Kandy to Kalawewa, 7 January 1893

In the morning at 6 o’clock we started on the hunting expedition into the interior of the island of an expected duration of five days, 108 km north from Kandy to the ponds and jungle of Kalawewa.

Up to Matale we took a special train to Mahaiyawa Station through smiling valleys an high mountain peaks covered in light mist while deeper down thaw was glittering on the leaves and flowers. The day was glorious and cool.

We reached Matale in a bit less than three quarters of an hour and mounted high wagons there, after the baggage, the guns, the photographic apparatus and Hodek’s sorcerer’s toolbox stuff were loaded.

The road led through the most beautiful palm and banana groves in which there were plenty of Sinhalese settlements whose inhabitants were lining the road with curious eyes. Colorful birds and majestic butterflies flew past among which was a Papilio iophon  of carmine red with white-black wings and a intensive black-yellow Ornithoptera darsius which caught my special attention given my particular professional interest to its color choice. The bearer of our colors we renamed into “Lepidopteron austriacum”. We also observed the white and orange colored Hebomoia glaucippe which followed our wagon for a long time, as well as the white black Hestia iasonia, multiple small lemon yellow Terias, also the glorious white black and light-blue speckled Papilio parinda and in the jungle swarms of Chilasa clytioides. The first parrots we saw were greeted by our wild cries.

After about 30 km the scenery and vegetation change. High tall deciduous trees mixed with impenetrable bushes and mighty Euphorbias replace palm trees. The wildlife also changes and becomes more numerous. We observed a cuckoo bird named Indian jungle crow, multiple heron species, noticeably many bee-eaters, striped squirrels and a mongoose.

Every 19 to 20 km government built small, one floor rest stop houses provide accommodation for the travelers, food and sometimes also horses along the excellent road cutting through the park-like landscape. We changed our horse teams regularly at these stops. These horse teams were sometimes 17 hands tall Australians, sometimes small Indian double ponies or military horses. Everything went according to plan and we drove extraordinarily quickly.

Towards 11 o’clock in the morning, we had travelled for 45 km to have a breakfast rest on the cone-shaped rock Dambulla after a visit to its famous Buddha temple. At the foot of the rock we were received by the most respected local nobleman escorted by his spear-armed lifeguard. As the ascent to the temple is rather long and steep, we were carried on small seats mounted on poles by teams of eight Sinhalese. The poor devils were sweating and breathing mightily but in the tropical heat my egoism has to surpass my compassion, so I staggered comfortably up to the entrance of the temple which is remarkable both due to its age and construction style.

Five important caves with very small entrances have been hacked by humans into the rock and serve as a temple for Buddha. His image and scenes from his life are depicted in countless variations. At the entrance to this temple caves one can see on the opposite side under a canopy a statue of Buddha which shows him as an example of tranquility partly standing as an instructing god partly sitting with his hands folded in his lap. The face of god which expresses nothing less than intelligence as well as his extremities are in all images covered in flashy yellow color while his dress is playfully colored. In a third posture, namely lying, Buddha is present five times in the temple caves of Dambulla. These statues are hewn out of the rock, each 20 m long and 3 m high and resemble more whales than an image of a god. Around these representations are pedestals with a number of sitting Buddhas of larger-than-life size partly made out of stone, partly made out of burned clay.

The walls and the ceiling of the caves are often covered in highly imaginative paintings which most of the times treat the life of Buddha and give the impression of a large hanging rug due to their thoughtful arrangement and disposition. Apart a few statues of Buddha we saw in the temples also those of the Indian king Räma, the legendary conqueror of Ceylon.

A mythical darkness reigns in these six-hundred-year-old rooms as only a few beautiful bronze lamps decorated with giant peacocks emit a bit of light while the scent of white flowers, temple flowers which amply grow outside the temple, are overpowering the senses.

A number of bonzes told us – naturally in Sinhalese language – apparently highly interesting things of which we understood nothing which ended with a very comprehensible demand for baksheesh.

