Lost in the rubble of Wilpattu | Sunday Observer

Lost in the rubble of Wilpattu

12 July, 2020
The magnificent ‘leaning stone’ of Ochappu Kallu in the Wilpattu jungle
The magnificent ‘leaning stone’ of Ochappu Kallu in the Wilpattu jungle

The words Ochappu Kallu evokes much excitement, maybe because we hear less about this archaeological site located deep in the thick jungle of the Wilpattu National Park, along an off beaten track rarely trekked by the usual visitor to the park.

The source of information I gained about this site is from a pictorial book The Wild, The Free, The Beautiful authored by legendary photographer Nihal Fernando in 1986.

Wildlife lover’s paradise

There are quite a few routes etched out for treks, however crossing the Modaragam Aru and reaching Ochappu Kallu is the best route to be explored via the off beaten track as it is a wildlife lover’s paradise.

Sloth bears, spotted leopards, and deer are common sights here, located in the south west of Wilpattu, some 57 kilometres from the park entrance.

Not so long ago, I decided to visit the Ochappu Kallu archaeological site which is a less-explored destination. My intention to take this arduous trek was purely due to my life-long love of archaeological sites as a history buff and photographer.

Surrounded by green canopy, Ochappu Kallu is like a history museum, not just about nature. It is an equally important hotspot for history, religion and archaeology.

Ochappu Kallu is a rocky ridge with a cluster of small caves and is home to sloth bears. Numerous ruins scattered here and there atop the hill indicate that there had been a massive monastic complex here in the past. Mostly ignored and therefore dilapidated, they lie in crumble waiting to tell their story.

I spent a night at Kokmotte, a fascinating bungalow in the park, 48 kilometres from the park entrance.

The following morning with a tracker, I drove down seven kilometres along a jeep track that led to the ruins at Ochappu Kallu. We stopped the jeep near a cave and I walked beside the tracker.

He showed me a rock-cut Brahmin inscription in a drip-ledge cave and arts belonging to the Veddah community while venturing to the site.

As we approached the rocky outcrop, I noticed my tracker coughing loud, making odd noises in his throat, and coughing painfully loud again.

I had been told that the reason for this was to frighten away the bears that frequent the ledges and little caves that lie at the foot of the climb to the intriguing ‘leaning stone’.

On the summit of the hill, we stumbled upon the extensive remains of a temple complex, at the centre of which are two remarkable rocks called Ochappu Kallu, the ‘leaning stone’ from which the site derived its Tamil name. Indeed, it is an amazing creation of nature. Some historians call it an Osawapugaka in Sinhala.

Actually, no one knows the original name of the site. These rocks appeared as if they were originally perpendicular, but had by accident fallen one over the other, and their descent arrested half-way by smaller fragments of rock beneath and between them, that lie with one elevated at a considerable angle from the ground. It is difficult even to guess how these masses of rock got into this position.

Magnificent sight

Walking around the site, I explored more ruins on the summit that had made Ochappu Kallu a magnificent sight.

Looking closely at the ceiling of the rock of the ‘leaning stone’, below the drip-ledges, I came upon colourful paintings on the surface which indicated that there had been paintings on the entire surface of the rock that are gradually fading due to the elements of weather.

Surrounding these rocks in every direction are circles of pillars in various stages of preservation: some upright, some lying flat, and other stones of various shapes roughly hewn or simply carved, all denoting an extensive monastic edifice in the past.

A few yards from this leaning stone is another massive rock boulder on a higher position on the cliffs.

Passing through these crumbling ruins of great antique interest, we stumbled upon three chaityas now in a heap of rubble of bricks and stones scattered across vast areas in the vicinity of the rock boulder - mercilessly dug out by treasure hunters in search of treasure.

These ruins clearly indicated the lack of protection and the constant threat faced by archaeological sites and wildlife in many areas of the park. Obviously, these spots have become a haven for poachers and treasure hunters.At the foot of the elevated ground on which the ruins stood, walking towards the south is a ravine between the perpendicular cliffs which forms a beautiful pond believed to be used by bhikkhus in the past.

The tank is faced with a slope on the higher side and closed with a substantial earthen mound.

Carpet of green jungle

The panoramic bird’s eye view from the top portrays a carpet of green jungle. I looked down below and saw the green jungle with innumerable stone ruins fallen centuries ago.

My guide showed me the faded rock-hewn inscriptions on the surface of the rocky boulder that date back to second century B.C. Even legend hesitates to recount the history of this place now buried in the vastness of the jungle.

I lost myself in the beauty of the ruins, wondering how these temples were destroyed.

I was told that they met their end when the monarchs sought refuge elsewhere when enemy invaders may have pulled the monuments down.

This lonely adventure in a crowded planet was indeed a worthwhile exercise.