Tijd  31 minuten

Coördinaten 100

Geüpload 6 oktober 2020

Uitgevoerd oktober 2020

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135 m
115 m
10,53 km

119 maal bekeken, 4 maal gedownload

in de buurt Galkiriyagama, North Central (Sri Lanka)

Explore our local village of Athungama either on your own or with one of our insightful guides. This circular trail will introduce you to rural village life, and allow you to pause and consider sights, focal points, wildlife and local traditions you encounter along the way.

Ancient Man-Made Water Tank

Sri Lanka's ancient kingdoms were formed within the island's dry zone, which meant that successful water management systems were absolutely essential. Many of these irrigation systems are still in existence today and include our local tanks (man-made lakes or reservoirs), which were constructed thousands of years ago. This tank is an example of many still in existence and while it rarely dries out, the water level may drop considerably during August and September in the run up to the monsoon. Tanks and other irrigation systems are also crucial to rice cultivation as crops are very sensitive to water shortages.

Ancient Man-Made Water Lake

Aside from fishing, villagers also visit tanks to wash their clothes or bathe. Lush foliage edges the tanks, and white, pink and purple lotus flowers and water lilies appear to float on the surface. Lotus yams are sometimes collected by villagers to make curry. Lotus and lilies are also collected to be sold outside temples for devotees to buy and present to The Buddha as an offering. 

Ancient Man-Made Water Lake

This is another of our local waterways. Some of the bird life you might see here include cattle egrets, kingfishers, herons, terns, storks, eagles and kites. There might also be water buffalo or cattle grazing on the banks of the tank.

Athungama Primary School

We have one village school in Athungama town, and this serves around 200 families. The school – like most government schools across the island – is mixed and takes children all the way through their primary education and up to their GCSEs in Grade 4. Most of the families (around 90 percent) in our local area are Sinhalese Buddhist, and this school (like most across Sri Lanka) is tied to a particular religion (in this case Buddhism). In each class there are around 25 to 30 children. Classrooms are basic – children bring their own stationery with them. On very hot days, classrooms may be moved outside and chairs laid out beneath a shady tree.​ Classrooms rarely have ceiling fans.

Brick Making

By tradition, villages are self-sufficient and within a community you should be able to source everything you require for day-to-day life. Within Athungama we still have a brick maker. The craft of making bricks is actually very straightforward provided you have the right ingredients and conditions. Bricks in this region are made out of a local brown soil which has usually been broken down by termites or scooped out from the bottom of a lake or tank. After it’s been collected the soil is mixed with water and left for three to four days. It is then mixed (by foot), placed into moulds and left to dry for two to four days under the hot sun. Once the bricks have dried, they are fired in an oven. Bricks cost around 15 rupees each.  

Athungama Town Center

You'd be forgiven for thinking that your current location is nothing more than a dusty, rugged, derelict junction, but you have just reached the commercial heart of Athungama. It comprises a few essential shops and kades (wayside restaurants serving simple local food and snacks) whose opening hours follow no timetable or regularity! Many villagers have small kitchen gardens and bulk-buy (if not growing themselves) supplies of rice, so these little local shops tend to sell other staple items such as bread, sugar, dhal, flour and soft drinks alongside snacks, basic toiletries and household goods such as matches.

Ulagalla Resort

Ulagalla Resort, our home and yours, is where your bike ride starts and finishes. The resort is very much a part of our local village community – a large proportion of our staff have grown up in the village of Athungama and the surrounding area, and the resort has initiated a variety of CSR projects designed to benefit the local community. These include the provision of a village water tank and work is currently underway to provide a reverse osmosis plant for the benefit of all local villagers. The resort also built a home for a former employee, which you will have the opportunity to visit on your bicycle ride.
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Marakulama Buddhist Temple

Around 90 percent of our local village are devotees of Buddhism. We have now reached the Marakulama Temple, and one of two Buddhist temples we’ll see on our bicycle ride. Buddhism is the predominant religion in Sri Lanka though we also have substantial numbers of Hindus, Muslims and Christians living in harmony across the island.​ The temple is the heart of a village. Open all day and night, villagers make Pooja (pray) by lighting incense sticks and laying flowers beneath statues of the Buddha. Although devotees are free to come and go as they please with no set timings for any rituals, the busiest time of the day is usually after 5pm and into the evening when it is slightly cooler.​ Like this one, Buddhist temples nearly always have a Bodhi tree, a type of fig tree with heart-shaped leaves. Considered sacred, it is believed to have figured in every prominent instance in The Buddha’s life and is seen as a symbol of enlightenment. ​ If you’d like to visit the temple, please cover your knees and shoulders, and remove your shoes.
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Ganesh Lord of Cultivation

