Part 6 from the book “This and That” by Captain Elmo Jayawardana
The trip had been on my mind. The trick was to find a matching dullard to come along. Wild goose chasers these days are hard to come by. Ananda came from far, all the way from Melbourne. Left his legal paraphernalia and pleaded guilty to join me in canoeing down the beautiful Kalu Ganga, from Ratnapura to Kalutara.
Forget the planning. There is no planning. Our lives are too full of plans to carry it to the river. This one was pure spasmodic, take it as it comes stuff. The boat was there, the lovable SOLITAIRE. We were ready; Ana Jayasinghe and I, and the Kalu Ganga would surely flow. That’s all you need to melody moonbeams.
It would take three days, that’s what I reckoned. In age, Ana and I added to a fair amount over hundred years. He’s never canoed before, but he runs full marathons. Knew what discipline was. That’s what you need in the river, a plodder who will hang in there when the going got rough. The days would surely crawl from tiring to very tiring. We would stop two nights. Friends would put us up.
Then, there was Hemal, the support man, who would follow us by van. We were no Robinson Crusoes. A touch of civilization was a must, especially considering how young we were. It was a mandatory ruling given by the family tree, from every single branch.
Day one was from Ratnapura to Kiriella. I do not know what the river distance is, but it is a lot more than by road. Kalu Ganga meanders all the time. Three hours of steady rowing, from three to six in the evening, brought us to Kiriella. Out there, the river is narrow and it jangles fast, makes it a bit rough, but easy paddling for old shoulder blades. Ana, the novice, tested out well. We packed the boat ashore, and went back to stay the night at Ratnapura.
The next morning we started out early. By seven we were in the river. The idea was to go as far as possible, to lighten the third day. It was beautiful. Words do fail me in my best attempt to describe. How can I punch buttons on a thinkpad and relate something I feel deep inside. I’ll try. The Kalu Ganga flows, misted in the middle, and the far banks filled with flora in all shades of green. From the beginning it is a well-laid buffet for the eyes. It is serene and silent. Only the birdcalls disturb the quietness. The skies put out a sheet of blue, dappled with various shapes of white clouds, dots of cirrus and dashes of stratus. The wind blows, soothing the soul. The world stands still as we row, just as nature intended.
We came from Kiriella passing Pahala Dumbara, Bodinagala, and Bulathsinhala, to the bridge across the Horana Govinna road. 3 hours 50 minutes. We had breakfast on the riverbank, a feast of hoppers and bananas. Took a few breaks, and came to the bridge by noon. We carried the boat under the bridge. The jaggard rocks there, are for Rambo types, certainly not for two ancient pelicans. From the bridge we rowed to Veherawatta, Kotapotha, Narathupana and Thebuwana. Kotapotha was the best I saw. We bathed in natural granite bath-tubs, installed on the river by the gods themselves, where the water jacoozeed around you. Smoked a cigar and talked of life. We both agreed we couldn’t change our lots, too many responsibilities. The lawyer and the aeroplane driver would remain. Too far ingrained. But, we sure were thankful for this interval.
Thebuwana was a stop for lunch. We ate two packets of rice and rested on a sand bank under a bo tree. It is the people you meet that give the varnish to the trip. A kind woman, living with her two small children in a shanty, gave us plain tea. The boatmen, the river dobbins making their meagre living, were ever so friendly. We stopped and chatted. Broke their monotony, ours too. They wished us well, we wished back for the fish to bite, hello and good-bye. The best were the sand collectors we met, or should I say the saddest. Jayantha is 29. He dives and digs sand from the riverbed. Only job available, works from 6 to 6. Makes 150-200 rupees. Starts the day with a gulp of moonshine and continues to warm himself from the brew all day long. “Otherwise too cold” he tells me. End the day with a full bottle, pauperized ecstasy of the poor. He is not the odd one. It is the norm among the sand diggers. No solution. No way out, perpetual penance in the concert of the downtrodden. The names of the actors did alter, but never the parts.
At times, in life, such moonbeam melodies do make a difference. From Thebuwana we rowed to Galapatha, a pleasant afternoon’s work. It was six again when we came ashore. Total rowing time for the day; 8 hrs and 40 minutes, only three more hours to Kalutara. The next day was the grand finale. The river gets wide after Galapatha and there is hardly a flow, hard work for worn old muscles. SOLITAIRE moved along, as graceful as ever. Our paddles dipped, and our hearts sang, as we inched our way to the destination. We came around the last bend and there loomed in all its majesty, the shining white dagoba of the Kalutara Pansala. It is a sight to remember, the two bridges linking the banks, the sea in the far horizon, and the temple dominating a clear blue sky.
The wild goose chase was over. “Oru Ana” packed his bags and flew off to Melbourne, to yell in his courtroom, whilst I crept back to my flight deck to drive aeroplanes. But we treasure the remembrance. We’ll surely take some moments and think of Solitaire and the Kalu Ganga, the journey, the people, the totality, all adding to the beauty and serenity of a distant world. We certainly will be thankful for the little intermission. A break from our daily drudgery, to sing our hearts on an odyssey, that others possibly may call eccentric and absurd.