Not far from Hambantota town is Sri Lanka’s first wind farm commissioned in 1999. Five windmills (68m) stand in a large shrub land close to the south-eastern coast. The power generated by the constant churning of the rotating blades is added to the CEB grid. Some solar panels place alongside on this sun-drenched vast expanse would nicely do -matching the output to double the volume.
The sky in Hambantota is a huge spherical globe that the moon is seen extra-large (not like in Colombo) like a lantern hung on the inky blue sky. For a good part of the evening it appeared pinked by the reflection of the sun. It was only in the late night that the pink veil lifted and the moon shone a silvery glow.
During a recent visit to Hambantota I was pleased to find the large expanse of deserted shrub land gradually clearing for modern development. Tarmac roads meant for four-lane traffic cut through the plains and sloping terrain like a giant python. For long stretches not soul to be seen, no buildings either. In our view for miles were the dry zone shrubs. Signboards indicated the crossing of wild elephants in this stretch. Utterly bored with the landscape; I was secretly hoping a pachyderm might emerge from the wild.
In Mirijjewila where a handful of buildings have cropped up during the past few years is an oasis that would surprise any visitor. The botanical garden spreads across 300 acres. Efforts were underway since 2006 to bring out a botanical garden in the dry zone. Finally the place was put together in 2015. It has amazing landscaped gardens of ornamental flowers and groves of trees groomed into shape. Earlier the land constituted of thorny shrubs and abandoned chena cultivation. For those who speed along the Colombo –Katharagama road the garden can be considered an oasis found in the desserts where you can stroll for hours, relax and enjoy. In the mornings the place is a sweet haven for birds.
Elsewhere in lakes and wetlands large flocks of birds – herons, cormorants, ibis, kites and stilts were seen gathered. Even in the salt pans birds roam. The reed beds lining the lakes serve as nesting grounds where they can be heard crackling and tweaking. Sometimes in the morning a proud peacocks makes an appearance; their call is an unpleasant bone shivering shrill.
Twenty kilometers along Mathala airport road we deviated to a side road leading to a remote village where a few poor families dwell. The landscape changed to paddy fields, a channel with very little water drew alongside the road, following the curving road as it lead us into the belly of the village. Wattle and daub houses stood paced out unevenly, their compounds were lined with trees and in their garden grew vegetable crops. Some households were rearing poultry. A well seen here and there and water drawn by means of a bucket and rope.
Feeling a little lost we were about to enquire from a passing villager coming down the road, when we met the two boys. I had two school bags with necessary items to see them make a good start in the beginning of the year. Gleaming with joy the two brothers received us and riding ahead on a bicycle they guided us to their home. Their mother welcomed us into the house. It is her constant complain that one of her sons was missing school. The reason for this can be blamed on the interesting environment surrounding their home. Taking flight on the bikes they are able to venture out in the open with other boys, and perhaps learn much more interesting things than what is been taught in classrooms.
If not for text books and exams the boys would be learning hands on Science and Geography, probably doing sketches and writing prose to express their experiences of growing up If not for rote-learning systems protected and promoted by teachers the boys would be learning practical aspects of living (i.e. farming techniques, digging up a well). And if not for nagging parents they could enjoy the childhood running through fields, over the styles into the hillocks and beyond. But alas education is mandatory, qualifications are said to pave the way to a successful life.
Moving closer to the Hambantota town later in the evening I discovered an old Fort (7.6 m) made by the British in the line of the Martello towers. The British sentry is supposed to have watched over the harbour for enemy vessels. Even before the British, Hambantota was an important stopover in the trade routes of the Chinese around 1400. Thus lending its name Sampan–Tota (Sampan are Chinese vessels and tota means port in Sinhala). Hence it is little wonder the Chinese lay claim over the harbour even now. In fact it may be a good thing that the Chinese are planning to support the government to extend the port area into a massive Economic Zone. As countries like Germany and Korea once promoted industries in Sri Lanka to put the country on the World map the proposed development plan will surely reap economic benefit for the nation and help backward communities progress in life.