves to some dhal and pol sambola. The combination was to die for. With steaming mugs of kahata the (black tea) and chunks of hakuru (jaggery) sitting by our plates and a magnificent view of a forest-covered mountain before us, we honestly felt life couldn’t get any better.

Pol rotti and katta sambola

Bellies full of yummy rotti, we headed towards Madugoda and the Daha-ata Wanguwa (Eighteen hair-pin bends). The scenery soon after the first bend was like a dreamscape. From here it seemed we could see the whole of the East. Nishantha stood by and named all the places we could see from our vantage point. Pointing to a wide stretch of lime-green paddy fields, he said it was the longest uninterrupted stretch of paddy in the country; about 50 kilometres from the village of Hasalaka to Wasgamuwa National Park. We saw the Mahiyanganaya Town gleaming in the mid-morning sun. Hasalaka was much smaller in comparison. The Sorabora Weva (lake) was the largest water body in sight. Although in reality it is much larger, the Ulhitiya Weva looked smaller than the Sorabora: possibly because it was further away and much of it had dried up. It was fascinating to be able to see some of our destinations mid-journey. Nishantha also pointed out some of the jungle that we would walk through the next day to visit the Rathna Falls.

The Sorabora Weva is nestled in the heart of the panorama while the clouds and mountains seem to merge on the horizon

A myriad shades of green give way to browns, greys and blues

More greens and blues

A Grey Langur

Can you see us passing by the 18th hair-pin bend?

The urge to make a game of counting the bends as the Daha-ata Wanguwa took us downhill to the borders of the hill country was irresistible. Countless travellers have done it before and countless more will do it after us. By the time we reached Hasalaka, the temperature had risen, but the brilliant green of the paddy fields, blue of the sky and ivory of the clouds were breathtaking: it was the ideal of a beautiful day.

After crossing the Mahaveli River into the Badulla District, it was not long before we reached Mahiyanganaya. I was surprised by how large the town had grown. While it was a flurry of activity, it was still spacious enough to hold all of its occupants, visitors and various buildings without the air of congestion that is typical of rapidly growing towns. As we drove up to a junction complete with clock-tower, I was struck by a large white Buddha statue that entirely filled the space of my vision. While the white clouds that gave way to blue sky in patches made the perfect backdrop for the statue, it was the distinctive expression in the facial features of this Buddha that I found arresting. It was difficult to look at that face and not be moved.

The captivating Buddha statue in Mahiyanganaya Town

Stopping by at the sprawling market of the town we bought a few things needed for a night of camping by a lake and also a gift of dried tobacco leaves, a sheaf of betel leaves, areca nut and limestone for a special person we were on our way to visit.

Discover where and whom in our next couple of posts!

© The Magic-Bean Trippers
Prior written consent of the authors must be obtained to reproduce, copy, modify or adapt any part of this blog or any of its contents.

The rain can’t keep us down!

Finally, we were going to do some mountain trekking! We had wanted to for weeks but each time we organized a hike the weather gods would rain on our carefully laid out plans. Now, following a couple of days of sunshine, the day dawned on which we would trek up Knuckles – and it turned out to be overcast. As we stepped outside at about 6.30am to wait for our ride, I looked up at the clouds and feebly joked, “They like messing with us, up there, don’t they?”

During the one-and-a-half-hour drive from Kandy through Theldeniya and on to Kotaganga, the weather kept playing tricks on us, sporadic sunshine raising our hopes and gloomy cloud cover and short drizzles dashing them soon after. We managed to keep our spirits high though, with Nishantha, our guide, seeing to our every need and Sylvia, a fellow traveller, putting her unique sense of humour to good use. Although we stopped in Digana at the forest office in charge of the Knuckles Nature Reserve to buy our tickets, no one was around and the gates were locked. Time was precious, so we decided to head to Knuckles and pay our way in there.

Stopping at Theldeniya to pick up our lunch gave us the chance to see the dried out bed of the reservoir. A bridge, a dome shaped shrine and paddy fields that were submerged after the Victoria Dam was built were now exposed as a result of the long drought. It seemed that the surrounding mountains and boulders reduced the bridge and the shrine to mere playthings. But the longer I gazed at the structures, the more impressed I was by the way they echoed an existence now lost in time. In fact, the entire scene seemed to hold a mystical aura.

