Ian Lockwood


Posts Tagged ‘Ritigala

Explorations in Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone

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Sigiriya from the south as seen from Pidruangala on a damp, monsoon-soaked morning.

Sigiriya from the south as seen from Pidruangala on a damp, monsoon-soaked morning.

In the last week of January OSC’s students and teachers fanned out across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka to learn outside to the traditional classroom walls. The focus of these trips was varied and encompassed a number of curricular goals, outdoor experiences, service opportunities and explorations of our host nation. There were a wide variety of transport methods: buses, vans, a flight north and even bicycles. Students explored ruins of past civilizations, surveyed coral life underwater, slept in tree houses, helped out in Tsunami-affected communities, sampled bird populations in a rainforest, tweeted about Jaffna’s recovery, abseiled off of waterfalls and much more. The outcome of students and teachers electrified by their learning was clear for all to see at the conclusion of the trips and has been evident as we reflect back on the experiences and learning.

This year aside from coordinating the program I led a small group of students on what I called an exploration of Sri Lanka’s dry zone ecosystems. I was supported by Marlene Fert and we had eleven Grade 10 & 11 students on the trip. My idea was to expose the group to sites that blend culture, history and ecology off the beaten tourist track. We were based in the shadow of the rock fortress at Sigiriya and port town of Trincomalee. Originally we had planned to visit Pigeon Island, but the stirred up seas from the tail end of the North East monsoon made this impossible. My family and I had made two trips in preparation for this study trip (see blog posts from April 2013 and October 2013) and I wanted to was provide a similar, yet climatically different WWW experience to the Sinharaja WWW trip. Ironically we experienced a good deal of rain in the dry zone, but never enough to negatively affect our plans.

Scenes from the dry zone int he wet season...Dehigaha Ela and Pidrangla

Scenes from the dry zone int he wet season…Dehigaha Ela and Pidrangla

Back of Beyond’s properties at Dehigaha Ela and Pidruangala provided the perfect place to be based at. They are both situated in serene dry zone mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, they have super staff that provide a home-away-from-home atmosphere, the accommodation (some in trees or caves) is beautifully earthy and there is (thankfully) only intermittent cellphone connectivity! While there we took a day trip to Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve and a night walk in the Popham Arboretum. In Ritigala we explored the ruins of monastic communities and other evidence of past civilizations.

Biodiveristy, both livging and dead, see on our visit.

Biodiveristy, both living and dead, seen on our visit.

A highlight was visiting two archeological sites that both host important Buddhist vadatages (relic houses) and other significant sacred ruins. Medirigiriya is an impressive site with nearly two thousands years of recorded history. It sits off the main Habarana- Polonnaruwa road and is free of tourists. North of Trincomalee is the ancient Jaffna kingdom port of Thiriyai with a very old and important Buddhist vadatage set on a low hillock amidst mixed evergreen and deciduous dry zone forests. Thiriyai was apparently it is the “Thalakori in the 2nd century AD map of Ptolemy” (Wikipedia). Images from these sites will be highlighted in an album in the next post.

WWW Dry Zone Explorations map #1 (with edits)

WWW Dry Zone Explorations map #1 (with edits)

Here is the poster (below)  that I put together for the WWW exhibition held on 20th February 2014. The Landsat imagery is much more recent (from the week after the trips came back).

WWW Exhibition Poster (originally  A1 size with 300 DPI)/ Reduced to 72 dpi here.

WWW Exhibition Poster (originally A1 size with 300 DPI)/ Reduced to 72 dpi here.



Dammika, Ven. S. Sacred Island: A Buddhist’s Pilgrims’ Guide to Sri Lanka. 2007. Web. 7 February 2014 (see Medirigiriya  Thiriyai)

Fernando, Nihal et al. Stones of Eloquence: The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Studio Times, 2008. Print.

Lankapura  http://lankapura.com/ (a good site for historical images & maps  of Sri Lanka)

Raheem, Ismeeth. Archaeology & Photography – the early years 1868 -1880. Colombo: The National Trust of Sri Lanka, 2010. Print.

In Hanuman’s Flight Path

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Rtitgala pathway.

Ritigala pathway.

Amongst the many stories and tradition of South Asia, no myth pervades the imagination in quite the way that the Ramayana does. This epic tale of heroes, villains, deceit and loyalty is set amongst an ancient India that encompasses much of the subcontinent’s diverse physical geography. The epic is more than a series of stories and subplots with complex characters and is also regarded as scripture by many devout Hindus. Its popularity spread where ancient Indians traded and today the Ramayana is still an important cultural element in South East Asia as well as locations that Indians migrated to during the colonial and modern period.

