Lawlessness in Yala. New Year Dawns at Panthera Lodge.
I have a long drive ahead of me: it’s approximately 220 kms from Colombo to Kirinda. The others have already gone ahead and I look forward to joining them at the Panthera Lodge in Kirinda. By late morning, I reach Kirinda and my weekend begins.
The Panthera Lodge is a rustic dormitory-styled open-aired bungalow that sleeps 10 adults comfortably. Each bed is encased in a mosquito net to keep annoying bugs and insects at bay. A large verandah opens out to a large garden and vast lands further afield. So there’s ample room for the seven of us including all the fishing, diving, snorkeling and outdoor equipment.
A gentle breeze blows through this open garden and cools down the heat of the afternoon. This is typical of what to expect in this semi arid dry zone of Sri Lanka. Chilled beers and a seafood lunch make this day perfect.
By early afternoon, a reluctant decision is taken to visit the Yala National Park. This was going to be a decision that we will regret. A couple of hours into the Park and I couldn’t wait to get out and back to Colombo to pen a few words about the unruly state of affairs that is taking place inside this Park. This is an excerpt of my article that appeared in the Sunday Times of April 21, 2013
“That evening, with only five trackers on duty, up to five jeeps were assigned one tracker each which resulted in convoys. Heavy rains had flooded the park during the past few days and the roads were broken and many places waterlogged. Visitors have written about the state of the roads in this park and also questioned why the park has not been closed in the past four years or so for maintenance.
One of the obvious reasons could be the revenue it is generating on a daily basis. In 2009, the year in which the war ended, a decision was taken following a request from the Jeep Driver’s Association that the park be kept open throughout that year so that they could recover from the dull periods during the war. The decision was never repealed and the park has, since 2009, not been closed for maintenance. Unfortunately, not a fraction of the revenue seems to have been used to improve the park’s basic infrastructure facilities such as roads and bungalows, which are in an utter state of disrepair.
But, what is most disturbing is the complete lack of regard for the rules and regulations. On three occasions we witnessed jeeps stopping in the middle of the park with passengers disembarking and or walking about. Drivers and trackers, who are supposed to be in charge during their stint in the park, allow their visitors to disembark and walk around to take photos in close up. At one time, we witnessed foreign visitors disembarking from their jeep to smoke cigarettes! All this time, the driver and tracker did nothing to stop them.”
Needless to say, back at Panthera, the conversation over sun-downers is the sorry state-of-affairs and the apathy that is ruining one of our best-loved Parks.
At the crack of dawn, some of us stumble out of bed to boil milk to welcome the national New Year. Sri Lankans celebrate their national New Year or Aluth Avurudu in mid April after the harvest is completed and the boiling of a full pot of milk is an age-old custom that symbolizes prosperity. The day dawns with a spectacular sun rise.
Before long, the others awake and are gearing up for a dive off the Great Basses reef located off the Kirinda coast. The Great and Little Basses are rock formations sited approximately 13 kilometers off the shore. Located along major shipping routes that connected China to the rest of the world, these rock formations were a formidable challenge causing numerous shipwrecks.
In 1961, Sri Lankan domiciled Sir Arthur C Clarke wrote about these underwater treasures in his book ‘The Treasure of the Reef’. During his dives, he discovered a wreck of a 24-gun ship that belonged to the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb (1658 – 1701), which is said to have contained thousands of silver rupees dated 1702. Today, this is a popular site attracting hard-core divers looking for underwater adventure.
I read that back in 1800s, designer James Douglass and his brother William Douglass of the Imperial Lighthouse Service built two lighthouses on these rocks. They transported massive stone blocks from Scotland and England to use in its construction and both lighthouses were commissioned by 1878.
Apart from this, Kirinda has a significant history which is mentioned in one of my other articles ‘A King, His Queen and the Lure of Kirinda’.
This has been another fabulous journey and a great weekend. It’s time to head back home.