The bridge and the shrine seem diminutive in the striking landscape

A Crested Serpent Eagle in Kotaganga

Before beginning our trek in Kotaganga, we prepared by making sure our backpacks were as light as possible. We started off up a relatively easy incline. The sun was shining down from a cloudy sky at this point and we were enjoying the green mountains around us, a rocky stream that bubbled by us and purple-grey hills in the distance. A brilliant white spot on the top of one of the faraway hills was the famous Buddha statue on Bahirawakanda, said Nishantha. We were amazed that we could see as far off as Kandy from where we were.

The rocky stream we passed along the way

The enchanting path up the mountain

Eventually though, we saw we were being followed by one of the locals. He’d been sent by the park warden to find out why we didn’t have tickets. Our account of the closed park office and offer to immediately buy tickets seemed to fall on deaf ears. Several calls were made by Nishantha to the park warden and many other people. The negotiations took a good hour and a half during which we snapped photos, absorbed the beauty that surrounded us, kept glancing anxiously up at the heavy clouds in the distance and Sylvia made silly faces towards the general direction from which the park warden was supposedly “watching us”. In the end the park warden said we would have to buy the tickets before we could go any further. Errm… wasn’t that exactly what we’d suggested in the very beginning? You gotta love Sri Lankan bureaucracy!

The magnificent view we had while the negotiations went on. I guess we couldn’t really complain.

So after the very long delay, we resumed our hike up the mountain. It became steeper as we climbed and while Nishantha bounded ahead – laden with the heaviest bags – like an antelope, we laboured up the mountain breathless, sweaty and red-faced. Soon we came to a point along the trail that offered a clear view of a wispy white waterfall further up the mountain. They were actually a series of seven cascades that created one long, combined waterfall. The plan was to visit each of the falls and then make our way to the peak of the mountain.

Soon, the path led into the jungle. Thick vegetation enveloped the trail, which became harder to follow owing to the low branches, the bed of dead leaves and the sharper angle of the ground. We were forced to slow down as we deliberated every step and hand hold. Still, there were sections that I felt were impassable if Nishantha hadn’t pulled me up. At a particularly steep bit, I found myself sprawled out on the ground, chest down, clinging to a root on one side and a branch on the other side of the path – and giggling hysterically. I heard alarmed gasps behind me that immediately turned into guffaws and teehees. Had the mountain air rendered us incapable of perceiving the gravity (no pun intended) of tumbling down a mountain?

Labouring up the mountain along a barely visible trail – it was loadsa fun!

Sylvia is helped up by Nishantha

It was nice to be able hang onto branches and roots and hoist myself up along the trail. At one point along the walk the muddy ground beneath me was so steep that I was part walking, part climbing the trees that grew alongside the path. I grabbed onto a tree trunk and pulled myself a couple of steps up the mountain. I imagined the scene I was making and said, “I must look like a monkey!” Peals of laughter and a response of “You said it!” followed. At that very moment, I felt my feet slide out from underneath me – so steep was the ground – and the only way I could keep myself from tumbling down that mountain was to wrap my arms and legs around that tree trunk. “See what I mean!” I gasped. Cue for more helpless laughter. It must be the mountain air.

Monkey me!

By now we had encountered a horde of leeches at various points along the path. The shiny, elastic-ky, black worms looked skinny and starved, and it was not long before we found they were famished. Every so often someone would call out “Leech attack!”, and stop to extricate the wriggly creatures worm-walking their way up shoes, jeans and bare skin. Leeches are one of the most relentless life-forms I’ve ever come across. They will not stop until they have tasted blood. I found one just above the waist-band of my jeans, on my stomach!

At a barely discernible fork in the path, we took a right and headed towards the first water fall. We heard it before we saw it. When I stepped out of the jungle and onto the rock along which the fall slid towards the next tier, I was surprised by how cold and strong the wind was. The glistening water took on the colour of the golden-brown rock it was flowing along and, when I took my shoes off to cross the little stream, I found it was as icy as it looked. Here was one of the most enchanting places that Nature had tucked deep inside a jungle. A feathery white waterfall cascaded behind me, flowed over a rock and fell over a precipice in front of me to form another fall. A beautiful valley was laid out before me. And the tops of the mountains beyond were immersed in mist.

