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Month: February 2021

Reptile Group Expedition

Reptile Group Expedition

40628736_2106232223027283_7109409788261302272_nClassic Sri Lanka is Sri Lanka’s premier Wildlife Tour Operator, with deep knowledge and understanding about local ecology and biodiversity, which enables to cater to a wide range of interests and specialities.

Our annual group from the USA specializes in seeking and photographing the reptile diversity of our island, with a special interest in snakes.

Guided by expert herpetologists, this group travelled across 41510377_1839008246154121_1988951693525516288_nthe island, from the mangroves of Matara to the rainforests of Kitulgala and the dry zones of Mannar, seeking the rare, and elusive snakes and other reptiles found in Sri Lanka. The tour was a great success with encounters with some of the most sought after species of snakes including the iconic Russells Viper, Spectacled Cobra, Saw Scaled Viper, Green Pit Viper and both variants of the Hump Nosed Viper. Besides the snakes, the group also were lucky to see the endemic Rhino Horned Lizard and Pygmy Lizard as well as giant Salt Water Crocodiles in Matara.

The Water Garden Paradise

The Water Garden Paradise

Copy-of-_SDS9269-2With stunning views of the ancient Rock Fortress, this boutique-style property is design like the historic Water Gardens of the Kings of Ancient Sri Lanka but with all the luxurious of a star class boutique resort.Deluxe-Villa-3

A luxurious stay while exploring the Cultural Triangle, Water Garden is strategically located to enable vis titso all the historical sides in the region.

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Exploring the Saltwater Crocodiles of the Nilwala River

Exploring the Saltwater Crocodiles of the Nilwala River

Not everyo ne wants to check these fearsome creatures out, but as a photographer, I find saltwater or estuarine crocodiles quite fascinating to watch. The largest reptile on Earth, the saltwater croc (Crocodylus poros_05A1540us), known as Geta Kimbula in Sinhalese, can grow to lengths surpassing 6 meters (20 feet). This prehistoric creature is the apex predator of riverine ecosystems, found in a vast region around the world, including Sri Lanka, India, Papua New Guinea and the Indo–Pacific, all the way to Australia.

In Sri Lanka, they’re not as common as the Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus Palustris), also known as the Marsh Cro codile. Saltwater Crocodiles are found in est_05A5885uaries and riverine systems mainly on Sri Lanka’s south, west and eastern coasts. Sometimes they can even be found in urban areas such as the nation’s commercial capital, Colombo, moving around the canals and wat erways in the city. Some specimens have been seen out at the ocean and even in locations such as suburban Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, as the crocodiles move between rivers using the ocean as a connector.

In Pappearance they are easily identifiable from the mugger crocodile. The head of the mugger is much wider, while the saltwater crocodile’s head tapers toward the snout. The neck of a saltwater croc or “saltie” doesn’t contain any prominent scales compared to the mugger. The mugger is usually greyish in colour, while the saltie has a yellowish hue on the body, especiallycontrast, salties are aggressive and there are many cases of deaths recorded due to their attacking behaviour.

the belly. The sides of the belly have rough scales similar to the texture of a jackfruit.

It’s in their temperament where the two species differ the most. Muggers_05A1683 are generally timid; only a few attacks on people have been recorded. In

Fables about crocodiles swimming in the Nilwala River in southern Sri Lanka’s Matara district are legendary and have influenced both folk tales and folk songs. Of late, the Nilwala and the crocodiles that inhabit the river have been the subject of news, with people being attacked and killed by the riverside.

Such is the saltie’s unparalleled reputation, I took off to the island’s southern coast in search of these magnificent reptiles myself. With the help of local boatmen, I embarked on my first self-styled “crocodile safari” in 2016. The boat ride did not take too long to yield up the first saltie_05A8117.

It was a small individual, rather shy, and went quickly underwater before we could draw close. We soon realized that there were many crocodiles hiding in the riverbanks and mangro

ves, mostly in plain sight, but they would quickly go underwater whenever we drew close to them, most of them semi-adults or juveniles.

Going further upriver, we were amazed at the vast variety of birdlife that formed part of this unique ecosystem, ranging from stork-billed kingfishers (Pelargopsis Capensis), common kingfishers (Alcedo atthis), striated herons (Butorides Striata) and purple herons (Ardea Purpurea), to white-bellied fish eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster), Gray-Headed fish eagles (Haliaeetus Ichthyaetus) and many more.

