Sri Lanka is well endowed with natural beauty. But exploring her beauty in treacherous terrains is not a cakewalk. It demands skill and experience. Nation brings you our travel writer’s amazing experience in discovering Nature’s splendour of the country in a series of articles. This is the final part of the series.
Last week we described our journey to the peak of the Kodiya-aragala Mountain and the return journey to Mandaram Nuwara, the village at the foot of the mountain and how the two barking dogs that came at as were restrained by a gruff voiced villager.
We were now at the border of the village which is fenced by thorny bushes to protect vegetation against wild animals. The villager invited us to enter the garden leading the way through the bushes. But Thanura, my companion was wary of the dogs. The villager flashed a stained-toothed smile at us, allaying our fear of the dogs lifting the more ferocious of the two by both hands.
The villager was the one we saw on our way up the mountain working in his vegetable plot but decided to chat with on our return. He is known as Ranbanda Mama to the villagers. He inquired about our expedition to the hilltop.
His plot was terraced, with drains and stone bunds to prevent soil erosion. His plot had a lush harvest of carrot and bean irrigated by water sprinklers from a network of pipelines fed by the streams in the upper part of the slope.
“We are sorry for holding up your work,” I said in apology. “Not at all, shall I give you a parcel of beans to take home?” he asked with a humble smile. “No thanks. We are not returning home today,” we said thankfully declining his offer. He asked us to take at least some seed beans, seemingly reluctant to send us off empty-handed.
We invited him to join us for a meal but he declined saying that the two dogs cannot be trusted around strangers and asked us to have our meals at the hut at the corner of the plot. He returned to his work with his dogs. We sat on a rock outcrop by the hut and started to have our meal, the taste of which was heightened by our hunger and tiredness. Malini Nenda had not forgotten to put some sweetmeats in our meal parcels.
Though Ranbanda Mama refused to join us for a meal because his dogs might become a nuisance to us, the two dogs escaped the watchful eye of Ranbanda Mama and shared a good part of our meals.
The walls of the hut were made of rock and roofed with polythene. To our dismay it turned out to be a storehouse for many agro-chemicals and sprayers.
Unpolluted soil, crystal clear water and clean air of this valley are great assets to a farmer to grow toxin-free agricultural produce. Alas, the farmers have turned to agro-chemicals for quick commercial gains. Though urban academia split hairs on the usage and adverse effects of agro-chemicals, rural folk are blissfully oblivious to such dangers. But the city folk should share the blame as they are the ones who introduced agro-chemicals to the rural masses in the first place.
Sunset was upon us and we set out to return to the village. The sky was clear that day in Mandaram Nuwara showcasing the glittering stars in all their brilliance unlike in the usual misty days.
The history of Mandaram Nuwara was well documented up to the Kandyan era. This scenic village is in a valley surrounded by the mountain ranges of Piduruthalagala, Gonapitiya, Kabaragala and Udagabbala in Udagampaha Korale in the Nuwara Eliya District which was earlier called Mandarampuraya. The importance of this village is evident from the anthology ‘Mandarampura Puwatha’, a collection of poems penned in appreciation of the village.
There is a place called Wellagiriya close to this place. While we were relaxing after dinner Thanura has surfed the net to find some vital titbits about the place. We decided to visit it the following day.
The next day, after the mist cleared, we set off to leave the village. There was a huge rock at the edge of the village called Kollangala. On the opposite of the rock is another rock called Rankotiya Bokka, according Sumanathilaka Mama. There are so many historically important places in the area but according to villagers these sites have been vandalized by treasure hunters.
Hidden from the main road there is another waterfall a few miles from Mandaram Nuwara towards Padiyapelella which is known as Ethiniwala Ella. It’s believed that it is so named because once a cow elephant had drowned in the pool at the bottom of the fall. The fall is around 30 to 40 metres in height.
Without wasting much time we hurried to Wellagiriya. The route to Wellagiriya starts from Morapaya Ambalama. Its rock columns still remain but the roof has been recently covered with tin sheets. A little down the road is Morapaya ancient temple. The Belihul Oya stream flows close to this temple. There is an ancient stone bridge built in the form of an arch, showcasing the skills of ancient artisans. Below it stands the recently constructed bridge across the stream.
We finally reached the Wellagiriya Sri Sudaslen Temple. During the 1818 rebellion the Tooth Relic of the Buddha was hidden in this temple for protection. The incumbent priest of the temple, Ven. Mathurata Gnanissara explained to us how the name Wellagiriya was coined.
According to historical accounts King Seethawaka Rajasinghe had inquired from the Maha Sangha whether he could redeem himself from the sin committed by killing his father to which Sangha advised that he could not escape from it and advised him to lead a religious life. The king was misled by a Shiva follower; priest Arittaki Vendu, who instructed the king to build a Shiva temple to escape from the consequences of patricide.
The king became a Shiva devotee and vandalized Buddhists places of worship and harassed Buddhist clergy. The king vested Mandaram Nuwara with Shiva followers.
Giri, the chief priest of Shiva followers ruled the area with a 6000 strong army heavily taxing the people. When King Wimaladharmasooriya I recaptured the village, Giri with his army, was brought to the Belihul Oya stream and killed by forcing sand down their throats. The location has since been called Wellagiriya. The incident is chronicled in the Mandaram Puwatha thus:
එසඳ ඔවුන් ගෙන ගොස් ඛෙලිගල් තෙරට
බොරළු ලමින් ගිරියේ යැවු මරු මුවට
“Having taken them to the bank of Beligal stream
Killed them by forcing sand down their throats.”
Thus we left Mandaram Nuwara, a village which has many historical incidents hidden in the mist of time.
(Translated by Ananda Elkaduwa)