We took a well-earned break by the first waterfall

The crystal water tumbles off the rock to form another waterfall below

Mist covered hills surround the valley

The wispy white cascade

There is something inexplicably revitalizing about fresh mountain spring water. Splashed across my face, arms and legs, I found it worked like a soothing balm for my tired muscles. And more amazingly it lifted my spirits until I felt I was soaring. After gulping down mouthfuls of the pristine water, we were revived for the rest of our climb. Just as we were leaving, it started to rain.

Although gloomy under cloudy skies, the valley was a breathtaking sight

It was a relief to go back into the jungle because the trees sheltered us from the cold wind and rain. Before long, we came to the second waterfall. This time there was a heavy mist that made it impossible to see the valley. Veiled in thick haze, the waterfall seemed ethereal. Although it was wet and cold, we couldn’t help but be awed by the scene that was at once enthralling and eerie.

Sylvia and Nishantha appear ghostly in a veil of mist

We continued through the jungle until suddenly I found my head poking up out of the tops of the trees. The whispering sounds of the trees quietened and a white mist surrounded us. We had reached the Knuckles plateau. Unfortunately, the breathtaking view from up there was obstructed and we couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead of us in the mist.

I’ll never forget the lunch we shared on the plateau of Knuckles. Our dining experience was unparalleled. Makeshift stools were created by piling up slabs of rock and we literally froze our asses off sitting on them. We enjoyed the tasty fried rice, fish and vegetables all the more for the ambience. We were encircled by a thick mist and shivered in the wind that blew grains of rice off our spoons as we raised them to our mouths. Nature herself put on a little show for us as we dined; she sent us into a tizzy of excitement when, momentarily, she blew away a thick slice of mist to expose a bit of the jungle surrounding the plateau. Sporadically, she would send down shafts of sunlight through the haze and we almost applauded the fleeting warmth.

After our extraordinary meal we started our walking again; this time downhill because we decided to cut short our trek due to the weather. On our way, we passed through an enchanting stream straight out of a fantasy. Sunlight filtering through the thinning mist gave the jungle an otherworldly appearance.

Dusky light passes through the vapoury mist

A fairy or two sitting on the rocks probably wouldn’t look out of place here

Sylvia and Nishantha wait for us

At a little hut overlooking a valley of tea gardens, we stopped to admire the landscape and enjoy a well-earned break. It turned out to be a little more exciting than expected when we found leeches had somehow found their way into our socks. After removing them, we continued down through the tea bushes until we reached the end of the trail in Thangappuwa.

The view from Leech Hut

The tea gardens that we passed through

Tender tea leaves covered in evening dew

Morning Glories are such happy flowers

He was happy about the rain

The end of the trail

The Knuckles mountain range experiences very high amounts of rainfall and the life-sustaining water flows down to the rest of the country. Some of the rivers that begin on the range include the Kalu Ganga, Heen Ganga and Hulu Ganga, and the mountains also enrich several tributaries of the Mahaveli River. So while we weren’t able to visit all of the seven waterfalls or climb to the peak of the mountain, I felt privileged to have experienced the weather conditions that make it possible for the Knuckles range to play such a pivotal role in nurturing the rivers, lakes, jungles, fields and thereby the very existence of the Sri Lankan people. Can you tell I’m an eternal optimist? 🙂

Thanks to Nishantha for staying sensible while the rest of us were rolling on the floor laughing; for making the right decisions; and for doing everything possible to make sure we were safe and comfortable at all times. If you want Nishantha to help plan your own outdoor adventure, you can call him on +94 779 188 292

Thanks to Sylvia for the laughter and good times

© The Magic-Bean Trippers
Prior written consent of the authors must be obtained to reproduce, copy, modify or adapt any part of this blog or any of its contents.

A lighthouse without a light

The drive up to Kadugannawa is easily my favourite part of the road trip to Kandy. Hugging the side of a steep mountain, the ribbon-strip of road winds upwards treating wayfarers to a magnificent view of the valley below and shadowy outlines of mountain ranges beyond. We were in the heart of the country with no ocean for miles around, so it was bizarre to come upon what looked like a lighthouse by the roadside. When we stepped out to investigate, we thought we’d take all of ten minutes to have a look around and then be back on our way. We never expected the adventure that lay ahead of us.