On our bicycle ride we pass by a couple of roadside shrines to Ganesh, one of an infinite number of Hindu gods. There is another larger statue in the Weheregala Temple, which we also pass. You might consider statues of Hindu gods a little strange given the prevalence of Buddhism in the area. Surprisingly though, it isn't just Hindus that venerate these deities but many Sinhalese Buddhists too. Ganesh – depicted as an elephant-headed god – is believed to bestow harmony and success, and the farming community consider him their Lord of Cultivation. After a successful rice harvest, farmers make an offering to Ganesh as an act of thanksgiving. Many villagers will have a shrine to Ganesh as well as The Buddha in their homes where they make offerings, light candles and incense, and make prayers.

Vocational Training Center

Vocational Training Centres are common across Sri Lanka and are another government-funded initiative to empower and train the island’s youth. Those taking up courses, which include carpentry, motor mechanics, stitching and hairdressing, must have completed their education first. Getting into a Sri Lankan university is tough given the low number of places on offer so these vocational training centres allow those from all backgrounds – and particularly those from low income families – an opportunity to earn a certification similar to an NVQ and carve themselves out a career.

Lake Fishing

Like rice, fish is a firm staple in the Sri Lankan diet. Most fish consumed on the island comes from the ocean though freshwater fish is the mainstay in rural, inland regions such as ours. The Mozambique Tilapia – a fish species native to Africa that was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 1950s to boost freshwater fish stocks – is the mainstay of most local diets and predominantly used to make curries. Freshwater fish has a softer texture compared to the firmer fleshed ocean fish, and it is sometimes deep fried and sold as a snack. ​ In some of the lakes we pass on the bicycle ride, you might see lone fishermen in small catamarans casting nets. They arrange their nets in the evening and then return the next morning to draw them in. Fishermen then sell their catch to local vendors who hawk their produce from the back of bicycles or motorbikes equipped with weighing scales, loudly calling out ‘marlu’ (which means fish), as they scoot up and down lanes.
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Evil Eye Tradition

By nature, Sri Lankans are superstitious, and this unfinished house is a good illustration of this. When a house is left unfinished – perhaps abandoned temporarily due to financial reasons – the owners seek to revoke unwanted attention to avoid the wrath of the Evil Eye (as waha). Passers-by might look on the house enviably or jealously and this might bring misfortune on the owners who seek out blessings or protection to guard them from any negative consequences. The writing on the big sign pasted onto the side of this building reads: ‘the triple gem is protecting this place’. The triple gem comprises The Buddha, the Dhamma (The Buddha’s teachings) and the Sanga (the monastic order). However, more often you’ll see a carved mask depicting one of 18 demons in Sinhalese folklore who are believed to represent mental and physical afflictions. The gara yakka, or mythical bird, is often chosen to be positioned in and around the building in an effort to dispel the Evil Eye. 

Mud Housing

You are now passing a traditional mud house. Mud was the preferred medium for building houses since way back when, and you still see village homes constructed in this way. The mud used in construction is sourced locally, as are the palm fronds that are often used to roof these simple homes though some may have more watertight tin roofs. Bricks or grey cement breeze blocks are now a more common replacement for the humble mud house. ​ Inside these clay-floored homes is usually just one big room and a kitchen. Open fires are still the preferred method of cooking even in more modern homes and this isn’t just a way of minimising costs. Many villagers use clay pots and the combination of these natural utensils and an open hearth is believed to heighten the taste of the food. Although electricity is now common, the most basic homes may still rely on kerosene oil lamps at night.

UGA CSR Project | Kumari's House

We run a variety of CSR initiatives, and this village home is one of these. A few years ago, a former employee, Kumari, fell on hard times. Her husband became ill, and she had to look after him whilst supporting two children. Since they didn't have a home for themselves, the resort stepped in and built this house for the family. It is a typical example of a simple yet modern village home. If Kumari is at home we may be able to have a peep inside.

Athungama Village Community Center 1

Community centres (also called a Samurdhi) are another staple within a Sri Lankan village. Essentially, these government-run centres exist to support low income villagers so how they help the community depends upon its location within the island and the livelihoods of those living there. Our proximity is very rural so the Ahungama Community Centre exists primarily to support the farming community. This is the place farmers can come and apply for low-interest loans and attend agricultural meetings. It is attended by a Samurdhi Officer who visits once a week (this might not be the same day). As such it may be a hive of activity or eerily quiet depending on the day of your bike ride.    

