Kotte walk: the good, the bad and the ugly
“Diyasaru Park” is the latest addition to the many leisure facilities developed around our parliamentary complex in Kotte. With several lakes, streams and marshes interspersed with small patches of unspoiled greenery, brush and shady trees, the larger area of Kotte is ideal for this purpose. At the end of the afternoon, thousands of inhabitants of the city take advantage of the open environment; walk, jog or just get in the fresh air.
We have the popular Waters’ Edge complex, a former golf course now converted to a crowded marketplace, banquet hall and popular catwalk. Such facilities available are insufficient for a city the size of Colombo; this place attracts so many people that parking a vehicle in the Waters’ Edge parking lot is an urban nightmare. In addition to these facilities, several well-designed boardwalks have been developed nearby, along the long Japan Sri Lanka Friendship Highway and the adjacent “Kimbulawela” boardwalk which circles a vast and lush paddy field.
It was while walking around the area that I noticed ‘Diyasaru’ Park, a preservation of 24 hectares of urban wetlands and wildlife. Although the resort is still under development – I noticed several incomplete constructions, the park is attractive, the gravel path winding between beautiful trees and marshes, ending with a tall tower for bird watching. Bird watchers and bird watchers will not be disappointed as even my untrained eyes have observed several birds. As I walked along the path this calm morning, I disturbed a few water monitors who were sunbathing – hearing my footsteps, they scampered into the water.
All this in a small wetland area, surrounded by threatening urban developments on all sides. From the entrance it only took 10 minutes to get to the end of the path, near the bird watching tower. In terms of what several other countries have presented, “Diyasaru” is a tiny preservation, despite its attractions. There is a fee to enter the park, Rs. 100 per adult. I think imposing a tax is a good idea as these places need maintenance and need to be valued even symbolically. Being a government initiative, the park is bound to be over-staffed and poorly managed, a cost factor ultimately.
However, I observed that the levy for a tourist was Rs. 500. 10 minutes walk, some birds and a Water Monitor. This blatant overcharging of tourists is an issue that requires national policy and an active contribution from tourism authorities. It will not win favor with tourists, not all are rich, and it is certainly a bad promotion policy. In any situation, discrimination leaves a bad impression since tourism is a service industry, gaining friends and influencing others to come.
With my entry ticket, I was given a small brochure, which announced at length that the “Diyasaru” park is a creation of two huge government organizations, the Ministry of Megacity and Western Development and Sri Lanka Land. Reclamation and Development Corporation. The tone of the writing is hyperbolic, with little knowledge of comparative parks in other countries; regardless of the limits, smallness or immaturity of the park. An existence apart, words stripped of reality. To give you an idea of its character, I reproduce the first paragraph of the leaflet: “Stretching over approximately 24 hectares, the Diyasaru park is a dream opportunity for visitors who need to get closer to nature while forgetting the intense traffic jams, loud noises. and the “overwhelming” heat in the bustling city around them. Our vision is to “reduce the stress of urbanization…”.
While the thought processes of our officials are obscure, their writings are often bizarre. The impact of the brochure, on our presumably “stressed urban” tourist in a metropolitan society, is open to the imagination.
My favorite walk is around the “Kimbulawela” paddy field, taking around 30-40 minutes at a brisk pace. The fresh air, the soothing green of the rice fields, the gently flowing waters, are a much needed tonic. I have often wondered how long this touch of pastoral serenity would remain intact. About a year ago part of the pitch was full, I saw cricket playing and even young people flying kites. Sometimes it was used as a parking lot. This Sunday I was confronted with the appalling sight of a tall corrugated iron fence surrounding this crowded area. Most of the sheets were old and rusty. Further inspection revealed that some sort of musical event or carnival had taken place in the enclosed space. The ground was covered with rubbish; plastics, cans, masks, bottles, everything is thrown away.
Even if an effort were made to remove the rubbish, it is certain that some would escape into the surrounding waters and paddy fields. In fact, the water around the polluted area already looked dirty and discolored.
A gift of nature, violated.