14 December 2022

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills


Knuckles. The meaning of the word can be found in any dictionary. Knuckles. It’s also a place, a vast space in fact but one which has been misnamed. There certainly is a series of peaks that resemble the knuckles of a clenched fist, but there are 19 more, Gombaniya being the highest at 6,253 feet. There’s Kirigalpotha (not to be confused with the Kirigalpotha in Maha Eliya or Horton Plains), Aliyawetunaela, Dumbanagala, Yakungegala, Dothalugala, Wamarapugala, Koboneelagala, Thunhisgala, Rilagala, Nawanagala, Telambugala, Lakegala, Maratuwegala, Balagiriya, Velangala, Lahumanagala, Kihihirigala and Lunumadalla.

The ‘knuckles’ inspired early British surveyors to assign the name, but it has come to refer to a vast area more than 20,000 ha in extent. The more appropriate name of course would be the one used for centuries by Sinhala villagers, Dumbara Kanduwetiya, or ‘mist-laden mountain range.’

It is recorded that there are close to 60 waterfalls in this area, half of them close to the villages bordering the sanctuary and therefore easy to access. Some, however, are deep inside the jungles and are less known and even less visited, among them Duvili Ella (or ‘Waterfall of Dust’) and Sansun Ella (The Calm Falls). These can be reached from either Meemure or Narangamuwa.

From Narangamuwa it is a trek of some 17 kilometres through thick jungle home to over 35 endemic trees, shrubs and herbs and climb the equivalent of close to 100 floors to get to Duvili Ella. The pathways seem to be owned by leeches who stake claim to blood that comes their way, especially in wet weather.

Muthu Banda, whose house is one of the last you would see before venturing into the jungle, is a guide. He has fashioned a rest house of sorts, a place to get ready for the hike, a place to catch breath afterwards and relax over freshly drawn kitul raa as good as the best champagne. 

Kalu Banda

Muthu Banda’s close relative Kalu Banda, also from Narangamuwa, is a man of fewer words but endowed with indefatigable energy and intimate terrain-knowledge.

He would tell you how far one has to go, point in the general direction (‘over that mountain, then over the one beyond the one beyond that as well’) and occasionally stop to harvest and share berries such as karamba as well as the succulent goraka  (Garcinia Morella), thus boosting energy and quelling thirst.


Duvili Ella viewed from the cave
Duvili Ella is flanked by a cave and as the name suggests, the cascading water produces the finest spray which, depending on the volume of water and the wind, can drench without a murmur. A few hundred feet below is an infinity pool. It is a fairly popular camping spot and an excellent place to bathe.  Immersed neck-deep in water, gazing into the distance and being informed of the immensity of the universe and in relation how minute and insignificant one is could go a long way in teaching one the important lesson that ego is untenable and meaningless.

You cannot pass these places. You have to stop. But it's Sansun Ella that makes you reflect. Even after torrential rains, the water cascades as serenely as ever, calm and with hardly a sound, he said.

Sansun Ella
It’s the angle of the rock face and the width at the top of the falls that seem to have resisted erosion over the centuries. The water doesn’t fall. It glides like the unfolding of a sheer white sheet, regardless of the volume which would up to that point flow in much greater agitation.

Decades ago my father offered the following advice to some boy scouts: ‘It is not easy to put down someone who has opened himself to perceive the eternal verities. Therefore, if it is not prudent to stand ramrod straight in the face of storms beyond your strength, you must let them pass over you; stand firm if you can, retreat if you must, above all don’t panic.’

It’s all about the angle one chooses to face life’s storms and surging waters. If you pick it right, there  will be no bludgeoning, as is often the case; there will be contact, but more a caress than anything else. No shout, no erosion of sensibility, no scars left on the skins of the mind and heart. The waters will flow, wetness and coolness will remain. Some wisdom too, perhaps.

Among the mist-laden hills that give structure and stature to Dumbara, among rocks and occasional grasslands, under ancient canopies and along infrequently traveled pathways, in drops of rain and the wisdom written in the languages of space and time, there are truths great and graceful arrive tenderly in elemental configuration. There are 24 peaks dotting an area of 20,000 hectares, there are 60 waterfalls.

There’s Sansun Ella. A special kind of grace. It’s there, some 15 kilometres from Muthu Banda’s house. You can visit it. You can bring it home with you. You can share it with your friends. 

[Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindadocs@gmail.com]

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is the first of a new series.]

 Other articles in this series:

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart 

The allegory of the slow road

Infinity Pool [Pic by Tharindu Amunugama]