I managed to get our family vehicle a Totota Hilux pick up truck which would prove to be very useful as I would later learn. The plan was to leave early morning on saturday with Niroshan and meet up with Gayan and his father in law Uncle Dhammasena who were already on location. We departed Colombo at 4.00 am and via the Southern Expressway reached Mathugama. Thereon we passed Agalawatte untill we reached Kalawana. The road leading to Kalawana was one of the worst stretches I have encountered and I would not recommend a car to try that road. From Kalawana you reach Kudawa which is the village which borders one of the many entrances to the rainforest.
We reached a Forest Department Dormitory, but as Gayan has already gone into the rainforest we decided to head there as well. The office is situated at the bottom of the hill where we need to purchase tickets and obtain a guide to take us around. To reach the entrance to the forest we had two options, either to walk about 2.5 km uphill through a route where vehicles arent allowed or drive up a gravel track. As I had the double cab I decided to try the drive up hill. This was literally one of the most difficult roads I had encountered with lots of loose rocks and hairpin bends. I made up my mind immediately that I would walk up the hill the following day. Reaching the entrance we finally entered the world famous rainforest. Moments from entering we were welcomed by a vast array of bird calls. Walking along the trail we kept a good eye open for all sorts of critters. We came across a very interesting Kangaroo Lizard (Otocryptis wiegmanni) or Pinum Katussa in Sinhalese. Using Niroshan's new macro lens I took some great close up pictures of this tiny reptile. Reaching a certain spot the guide told that we would go deep into the forest to check if there were any Ceylon Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger) in that area. He came back onto the road and asked us to follow him. We crept through thick jungle with slippery and deep mud to reach a thicket where we witnessed one of the cutest pair of birds. The Ceylon Frogmouth was a small bird around 8 inches tall with the funniest face I have ever seen. They looked more like soft toys than birds. The pair were peacefully sleeping on a branch, and at times slowly opened their eyes to get a look at us. We slowly edged closer, careful not to disturbed them, and through tireless minutes of squatting in deep mud managed to get some good photographs despite the bad light and thick foliage. I felt very lucky and privileged to see these amazing birds whose male was grey and female was brown in color. Fully satisfied with our photographs we headed back to the main road. With feet full of leeches we continued along the path.
We came across Gayan and Uncle Dhammasena who were returning out of the forest. We continued the treck upto the research station where Gayan has come across around 4 Blue Magpie's (Urocissa ornata). These beautiful birds are endemic to Sri Lanka and part of the crow family. Unfortunately it was late afternoon by the time we reached the spot, and despite our searching we didnt find these birds. Hungry and hot, we decided to head back to the dormitory for a nice cold shower and a good afternoon nap. The dormitory consists of several cabins as well as a few large dorms able to hold a large crowd. The room we stayed in had two bunk beds and an attached bathroom, and I have to say all was spotless clean. After a good lunch we retired for an afternoon siesta. The dorm borders a lovely stream which is ideal for a nice cool bath, but as we were tired we resorted to using the shower where the water was icy cold. We hit the sack early that night in anticipation of another walk in the forest tomorrow.
Back at the office at 6.30 am the next day we decided to walk up the hill to reach the entrance. The climb which was difficult at first because alright as we climbed higher. The green pit viper used to be sighted quite regularly on this trail but we did not see any. We did see a green vine snake though, and using my pop up flash managed to get one shot before the snake moved away.
We walked fast through the trail to reach the research station to try our luck again with the blue magpies. Despite our hours of searching we didnt find them. Dissapointed we started heading back out, when suddenly my guide showed us a blue magpie perched on a branch alongside the trail. We immediately dropped our back packs and monopods and started clicking away. In a matter of minutes four more birds flew in and we spend hours photographing many profiles of these birds. Fully satisfied with the shots we captured we headed back out, and returned to Colombo. I felt that we have just scratched the surface of this amazing world heritage site, and believe that I can spend a lifetime there and still discover new wonders. This trip was the first and deffenitely not the last.
Expect more Sinharaja blog updates in the months to come.