Traversing Mankulam | Sunday Observer

Traversing Mankulam

An amazing sight, lotus flowers in shades of white and pink are all over. Birds, local and migratory are busy feeding and diving into the water

\Whilst weekends are a time of rest, they can be transformed into an action filled adventure. Most would desire to check into a resort and indulge in a buffet, yet we chose to do something extreme. Our ‘calculated plan’ was to go into the hinterlands of the North. With no guide or point of contact it was to see how accessible these places are and also the response of people who live there. Our rally point was Mankulam, a magnificent wilderness located just after Vavuniya. Setting off from Colombo on Saturday night we drove through Negombo, stopping at Periyamulla for dinner. These lively night shops are frequented by everyone heading up north. The spicy beef kottu was an incentive for the adventure!

Stepping on the gas, we were now cruising towards Chilaw. The car radio resonated with ‘Dancing in the Dark’, sung be Ed Sheeran. The darkness of the empty roads was creating an aura of mystery. As it was nearing midnight Ruben gives out a mild warning of paranormal beings. Having no belief in such eerie life forms I was keen to spot some wildlife that would cross the road. Nearing Puttalam we did see two nocturnal hunters.

The first was a robust raccoon, its striped tail spotted at a distance. As the headlights picked up its face the eyes glowed with luminous colour. The second predator was a more formidable hunter, the civet cat known locally as ‘panduru kottiya’. In appearance it looks like a small leopard. I was surprised to see this animal this close to a main road as he is normally found in dense foliage. It was all too soon and no chance of taking a photo. As we proceeded further Pradeep was anxious about entering the stretch of road referred to as Aanamadu- the place where elephants cross.

Even before we reach this part of road, a large board warns of their marauding presence. We approach hoping to spot a lone tusker, as these animals operate outside the herd. Both sides of the road display dense forest. This stretch is covered in about 20 minutes. A temple on the way displays some lanterns. We reach Vavuniya at around 4 am and its pitch black. Not wanting to startle any villagers this early, we passed our turn off point to Mankulam and drove to Muruganddi, an area famous for its peanuts. A row of shops was open for business, selling peanut based candy and other stuff. To our surprise a bus pulls in and a bevy of girls flood the shops. We found out they are campus students going on a tour accompanied by some teachers. Fancy seeing this many girls in a desolate roadside market at 4 am! As the sun was ready to rise we reversed and drove back to our exit from the main road. It was 5.20 am.

Mankulam was wakening. We stopped at the town area, where a few shops were in a semi circle. An army jeep drives by. At this point in our journey Ruben leaves us to meet his wife in Jaffna. The first rays of the morning sun radiantly paint the area into a living canvas. Birds are fluttering in every direction. The echo of the peacocks call can be heard. A group of 7 men are cycling into town. Their bikes are loaded with gunny bags, full of local vegetables. Our target is to trek towards the massive lake, from which Mankulam derives her name. We speak to a local who recommends that we walk via the quarry road.

When you’re in a new area its best to talk to the villagers and dispel their doubts. We pass a signboard that mentions the presence of a Christian seminary- Don Bosco Theology school. We walk past green fields interlaced with barren land- quite a strange contrast. Some young girls pass by on cycles, avoiding eye contact. The cycle is used by everyone here as public transport does not service the deep rural roads. We encounter a herd of cattle, meandering. By 7.30 am we see the lake at a distance. We are now joined by a stray dog following us. As we pass an ancient house a person aged about seventy beckons us. Apparently the dog is from his house. He inquires about our visit and soon serves us with plain tea. This old soul is a farmer harvesting red chili.

Making our way through a field we focus on getting to the lake. The dog walks ahead like a guide, clearing the path. The old farmer did caution us about snakes- cobras to be precise. In the deep bush it is best to take a long stick and tap on the ground and nearby logs: snakes can pick the vibration and generally go away from the path. After navigating through grass and reeds, at times up to four feet high we reach the lake. An amazing sight, Lotus flowers in shades of white and pink are all over. Birds, local and migratory are busy feeding and diving into the water. This is a silent oasis in an arid landscape. I spot some jungle fowl.

After being here for 30 minutes we walk back. At a distance we spot a sand mound- home of the cobra. Thankfully we didn’t encounter any. As we pass the old farmer he has kept a bag of red chilies for us to take to Colombo- genuine village hospitality. The dog followed us into town! On our way back we saw some rabbits.

It is 9 am and we are hungry. There are only two food shops in Mankulam. A meal of string hoppers and vegetable curry is the smart choice. Some told us in Colombo about the abundance of venison in this area. But it’s illegal to hunt or eat. We walk to the station and are informed that the train comes at 11.34am. As we sit and wait we spot a large tortoise, again something strange to see near a railway station! The train is on time and we board to Colombo. The adventure at Mankulam was inspiring. It shows that you can enjoy a trek in an unknown area, with little cash required. All that was needed was a desire to explore, enduring leg muscles and a large bottle of water! Go out there and enjoy the villages.