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Buckling up to the Knuckles!


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Author Topic: Buckling up to the Knuckles!  (Read 145 times)
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« on: September 20, 2010, 01:34:16 pm »

Just days after UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) declared the Knuckles Mountain Range in the World Heritage list, trekkers, tourists and locals made the journey to see the stunning mountain range that has been long-forgotten as one of Sri Lanka’s range of nature reserves and national parks.

Right in the middle of our country nestles the Knuckles Mountain Range in the North-East of Kandy where the journey takes you to prominent peaks and lovely views with eucalyptus trees decorating the hills like marzipan over a cake.
The Knuckles Mountain Range covers parts of the Kandy and Matale districts and is separated from the Central Hills by the Mahaveli Valley to the South and East and the Matale Valley to the West.

There are two ways to get there, from Rattota in Matale or just after the Hunnasgiriya town, so keep your eyes peeled for the turn off. The British surveyors called it ‘Knuckles’ for the various points where the massif resembles the knuckles of a tightly-clenched fist but we quickly discovered that the locals call it Dumbara Kanduvetiya for its mist-covered mountains engulfing the plains.
While on a nature trek, be prepared to bring your raincoat as the rain turns these mountains into a kind of wet wonderland but you can easily find yourself in a sunny spot with just a 15-minute walk.

This is because the Knuckles is Sri Lanka’s climatic microcosm which is of scientific interest. According to environmental experts, the conditions of all the climatic zones in the country are exhibited in the massif. At higher elevations, a series of isolated cloud forests exits.
Even with the raindrops pelting down, you can still see the breath-taking views and feel the chill as you breathe out cold air. Before turning off at Hunnasgiriya, we were told by residents at a local shop that the story of the Knuckles or ‘Dumbara Hill’ was referred to as Giri Divaina and as Malaya Rata. There is archaeological evidence that speaks of the ancient Yaksha settlement in the area.

We were fascinated to hear that nowhere else in Sri Lanka, in an area as large as this, did one find such a collection of magnificent peaks reaching more than 3,000 feet.

The Knuckles Information Centre states that although the range constitutes approximately 0.03% of the island’s total area, it is home to a significantly higher proportion of the country’s biodiversity. There are five vegetation types enconpassing semi-evergreen, sub-montane, montane and riverine forests with patana grasslands and savanna grasslands.

Of the total number of flowering plants species in Knuckles, 160 are endemic to Sri Lanka while about 32% are threatened. Though the Knuckles Forest Range covers less than 0.5% of the land area in Sri Lanka, it has almost one-third of the island’s flowering plant species.
In this area 247 vertebrate species have been recorded of which 26% are endemic to Sri Lanka, including 14 birds and nine fish species. Five of these endemic species including three fresh water fish (phillipis gara-garra phillipsi, martenstyne’s puntius srilankensis) one amphibian (marbled cliff frog-nannophrys mamorata) and one lizard (ceretophora tennenti) are only found in the Knuckles.

It is also where a majority of Sri Lanka’s mammals are found. Elephants, leopards, sambur, wild boar, spotted deer, barking deer, mouse deer, and even the mammal thought to be extinct, the slender loris make their home here. In addition to the astounding species and climatic wonders prevalent, there are three main rivers called the Hulu Ganga, the Heen Ganga and the Kalu Ganga, which begin from Knuckles Mountain Range and can be seen meandering along the mountains with mini-waterfalls. However, the Knuckles Range is threatened by deforestation owing to the cultivation of cardamom
This has been significiant in the last few years as the villages have grown due to the increasing population. You can even see land cleared to make way for tea bushes which are potentially dangerous in wiping out the homes of these endemic species.

According to a survey conducted by the Socio Environment Foundation, about 5 ,000-6,000 hectares in Knuckles Forests have been damaged as a result of cardamom cultivation and barns used to dry the cardamom seeds. Cardamom cultivation is done over a 3,500 feet elevation in the strict forest reserve, which covers about 2,721 hectares.

This cultivation has resulted in 21% heavily degraded sites and a 11% open canopy. Over-grazing, over-use of agricultural chemicals by farmers for paddy cultivation, illegal gem mining, hena cultivation, man-made fires, exploitation of species, the spread of invasive alien species and the dumping of rubbish are other destructive practices that threaten the glory of the Knuckles.

Sunday Observer Paper cutting - by Nilma Dole
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