Out and About in Meemure

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By 2017-09-13

BY Cassendra Doole and
Kavindya Chris Thomas

"I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, 'This is what it is to be happy.'"
—Sylvia Plath

After a certain song, that contained a controversial lesbian scene was released nearly a year ago, the hamlet of Meemure suddenly became famous. This village, with a population of roughly 400 people, is truly, one of Sri Lanka's lesser known areas of exceptional beauty. However, following the release of the particular song, Meemure became less remote and more of a tourist attraction – though, so far, the visitors are mostly locals.

Following the viewing of the music video, showing footages of picturesque landscapes, stunningly beautiful waterfalls and rocks, unsurprisingly, the Travelling Chaos duo's interest was piqued.

So, we geared ourselves up with all the necessary camping equipment and set off in to Meemure; which lies close to the border between Kandy and Matale, in the Knuckles Mountain Range. This village, situated so close to nature, is in possibly one of the most remote areas in Sri Lanka. The place is so remote that there is no cellular service and the only method of communication is via CDMA telephones that are also scarce. The villagers of Meemure depend on several staple crops, including pepper, cardamom, paddy and ginger.

History of Meemure

For a village that is set in such a remote area, Meemure has a surprisingly rich history that dates back over 5,000 years with several major ties to King Ravana of the epic Ramayanaya. According to our guide from the Nature Camp, the unwritten history of Meemure goes back to King Ravana's time.

The pyramid shaped mountain Lakegala was evidently used by Ravana as a security power source. Villagers believe it to be the place where King Ravana lifted off on the Dandu Monara – an air carrier in the shape of a bird. Some people say that there was a tunnel within the mountain during the Rama-Ravana wars and that Ravana's body was placed in Lakegala.

However, recorded evidence on Meemure appeared after 700 BC during the era of King Vijaya, where it is stated that Kuweni and her two children, who were banished, lived in a forest situated in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka; which is several kilometres away from Meemure. There is also evidence that Lakegala was used as a landmark by sailors in ancient times. This is possibly how the mountain got its name which is derived from Ilakke Gala which means 'Target Rock'.

Our tour guide also explained that the people of Meemure had been responsible for providing dynamite powder to the Kandyan Kingdom at the time when foreign powers invaded Sri Lanka. In evidence of this, in an extremely remote location in Meemure, there is a nitro cave that was possibly from where the gunpowder was sourced. The village is as rich in its history as it is in beauty- it is said that King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe banished his daughter to Meemure, in the 16th Century.

One with nature Sans
technology

Most of the houses in Meemure are built with clay and iluk. These clay houses have lasted over five decades through rain and shine. The villagers of Meemure are friendly folk, always curious and willing to lend a hand. The villagers depend on their chena cultivation of paddy and pepper. However, before cardamom cultivation was banned in 1982 through the forest preservation act, the villagers were mostly dependent on cardamoms for livelihood.

Speaking to the Travelling Chaos duo, Sumith, a villager said that until 2008 the village didn't have electricity. 'We are not slaves to technology, like the rest of the world,' he said, adding 'In fact before 2008, when we got electricity, we used kerosene lamps during the night.'

Speaking of telephone facilities and the internet, Sumith laughed. 'No we do not have mobile phones or the internet. Very few of us - those who run campsites - sometimes have a computer but no internet. We do not get signals here. We make our calls through CDMA phones."

Meemure is such a secluded treasure trove of nature that it was indeed a refreshing change to be disconnected from technology; in our attempt to connect with nature.

Breathtaking and secluded

The only way to reach Meemure is through Hunnasgiriya which is 50 kilometres away from Kandy. From Hunnasgiriya, there is another 33km of climbing up a very precarious road filled with potholes to reach Meemure. On the plus side, the view is absolutely breathtaking.

According to the guide, pack bulls were the solitary mode of transportation until as recently as 2004. Stocks and equipment including salt, cloth and tobacco reached the village via this method until motorable roads were built and it was accessible via vehicles.

While the waterholes and the waterfalls are reason enough to go visit Meemure, the free fish spa treatment is an added bonus. All you have to do is dunk your legs in the water and sit relatively still and the fish will take care of the rest.
Despite the fact that Meemure gained a bit of fame, the village still remains untouched. The tourists - locals for the most part - are, to their credit, willing to keep the village as it is. So far, nature is untarnished and pure, at least in Meemure, hopefully, it will remain so for years to come.

As writer Fitzhugh Mullan once said, Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey, as Meemure is indeed worth the journey.

(Contact the Travelling Chaos duo at [email protected] or [email protected]). Photos: Cassendra Doole and Nadisha Paulis

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