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Sunday, 19 January 2003  
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Udawattakele - a retreat or a refuge?


It was a very sunny afternoon when we (a group of environmental journalism students) entered Udawattakele proceed along Raja Veediya and up the hill leaving behind us the Kandy town and entering a quiet and cool environment. To the left was the Sri Dalada Thapowanaya where erudite monks were meditating.

Officials of the Wildlife Conservation Department guided us through the forest explaining in detail areas of historic significance and its flora and fauna.

At the entrance was a map detailing the many a sites of interest within the forest. The forest has three layers of growth; the fist consists of the tall trees, which are spread far and wide. They don't allow much sunlight into the forest.

Therefore the second layer is not very strong, they consist of smaller trees and as you can see the lowest layer consisting of creepers, shrubs, small trees and weeds.

The forest performs a very important function in channelling water to the Mahaweli River and Nuwara Wewa.

The cooling inside the forest provides Kandy with the air-conditioned environment that it is famous for the pond that the Royal Family used for water sports was also there. The pond is surrounded by trees, the branches bend towards the pond as if to provide a shield. There were creepers and weeds along, the bank that added to its beauty. The water had an unusual colour, a pale musty green.

There were many trees and shadows like Kurundu (cinnamon), Ma Wewal (cane), Wal Gammiris (wild pepper), Mahogany (introduced by the British to the forest), Milla, Madatiya, Na, Wild Karapincha, Sapu etc.

The "Pus Wela" (a 200-300 year old huge creeper) has spread itself over several acres in the forest. It had an unusual beauty, the way entwining itself over other trees.

The guide goes on "The forest was being damaged due to the felling of trees earlier".

The British had used the trees in the forest for firewood and furniture. They had introduced several new species of flora to the forest (Mahogany being one such species) to be used for these purposes. However in later stage it was used for recreation purposes too by the English Lords and Ladies as evident from the many roads; Lady Horton's Drive, Lady Torington Drive etc. which have been named after the wives of the British Governors.

The driveways in the forest facilitated travelling within the forest. Animals in the forest were rarely seen. There were several unusual webs spun by very unusual looking spiders on small bushes along the pathways. Some of them were very bright with several colours.

"Chitta Visudhi Lena", a meditation retreat for monks was not easily accessible.

It was not a place where one could visit easily as it was a small cave like construction.

The forest had many sites of archaeological interest within it.

The "Kirigarunda Asanaya", the "Garrison burial ground (consisting of 163 stone tablets erected in memory of the soldiers and the captains who lost their lives during the war between the English and the Sinhalese in the 19th century).

The Senanayake Aramaya and the "German Aramaya" were some such places situated within the forest. It was wonderful to hear the sweet sounds in the forest, the tingling I felt on my skin when the cool air touched my face, how even a small sound echoed within the forest, how I spoke softly because I didn't want to disturb the tranquil surroundings....

My mind drifts on again, and I'm imagining once more of the time the Royals were playing in the pond.... Udawattakele with 257 acres of forest is really amazing.

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