Opposite the tower the highway and the railway line run parallel to each other

A lane that runs alongside the tower

Standing at the base of the towering white structure, we craned our necks and squinted in the afternoon sunlight to try and catch a glimpse of the pinnacle of the ivory-white lighthouse. For all our squinting, it was impossible to see the dome-shaped top because of the square platform built for people to stand on and survey the surrounding hills and valleys. Although in design, the building looks like a lighthouse, it actually isn’t. It was built in 1832 as a memorial to W. E. Dawson, Commanding Royal Engineer of Ceylon, who had planned the Colombo-Kandy highway.

A commemorative inscription

Chatting with some locals we learned that we could climb to the top of the tower if we wanted to. Now, that made things a whole lot more interesting. We were shown a narrow doorway that led into the dark tower. All that was visible were the first few wooden steps. They disappeared behind a solid wooden pillar and continued to spiral around into the darkness. I stepped up to the bottom of the stairway cautiously; I knew they led to the top of the tower but I had no idea what lay within the pitch black in between.

An anxious glance from the foot of the steps

There was only just enough room for a single person on the stairway so we had to walk in single file. The higher we climbed, the more impenetrable the darkness became. Small-made as I am, I felt hemmed in within the limited space and not being able to see what was around me heightened the sensation. I found myself wondering what the climb must be like for the average sized human being. If I had let myself, it would have been easy to become irrationally panicked. Mental pictures of creepy-crawlies that probably lived in this dark place made me even more uneasy. Perhaps we did come across a few of the inhabitants, but the light of the tiny torch that illuminated our way, thankfully, didn’t fall on any of them. Imagine a stampede in that cramped space!

The dark, cramped space of the stairway

Around the middle of the tower, square holes had been made in the walls. At first, I thought that these were to provide light, but hardly any light came in through the holes. So they were probably made to allow fresh air in. Interestingly, there were collections of twigs arranged inside the holes. Had mice or birds decided to make the holes comfortable enough for living in? Further up, my torch revealed brown stains trailing down along the white walls from the square openings. Was that a putrid smell that was filling our nostrils? Oh, the unspeakable horror! We avoided touching or leaning against the walls after that.

One of the twig-filled openings on the wall of the tower

When we started to wonder how much longer the steps would go on for, we were relieved to see daylight streaming in from above. Soon, we were able to see the dome-shaped roof of the tower, deep green moss making a brickwork pattern on the surface of the white paint. My friend was the first one out and immediately I heard him exclaim, “Woah!” There must be a really nice view out there, I thought and stayed a little while longer to gaze down into the shaft of the stairway we had just come up.

Moss creates a brickwork pattern at the top of the tower

The shaft of the stairway from the top

When I stepped out onto the platform, strangely enough I found myself exclaiming in exactly the same way my friend had. I had to grab onto the black metal railing that surrounded the tower. The wind was quite strong up there and took you unawares as soon as you stepped out. It was crisp and refreshing, though. Now this is what you call fresh air, I thought.

We were high up above the road and surrounded by mountains and valleys. The highway seemed to emerge from a meeting point between two mountains, its vehicles and pedestrians taking on the air of Toyland. By its side a railway line ran past a station and into a green forest. Delicate silhouettes of far away mountain ranges appeared on the mist covered horizon. Spotting a white Buddha statue on the peak of one of the mountains, I knew the city of Kandy was just beyond. Forest covered mountainsides further away seemed to me like the woodland regions on a Tolkien map – the trees, probably pines, had the same triangular shape.

The highway emerges seemingly from between the mountains

Mountains make hazy shadows on the horizon

Toyland

A train disappears into a lush green jungle

Enjoying the view and the nippy breeze

When we had arrived at the tower, we were exhausted from the journey and had even considered giving the tower a pass. But in the end we were happy we’d decided to stop – and even walk through rat pooh – because the enchanting view and chilly wind proved to be the perfect journey’s break. Soon, we had to reluctantly leave the top of the tower and climb back down the dark, winding stairway. This time around we heard a series of unmistakable squeaks somewhere inside the woodwork and we rushed down as fast as we could. In my hurry to get out of the tower, I tumbled really, rather than walked out, into the sunlight.

© The Magic-Bean Trippers
Prior written consent of the authors must be obtained to reproduce, copy, modify or adapt any part of this blog or any of its contents.

Rambutang Land

“Look! There’s one over there!”

