Salgala – solitude in the tropical jungle

Daylight was breaking when we reached Salgala, a forest monastery in the central hills of Sri Lanka. The access road of 2 Km, branching off from the main road, was almost washed away by the tropical monsoon rains and it was with some difficulty that the vehicles moved slowly on the rutted road. The climb was uphill and the weather mild, a pleasant time for travel in spite of the poor road conditions. 

Salgala is located around 84 km from the capital city Colombo closer to Kegalle on the main Colombo – Kandy road. At Warakapola we turned onto Anguruwakanda Road and drove for a further 7 km to Galapitamada before we reached the pot holed road which took us to the forest monastery. This is a place for quiet meditation where one finds monks leading a life of austerity, interacting closely with nature.

I was with a group of photographers from the Photographic Society of Sri Lanka (PSSL June Batch), all eager to catch through their camera lens, some unforgettable moments in this idyllic location. We started our trek along a footpath climbing up the wooded mountain slope towards the monastery. Wooden plaques were displayed on trees at random quoting phrases of Dhammapada (Buddhist scriptures) emphasizing the impermanence of life. As we rounded a bend we beheld the morning sun rays filtering through the tree canopy. It was a most unforgettable sight!Image

As fleeting as life itself!

We proceeded further hoping to catch another glimpse of those beautiful rays and before long came upon a similar sight at the end of a flight of stone steps.

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Salgala is in the wet zone of Sri Lanka and tend to get two monsoonal rains for a year. The excessive rain water and the hot humid weather had created a forest abundant with lush exotic and endemic flora and fauna. Beneath the tall trees the shrubs too grow tall trying to catch the sun light.

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A little temple built for prayers……and an offering of Sal flowers (Shorea Robusta) plucked from the surrounding trees. The Sal flowers are particularly significant for Buddhists as it was under a Sal tree that Lord Buddha was born and passed away at the age of 80.

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One flower, fallen from the tree on to the slab…..almost at the edge…..

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We trekked slowly but carefully, looking out for leeches (hirudo medicinalis) as we were warned that these may have come out into the open since it had rained the previous night. It was not easy to spot a leech nor a reptile crossing one’s path as the ground was covered with fallen leaves, broken branches and in some places, exposed tree roots.

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Rain water that had collected on moss covered slabs of stone reflected light filtering through the tree canopy, an interesting sight.

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The meditating monks tended to their own needs and would venture out only for meals (Dana) offered by pilgrims, sometimes once or twice a day. The clay abodes built beneath massive rock protects them from the ravages of tropical storms. Their needs are few; a plate, a cup, few books and the barest minimum kitchen utensils are their worldly possessions.

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A stray dog, perhaps their only companion.

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We came upon a kindly soul, who functioned as a “Helper” of the monastery. He had been living at the monastery for the past 8 years, a pretty long time for a lay person to live in solitude! He most kindly agreed to show us the various stone caves inhabited by the forest dwelling monks. There were in total 18 such caves, “Poth Gula” ( rock cave originally used as a library), Vehera Guha, were a couple of such rock caves.

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The “Helper” and our guide ………

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The profile of the “Helper”, seated on a rocky ledge under the sun’s glare……

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The “Helper” narrated the history of Salgala, as he had heard from the monks and perhaps gathered from books he had read. Salgala was once a hiding place of King Walagamba, a monarch of the Anuradhapura Kindgom from 104 B.C. to 103 B.C. He was overthrown by an invading Chola army from South India, seven months after being crowned king. He lived in hiding in several places all over Sri Lanka (Salgala being one such place) and after 12 years regained his throne.

It is said that King Walagamba used to hide at places where there were rocks or cliffs from where he could survey the land below to spot his enemies. The “Balumgala” (Look out Rock) at the top of Salgala is said to be the spot often visited by the King in hiding. On a clear day, one could see the mountain Adam’s Peak on the far east and a faint line of the Indian Ocean on the west.

The view from Balumgala of the land below is breathtaking …….

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By the time, we trekked down the hill it was almost mid-day. The leaves gently blowing in the breeze, chirping of birds, green foliage of all shapes and sizes, relaxed the body and soul.

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Salgala is a wonderful place to experience solitude and the beauty of nature.

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– The End –

 

 

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