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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2858

Living in the Shadows of Magnificent Knuckles

Hemantha Abewyardena wrties from the foothills of The Knuckles

The British called it The Knuckles, while referring to its resemblance to the five crests of a clenched fist, when seen from distance in certain parts of the Kandy district in Sri Lanka. Before that, the local peasants used to call it Dumbara Kanduwetiya – mist-layden mountain range - due to its inextricable closeness to layers of mist, especially in the wet season. This week I had the privilege of spending a memorable time at the foothills of the picturesque range of mountains which is listed in the World Heritage Sites, run by the UNESCO.

The Knuckles Range lies in both Kandy and Matale District, covering an area of nearly 62 square miles, with some peaks as high as 6500 ft. There are three official entry points; we chose the route via Rattota and the Riversten to reach the unique, tropical biodiversity hotspot.

We, a group of eight, chose to stay in a log cabin belonging to the Foundation of Conservation of The Knuckles, a body of the Department of Forest Conservation. It was in the middle of the forest, a few metres above a beautiful, relatively-large stream punctuated by the natural formation of massive rocks. The cool wind, especially at night, around the hut was so strong that we thought it might lift us all off the ground at some point, up to the highest peak or even above, until of course, we were at the mercy of gravity.

The accommodation was not luxurious, but modest enough to spend the day and night in tune with nature, especially in the absence of the menace of mosquitoes. The cabin has been designed in such a way that wild creatures could be kept at bay by the elevated structure.

We were told that there were wild elephants, leopards, bears, deer, wild boars and a wide range of animals in the vicinity; unfortunately, we could only hear the intermittent footsteps of a sounder of wild boars around our log cabin, against the background of the chaotic choirs of fireflies.

The sound of stream that came from the stream down below was soothing and relaxing. Only when you are really in it, do you realize why these sound clips are increasingly popular in the West as a way of inducing the same effect in the folks who desperately need artificial means to calm themselves down.

Of course, every single sound of water is not always relaxing. The sound of leaky and drippy pipe, for instance, is not something relaxing. In fact, it is tantamount to a form of torture which could keep you awake all night until you find the right plumber. The sound of streams, water falls, waves and even rain, on the other hand, is immensely relaxing. In this context, the stream that ran below our log cabin was no exception. It attracted all of us like a magnet in the presence of iron filings.

We took baths, both in the morning and then in the evening, in the stream while climbing down a few steps from our hut. It was really refreshing when you were being constantly battered by high winds while taking dips in the various parts of the stream. Our guide assured us that the water was ‘heavy’, perhaps referring to the density of it rather than chemical formations of it. A bath in ‘heavy’ water in the presence of strong continuous winds, according to our experienced guide, makes the bathing experience inexplicably pleasant. He was spot on, indeed.

The officials of the Department of the Forest Conservation who manned the place were committed to their job. The speed at which they removed a group of boisterous youngsters who made an unauthorized fire on the top of a rock along the stream in the middle of night, just showed their dedication, not only to their job but also to the concept of conservation, sometimes putting their own lives on the line.

There is virtually a continuous forest cover on the mountain, except for the area called Pathana, which is a region of grassland, battered by continuous heavy winds throughout the day. Pathana leads to a famous local attraction, known among the peasants as ‘mini World’s End’ which is being dwarfed by its big ‘brother’, the World’s End in the Horton Plains National Park in Nuwara Eliya.

Both are precipices with enormous vertical drop which have earned their fair share of myth and intrigue even without any connection to the popular folklore. As for the former, the descent is fairly clear throughout the year. At the ‘real’ World’s End, however, quite a few disgruntled lovers have taken their own lives by throwing themselves into the precipice while drawing some last-minute comfort from the temporary opaque blanket formed by mist.

Since most of The Knuckles Mountain Range is relatively steep, unlike in some parts of the country, the forest has not been reduced to fragments within a matrix of agricultural lands. Moreover, the low population density along the corridor of the foothills does not stand in the way as a serious social factor while inhibiting the good work of the conservationists.

When the fondness of the local population borders on the reverence, the task of the conservationists in protecting the splendid The Knuckles may not be as challenging as the task they face in other parts of the island nation on the same front.

- Asian Tribune -

Living in the Shadows of Magnificent Knuckles
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