Sunday, December 20, 2015

A long walk in the back country near Tangalle and three tiny village tanks.

 Finally free to use our own feet we took the first road inland just east of road marker 194. The ascent wasn't too steep on a fairly busy road with lots of scooters and tuktuks and I'd say it was about 15 minutes before we reached the tank spillway. No way to see how deep the turbid flowing water was so Janet offered me a stick. The water was no more than a foot high and we crossed the spillway without trouble but still, feeling brave. 

The tank was tiny, no more than an acre and possibly less. Janet suggested it was peri-urban and though I didn't agree at first in retrospect, after we saw more remote tanks during our walk, I would agree that is was a kind of sub-urban water feature. One way you could reckon this is that there was no rice cultivation below the tank. Land use, however it's organized, includes rice cultivation in a functional tank landscape. The bund path, which we reckoned to be a bit too wild to follow, was set on by another pedestrian who stopped for a moment ahead of us. I thought he was hesitating because of the thick vegetation but then Janet pointed out his phone had just rung! Another hint was that within a minute or two of our arrival a tuktuk came by, father driving with young son aboard, and settled in the middle of the spillway, which was about a dozen feet wide. Cleaning vehicles is a way of using spillways I've seen a lot. Not a kind use of the waters but it tells you something about how local people see this resource.  

We continued a bit uphill, maybe a kilometer or two and then turned west to our left on what appeared to be a main road. Broad it was and in places undergoing heavy duty construction. But there were hardly any vehicles on it. Even scooters seemed to be taking the parallel Galle road about a mile downhill to the south. This road, the B628, is in the heart of former president Rajapaksa's electorate. The widening of this almost deserted road has to have been a boondoggle of the former government. Maybe there are long-term plans to make this a highway to Hambantota. For now it offered easy walking with a broad view of village life. Occasional bus stops. People with umbrellas, mothers and children, scooters entering the road from driveways, comfortable family houses with clean shady verandas, dogs, and old men sitting or making their way slowly down the road. Toothless but eager to talk to us. 

At one major construction junction we saw a community house at the bottom of the hill near a rice field but decided not to turn because of construction noise. Another hundred feet or so we came to a small road on our right that led steeply downhill and arose from the bund of our second tiny village tank. 

I've been looking for the "classic" tank conformation since we got here in September. When we were at Madduma Bandara's our first evening in Anuradhapura I asked him about this tank form and whether we could visit one. I located a few on the topo map and he offered, "yes that is a kind of classic shape," but we never visited a tank like that. My guess is that he might not have ever considered the "bell" or "dagoba" shaped tank that we discovered today as significant. Maybe he never saw the shape. But my guess is that this tank shape is one of the most ancient. Here it was today in the deep south but you find it as well hundreds of miles away in the North Central Province. I haven't looked at topo maps for the whole country but my conjecture is that this form is the classic Sinhala adaptation of the village tank, topography and other conditions permitting. It may be a very old form, perhaps dating to the first village tanks built by the Sinhalese. 

The form is similar to a dagoba but also to a human breast. At Mulkirigala yesterday Janet suggested this might be connected to the shape of the palm of a hand. Similarly it is not unlike a footprint. Might its makers have considered it as a memento of the Buddhas footprint? 

Leading to the rice fields a steep pathway with coppiced narrow tree trunks and wooden fence construction, looking temporary. I was reminded of my time in the North Central Province where Amara and I spotted temporary wooden structures used to modify and control the flow of water. 

This was the largest tank we visited today. It watered rice fields that mirrored its shape and seemed to take up just a bit more acerage. Maybe it's because we're not fully in the Dry Zone here. The rice fields were ringed with forest and so was the tank. The narrow bund road was paved, likely more than 50 years ago. It led to a narrow paved spillway, that crossed a continuation of the roadway. From the spillway we looked back toward the south bank of the bund, the left side of the bell if you will, and saw two or three people using steps to do their laundry in the water. You could hear them slapping the wet material across the tank. To their west, at the apex of the bell or dagoba lay what appeared to be the village. We could see traffic moving there and a few houses. 

We followed the bund road northward where it petered out and ended, its paving stone surface giving way to a dirt road leading east-west. We decided to turn around and recross the bund road, reveling again to the sight of giant lotus leaves, lush vegetation on all sides, and the remarkable green of the ripening rice fields just to the east of the bund. 

Back up to the B628 we followed the paved road westward to a hamlet called West Kadurupokuna. I wonder if our tank, unlabeled on the google map, might be Kadurupokuna (Kaduru Pond). 

We came to a junction marked by a Sanasa Development Bank building, a couple of small kades (one of them conspicuously new and clean), a bus shelter, a larger general store, and a sub-post office, a ubiquitous feature of the rural Sri Lankan landscape. Here a road appeared at a sharp left hand turn, apparently headed southeast, the way we had to go to get home. It was close to 11, the sun was getting high and hot as shadows disappeared, and we had seen two great tanks, one more than I expected from my screen shot of the google map, which showed a dead end-something I haven't observed yet in Sri Lanka. 

Following the narrow, almost shadowless road to the southeast we came to a gaudily painted vihara and across from it a former construction zone, which now looked sort of like a rest stop. Partially shaded, we stood there for a moment. And in that moment we saw our third, and perhaps most interesting tank of the day. This small tank watered rice fields many times its surface area, leading me to the conjecture that it might be quite deep, perhaps fed by a spring. In the middle of the tank was what looked like a tube well. But I reminded myself that contemporary engineers copied and replaced ancient structures around the tanks with concretized versions. This "well" must have been a unique sluice built in the middle of the tank with underground tubes to feed the rice fields. The dimensions of this tank were so small (less than an acre) and its bund so modest that this internal sluice might have been constructed to avoid stressing the bund. Assuming a large volume of water in this narrow tank, at least my guess is worth considering. 

Seeing these unusual structures, sensing the ancientness of the tanks, and experiencing the natural and human life around here is a dream. There have been ups and downs during these months, especially when I've felt the urge to get out and see Sri Lanka on foot. But today's walk is exactly what I've been hoping for in this Sri Lankan landscape adventure. 

1 comment:

  1. This road, the B628, is in the heart of former president Rajapaksa's electorate. The widening of this almost deserted road has to have been a boondoggle of the former government.

    The Old and New NYC, World Trade Center were/are considered boondoggles. Only time will tell if Hambantota will be a boondoggle or vision for the future.

    It took 10 years for the space in the old WTC to be rented out and that after subsidizing so that effective rents were less than in surrounding neighborhood.
    The World Trade Center itself was not rented out completely until after 1979 and then only due to the fact that the complex's subsidy by the Port Authority made rents charged for its office space relatively cheaper than that of comparable office space in other buildings.

    The New World Trade center is also "With each passing week, the embarrassing ugliness of this $4 billion boondoggle designed by Santiago Calatrava — a hideous waste of public money — grows plain for all to see."