Special Feature — The Devil’s Staircase: Travels on the Kalupahana-Ohiya Road

To call the route connecting Kalupahana to Ohiya a road is quite generous. What it is, is an adventure. Whether you are tough enough to walk its length or mad enough to drive it, this is a journey every adventurer should take.”

Sometimes the Devil’s Staircase feels like the edge of Heaven.
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Temple of the Water God

I believe that water is the closest thing to a god we have here on Earth.”

— Alex Z Moores Living in Water

The Randenigala Reservoir, surrounded by the jungles of the Rantembe Reserve. December 2018. If water is the one true god of our planet, then the reservoirs we’ve built over millennia must be its greatest temples.

• 24mm • f/8 • 1/1600 • ISO800 • 5DMkIII & EF24-105/4L •

Restoring the Balance #2

A cleared hillside close to Haputale, in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. September 2017. The island has lost huge areas of jungle and forest to the plantation and timber industries over the last two centuries. Many areas in the Central Highlands are now being removed of environmentally harmful pine trees that were introduced by paper manufacturers in the 1970s; replacing them with endemic trees in a government-initiated reforestation programme which will encourage the return of undergrowth.

• 110mm • f/8 • 1/200 • ISO400 • 600D & EF-S18-200/3.5-5.6 • circular polariser •

Tropical sub-montane forest in the mountains above Belihul Oya. Shot on assignment for Serendib, the inflight magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines, in September 2017.

• 40mm • f/4.5 • 1/60 • ISO400 • 600D & EF-S18-200/3.5-5.6 • circular polariser •

Mountain in the Jungle

Vegetable gardens, tea plantations, waterfalls, and jungle, climb layer upon layer, into the sky. Dedugala, on the way from Kegalle to Nawalapitiya, in May 2018, to shoot ‘Mountains in the Jungle’, which ran in the June issue of Serendib, the inflight magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines.

• 18mm • f/8 • 1/50 • ISO100 • circular polariser • 600D & EF-S18-200/3.5-5.6

A Sunny Morning on the Daha Ata Wanguwa

The series of spectacular hairpin bends and loops known as the Daha Ata Wanguwa, or ‘Eighteen Bends’, drops the A26 highway 400m down the eastern side of the Sri Lankan Central Highlands, to the Hasalaka River. The drive from Digana to Mahiyanganaya is superb and, if coupled with a return trip up the B492, offers one of the best driving experiences in the country. Shot on assignment for Explore Sri Lanka. My road trip story, The Temple of War, ran in the April 2016 issue.

Unnatural Beauty

The mountains above Ella, in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka, cloaked with tea and evergreens. Before the 19th century, these landscapes would have looked very different; covered with montane rain forest, and teeming with leopard, elephant, and sambar. The jungle was cut down or burned, and the animals shot. British planters wanted the land for coffee, tea, and rubber plantations. A large part of what was left was cleared away by the Sri Lankan government in the 1970s, so that pine trees could be planted for the paper industry. Shot on assignment for The New York Times in December 2018.

To the Land of Tea

In the second half of the 19th century, after the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom, the huge swathes of montane rain forest that covered the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka were completely destroyed by British colonisers. The red earth of the mountains was swept clean of everything natural, flora and fauna; then replanted with the carpets of green bushes that even today fill the teabags and bank accounts of the world’s most famous brands. Bagawantalawa, February 2014.

The Road to Freedom

Children from a plantation workers’ community walk to school in Bagawantalawa, in the Sri Lankan Central Highlands, in February 2014. Education is key if these children (particularly the girls) are to break free of the cycle of hard labour and poverty that they have endured for over a century. Of South Indian origin, these workers were imported by the British Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to pick, for a pittance, the famous Ceylon Tea that is produced by some of the world’s most famous brands. In the Central Highlands, and other rural areas of Sri Lanka, children often walk long distances and endure bad weather and the threat of wild animals to obtain the education the state doles out in varying degrees of quality. None of these hardships have, however, crippled education for Sri Lankan children the way the Corona Pandemic has. Across the island, schools have been shut for over a year and a half, substituted with online classrooms to which children in remote communities, with no smart phones, computers, or the internet, have little access. With no date set by the government for the reopening of schools, the longterm effects on this generation of rural children seems of little concern in the halls of power.

Dawn in the Highlands

First light is ushered in by the Moon and its consort, the Morning Star, Venus. Bagawantalawa, in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka, on a biting cold morning in February 2014.