The further ups

_05A1540tream we went, the less populated it became, and there were some areas covered in fast reed beds with no humans in sight. It was in one such area that we came across a large male crocodile swimming across the river. This giant individual measured about 4.5 meters (15 feet) in length. He displayed his dominance over the river by swimming with his head and tail raised high above the water. It was amazing to witness this top predator of the river in its natural habitat, proud and strong. Being in a boat almost at the croc’s eye level gave me an uneasy feeling.

The boat people told me about an even bigger crocodile often seen in the Nilwala, more than 5.5 meters (18 feet) in length. Though we didn’t see him during my first tour, I continued to visit the river over the years and, on one occasion, came across this legendary reptile.

He’d crawled up to a riverbank to bask in the afternoon as crocs do, and could have easily been mistaken for a massive log, given his tremendous size and the colour camouflage. This croc was spellbinding, and I felt privileged to have seen such a giant croc, a rarity these days.

He was as wide as our boat, and as we approached closer, he slid calmly back into the water and disappeared, without trying to overpower us. During my many tours to Matara, I also came across many hatchlings, indicating a healthy population in this ecosystem. One tour up the river gave me a count of 21 individuals.

More croc attacks are being reported, but local people told me that 20 years ago this wasn’t the case. Boatmen have told me that they used to hold swimming competitions in the river without any fear. It’s quite possible that the crocodiles from neighbouring rivers such as the Walawe might have moved to the Nilwala as they gradually lost much of their habitat.

Locals told me there are now more crocodiles, and also that people throw their rubbish, fr_05A7878om fish parts and meat, into the water, attracting these giant reptiles and making them lose their fear of humans. This, in turn, imprints in their brain the link between easy food and people, making them swim toward human-habituated areas.

I heard some uncanny tales about how meat shops and even funeral parlours disposed of their waste into this precious water resource, which is now bearing the impacts of pollution and also giving rise to conflicts between man and crocodile.

To prevent crocodile attacks, there are several “croc-proof fences” set up on the riverside, enabling people to bathe in the river. But most that I saw were derelict and in need of repair. Still, I saw people bathing outside the fences, at ease with the river and the lurking dangers.

There are also some barriers across the river upstream using sandbags, an attempt to contain the flow of brackish and saltwater upstream with the tide. The effects of this project need to be assessed along with its environmental impact on the wildlife and fish in this river ecosystem, as well as the livelihood of the fishermen living downstream, and the impact this barrier has when rainfall is at an all-time high and large volumes of water flow downstream.

The Nilwala ecosystem has prevailed and persisted over centuries without disturbance. But its survival and continuity into the future depend on the sustainable strategies adopted by the authorities. The conflict between humans and crocodiles need to be carefully studied and addressed to avoid human deaths while the largest reptile we have known is allowed to survive in the fabled river. The call is for coexistence and not extinction.

Exploring a Forgotten Kingdom

Exploring a Forgotten Kingdom

When thinking about an ancient Kingdom in Sri Lanka, many think of UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. But little do many visitors who visit this island know there exist a historic kingdom and its remnants lying in suburban Colombo. A visit to ColomboIMG_5108 usually involves a tour of the city, its colonial past and busy markets and streets. Yet around 30 minutes out of the city you will come across several ancient archaeological sites of one of Sri Lanka’s last kingdoms – the Kingdom of Kotte.

Kotte stood in the vicinity of our current suburban-capital of Colombo for over 2 centuries. During its height, the kingdom was one of the most powerful on the island. In the year 1419, Parkramabahu VI succeeded in subjugating the Jaffna Kingdom and ruled over a united Sri Lanka and he was the last native king to do so.

Withstanding internal conspiracies and breakaway fiefdoms, the Kotte Kingdom continued to be IMG_4972the island’s major power for over hundred years, but the arrival of the Portuguese invaders in 1505 soon led to the kingdom’s collapse. The once mighty and powerful city was looted by both the Portuguese and rival local kingdoms. The decline of the Kingdom was quite sudden, and it virtually disappeared into history.

