The Forest of the Lion King

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“… I propelled myself through the cool murky water before breaking the surface underneath the cascading waterfall… The powerful flow of water washed over me, crashing off my shoulders and head. I pushed the water away from my eyes and looked over the deep pool of water towards the rainforest… A thousand trees stretching towards the sky and brushing the clouds. Thick vines and tropical vegetation clinging to the trunks as a soft steam rose from the rainforest canopy creating a wondrous spectrum across the sky…”

We had left the Hill Country behind and come down to Deniyaya to visit the Sinharaja Rainforest. Years ago, lush rainforest covered a significant part of the Island, but sadly decades of deforestation started in the years of the British Empire has resulted in only a small amount of virgin rainforest being left… Sinharaja being the best place.

The Sinharaja Rainforest is steeped in legend and deep mystery. The name means Lion King and it is a popular belief that the Sinhalese people descended from a union between the lion king who lived in this forest and a princess.

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Despite our visit to Sri Lanka coinciding with the monsoon season, we were yet to see any rain during our stay… However that wasn’t to last! Within a few hours of arriving in Deniyaya, we had already been caught out by a handful of showers… But there was something magical about it and the smell of freshness and feeling of new life that emerged from the rainforest following each shower.

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One thing that stays with you after a visit to the rainforest is the sound… There was a constant cacophony of noise coming from the canopy as a million birds compete with one another… Coupled with this the sound of water dripping from leaf to leaf and finally to the floor where it joins small bubbling streams and then finally raging river torrents. There is no sound more beautiful than that of nature.

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We had booked a guide to take us through the rainforest and like all Sri Lankan guides, he had an insane ability to spot wildlife. Within minutes of meeting him, he had already found a spider the size of a dinner plate, a minuscule green pit viper and a horned lizard. Not being their biggest fan, I was particularly nervous about the snakes and despite being assured they were harmless, the sight of a 3m long snake crossing the path in front of us was not a pleasant moment! Fortunately it was only after I had swam in the water that I found out about the high number of snakes that reside in the river and its pools!

As we walked through the rainforest, the sun suddenly disappeared and was replaced by the heaviest rain shower I have ever seen. Within seconds we were both drenched and the sound of rain hitting the canopy and descending through the various layers down to the ground drowned out anything else… Within minutes though the rain was gone and the sun once again cast shards of light through the rainforest as steam rose from the leafs.

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After a couple of hours walking we arrived at a waterfall of around 5m height… It was absolutely stunning and we couldn’t help ourselves but jump into the cool pool and enjoy the therapeutic properties of the water.

Whenever you read about Sinharaja, you will hear stories about leeches… We’re not going to pretend that they don’t exist, because they do and they are a real menace! Wear sensible shoes and put plenty of salt around your ankles and shoes and you may just be ok!

We’ll never forget Sinharaja… The noises, the smells, the sights… The feeling of freshness and new beginnings was powerful. Even now when I’m laying in bed at night, I picture the sounds of the forest – the birds, the water, the rain. The smells – the freshness of new life, mixed with the decaying leaves on the forest floor and the soft tropical flowers growing wherever there is a breath of sunlight. And finally, the sights – the towering trees, the tangling vines, the sheer diversity of life.

They say that rainforests are a constant battle of survival as plants and trees crawl and grow all over one another to fight that little bit of light… But for us the rainforest was a reminder of the beauty of life and the sheer miracle of its existence. The canopy may hide the light from some plants, but the rainforest had shown us the light.

Ayubowan.

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