Splendour of the splash

(Sunday Times, 9th March 1997)

Waterfalls are a delightful sight and we have a lot of them in our country. But do we really enjoy the beauty? Sirancee Gunawardena writes:
Bambarakende falls Sri Lanka is blessed with over one hundred waterfalls. The tallest is the Bambarakande Falls which cascades down 263 metres like liquid light. It is only four miles away from the Colombo-Bandarawela road in a forest glade, but it is not visited often, though well worth the trip.

Bambarakande is taller than the famous Diyaluma falls which is only 220 metres but thought to be the tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka. The Diyaluma or Diya Haluma collects its water from the Poonagala Oya in the vicinity of Koslanda and Wellawaya. Located six miles from Koslanda and 13 miles from Wellawaya, its waters originate from the Mahakande Pass in Koslanda. You can see this waterfall if you stop a while on your way to Haputale and detour.

Due to the geological formation of Sri Lanka, the central highlands are surrounded by peneplains, plateaus and valleys. Rainfall sends a large volume of water hurtling down the precipitous edges of the highland mass. The up thrust millions of years ago has caused several peneplains to form, the highest being well over 6000 ft. It is in this area that the water is collected when there are showers and flows down along tributaries down the mountain slopes.

The Kirindi Oya Falls is the third largest waterfall. It cascades down 200 metres. It can be seen when you go from Ratnapura to Pelmadulla and get on to the Katupitiya road which goes by a tea factory. You have to go along a foot path just beyond the tea factory and if you do not mind the wild grass and reeds, you could go quite close to the waterfall.

Also along the Ratnapura road, on the Agalawatta crossroad which is very narrow and winding, one can see another beautiful waterfall. The Bopath Falls, a 30 metre fall which descends in three cascades, in the shape of a Bo leaf, is a spectacular sight. It can be seen from afar, from the road opposite the falls. Bathing at the base of the waterfall is fraught with danger as many lives have been lost here. It takes only a three hours drive from Colombo to get there.

When I was in Wales, a waterfall by the exciting name of Devil's Falls was part of our tourist itinerary. After attending a concert and listening to a Welsh girl playing music on a golden harp, we set off to see the waterfall. We had to go a long way to get there and imagine our disappointment when we saw a relatively thin trickle of water. It was nothing like our Dunhinda or Diyaluma which cascades down in torrents. If you happen to go to Venezuela, you could see the highest waterfall in the world. The waterfall is named "Angel" and it has a wonderful drop of 3,200 feet from the edge of the cliff. It comes down in a sheer drop and ends in a mist like froth. The Kukenaam waterfall also in Venezuela falls 2,000 feet. The Niagra is the best known waterfall in the world and thousands of tourists go to see it. In Sri Lanka, though we have wonderful waterfalls of rare scenic beauty, very few people bother to enjoy them.

Duvili EllaOnce, friends of mine set off early one morning to see the Duvili Ella waterfall. Most were hazy as to where exactly it was located, only that it was close to Kaltota near the Walawe Ganga. It has been described as one of the most unusual waterfalls in Sri Lanka. The fat, the short, the old, the sprightly and not so agile, all joined the expedition and alighted from the bus with great gusto at Kaltota, 28 km. off Balangoda. The organizer of the trip had made prior arrangements and a soldier with a gun escorted the ladies as it was a politically tumultous time and some were fearful of the forest terrain. Everyone proceeded along a narrow path on the very edge of a precipitous incline.

Finally when the expedition came close to the summit, a huge boulder had to be scaled. And believe it or not, middle-aged sareed ladies were among those who got to the top. No one dared to look down or sideways as the sheer precipice made them dizzy.

Breathless and frightened, they continued their journey till all of a sudden they came to a place opposite the waterfall which fell from a broad rock 40 metres down in a haze of water. It was the most fantastic sight because unlike other waterfalls what you see is a misty cascade of droplets in a sheer veil of shimmering light. That is why it is called Duvili Ella - dust-like waterfall.

Baker's fallsThere are other waterfalls too like, Baker's Falls in Horton Plains, St. Claire's Falls which we never miss seeing each time we go upcountry by train; waterfalls in unexpected places such as the waterfall in the heart of the Sinharaja forest. A not very well known waterfall is the Ellatota waterfalls near Bandarawela, where we always have a bath holding our heads to the thud of the waterfall and freezing the moment the icy water touched our warm bodies leaving us happy and refreshed.

Also when staying in Bandarawela, we would visit Ella Rest House and then go to Ravana Ella on the Wellawaya Road. This waterfall is in a very picturesque setting of huge mountains and rolling valleys. The water source is the thick Wewatenna highland. This is connected with Ravana mythology and Sita is said to have bathed here while she was held prisoner by Ravana. The water cascades down in three stages for 9 metres and then meanders along. This is a favourite resting spot for pilgrims who stop off here awhile.

The Dunhinda Falls is in the Uva Highlands in the Veddah country. It is connected with the romantic episode of a Princess Manik Bandara who fled with her commoner lover. They leapt from the top of this waterfall pledging their eternal love. The Dunhinda cascades down in a beautiful stream of water which vaporises as it falls, hence its name.

The Baker's Falls in the Horton Plains gets its water from the Belihul Oya. It is close to World's End. The icy waters glisten in the sunshine amid a backdrop of mountain terrain and deep valleys and the patna through which you traverse give it contrast. If you are lucky you may see the rare black monkey and rhododendrons in bloom.

Waterfalls will never fail to delight. They are nature's jewels and a natural phenomenon of rare beauty. May they never be destroyed by man in his hurry for development. Picturesque scenic beauty is an integral part of our heritage. A beauty which touches our aesthetic sensibility and transforms our lives.