March 2015


A Land Profoundly Preserved by Colonel Galway: Galway’s Land National Park
March 2015




Adopted habitat of the horned lizard (Ceratophora stodartii), amongst leaf litter of introduced plants

Words Nethu Wickramasinghe Photography L. J. Mendis Wickramasinghe


The mountainous destination hub ‘Nuwara Eliya', trespassed by many wildlife seekers as it is in the heart of the hill country, provides easy access and lodging conveniences to reach world renowned wildlife destinations such as the Horton Plains and Sri Pada.


Situated in the heart of the bustling city of Nuwara Eliya, just one kilometre from the town on the road to Udupussellawa, lies the Galway's Land National Park-an unfathomable wild part, diverse and yet profoundly preserved by a British army officer named Colonel Galway, a long time back. History unveils that Colonel Galway, who arrived in Ceylon in the 19th Century, was presented with this land on the hill side for cultivation.


Yet after seeing the beauty that enthralled the surroundings and the precious natural forest, he did not harm a single inch of the land, and went to the extent of preserving it even after he had left the country later in 1938.


While handing over the land, the only request he made from the then Governor was to protect this land "for the sake of the unknown generations of the Ceylonese". The land of Galway was declared a sanctuary in 1938 and was named Galway's Land Sanctuary.


An enchanting feeling engulfed us while entering the park and the surrounding indeed carried a nostalgic air, filled with flowers, and the welcoming sight of a red admiral butterfly that was attracted to the nectar filled blooms at the entrance. While waiting for our tickets to enter, seated on a tree trunk decorated with lichens, we noticed that the flowers did not get a moment's rest. Not only butterflies, but tiny birds such as the endemic white eyes, dull blue flycatcher, grey headed canary flycatcher and honey bees were all busy doing their job of pollination.


We even got to know that the very rare winter visitor, the Kashmir flycatcher is sighted here as well.


Springing from tree to tree was an endemic squirrel-the smallest of them all-the Dusky-striped jungle squirrel. Although we had not yet officially entered the national park, these glimpses of the world within the park indeed promised us of a pure adventure. Taking in this scenery that was set forth before us, we let our eyes meander from the canopy to the forest floor. Mosses and lichens decorated the barks of the gigantic trees that have been standing there, long before our times, and were home to creatures like the endemic and rare King Gemunu's day gecko, which should be protected.

The first trail, which has a distance of 850m, manoeuvres its way to the left and after climbing a few steps, leads you through the natural forest
A visitor entering the park is advised to be accompanied by a volunteer guide to enjoy a secure journey and while trekking, it is directed that one should walk along the trail laid with stones. On entering the park the first trail, which has a distance of 850m, manoeuvres its way to the left and after climbing a few steps, leads you through the natural forest. At a glance on either sides, the trees comprise of introduced trees such as turpentine, and pine trees, which are interspersed with native flora. Although much of the forest floor on either sides of the trail is lined and decorated with flowers, which are introduced plants, seasonal orchids too were in bloom-from ground to canopy-adding a note of splendor to the forest.


Something out of the ordinary lurking on the forest floor caught our attention. Larger than an average glass beetle, it was shining in the dim sun's rays that seep down to the forest floor, despite the low light conditions that prevail in the hill country. Layers and layers of leaves that carpet the forest floor were undeniably a heaven for creatures, from microscopic fungi to the larger insects and creatures that man is yet to discover. Calls of a shrub frog, vocalising a sound similar to a cricket, caught our attention amidst the leaf litter, which undoubtedly confirms the hitherto unseen nocturnal diversity of this laden forest.

Calls of a shrub frog, vocalising a sound similar to a cricket, caught our attention amidst the leaf litter
Wooden benches on either side of the trail offer one the opportunity to rest for a few minutes and enjoy the natural forest around. A large tree that had fallen across the trail, left to be degraded by the natural world, had provided a means of survival for many creatures, the lifeless tree in turn giving back its energy to the circle of life. The trail is convenient for a traveller as it comprises of gentle slopes.


The second trail, with a distance of one kilometre, continues after the first trail and one may choose to bypass the second trail to go back to the entrance at this point. A slow moving lizard, endemic and found in the mountainous parts of the Island, called the horned lizard (Ceratophora stodartii) just crossed our path in front. While stopping to capture this beauty, it was evident that there was a rich population of these lizards, and earth snakes-which are the only snakes found in the hilly terrains-such as the endemic Common roughside snake (Aspidura trachyprocta) for the conditions are just right and they have found in this forest a safe abode to survive.


A two hour long wilderness trek came to an end, and just when the curtains were to fall, a jungle fowl wound along the trail crossing our path, our presence not deterring its journey. From here on, giant squirrels, and highland bear monkeys accompanied our trek to the starting point. At a time where much of the natural forests are fast declining in the world over, and shelter for wild creatures seem no more than a petty need for us humans, what Colonel Galway did more than a hundred years back is worth much praise!

 

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    The second trail within the park

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    The endemic Sri Lanka white eye, feeding on nectar at the entrance

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    Endemic yellow eared bulbul

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    The smallest squirrel in Sri Lanka, the endemic dusky striped jungle squirrel

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    The only day gecko found within the forest (Cnemaspis gemunu)

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    Paddy field pipit

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    The endemic giant tree fern

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    Endemic amphibian Taruga eques

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    Harmless endemic Common roughside snake (Aspidura trachyprocta)

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    Endangered shrub frog (Pseudophilautus alto)

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    Endemic horned lizard (Ceratophora stodartii)

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