Colombo’s National Museum – Some of What You’ll See

Previous Post: The Buddhist Baroque of Colombo’s Gangaramaya Vihara

Colombo Map - National Museum and neighbourhood

 

Sri Lanka's National Museum

Sri Lanka’s National Museum is located at the south end of Viharamahadevi Park not far from Galle Road and the Fort and Pettah districts.  As the repository of many of the moveable artifacts from the area where the country’s pre-modern history was played out ( the so-called “Cultural Triangle”), it houses some impressive examples of Sri Lanka’s cultural legacy.

the entrance to Colombo's National Museum

a seated Buddha figure awaits at the entrance to Colombo’s National Museum

The collection is housed in a Neoclassical-style building which goes back to British times, having been built in the early 1870’s and opening its doors in 1877. From a humble initial collection its holdings now number over 100,000 artifacts.  None is more dramatic than the very first one you see as you approach the entrance lobby.

the seated Buddha in meditation pose at the entrace of Sri Lanka's  National Museum in Colombo

the seated Buddha in meditation pose at the entrace of Sri Lanka’s National Museum in Colombo

An unadorned seated Buddha carved out of limestone awaits  – exuding both serenity and strength. Created in the Anuradhapura area around 1300 years ago, it survived the collapse of that great Sinhala capital. The elongated ears, the curly hair, the bump on the top of the head (the ushnisha), the hands in the classic meditation mudra (position) – but no attempt by the artists at creating the folded monastic robes that other Buddha figures sometimes are provided with.

looking up to the Buddha at  the main entrance

looking up to the Buddha at the main entrance

The ground floor is divided into a number of rooms or galleries – each with its own theme.  What follows is a highly selective – that should probably read “subjective” ! – sample of exhibited sculptures that caught my eye. Room 1 deals with the island’s pre-history; rooms 2 and 3 have a number of eye-catching Hindu and Buddhist statues of various sizes; rooms 4 and 5 concentrate on the more recent Kandy kingdoms before the British established complete control of the island in 1815. A second floor was not open for public viewing when I was there; a verandah on the ground floor has more examples of stonework rescued from various ancient sites on the island, but many are in poor shape.

I spent a very enjoyable hour and a half with the artifacts – mostly in Rooms 2 and 3! –  before I returned to the seated Buddha in the front lobby. The lighting and the glass, which is  often between the lens and the various artifacts,  can pose a real challenge to someone intent on taking better pix; I ended up shooting everything with a 35 mm prime lens on my Sony dslr; the results were – as you will see – so-so!

the Hindu goddess Durga.- from Anuradhapura 10th C jpg

the Hindu goddess Durga.- from Anuradhapura 10th C

One thing the collection brought home was the presence of Hindu religious objects among the ruins of the ancient kingdoms.  Clearly the notion of an ancient Sri Lanka staunchly following the conservative Theravada path is the result of modern Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism and not really a true reading of the past.

the Hindu god Surya - a sculpture from 10th C Anuradhapura

the Hindu god Surya – a sculpture from 10th C Anuradhapura

The Vedic deity Surya holds a lotus in each and; behind him is the solar disk (partly broken off) associated with this sun god.  Not far from this piece from Anuradhapura, with its three major Buddhist monasteries, was this depiction of the multi-armed Hindu goddess Durga, a consort of the god Shiva, one of the three gods who make up the HIndu “Trinity”  – the Trimurti – along with Brahma and Vishnu.

another Durga sculpture from 10 th C C.E. Anuradhapura

another Durga sculpture from 10 th C C.E. Anuradhapura

The standing Buddha below, unlike the one in the entrance lobby, has been provided monk’s robes (which may show the influence of the Graeco-Indian Gandhara style of Buddha depiction). He stands there very solidly and stiffly with his right shoulder uncovered – an apparent trait of Sinhala Buddhas.

bronze standing Buddha figure from Kurunegala

bronze standing Buddha figure from Kurunegala

Anuradhapura was not only the home of the conservative Theravada school; to the north of the ancient city was the Abhayagiri Monastery which embraced a more liberal kind of Buddhism – the Mahayana school which would become so popular in China and Japan. The statue below depicts one of the three major bodhisattvas, the one associated with “Protection”. Along with Avalokitessvara (“Compassion”) and Manjushri (“Wisdom”) and a number of others, this bodhisattva is recognized for selflessly postponing his own nirvana so that he can help others get closer to the goal first.

Bronze solid cast Vajrapani Bodhisatva figure from Kurunegala - 800's C.E.

Bronze solid cast Vajrapani Bodhisatva figure from Kurunegala – 800’s C.E.

