Paths to the peak

Photography exhibition of ecology, landscape and culture of Sri Lanka’s sacred mountain by Ian Lockwood

By Shabna Cader
As someone who has not climbed any peak in Sri Lanka, let alone Adam’s Peak or rather Sri Pada as it is commonly known, the photographic exhibition titled ‘Ecology, landscape and culture of Sri Lanka’s sacred mountain’ at the Barefoot Gallery was a welcome experience for my eyes as I took in the beauty, ecology and landscape.
Ian Lockwood is no amateur photographer; he is an educator and writer as well and has a deep interest in ecology, landscape and the many cultures inbred in South Asia. “My father was born in Sri Lanka and although I lived most of my life in the mountainous area of Tamil Nadu, South of India, there were frequent visits to this island. I suppose what really intrigued and attracted me towards the Sri Pada was the strong natural and religious connotation of it,” he said. People from various religions, ethnicities and cultures visit this place and so it brings together people from all walks of life.
We begin our interview with a round of quick questions and this time, it is Ian asking the questions. Have you been to Adam’s Peak? How many times have you climbed it? Unfortunately and quite shamed to say, my answer was no, and never. Ian has climbed the peak 12 and half times! To him, the similarities between the mountains of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka are intriguing. He nurtured his hobby of photography during his years in high school, when he used to hike often and always had a camera at hand and took pictures of natural elements.
“All the religious peaks here have a spiritual connotation to it. You don’t climb the Sri Pada or any other peak just because they are extremely high peaks but because of the spiritual journey you are on. They are also blessed with lovely views but that is not the reason why I wanted to climb in the first place. Climbing the path is a different experience – with few people it is different, when it’s crowded it is different just as it is different in all kinds of weather! I have climbed most of the highest peaks in South India but the peaks here are very different because of the religious aspect to it. I’m interested in both the spiritual element and ecosystems,” added Ian.
You can find both these elements in his pictures – portraits of individuals depict a spiritual and religious aspect; many photographs are evidence to the captured mood of being a pilgrim there. He has also captured the ecology and ecosystems in his work – there is an artistic side presenting a lovely view of the landscape as well. There is educational information along with some of the photographs as well written by Ian. The fact that it is a very well documented peak also enhances the importance of having such an exhibition of work that has once again documented the peak in all its angles, paths and interpretations.
The journey is the destination; for Ian, the point of making the journey is not to rush it. He has climbed the peak in all kinds of weather, and been through barely any mishaps. “I tend to take my time climbing the peak because I’ve got all my equipment in my bag and stop often to set up my tripod and take pictures from all sorts of angles,” he said showing a couple of photographs printed on the catalogue of the exhibition. Most of them are in black and white print and I question Ian behind the reason for it; “black and white evokes something deeper about a place, has the ability to evoke a very deeper aspect in whatever it captures. When it comes to landscapes, it can highlight details and draw out something deeper – it makes a photograph look simpler and allow you to focus on things that might not be focussed on in colour. Certain pictures needed to be in colour on the other hand but the rest are better when it’s in black and white”.
‘Paths to the peak’ is a celebration of the peak from all its paths and views. Ian has captured interesting angles from below and atop the peak. “There are many paths to the peak and so much to see – I have one picture from the peak, when the clouds were cleared at night and you can see the lights of Colombo shining”. Going through some of his other pictures, I noticed one taken in Hambantota that shows the peak in the far distance.
“When you go up, there is no saying or knowing what you’re going to see. You have certain expectations and my approach to revisit the peak is to get to know it a lot better. I stumble a lot; keep making mistakes so it helps to climb repeatedly. I’ve gone through some paths but not covered all because there are several different paths that lead you to Sri Pada”, he further said.
Ian has exhibitions in New York, Bombay, etc., although this is his first in Sri Lanka. Further examples of his previous photographic exhibitions and writings can be found at www.highrangephotography.com
(Pix copyright: Ian Lockwood)


Bulbuls nibbling buns in Sri Pada

Bearing the brunt of exploitation

To say that the present-day natural environment is bearing the brunt of decades, or perhaps centuries of exploitation is to put things mildly. And, when you come across an endemic bird nibbling away at a sausage bun, at a designated wilderness sanctuary, it signals that we are fast reaching the point of no return when it comes to environmental degradation.
Recently, a group of volunteers belonging to the Young Zoologist Association (YZA) climbed Sri Pada, not as part of an yearly pilgrimage to the sacred peak or to revel in the glorious sights of the natural environment, but to clean up the mess left behind by thousands of devotees who have climbed the gruelling trek over five months.
YZA members gathered up most of the mess over two days. The accumulated squalor was huge; nearly 500 kilograms. It was while picking up garbage that one member captured the wretched sight of a Yellow-eared Bulbul pecking at a sausage bun.
Yellow-eared Bulbul, or Kaha Kan Kondaya (Pycnonotus penicillatus) is an endemic resident breeder in the mountainous areas in the wet zone. The bird is classified by IUCN as near threatened, making it highly necessary for the conservation of this endemic animal. It lives in highland trees and feeds mostly on berries. However, with the exposure to other kinds of food, such as flour-based items left behind by careless pilgrims, has intensified its threat of extinction.
“We conducted the cleaning up operation during Vesak Poya, which marks the end of Sri Pada season. And what we found out was that this time the amount of garbage is a lot less. But, this does not mean the pilgrims have bean careful with their waste disposal activities. Only that the Ambagamuwa Pradeshiya Sabha has been regularly removing the accumulated garbage from the area,” one YZA volunteer said.
To their utter disappointment, the YZA could only remove garbage that was dumped closer to the trek. A greater amount of plastic and polythene was seen hurled into the surrounding wilderness, making their task challenging as well as dangerous.
“We saw a large amount of polythene and plastic bottles down steep precipices. There is only one possible way that the garbage could end up there; that the people had thrown them there. We saw garbage that has been accumulated over many years,” he added.
Apart from clearing up the mess, the 75-strong team also set up notice boards instructing and educating the climbers not to desecrate the environment: Whether these instructions would actually be heeded by the thousands who climb the peak every year, only time will tell. (VA) - (Pix by Ranga S. Udugama)


