One sunny afternoon last week, I drove to the village of Madatugama in the North-Western Dry Zone of Sri Lanka to see the Island’s largest Ironwood forest and the biggest Rose Quartz deposit in all of Asia
Ironwood Mesua ferara is one of Sri Lanka’s native plants with bright red leaves and fragrant white flowers. The wood is hard and durable and was once used in the construction of bridges. Ironwood was used in 1371 AD to build the intricately carved pillars of Embekka Temple in Kandy. Ironwood is called Na in Sinhalese – hence the forest is named Namal Uyana (Ironwood flower garden). The 260 acre forest was first planted by King Devanampiyathissa in the 8th century. Over the years it functioned as a prison camp and a sanctuary for Buddhist monks. In 1986, Na became the National Tree of Sri Lanka and the forest was declared a National Heritage Site. Nowadays, Ironwood is planted by many as an ornamental tree and an avenue of them leads to the parliament building in Colombo.
Seven mountains with massive deposits of Rose Quartz mark the boundary of the Ironwood Forest. The pink colour of the quartz is due to the presence of trace amounts of titanium, iron and manganese.
I bought a ticket, crossed the road and entered the dark forest with tall trees. The winding path was well made. Dry leaves carpeted the ground. 102 species of tropical plants of which 82 are of medicinal value are said to be found in the forest. Many birds were heard and a Jungle Fowl – Sri Lanka’s National Bird, was glimpsed in the undergrowth. No other animals were seen or heard.
The climb was slow and easy. A sign pointed towards a ruined Buddhist temple to the right of the path and crystal clear water trickled over rocks coloured with iron salts.
Suddenly the forest cleared to reveal the mountains with ‘rose’ quartz deposits. Well, they are said to be pink but in reality, just grey. Many climbed the nearest hill on the top of which the inevitable modern Buddha statue sat. There was no real path to the top and the climb was precarious. “There was no pink quartz but the view was good” they said.
I sat on a wooden bench at the little kiosk at the base of the mountain, feeling somewhat cheated, and watched a macaque trying to steal food from unsuspecting visitors.. The young woman with a baby in the shop sold lime juice and herbal tea made out of Beli flowers with palm sugar. “I live in the next village and climb up here every morning with water and supplies” she said. What a tough way to make a living I thought as I walked back through the forest.
- “Finding the blogs fascinating. The lady who walked up the hill everyday reminded us of another visit where the lady carried water up the mountain so that she could make a living selling it to the walkers. We don’t always appreciate what we have, some complain when the water cooler has broken down! Your blogs brighten up the dreary month of February.” – Peter Murphy, Ackworth, 13 February