I was surprised to find this silver alloy cast figure of Tara among the gods and buddhas. I had always associated her with Tibetan Buddhism but given that Buddhism had barely arrived in tibet when she was being created in Sri Lanka, I need to do more research about her story.  She is regarded as a bodhisattva with the quality of compassion, which connects her with Avalokitesvara.  This may help explain why in China the male Avalokitesvara became the female Kuan Yin.

silver cast Tara figure- 700's - 800's C.E.

silver alloy solid cast Tara figure –  800’s – 900’s C.E.

A better photo of a better sculpture of a standing Buddha figure, his right hand in the abaya  (“No Fear”) mudra. Like the one above he wears his form clinging robes with the right shoulder bare.

bronze solid cast - from Medavachiya near Anuradhapura - 9th C C.E.

bronze solid cast – from Medavachiya near Anuradhapura – 9th C C.E.

the next two pieces were two of the ones I spend some time appreciating. the first depicts Buddha seated on a lotus in the meditation mudra (his hands resting in his lap). The ushnisha as flame of fire on the top of his head is a touch that would find its way to Burma and Thailand  in the centuries to come.

Seated Buddha from Veheragala near Anuradhapura - 9th C C.E.

Seated Buddha from Veheragala near Anuradhapura – 9th C C.E.

The next piece – while not as imposing –  rivals the Buddha in the front lobby for skill of artistic execution. The pose was oft copied by other Buddhist sculptures and painters in other lands. (See here for one of my favourite Chinese depictions.)

Avalokitesvara bronze from Veheregala near Anuradhapura - height 49.8 cm.j 800's C.E

Avalokitesvara bronze from Veheregala near Anuradhapura – height 49.8 cm.j 800’s C.E.

Below on the left is a standing Tara figure; on the right is a guard stone taken from Polonnaruwa, the capital of a Sinhalese kingdom for a couple of centuries after the collapse of Anuradhapura. Three cobras provide a hood for the central figure, who is holding a tree branch and a vase (the punkalasa or pot of plenty). At his left foot is a dwarf figure.

female standing Buddha figure - info not recorded

female standing Buddha figure – info not recorded

Guardstone from Polonnaruwa - 12th C CE

Guardstone from Polonnaruwa – 12th C CE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More evidence of Hindu – as in Tamil – presence in  the Cultural Triangle a thousand years ago can be found in the following images, beginning with a skillfully done version of Shiva as Nata Raja, the Lord of the Dance, his dreadlocks flowing as he dances on the dwarf of ignorance.

Shiva - the Lord of the Dance

Shiva – the Lord of the Dance

More Hindu imagery followed with the following  stone sculptures.  One was of Nandi, a bull figure associated with Shiva.

stone sculpture of Nandi

stone sculpture of Nandi

The Hindu god Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, was also represented with a number of sculptures.  Two of them are below, both depicting a seated elephant-headed figure and bearing a number of similarities, including a rather full belly.

Ganesha in stone - 12th C Polonnaruwa

Ganesha in stone – 12th C Polonnaruwa

another Ganesha stone sculpture - gneiss - 12th C CE.

another Ganesha stone sculpture – gneiss – 12th C CE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then it was back to the Buddha. First I contemplated this rather dour seated Buddha exhibiting all the usual characteristics.  And then I found a display that finally made clear to me how Sinhala and other artists through the years had been able to maintain such uniformity of form in spite of the fact that each Buddha was made on its own.

seated Buddha in meditation posture - Polonnaruwa 12th C C.E.

seated Buddha in meditation posture – Polonnaruwa 12th C C.E.

Navatala Plumb Scale System used to create seated Buddha figure

Navatala Plumb Scale System used to create seated Buddha figure

diagram of Caturmana system applied to a seated Buddha figure

diagram of Caturmana system applied to a seated Buddha figure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Navatala system applied to buddha figure

Navatala system applied to buddha figure

I returned to the entrance lobby and the seated Buddha with a newfound appreciate of the “science” behind drawing out the Buddha from a large chunk of limestone.

one last shot of the seated Buddha at the entrancne of Colombo's National Museum

one last shot of the seated Buddha at the entrancne of Colombo’s National Museum

And that was my quick tour of the National Gallery – not a long one and certainly not one that did justice to all the rooms – but it had been worth the visit.  I should mention that the entrance fee was 500 rupees and there was in all likelihood an additional 100 rupee fee for camera privileges.