Athungama Village Community Center 2

Community centres (also called a Samurdhi) are another staple within a Sri Lankan village. Essentially, these government-run centres exist to support low income villagers so how they help the community depends upon its location within the island and the livelihoods of those living in there. Our proximity is very rural so the Ahungama Community Centre exists primarily to support the farming community. This is the place farmers can come and apply for low-interest loans and attend agricultural meetings. It is attended by a Samurdhi Officer who visits once a week (this might not be the same day). As such it may be a hive of activity or eerily quiet depending on the day of your bike ride.    

Rice Cultivation and Storage

Expanses of rice paddies are a familiar sight in Sri Lanka. The island has around 1.8 million farmers, and Anuradhapura is one of Sri Lanka's most prolific rice-growing regions. Since the ancient Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa eras, Sri Lanka has almost always been self-sufficient in its staple grain. The ancient kingdoms were located within Sri Lanka's dry zone, so water management systems were essential to ensure a bountiful harvest. To this end, a profusion of tanks and reservoirs, and other irrigation systems, were constructed by successive kings to expand rice production exponentially. Many exist to this day. ​ There are usually two rice harvests in Sri Lanka – Maha (or major) and Yala (or minor) – each named after the corresponding monsoon. This means that the rice fields are in constant flux. Your visit might coincide with tilling and harrowing as the farmers prepare the land, often driving plough-pulling oxen. Or you might observe farmers sowing seedlings by hand, standing knee-deep in the flooded land. As the seedlings grow, the crops resemble lush pea-green grassland before finally turning a harvest-ready gold. Cutting, stacking, threshing and drying ­– much of which is still done by hand – are some of the activities involved in the harvest, which takes place in August to September (Yala) and February to March (Maha).

Chena Cultivation Fields

Alongside rice, a variety of other crops are grown in the dry zone. These include chilli, corn, okra, long beans, bananas, mangos and cucumber, just to name a few. Whilst many of these crops are grown according to modern-day methods, the style of agriculture used here, and in other places across Sri Lanka, is known as chena cultivation. Chena is a ‘slash and burn’ practise which has existed in Sri Lanka for over 5000 years. Also known as shifting cultivation, it is a method of farming where an area of land is cleared of its vegetation and cultivated for a period of time before the cultivators move on to find and clear another space. As soon as the soil quality declines, the current plot (otherwise known as a chena) is abandoned so that its fertility may be naturally restored. Historically, chenas were farmed collectively and all of those involved would pool resources and take roles and turns in protecting their crops. Chenas rely heavily on rainwater, which means seeds are sown during the monsoon season. 

Mango Plantation

Mangoes are cultivated commercially in farms yet are also one of the most common garden fruit trees across Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka produces a multitude of mango varieties from the very sweet to the extremely sour – most are delicious eaten raw whilst others are better for cooking. Those cultivated in the dry zone are usually harvested between October and January. 

Cashew Farm

We're now passing a cashew farm. Cashews are mostly grown in small holdings but may also be found growing wild and in home gardens, and are more commonly cultivated in drier districts across the island, including coastal areas. The cashew tree is an evergreen which flowers between November and March. After the trees have flowered, rosy cashew apples appear and beneath them dangle the curved, sheathed cashew seed. The process to remove the nut as we know it from the seed is a complicated one because surrounding the edible nut within the shell is a dangerous caustic liquid related to poison ivy. As such, cashew nut processing is not something to be taken lightly. The nuts, even here in Sri Lanka, are relatively expensive to buy, but when made into a curry are absolutely delicious. Due to their expense, a cashew nut curry would be prepared for an extra special occasion.  

Woodapple Tree

One of Sri Lanka’s more unusual foodie delicacies is the woodapple. Its name comes from its hard, round, wood-like shell, and the fruits that resemble very small coconuts (minus the hair). Inside the hard shell is a brown pulp with small white seeds. The pulp is often blended into a juice that tastes both sweet and sour, or it might be sweetened and made into jam. Woodapple is believed to be very nutritious and beneficial in aiding blood sugar control.

Tamarind Tree

The tamarind – known locally as siyambala – is one of Sri Lanka’s most graceful trees and is a common sight in our local area. Villagers often congregate beneath old tamarind trees and take advantage of its generous shade. Dome-shaped and semi-evergreen with fine oblong-shaped leaves, the trees can reach a height of 25 metres and live for hundreds of years. The sour-tasting pulp extracted from the pea-like pods are used in Sri Lankan cooking to enrich the taste of a dish (such as a meat curry) or used in chutneys and preserves.

1 reactie

  • Foto van Miguel Cunat

    Miguel Cunat 12-dec-2020

    Ik heb deze route gevolgd  geverifieerd  Bekijk in detail

    Very easy ride to do - I enjoyed seeing the village life around the property.