Here in Sri Lanka, the island is remembered as “Lanka” the home of the demon king Ravana and a setting for numerous events in the Ramayana chronicle. I was first exposed to the Ramayana to it in my early high school years when we read the entire book as part of Sally Noorullah’s brilliant South Asian Studies (SAS) class at AIS/Dhaka. At the that time, it was the hero’s tale that gripped my imagination. In more recent years I have become intrigued with the fascinating links between the Ramayana story and the linked biogeography of Sri Lanka, the Western Ghats and the Himalaya.

In the epic tradition, towards the end of the story Laxamana, the brother of Rama, is gravely injured in a battle with Ravana. Rama asks Hanuman to fly to the Himalaya’s to gather and retrieve sanjavani, a life-giving medicinal herb that will cure Laxamana. Blessed with special flight powers, Hanuman leaps across peninsular India’s vast forested lowlands and river valleys to find the magic mountain in the mighty, snow-capped Himalaya. He successfully finds the mountain but is mystified by the abundance of different plants growing on it. So, in an ingenious master stoke that only a monkey god can perform, he carries the whole mountain southwards. Hanuman arrives in time and Laxamana is cured. The battle is won, a complex series of plots is drawn to a close, Sita is reunited with Rama and good triumphs over evil.

A lesser-known part of the story is that as Hanuman flew southwards bits and pieces of the mountain are believed to have fallen off. Today, there are dozens of sacred groves and forests hillock along the Western Ghats and in Sri Lanka that host sites where these chunks of “Hanuman’s mountain” were reported to have fallen to earth. They host vegetation and life forms with a unique Himalayan affiliation, which is where the myth and biogeography come together.

Sri Lanka hosts several scared groves with mythical links to Hanuman and his amazing flight to the Himalaya and back. The remote forest monastery of Ritigala, just north of Sigiriya, is one of the important sites. In fact it is believed that an exposed boulder that crowns Ritigala’s densely forested slopes is where Hanuman leapt away on the start of his flight to the Himalaya. Ritigala is composed of an assemblage of mountains that rise above the plains and host a small but significant patch of forest. Although it is located in the “dry zone” of Sri Lanka the mountain has its own microclimate and there are a variety of vegetation types on it. In the coming months I am preparing a learning experience for OSC students that will explore the dry zone forests and marine systems of the east coast. One of our days will be spent exploring Ritigala. In order to get a better sense of the area and make plans for our upcoming trip my family and I had a chance to visit Ritigala earlier this month. The pictures in the post were mostly taken on this trip.

Hanuman carrying the mountian of medicainal herbs from the HImalays to the shores of Lanka to help cure the gravely injured brother of Rama, Laxaman. This is a popular scence painted on transport vehicles and walls across India.

Hanuman carrying the mountain of medicinal herbs from the Himalayas to the shores of Lanka to help cure the gravely injured brother of Rama, Laxaman. This is a popular scene painted on transport vehicles and walls across India. This image was taken on the Tamil Nadu plains near Tirunelveli in 2010.

Ritigala seen from the south east approach. The upper areas are a "stick nature reserve" and are out of bounds for visitors.

Ritigala seen from the south east approach. The upper areas are a “strict nature reserve” and are out of bounds for visitors.

Ritgala pathway, step detial and pooci.

Ritigala pathway, step detail and poochi.


More Ritigala images: a mix of crumbling granite steps taken over by the forest, the “library”-certainly our favorite place- and a sign warning visitors of elephants in the area (both wild and from a nearby elephant orphanage).

Further Information on Ritigala & the Ramayana

See Sebastian Posingis’ 2011 blog post for sublime images depicting Ritigala.

National Geographic Traveller (India) featured Ritigala on the cover (taken by Nirvair Singh Rai as part of a photographic competition aired on Nat. Geo TV)  June 2013

 Thelka has just published a book excerpt and article by Devdutt Pattanaik on his writing of the Ramayana.

“The unique mountain ranges in Sri Lanka.” Sunday Times. 8 January 2012. Web. 28 October 2013.

Wijesekera, Lawanya. “Ritigala, evergreen misty mountain once an austere Buddhist monastery.” Sunday Times.  13 November 2011. Web. 28 October 2013.

Written by ianlockwood

2013-10-28 at 4:56 pm

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