October 2018


Where the East meets the West Chundikkulam National Park
October 2018




A flat, dry thorny scrubland with tall Palmyra palms spreads towards the distant horizon at Elephant Pass

The Chundikkulam National Park forms a unique habitat to wildlife. The park spreads across an area of 49.2km2 to the north and the adjoining large lagoon. Situated on the narrow strip of land connecting the southern mainland to the northern peninsula along the eastern coastal belt of Sri Lanka, it is a unique haven. Despite its boundaries, access roads to this recently designated National Park itself is only possible through the A9 route.


Words: Nethu Wickramasinghe
Photography: L J Mendis Wickramasinghe


As we toured to the north during one of the dry spells, the land was evidently transforming. With main roads and rail-roads conveniently accessible and signs of agricultural activity in the area, human settlements were slowly increasing. We finally reached Elephant Pass by mid-day.


The lagoon was completely dry and a flat terrain featuring dry, thorny scrublands with tall Palmyra palms spreads towards the distant horizon. Despite the absence of Elephants in the northern peninsula, the Dutch who ruled the country from 1640 until 1796 had apparently traded elephants in Jaffna. Those that were caught from many other parts of the island were transported via this causeway and hence this crossover was named Elephant Pass.


Crossing the Elephant Pass causeway, we next headed towards the Iyakachchi junction, and took an abrupt turn to the right literally heading southward a few metres before the junction, towards Kadaikaddu.

Despite the absence of Elephants in the northern peninsula, the Dutch who ruled the country from 1640 until 1796 had apparently traded elephants in Jaffna...


We passed small thatched huts, fenced by large circular Palmyra leaves, which are typical to the northern parts of the island. Next, we came to another junction, where the ruins of an ancient fort - Fort Beschutter can be found. This area including Elephant Pass has been used as a strategic military point since the ancient times. However, Fort Beschutter was a smaller fort built to protect the Jaffna peninsula from foreign invasions. What remains in the present day is a hollow tomb like structure.


The scorching sun was unforgiving and the wildlife too was scarce during this time of the day. Turning right from the junction, we continued further towards the Chundikkulam National Park. Upon reaching our destination we could see the forest vegetation at a distance, much of which consists of Palu (Manilkara hexandra), Weera (Drypetes sepiaria) and Ma-dan (Syzygium cumini) the dominant dry forest type. These dry zone forest covers are home to the larger mammals such as the leopard, jackal, sambur and deer, while smaller mammals such as mongoose, otter, ring tail civet, fishing cat and jungle cat, can also be spotted if one is lucky.


The road across the Chundikkulam National Park falls between the serene Chundikkulam from the north and Chalei from the south, running parallel to the coastal line. Just as we were about to head toward the main road, a flock of dainty, ground dwelling partridges rushed to the covers of the thorny scrubs. Their earthy tinge provided an excellent camouflage against predators that hover the skies like the common kestrel, marsh harrier, honey buzzards and shikras who on the other hand help keep the natural balance unharmed.

During the migratory season, spanning from the months November to February, these very dunes as well as the skies above become the major sites of activity for large flocks of birds...


Powerful waves from the vast ocean and strong winds have carved the National Park's eastern boundaries with sand dunes, which have become natural barriers protecting the land from erosion. During the migratory season, spanning from the months of November to February, these very dunes as well as the skies above become the major sites of activity for large flocks of birds such as terns and gulls and to raptors such as the kites and the sea eagles.


Birds all flock in to gulp in the small fish lying on the shore from cast nets thrown by the fishermen, which sets an ideal location for a wildlife photographer to capture their acrobatic postures with much ease. Not only the dunes in the park, but the vast areas of open space and the fishing activities with the backdrop of a scarlet skyline at twilight too, provides an opportunity for a wild enigmatic capture for a photography enthusiast.


We finally reached the end point where the east coast meets the west, topographically the narrowest location in the map of Sri Lanka. The undisturbed lagoon now had come alive with water birds such as the painted storks, pelicans, godwits, ducks, open bills, spoon bills, ibises and many species of waders that scoop their beaks in a tireless effort in search of food.


This road along the shore can be accessed even at night. We sat and watched the sun colour the skies to a deep red hue, while the tall Palmyra palms in the distance were silhouetted against the setting sun; a beautiful climax to an unforgettable experience under the northern skies of Sri Lanka!

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    Elephant Pass railway station is one of the stops on the way to the Jaffna Peninsular

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    Ruins of Fort Beschutter

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    Sand dunes of the Chundikkulam National Park

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    Wildlife in the region feed on the red Weera (Drypetes sepiaria)

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    A typical fishing village in Chundikkulam

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    Topographically the narrowest location in the map of Sri Lanka, where the east coast meets the west

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    Purple rumped sunbird feeding a hatchling

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    During the migratory season, the lagoon comes alive with bird activity

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    Two Sea Eagles preparing to roost

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