Exploring different themes with ‘Freshly Baked’
By Sarasi Paranamanna
Like freshly baked goods the maiden exhibition of Sobitha Wemalajeewa and Anusha Priyanthi came to the art lovers bright and unsullied.
Titled ‘Freshly Baked’ the exhibition incorporated modern art of two upcoming artists who have experimented with mix media. The unusual themes they have adopted were a striking feature in this exhibition.
The Theertha Red Dot Art Gallery housed ‘Freshly Baked’ till May 24 to encourage the budding artists to be more innovative and inspired to create high quality arts. The Red Dot Art Gallery has been sponsoring young artists since 2009 not only to encourage their talents but to set a trend for the younger members in the arts community to adopt more informed curatorial practices in presenting their works, as the Gallery thinks that at present the students of art are not very keen to maintain these standards. The gallery has initiated the project of financially funding artists to hold their exhibitions with the objective of urging the artists to be experimental while managing resources such as time and space.
Sobitha Wemalajeewa had his creations displayed with an interesting theme which got the observer’s mind ticking from the first glance at the exhibit. He had named it ‘time and space’ and the structures or his creations had adopted various material like beads, paint, etc.
All of his creations were human heads but painted with different colours and textures. The artist had attempted to display the different states of human mind. The portrayal of the heads and faces in different layers further accentuated the different states of mind, which he had tried to bring out through his work.
Sobitha had effectively used different textures and a blend of colours to showcase his idea. One head just had black and copper without any blending of other colours while another had a beautifully mixed colour scheme of red, orange blue and green. He had left space for the observer to view his work in different social, political and cultural contexts. His work carried an element of synthetic ness which in a certain way encouraged the observer to ‘read’ his work in the modern context of life.
Anusha Priyanthi who also works as a teacher had adopted a rather modern feminist theme which interested the observer very much. Through her paintings on canvas and on cardboard boxes she had questioned the concept of masculinity. She had tried to debunk the social perspectives that are tied to the idea of maleness as she had seen the ideas of sexual power, strength and control as mere illusions of society.
With different figures of creatures she had tried to create a picture which is rather out-of-reach and unrealistic. The use of mythical creatures in her paintings further demonstrated the idea which she has tried to put on canvas; the illusionary social perspectives attached to masculinity. She had drawn the figures of these creatures in cloudlike background to utilize it as a tool to project the idea that the common notions regarding masculinity are mere fabricated thoughts.
The works of both artists were innovative and novel for the eye and the exploration of different themes using modern art was interesting to observe as it allowed many thoughts to unfold in the observers’ minds.


1st Green Bank in Sri Lanka

By Shane Weerasuriya
Hatton National Bank (HNB) of Sri Lanka has made a great step with their newest and the first Green Bank building in Sri Lanka, giving the customers a novel banking experience at their Nittambuwa branch.
A green building is a structure that is environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient throughout its day-to-day operations and this state-of-the-art building embodies the very essence of the Green concept. The Nittambuwa branch building is the first bank building in Sri Lanka to receive the prestigious ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ or LEED certificate from the United States Green Building Council. The certificate was awarded to this branch by the US green building council for its sustainable design and construction. Piyal Hennayake (DGM Services, HNB) mentioned that this branch is also knows as the ‘Haritha Kedella’ in Nittambuwa. Although the branch has been functioning for four months now, it will be officially opened on July 2, 2011.
Speaking of the architectural design of the building, the lead architect for the whole project, Suranjan Ranasinghe said the whole idea of the building in this particular way is to give the customers the impression that they are in an ‘outdoor’ environment. The idea has been successfully achieved with the building’s design and the huge 100-year-old ‘kone’ tee in front of the building, along with the 80-foot-long skylight. Hennayake and Ranasinghe also mentioned that the building was built, not to gain financial benefits but as a social responsibility on part of the bank, but this concept seems to be attracting more customers.
The branch saves 30% of electricity consumption by using solar tubes, glass panels and large glass windows, proving the building with natural light as the building uses only a few artificial lights. The additional lighting system with motion sensors switches off automatically when there is no human presence. And this building is fully air conditioned with a system that monitors the temperature inside and outside and alters according to the outside temperature, with the shade of the huge ‘kone’ tree it helps to keep the inside temperature at a lower stage during afternoon times and use the air-conditioning system with less cooling power to save energy and CO2 sensors, which help to maintain a pleasant environment.
The green building also saves the precious resource of water. Low flush water closets and urinals combined with a rainwater harvesting system save up to 70% of water. This building was designed with three main thoughts, namely, respect for the site, respect for the user and respect for the eco-system.
Nittambuwa was chosen as the location for this green effort as it faces the Colombo-Kandy main road, which is the gateway to two thirds of the country from Colombo. HNB administrators stated that the green building is intended to be taken as an example, seen and emulated by its partners and competitors and other stakeholders, in order to have a sustainable future for our nation’s environment.
And the HNB is planning on opening up their second green branch in Jaffna soon.