It’s funny how the sight of a Rambutang tree laden with its furry, red fruits can bring out the bright-eyed, inner child in even the most sombre personality. Generally, I’m far from what you’d call sombre, so no surprises that by the time we’d sighted our first tree I was already bordering on manic enthusiasm.

Turning off the Colombo-Kandy highway towards Malwana, renowned as Rambutang country, we diligently followed the directions of a little old lady we’d met sitting in a tuk-tuk by the side of the road. To see fields of Rambutangs, she said, we’d have to get to Malwana town and take a right turn along a bridge that leads to the more rustic neighbourhoods.

The picturesque locale of Malwana

Every home in this area had a garden, every garden had at least one Rambutang tree and every Rambutang tree was weighed down with ruby-red fruits. Exclamations were rife within the car! But these were only home gardens; we hadn’t even got to the plantations yet.

As we took another turn down Malwana Pidaliyawatta Para, the road narrowed and more and more Rambutang trees began leaning in towards the car reaching out with their heavy branches. Some sections of the road were turned into archways of long, deep green leaves interspersed with the crimson fruits. Eventually, we drove up to a small clearing in the trees and sitting on the ground – mid-morning sunlight streaming down on them through Rambutang branches – were a group of women sorting, breaking off stems and bagging freshly picked Rambutangs. It was truly an idyllic scene and we absolutely had to get a closer look.

The group of women working on the Rambutang plantation

Bag-fulls

Sorting the rambutangs

When we approached the peacefully working group – there were two men up on the trees in addition to the women – their friendly welcome was heart-warming. Their smiles were indulgent when we told them we’d especially come to see Rambutang fields, and they generously asked us to pick as many fruits as we wanted. But not wanting to carry off part of their livelihood, no matter how small a part, we stood by, chatted with them and photographed them as they worked.

The dude on the tree

The Rambutang picker!

Rambutang trees have sturdy trunks that branch out quite close to the ground. On the tree that the group was working at, every branch had great bunches of the fruit. Each time a bunch was cut off, the branch would bounce up in the air indicating the weight of the abundant fruit. The men in the trees would then throw the fruits down to the women, who would stem, sort and bag them. Large piles of Rambutangs were rapidly forming under the tree, some as tall as the toddler walking among the women and occasionally throwing curious glances at our camera.

“A pile of Rambutangs as big as me!”

I decided to stroll through the little plantation and couldn’t help marvelling at the profusion of the fruit. When I came back, one of the women, presumably having noted that we weren’t going to pick any of the fruits, transferred an arm-load of Rambutangs to me. “Please take them,” she smiled at my surprised and grateful face.

Behind the scenes

“There’s nothing like standing under a Rambutang tree and enjoying a freshly picked fruit,” said one of the men.  And taking his advice, we did just that. We found he was right.

Irresistible!

I don’t remember the first Rambutang I’ve ever eaten, but I remember always having loved Rambutangs. It’s one of those childhood memories that you can’t quite pin-point the beginnings of. Whenever the season came along, Colombo’s streets would be lined with piles of the red and yellow fruit – Rambutangs come in two varieties. My favourite recollection of the season was my dad bringing home bag-loads of the fruits and everyone sitting around the table littered with the furry skins, Rambutang juice dripping down arms and chins. Inside the thick outer skin covered with hairy prickles is the juicy, white fruit that glows like a moonstone. The fruit is thought to be best when the sweet, white flesh can be pulled cleanly off without the skin of the stone detaching. I tend to like the slightly woody flavour of the skin of the stone though.

Leaving the group to their work, we sauntered along the road, munching on Rambutangs and enjoying the rural setting. Past many more home gardens full of Rambutang trees, we came to another much larger plantation. We absorbed as much of the Rambutang-filled atmosphere as we could before it was time to leave. There is an easy-going nature about the locals here – yes, we were presented with more gifts! I put it down to living among the Rambutangs.

Rambutangs galore!

At the other plantation

Life amidst the rambutangs

In childhood I’d imagined visiting the fabled Malwana. Yes, fabled – because a place where an abundance of Rambutangs grows must surely be the stuff of legend. As I matured though, these grand visions diminished. How perfectly juvenile to believe that there is a land where as far as the eye can see, every tree would burst with a profusion of yummy Rambutangs! Having finally visited Malwana however, the adult me was proven wrong and the little kid from not too long ago actually got to see the fabled land of Rambutangs.

Eat rambutang and DIE!