I have long dreamt of the day I would get a chance to visit the eastern part of the famous Sinharaja Rainforest. Since access to this section is quite remote with a 4WD jeep is a must and the only place to stay being a forest department bungalow, getting there has been a challenge. However, thanks to some friends who got together and planned the trip, my long awaited dream was realised.
The entire forest complex of Sinharaja is currently considered as an International Man and Biosphere reserve. It has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The majority of its land area is lowlands. However, a small but a significant proportion spreads across higher altitudes. To be more precise, the eastern part of the Sinharaja MAB reserve falls within the sub-montane region of Sri Lanka. Despite the exceedingly small land coverage, the Eastern Sinharaja is extremely rich in biodiversity and endemism.
May is not the best time to visit a rainforest as it is usually the start of the monsoon season, however, thankfully, we just managed to avoid the rain and have three wonderful days there. They said the area was named as ‘Morningside’ as it feels like it is morning all day long with the mist rolling across the hills. True to its name we did not feel the time passing by as we enjoyed the cool weather which was a relief from the heat in Colombo.
You need to go on the A4 road passing Rathnapura and get on the A18 and turn off from Madampe junction on B17 road to Deniyaya. About 35km on this windy road you get the turn off to Morningside which is a 7Km drive on the worst road in the country without a doubt! The most wonderful views of virgin rainforests across the hills and valleys compensates for the jolting ride to the bungalow. The bungalow only has solar power so electricity is limited to a few lights in the night. There are no phones and only one mobile service works – and that one only if you’re lucky! It is therefore the perfect place to get away from it all.
This path to the bungalow is full of the most rare and wonderful fauna and flora. I was thrilled to see many species of butterflies along the way and was able to photograph some of these jewels of the forest. Countless number of Tamil Treebrowns – both male & females engaging in courtship displays, the elusive Tawny Raja, the Ceylon Snowflat, a very obliging Plum Judy & Great Eggfly were some of the highlights. We also had two Common Blue Bottle butterflies mud sipping right behind our bungalow I was able to photograph this hyper active butterfly – at rest for once.
There were plenty of Dragonflies as well with the very rare Fiery Emperor, Yerbury’s Elf & Jungle Threadtail crossing our path. I also managed to see and photograph the Ceratophora erdeleni which is horned lizard found only in this part of the country and nowhere else on earth.
Morningside is home to most of the lowland endemic birds of Sri Lanka as well as the highland endemics which you would normally not get to see on the southern parts of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Since the forest cover is very thick here birds are mostly heard rather than seen. The Green-billed Coucal, flocks of Yellow-eared Bulbul & Sri Lanka White-eye along with Dull-blue Flycatchers, Sri Lanka Jungle-fowl, a Black Eagle soaring through the low clouds were some of the highlights.
The forests also is home to the Leopard, Sambar, Mouse Deer, Otter, and even s few remaining elephants. Many species of amphibians are also found in this forest with many more new species still to be discovered.
Morningside Sinharaja is a rare jewel that Sri Lanka still possesses. The constant pressure on it by the surrounding tea plantations are telling on it. The forest cover is a fraction what it was many years back and we do hope it will survive for the next generation to enjoy this most wonderful treasure.
I am already making plans for my return trip to this most wonderful place on earth!