Due to the kingdom being sacked and virtually erased from memory, Kotte does not hold an exalted place as a historic site compared to Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa. But taking aside the complexities of historical judgment, searching for remnants of a lost Kingdom in a modern suburb makes for a great day out during your stay in Colombo.

But this tour would not be like walking among revered antiquities as in most cases you might find historical stupas with homeless people sleeping next to them or ancient ramparts with clotheslines running across from the homes right in between them with day to day life carrying on as normal in suburbia.

A visit to the Archeological Museum in Kotte though seldom visited will help to get an idea of where the sites are located.

The Alakesvara Palace Compound is thought to be where the remnants of the foundations of the Royal Palace of which sadly very little remains. But making your way through the wire fence and moving over stone blocks and clearing some long weeds you will see the remnants of a tank and you will feel like a real-life archaeologist exploring a lost kingdom.

Weherakada Ruins are an impressive structure which you will find after bouncing along maze-like lakes in Kotte which are two well-preserved stupas which overlook the lake Diyawanna Oya. With a height of 10 feet, they are made of Kabok stones. From the structure, it does not seem to be a temple but it is believed to be the mausoleum of King Parakramabahu IV.

The Kabok Tunnel has evidence of an ancient tunnel complex which are believed to run down towards several parts of Colombo. This complex was believed to have been built by a princess whose father was held as a prisoner by the Portuguese in Colombo.

Your ancient city tour can end with a visit to the Kotte Raja Maha Viharaya. Originally built by King Parakramabahu VI this quiet and shaded temple is home to some well-preserved 15th-century frescoes. The kings of Kotte along with the Portuguese are well depicted on these walls.

The story of this forgotten kingdom can be brought to life by your excellent host from Classic Sri Lanka, we will enthral and showcase a new and unique facet to your stay in Colombo. Two ancient stupas in a clearing overlooking a man-made reservoir. Hemi-spherical red kabook mounds that have weathered the elements for centuries – an out of the way clearing in Anuradhapura you might think, or perhaps somewhere in the plains beyond Kurunegala? Not quite. This is actually suburban Colombo.

A Crunchy, Rosy Fiesta!

A Crunchy, Rosy Fiesta!

This is definitely one of Mother Nature’s more heartwarming creations. Locals mostly know it as Red (Rathu in Sinhala) Jambu! But this sweet, crunchy tropical fruit is also known as Rose Apples, Wax Apples, Water Apple and even Java Apples!

A fruit that is loved by all, including the birds and bats! The Jambu season starts in February with the blooming of dainty Jambu flowers. As the days turn to weeks, you will begin to see little red fruits emerging, like small rubiesJambu2 hanging in a tree. When the tree is in full blossom, it is truly a treat to the eyes. Excited kids and adults will rush over to climb the tree to grab a hand full of rose apples, or they will scurry around tree searching for ones that fell fresh to the ground. The Jambu picking is just as much fun as eating them because the fruit looks so rosy and shiny!

There are two types of Jambu that is loved in Sri Lanka. The Red Jambu (Syzygium Samarangense), is a small-sized Jambu that has a beautiful red shine that shocks your palate with its tang right before turning sweet! It is native to Sri Lanka. Then there is the one that travelled here all the way from Malaysia. Also known as Pini Jambu! Unlike the Red Jambu, this one is larger in size, paler in colour and has a more watery taste, but like red Jambu, it certainly delivers a crunch with every bite you take!

Jambu3Jambu is mostly enjoyed, right after it’s plucked straight from the tree. Jambu can be quite addictive because you simply cannot stop after popping one right in your mouth! Of course, many people have found inventive ways of enjoying Jambu. Some cut it up in half, throw it to a bowl, sprinkle it with salt, pepper and even some sugar and mix it up and eat. That is usually called Jambu Achcharu. Some who enjoy keeping them preserved usually pickle them, delicious addition to your rice!

All in all Jambu, Rose apple or whatever you choose to call it, is an incredible fruit. Not onlyJambu4 does it look plump & rosy to the eyes, and it is also tangy and sweet and has an addictive crunch. When you visit Sri Lanka, this is one tropical fruit you should definitely try at least once. And we can guarantee that it will take you and your taste buds on a tropical flavour adventure you never planned!