The Dutch built this waterway, and the locals called it Kapu Ella (the canal that was dug). That was centuries ago, during the sad years when the civilized “New World” was playing musical chairs, in the poorest continents, to own the rest of the planet. We too have had our share of a powerful trio, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English; they attacked us all. This part is history, it is better to let the scholars bicker. My story is about Kapu Ella, the water connection between Kalu Ganga and Lake Bolgoda, about nine miles of pastoral, bucolic beauty at every foot, which I tried canoeing, just for fun.
I rowed down from Ratnapura to Kalutara, three days of toil but a fascinating splendor that will remain in my mind for the rest of my life. Such was the thrill! Kapu Ella was nothing compared to that; just a day of frolicking, maybe three to four hours, adding a little more to laze around and enjoy the ride; well, that was the plan.
My partner this time was Harin, 21, and from the canoe country of Canada, a uni student and nephew. Greedy as mustard, we left, the grizzled old pelican and the greedy young strong beaver, to conquer Kapu Ella.
The start was from Galapatha, where the Kalu Ganga linked to Kapu Ella, the route by which the Dutch brought their loaded padda boats from Ratnapura to Colombo, via Lake Bolgoda.
The morning was gray, distant thunderstorms were coughing and a steady drizzle fell, intermittently, sometimes intensifying into a raging rain. We went by road, the canoe loaded into a van, driven by Buddy, my close friend, who was going to drive along the back roads, riding a shotgun for us from the canal bank, just to give us some insurance. mental health. We went down by the Kapu Ella and launched our Solitaire, the red robin canoe that had been faithful to my many river trips.
The plan was for us to keep moving and for Buddy to join us on the bridges that spanned the Kapu Ella – a healthy way of ensuring safety. We had a map; my young friend had reread Google and printed out the path we were to take. Sandwiches in a bag, two bottles of water and the camera and notebook; that’s all we needed.
The first part of the trip was beautiful, the width of the Ella was no more than 30 feet and, on either side, there were trees of all kinds, with emerald leaves from which multicolored birds soared up to the sky for fear of intruders “red canoe”. Cormorants swam among water lilies and kingfishers perched and patiently waited for the fish to be insane. The sky cleared up in patches of blue and the cartoon clouds still hung around as if to say we’ll be back to soak you up. The kid from Canada and yours rowed, both mesmerized by the serenity of it all, beauty at its best, a feast for the eyes and a balm for the soul as we headed north along the Kapu Ella.
Then came the Ketela clumps, tall and green and thick and menacing, growing wild through the Ella, completely blocking the path of the canoe. I never bargained for it; the most I thought would be ‘japan jabara’ and salvinia which could be sorted by two bamboo trees we brought with us, just in case paddling became impossible among the water hazards. But this Ketela wall was different, no way to get past it; the only choice was to take the canoe ashore and walk around it, along the Ella, until we get to the point. This is exactly what we did. As usual, the ubiquitous Sri Lankan adviser was there; Seeman, he came to retrieve his grazing cow on the swampy terrain and he became our instant guide, telling us to drag the canoe about 100 yards to clear the Ketela dense. So we did, and off we went, back among the Lotuses and Manels swaying in the wind as if to say, “Hello, hello, we’ve never seen your kind before.” “
A mile down the track, we met another Ketela Wall. No one had come by boat that way, the thick green obstruction was blocking the path and there was an “edanda” just across the waterway as if to say “beyond is the damnation”. We got out of the canoe again; this time it wasn’t a swamp, but a rough filled creeper and thorns infested the water’s edge, where we had to transport the 14ft canoe. It was almost impossible, but that word had been left out of my vocabulary a long time ago and I stubbornly continued and my young friend responded beautifully. He had come for a canoe ride among the breathtaking scenery by the river and here he was dragging canoes along the marshes at knee height and carrying the canoe among the thorn bushes with all kinds of insects feasting on us. Yet like the good Pancho that he was, he simply clung to the so-called Don Quixote of Kapu Ella.
Back to water and beauty, my spirits were still at their peak but my senses were ringing alarm bells. It was not the Kalu Ganga where the people along the river waved to you and gave you all the information you needed. Here there was nobody, not even a small hut to tell us that help was near, the salvinia at that time added another dimension of distress and obstructed the path so much that my tired shoulders “bearing – boat dragging “did theirs. protests. As if to say that all this was not enough, the rains also began to bombard us; life was certainly not fair and it seemed that the gods themselves ensured the retribution of those who disturbed the stillness of nature.
My young friend, I knew, was arrested, but no complaints; he hung there, paddle for paddle as we made our way across the Salvinia Sea, at least hoping the rain would stop. We have been on the water for almost six hours and it has been very demanding. There was always the fear of a crocodile, or a snake, or a viper. Well, the gods there were nice; we didn’t see any and none came to see us. It was a huge concession and a consolation in this desolation.
As we passed the sea of Salvinia, another Ketela wall was in sight. This one beat me. There was no way to get ashore, the brush was so thick that it was impossible to take the canoe ashore and walk around. I sat there with my friend and admitted defeat. We had to turn around, not to relive all that we have suffered, but to find a place where we could go ashore and walk to find someone who would help us come to our senses.
We rowed to a spot where we saw rubber trees and knew there would be people around. We were too tired to even pull the canoe ashore, but we made it, got off the boat, and went for help. 800 meters inland was a house and, of course, the instant warm hospitality of the proletariat.
A man and his wife came out and he told us to rest while he called a friend and went to bring our boat back. Meanwhile, my Canadian pulled out his cell phone and called Buddy and the van and gave the location. In no time we were on our way home.
Yes, Kapu Ella beat me and won the round, but that was just the first battle. On the way back, we passed a bridge under which the majestic Kapu Ella flowed. It was almost near Bolgoda. I stopped and got out of the van and stood there watching the ripples as they swirled around the roots of the bridge. It was as if Kapu Ella laughed at us mockingly, seeing the old man and kid soaked and weary, standing on the deck and watching what was winning them over.
“To laugh, Kapu Ella, laugh as much as you want, I whispered to the wind. “One day I will come back. “
Not so long ago, Bolgoda’s motorboats sailed alongside the Kapu Ella to Kalu Ganga and the Padda boats came in the opposite direction. Now that cannot be done. clumps of Ketela to stand obstructing the path. We do not need the World Bank to finance compensation for Ketela and make Kapu Ella a beautiful waterway for people to travel. But then, will beauty and serenity remain? That is the question. Maybe I should encourage the Ketela bushes that defeated me, perhaps they are the last vestige of defense to protect nature and preserve the loneliness of Kapu Ella and reserve space for flora and fauna, which, unlike us, know how to respect and sanctify such beauty.