The "Makara" in the Gal Oya valley


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Text and pictures by Nayanaka Ranwella
Senanayake Samudra is part of an irrigation scheme known to all. This scheme which was begun in 1952 is in every sense of the word, a project of giant proportions. The total land irrigated under this project amounts to 52401 hectares. The main source for the Senanayake Samudra is the Gal Oya. It is at Nilgala in the Gal Oya National Park that the river falls into the reservoir. This place is known as "Makara". That name has its origin in the fact that there is a natural tunnel located at this place. Legend has it that the original name was "Makara Kata" or Dragon’s Mouth coined because the water goes through the tunnel. Apparently, for the sake of convenience, the name was truncated into simply "Makara".

Anyone who visits the National Park at Gal Oya invariably goes to the Makara as well. A few weeks ago, we too had the opportunity to visit this fascinating place. H.A. Piyadasa, the Assistant Ranger was our guide. Dr, K.L. Mevan and Amith made up the rest of the party. My friend Sugath Handunge joined us along the way.

Getting to the Makara is by no means easy. The road, however, lay across picturesque jungle and grassy plains. The foliage, abundantly blessed with aralu, bulu, nelli, was rich and beautiful. We were however traveling around mid-day and the sun, at its zenith, scorched our bodies.

We are now making our way through the jungle. All around us are the signs that told us we were in elephant country. Mr. Piyadasa educates us: "There are lots of elephants around here". Perhaps this is why he is carrying with him fire-crackers. We have already been walking for an hour. "Where are those stone pillars?" I ask Mr. Piyadasa. "Let’s just keep walking," he responds. We continue.

He points his finger, "Over there". By the side of road we can see several stone pillars. Apparently these archaeological remains are yet to be properly investigated. The villagers believe that these remains belong to the time of Dutugemunu or Walagamba. We can see about 25 pillars each about two and a half feet tall. Our guide informs us that we have a long way to go still and suggets that we start walking again.

Pointing to some prominent rocks, he tells us that legend has it that the road that Dutugemunu took on his way to Vijithapura went through the area. The Mahawamsa records that he had gathered an army whose strength mystified those who saw it pass. His army had been accompanied by 500 bhikkus, the chronicle claims. Today, that history, its lessons and the people, events and places around which it was woven has been enveloped by jungle, both literally and metaphorically. We continue our journey.

On our left lies the Ulpola range of hills and on our right it the Danigala range. "Beyond this point, no vehicle can pass," Mr. Piyadasa continues his narrative. Indeed, from this point onwards the path winds its way through thick jungle and rocky terrain, slowing us down. We make our way carefully, wary in the knowledge that the next bend could very well see us being confronted face to face with a pachyderm.

One and a half miles further, we find ourselves walking through a grove of tall trees. Finally we are out of the jungle and in a clearing. "This is where the Makara is located," we are told. To reach it, we have to walk through a rocky area. "Long ago, it is said, this had been a sandy plain. Erosion has washed away all the sand" he explained. There is no Makara Kata to be seen now, since the sand has all been washed away around five years ago. Now all we can see are huge rocks, between 20 and 50 feet tall and the place where the Makara Kata used to be. Who knows, in time, the sands will move, as is the order of the earth, and someday the Makara will resurface. Who are we to impose our will on the natural process? For now, far away, we could see the Gal Oya Project and the Senanayake Samudra. Breathtaking!

"There, a crocodile," someone pointed to the muddy waters of the Gal Oya. The crocodile moved through the water effortlessly, unperturbed by our collective gaze. Far away, we could see an eagle perched on a whitened bare branch of a tree. The bird, the water, the silent jugle surrounding both, penned softly the pensive poetry of solitude.

And yet, it was as though the ancient beauty that enveloped the Makara. In a country where "conservation of the environment" is limited to mere mouthings and even then sporadically, it is not surprising that a certain processual reverse occurs. We had passed several places where the plain had caught fire or had deliberately been set on fire. Poaching, we were told, continues with impunity. The Wild Life officers are truly handicapped in terms of human and other resources. To their credit, what is left is solely due to their commitment to conservation and love for the natural world.

What we are living through is certainly an age of darkness. If this is not the case, there wouldn’t be any plans to build a shopping centre in Patanangala, Yala or a tourist hotel in Horton Plains. The ADB project that threatens all wild life and all our forests too would have been turned back. Weighed down by these troubled thoughts, we turned back from the Makara.