Monday, June 4, 2007

11th Century Royal Hunting Lodge

Deep in the forests of North Eastern Sri Lanka. surrounded by jungle, in an elephant corridor between two National Wildlife Parks one comes across this little retreat at the foot of a bund of a large man made irrigation tank akin to a lake.

It is very simply, but elegantly constructed in a minimalist style in what would be natural to believe a Hunting Lodge of the ancient kingdom of the Polonnaruwa period a thousand years ago was like. It is also appropriate to surmise that Kings of Polonnaruwa would have come to a place like this on the banks of a water source to set-up camp and possibly construct a more permanant structure for their habitual retreats into the forest, to hunt, fish and meditate or generally relax and unwind from tedious official duties.

In the recent history of the area, the village where the Lodge is located was one of the few, in fact one of only six villages in 1900 that existed in this district which was then covered in virgin forest. The land on which this Lodge lies was the heart of the village back then as it was by the village Tank, or lake and was the most appropriate place for the villagers to live. This area would have had many houses and home gardens with coconut trees and other fruit trees and also would have had home kitchen gardens. Being at the foot of the tank, all wells would have had sufficient water year round giving the locals all the basics for a comfortable life. They would have had an organized society with obstacles to protect the village from encroachment by wild animals.

The village temple is the closest neighbor to the property. It is out of sight but within earshot when the priest chants pirith to coax the heathen into his fold reminding the village of their obligations.

It must be remembered that Ratmale which is the name of the village was very isolated in the not too distant past. This is further evident as the people have a dialect of the Sinhala that is quite unique to them. However with the advent of the building of roads through the forest to cut timber and open up lands for agriculture, followed by the advent over the recent past of electricity, the village has moved to where the road was as electricity was only provided along the road. This area near the lake therefore was abandoned and became shrub jungle with the elephants uprooting all planted fruit trees. The general passage of time has led to the forest taking over to what we see today.

During the dry period of the year when wells run dry and other canals have no water going through them, the village folk trek a few kilometers to walk past this property to go to the tank for their daily bath and to wash their clothes. This quaint pilgrimage is made daily and the ladies cover themselves from the sun and wind on their journey. Do not mistake this covering for a burkha, it is just a practical way of shielding their skin from the hot dry sun.It is interesting to note that everyone tries to get home before it gets dark, in case they are confronted by a wild elephants who roam the area after dusk.

Talking of elephants, this property is a frequentl path through which elephants come, after a dip in the water or after a refreshing drink, and make their way to the paddy fields of the village to see if they can pick a delicious thatch of paddy evading the farmers who guard them.

The pond right in front of the main verandah has seen the occasional elephant take a dip and more often eat the grass around it. If one looks around one finds elephant dung, (droppings) showing what the elephant has been eating at that time. Some items do not digest and are simply passed out.

It is always advisable to be completely aware of your sorroundings. If you decide to take a walk after dusk, you are advised to go with a companion and have a fairly powerful flashlight with which to ward of an elephant. Elephants in the wild are usually harmless, if they are surprised at a close distance it is possible they could attack out of fright on their part, so please be careful and do not take unnecessary risks. A flash of a light however is usually enough for an elephant to change direction and avoid the light source.

Every effort has been taken to minimize the damage to the surrounding area. We have taken many steps to enhance the ecological balance of the area by assisting the growth of flora that has established itself on the land. We have also by keeping an eye on the water level helped the indigenous rush and reeds to grow, which in the past was extensive but which have now become extinct. These rush and reeds were used by the village to make all their mats that they slept on as well as for making their baskets and other items used in their daily lives.

This art of weaving has almost disappeared. We are attempting first to save and grow these plants now extinct from the area, and once established, to rebuild this skill and industry, by ensuring that those, who follow undergo training and make these mats, are paid a fair price for their effort. Do try and understand why these mats are far superior to the cheap ones currently available in the mass market. This project is analagous to the woven baskets and mats done by the Native American tribes of North America, which now command very high prices at the souvenir stores at their tribal homelands or at the National Parks in the US, which are close to those tribal homelands. This is an effort to preserve the past and encourage unique skills in people so that they are adequately remunerated. They will be encouraged to make relevant products that are useful to the buyer to decorate their homes, or proudly show off to their friends as momentos from their visit.

This Lodge is my home and I intend keeping it that way. It is the only property I have designed and built and it gives me incredible pleasure to live in it. It is by no means perfect, I intend to make improvements in time. I want to share this pleasure with those who can appreciate my philosophy and gain an insight into the area, its people and surroundings and not just be another place to stay when visiting the area. I would encourage people to stay a minium of three nights to get a feel for the area.

A great benefit of staying at Kumbuk Pokuna Lodge is that it is close to 3 major National Parks. It is 4 km from the entrance to the Kaudulla National Park, and the property borders the park. It is 16km from the entrance to the Minneriya National Park and is 20km from the entrance to the newly established Horoluwewa National Park. All these parks offer the possibility of seeing elephants in the wild and during the months of July, August and September, one can see as many as 300 at any one time at these parks, making it unique worldwide. A resident jeep can be arranged to take one to any of these parks at a moments notice to suit the whims of the visitor. It is best to see bird life at dawn and elephants in the early evening. It is important to note that one must leave the National Parks by 6pm and therefore it is important to leave early to maximize the chance of seeing elephants.

If one is an ornithologist, there is no limit the number of birds that one will see at these parks but they are certainly not restricted to the parks. Sitting on the verandah or lying in bed on the verandah there is a good chance of seeing numerous species both of migratory and resident birds at the lodge. With the water sources all around, it is not unusual to see 30 species of birds within a space of an hour in the mornings or later in the evenings. Look out for the birds who perch on the logs in front, a natural place for them, especially the kingfishers who follow the fish in the pond and swoop for their meal.

It must be mentioned that the tap water is pure and from the well on the property that is fed from a spring. This well has the best water in the village. The property currently has no electricity, though the experience of living in such a place will make one forget the need for electric power. Additionally as the whole area does not have artificial light, the stars at night are quite spectacular.


avanthi said...

HI Mahaupps!
The article was very intresting can't wait to actually to see it.
see you soon,

fairsquareSLK said...

Dear Ranjith,
Thanks for directing me to this BlogSpot. Mālinie & I enjoyed the articles, which educated us a lot about the area. Though I have been to this property with you, a few years ago, and remember seeing the lodge, kitchen, bath-house, the pond, and the tank – I was not aware of the history and the beauty of the location. The pictures remind me of our visit; I cannot remember any discussion on the slope of the roof, may be the roof pitch was corrected before our trip. This location is extraordinary!
A number of the dāyakas of our Maha Arahant Mahanuwara Wajirabuddhi Isthaveera are planning to build a branch Arañña for Him in Ratmale; Arahant has Okayed the project after visiting the village on 3/28/11. They are from Madirigiriya, and the organizer’s name is Mr. Karunaratne.
We might become neighbors, when we spend our next retreat with the Arahant at the Branch Arañña. Thanks for taking time to talk about the accident. Wishing you quick recovery so that you may get back to your riches pretty soon! Kirthie