Trekking the Sinharaja, the forest of the Lion King
The impressive Sinharaja rainforest in Sri Lanka is a trekker’s dream destination. Our guest blogger, Emily, shares with us the memorable experiences she had with her best friend trekking this tropical wonderland:
Last month, Lila, my best friend, and I flew all the way to Sri Lanka to detox from our urban lives with a week of wildlife safaris and nature tours. Our first stop in Sri Lanka was the rural Deniyaya district, to trek the legendary Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the last undisturbed stretch of evergreen rainforest in Sri Lanka. Sinharaja came highly recommended by our expat Sri Lankan friends back home, who spoke of this UNESCO world heritage site with near reverence.
Lila and I stayed at a cozy chalet offered by the Sinharaja Rainforest Eco Lodge bordering the forest reserve. As two women travelling alone, we had certain concerns regarding safety. The eco-lodge was very understanding and arranged for us a friendly and reliable guide, who quite thoroughly emphasized the need to carry insect-repellant and anti-leech socks.
We ventured on a 7-hour trek early morning the day after we arrived, entering the forest reserve from its southwestern border. We began our trek along the narrow trails flanked by majestic trees. Sinharaja is a verdant oasis that simply takes your breath away. In the morning, the forest glistened with silvery mist. There were many butterflies fluttering about, some electric-blue, some bright yellow, but most with eye-popping patterns on their wings. Some had elaborate black-and-white designs and others had patterns that amazingly imitated predatory eyes.
As I walked, I listened to the sounds of leaves stirring in the wind and the birds chirping. In fact, a lot of birds chirping. Our guide said there are over 160 recorded species of birds here, 18 species endemic to the island. He provided the names for the multicolored, exotic birds we saw, like the dusky-blue flycatcher or the yellow-eared bulbul. High above our heads, perched Crested Drongos issued shrilly warning calls to other birds. On the thick branches of canopy trees, furry Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys sat and scrutinized us. We were astonished by the incredible diversity of the mammals we saw. Our guide said sometimes visitors can see leopards resting on tree branches, too. We were actually quite glad to have missed out on that experience. On the ground, we saw tiny deer that had heads curiously shaped like a mouse’s. Our guide said these “mouse deer” are rarely spotted and we were really lucky to have seen them. The forest floor is also home to a number of dangerous snakes, our guide warned, so we stayed on the trail.
The deep greenness around me felt mystical, even more so when our guide told us the fascinating local legend surrounding the forest. The Sri Lankans say that once a fierce lion lived here. The villagers living nearby were so scared of the lion, they stopped venturing into the jungle. But, a brave hero arose among them, who confronted the lion, wrestled it and killed it. From then on, the forest became known as the “Sinharaja,”or the forest of the Lion King in English.
Along the way, we came across a lovely waterfall. It was small and fell into a pool of crystal-clear water. We took our shoes off and dipped our tired feet in the refreshing water. Soon as we did this, a school of stone-suckers surrounded our feet and began nibbling. I felt this tiny, ticklish sensation, like during a foot massage.
We returned to our chalet completely exhausted, but happy. The lovely staff served us the perfect replenishment: a late lunch of rice with delicious curry. Afterwards, Lila began drawing in her notebook the butterfly wing patterns we had seen. We were both super excited for another round of exploring the tropical marvels of Sinharaja and arranged for another trek the following day.