The charming governor who cared so much about our well-being had had a tiny house built out of bamboo sticks and palm leaves on the height of the rock near a small pond. There we found a dining room with kitchen as well as a luxuriously equipped cabin for each of us to rest at noon. We blessed Sir Arthur E. Havelock in thought, as that comfortable place nor only allowed us ample refreshment and quiet rest but also an almost fairy-like panorama of that part of the island. Deep down below us was the wide green sea of palm and deciduous trees out of which one could detect a small lake or a Sinhalese settlement and, island-like, mountain peaks in blue hue. Also the famous and notorious Sigiri mountain on which the kings of yore had built important fortresses with stone galleries that could be viewed with a spyglass.

For long we could not force us to separate us from this enchanting panorama but as another 37 km were still to be covered we had to enter into the wagon again.

The heat had diminished and quickly we drove along the road. The only interruption was caused by two Sinhalese high priests who offered with many bows a long piece of writing which asked for a contribution for the restoration of a Buddha temple as one of the men in the party translated. Perhaps one head of the Buddha is now receiving an even more beautiful canary yellow coating thanks to my small contribution.

The sun was just setting when the thick tropical forest opened up in front of us.

A cry of amazement escaped from our lips after we had reached the top of the high dam in front of us which offered a completely new picture. On the one side the enormous water basin of Kalawewa, a pond in glittering blue in which hundreds of dead large trees pushed their branches to the sky – the golden red light of the sun rays relay turns this landscape into one of Dore’s fantastic landscapes. On the other side of the dam is the endless jungle with its closed canopy and the grotesque forms of the mountain peaks in the distance.

The dam on which we moved – built by king Dhatu Sena during the 5th century AD, incredibly without any technical assistance but only with the use of human labor – had a length of 9.6 km, a height of 20 m, a width of 7 m and dams the water of two rivers so that a pond is formed as a reservoir which covers a circumference of 64 km. The goal of this great land improvement work is the irrigation of numerous rice fields in the surrounding areas while a large bifurcating canal with locks supplies water to the 83 km distant Anuradhapura as well as over 100 village ponds on its way.

With time, the giant stone and earth dam had become loose and the dam broke and the whole surrounding area was flooded. Everywhere the fever, nourished by the miasma, ravaged the population so much that the survivors decided to emigrate. After the canal leading to Anuradhapura had been repaired some kilometers from that place by governor Sir William Gregory (1871-1877) did the British government order the whole canal repaired during the years from 1884 to 1887 and also to repair the dam which also restored the pond. The government intends to urge Sinhalese from the northern provinces to settle in this area offering the settlers free land, a measure only partially successful as people still fear the fever. The fear of the fever is grounded in reality as we could personally witness seeing many locals deeply marked by treacherous disease.

The accumulated water due to the restitution of the dam has made large tracts productive but flooded and killed the large trees at the edge which formerly had stood on firm ground.

We had reached our destination and found our home for the next days, the hunting camp, ready. Up on the dam crest, next to a small engineer house small bungalows out of bamboo and palm leaves had been built which made a comfortable and friendly impression. First were the small rooms for me and the men of my entourage, then a large dining room, the kitchens and, a bit lower down, a barn for about thirty horses.

For a long time we sat in front of our bungalows on this beautiful evening and enjoyed the myriads of fireflies swarming around the tree branches.

Links

  • Location: Kalawewa, Ceylon
  • ANNO – on 07.01.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The Swiss government informs that it denies the rumors circulating in the press that it will replace its ambassador to Austria, Mr Aepli. Amidst the turmoils of the Panama scandals in France, it is unclear whether the former minister Charles Baïhaut has been arrested, as Le Figaro says, or not.
  • The Neue Freie Presse informs its readers about Franz Ferdinand’s journey with an update about his time in Aden and informs about his sightseeing trip to the city.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing Adolf von Wilbrandt’s  „Der Meister von Palmyra“; the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater again combines an opera and a ballet: Pietro Mascagni’s Die Rantzau and the ballet the „Four Seasons“.

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