de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2003). Kanneliya, Kottawa and Hiyare. Serendipity. October 2003. Page 12.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne discovers that a few key steps have been taken to give a firm start to rainforest tourism from Galle.
The year 2003 will in time turn out to be an important year for eco-tourism in Sri Lanka. For it is only in this year that some simple but crucial steps have taken place to introduce a new dimension to facilitate eco-tourism in Sri Lanka. This year has seen the introduction of tickets at the point of entry for Kanneliya, the Kottawa Rainforest & Arboretum and Hiyare. This in my view, will establish Galle as the Rainforest tourism hub of Sri Lanka.
This may surprise many people who are not even aware that rainforests can be associated with the Dutch heritage fortress city of Galle. Surprising as it may seem, rainforests are only half an hour away from Galle. The Kottawa Rainforest & Arboretum and Hiyare are both about 15 km from the Galle Fort. A mere half an hour’s drive away. The Kanneliya-Nakiyadeniya-Dediyagala rainforest complex is one of the largest, if not the largest, remaining tract of rainforest in Sri Lanka. Many people are not aware that it is only 40 km from Galle. The drive will take around one hour and fifteen minutes from Galle.
These facts were known to a handful of keen naturalists, but the sites were difficult to use for eco-tourism. The cumbersome procedure of having to take permits from the District Forest Office in Galle made them unsuitable for tourism. Now all that has changed. Visitors can purchase tickets at the point of entry and Galle is set to become the leading provider of rainforest tourism in Sri Lanka.
The advantage of Galle is the short travel time and the wide availability of food and accommodation and other facilities in Galle. Furthermore in Kottawa, Hiyare and Kanneliya, it is easy for visitors of different ages and levels of physical fitness to enjoy the rainforest. Kottawa is particularly good for casual visitors and families who wish to walk thorough a rainforest. It can be done easily and at leisure, after breakfast and with time to return to Galle for a swim before lunch. Hiyare, at present, does not have good trails to take you comfortably through the forest. But one can have wonderful views of the canopy of the forest on the edge of a scenic reservoir.
If Galle is such a wonderful gateway to the Sri Lankan lowland rainforests, is there a need to develop the infrastructure for rainforests such as Sinharaja? Absolutely yes. Sinharaja is a much richer rainforest, perhaps due to lesser disturbance from logging than Kanneliya. For serious birdwatchers in search of endemic birds such as Blue Magpie, Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal etc, Sinharaja is far superior. Unfortunately, at present, the state of the roads and facilities in Sinharaja is embarrassingly short of the facilities which would befit Sri Lanka’s best lowland rainforest. More investment is needed in Sinharaja. But precisely because access and facilities at Sinharaja are limited, Galle will rise in ascendancy as an alternative.
In September, I visited Kanneliya, Kottawa and Hiyare on multiple visits to Galle. I was fortunate to be in the company of Hasantha Sanjeewa, the naturalist of the Lighthouse Hotel. Each forest, I found, had its own character and appeal. The highlights in Kottawa were the dramatic, Hump-nosed Lizard. An endemic of the lowland rainforests. One displaying male was just a few feet from the main walking trail. It had distended its gular sac which was yellow in colour, contrasting with its head which had turned blue. Another highlight was a Rough-nosed Horned Lizard, which Hasantha expertly found amongst the leaf litter. Hiyare, we found was better for birds. A party of Grey Hornbills entertained us with their acrobatics on the canopy as they reached fro fruit. A procession of pigeons and Hill Mynas jockeyed for occupancy of the exposed dead branches of a few tall trees. Imperial Green Pigeons and Orange-breasted Green Pigeons looked stunning in the morning light. The insistent, escalating series of high pitched calls of the Sri Lanka Spurfowl and the melodious notes of the Spot-winged Thrush, alerted us to the presence of several endemic species in the adjoining forest. Kanneliya, looked vast and inviting. A troop of Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys, an endemic mammal, shyly played hide and seek with us.
All of a sudden, I am in a hurry to go back to Galle.
The writer is the CEO of a Wildlife & Adventure Travel Company. To receive his free, monthly wildlife e-Newsletter, e-mail him at gehan@jetwing.lk with “Subscribe Wildlife News” in the message header.