Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya or KDN is a 10,139 ha rainforest complex in southern Sri Lanka, designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve since 2004. Earlier this month I had the chance to walk in it.
The forest was decimated by loggers led by my own uncle in the 1950s but today it has recovered and is flourishing even though is only one 300 year old giant tree left. Of the 319 woody plants of the reserve, 52% are endemic. It is home to 86 species of mammals, 20% of Sri Lanka’s endemic freshwater fishes, 36 species of snakes (17 endemic species) and 23 species of lizards. Of the 26 endemic birds of Sri Lanka, 20 can be seen in the KDN forest complex. Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Red-faced Malkoha, Orange-billed Babbler and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie are some of them.
The 46 km drive from our beach resort in Hikkaduwa along a winding road through tea plantations takes 90 mts. We cross a creek to enter the reserve, buy tickets, collect the mandatory guide and walk up a wide tarmac road built by loggers sixty odd years ago.
It is an uphill walk but the gradient is gentle. The guide points out interesting plants, most of them medicinal and gives a short explanation. We keep our eyes peeled for leaches who tend crawl up unprotected legs. At one point, we leave the main track to walk through a cave, emerging further up the trail. We see tiny, colourful frogs, lizards, fresh water fish in creeks and crayfish in rock pools. Millipedes crawl about. A long, thin snake climbs up a water tank and a non-poisonous Rat Snake wriggles across the path. We hear birds but see none. Mammals were nowhere to be seen.
After walking steadily for an hour or so, we rest for a while in a three story wooden shelter in a forest clearing. We eat biscuits and drink cool water from a mountain spring. The shed has a ceiling made of dried leaves which rustle in the wind. We take the narrow and slippery path down to the gentle waterfall and settle down to enjoy the peace and quiet. Then a group of noisy youngsters suddenly appear…
The way back is easy – it’s all downhill. We buy good quality coconut treacle and jaggery at the park shop and have lunch at a simple cafe in the village before driving back to Hikkaduwa.
The trip to Kanneliya Forest Reserve was arranged and led by Padmini Hussein of Flamingo Tours.