It was followed by a late afternoon walk through Viharamahadevi Park up to the Town Hall, passing the large modern take of the seated and gilded Buddha on the way.  Odel’s Department Store was still open so I dropped in and did some gift shopping. It had been a very enjoyable day in Colombo and I was glad that I had left three days in my travel plans to explore parts of the city.  See below for some other related Sri Lanka posts:

 Seema Malaka: Colombo’s Serence island Buddhist Vihara

Buddhist Baroque: Colombo’s Gangaramaya Vihara Complex

The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part One

The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part Two

 

 

 

Seema Malaka: Colombo’s Serene Buddhist Island Vihara

central Colombo - Seema Malaka on the small lake just south of Beira Lake

central Colombo – Seema Malaka on the small lake just south of Beira Lake

It began with a pleasant early morning walk from my guesthouse (The Wayfarers’ Inn) on Rosemead Place in Colombo’s Cinnamon Garden District.  I walked on the path which traces the northern edge of a beautiful green space called Viharamahadevi Park. The previous afternoon I had visited the National Museum on the south side of the park; today I was headed to the Gangaramaya Vihara or Temple.  The map below will make clear my destination –  the east side of the small lake just below Beira Lake.

Seema Malaka and Gangaramaya Vihara Complex

Seema Malaka and Gangaramaya Vihara Complex – click here for the interactive Google map

Colombo’s Fort District is perhaps 1.5 kilometers to the north and Galle Face a little less. Both seem a world away from this serene little corner of the city.  My first destination was the structure you see in the image below – a set of three pods built in the 1980’s on a  design by Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most famous contemporary architect.

Seema Malaka on BeiraLake in Colombo

Seema Malaka on Beira Lake in Colombo

Known as Seema Malaka, this serene “island” is part of the Gangaramaya Vihara complex about two hundred meters away. The vihara’s  monks are ordained here.  It also provides a place for other rituals as well as an everyday meditation retreat.

Seema Malaka - the entranceway

To reach the central pod, you walk across a wooden pontoon bridge past the footprint of the Buddha and the reclining Buddha figure you see in the image above. Note the coins left by merit-seeking visitors in the footprint’s indentation!

Thai Buddhas line a Seema Malaka wall

Thai Buddhas line a Seema Malaka wall

Saving a visit to the central pod for later, I turned to the left and visited the second of the pods – the one with the Bo Tree and a number of Buddha statues large and small. Often in my viewfinder were the bronze Buddha statues donated to the Vihara by the government of Thailand. They illustrate nicely the various mudras (hand gestures) used by Buddhist artists to convey the Buddha’s story.

approaching the Bodhi tree buddhas at Seema malaka

approaching the Bodhi tree buddhas at Seema Malaka

the Bodhi tree Buddha at Seema Malaka

the Bodhi Tree Buddha at Seema Malaka

Seema Malaka's Bodhi Tree Buddha

Seema Malaka’s Bodhi Tree Buddha in the meditation (dhyana) mudra

For a moment I let the various Buddhas slip from my consciousness as I looked northwest to the ring of high-rises, a sign of better economic times for Sri Lanka now that the brutal civil war that scarred a generation has ended.

looking towards Galle Road and Downtown Colombo

looking towards Galle Road and Downtown Colombo]

And then it was back to my meditation on the bronze Thai Buddha and their mudras. This spot is a serene little island that lends itself perfectly to contemplation – and photography!  I was there at about 9:00 a.m.; it would have been nice to return near dusk for the very different light that a setting sun – and the lights of the city beyond –  would have provided.

refocussing on the Buddhas!

refocusing on the Buddhas!

Seema Malaka- three Buddhas, three mudras

Seema Malaka – three Buddhas, three mudras

Thai Buddhas and the dagoba

Thai Buddhas and the dagoba or stupa

Finally I approached the steps that lead into the main shrine room – the large building covered with the blue roof. The image below shows the moonstone and the two guardstones that mark the entrance. Spend any time in Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa and you will become very familiar with these classic Sinhalese architectural touches! The fearsome nagaraja figures, each with a halo of six cobra heads, stand guard.

concrete version  of classic Sinhalese architectural elements - guardstones and moonstone

concrete version of classic Sinhalese architectural elements – guardstones and moonstone

Seema Malaka - interior of main shrine room

Seema Malaka – interior of main shrine room

On the way out of the shrine room I passed by the third and smallest island pod. With its signboard reading “Treasury of Truth”, it serves as a library for the monastic community and was not accessible the morning I was there.

Seema Malaka - wooden bridge to small pod

Seema Malaka – wooden bridge to the smallest pod – “The Treasury of Truth”

Once over the pontoon bridge and past the parinirvana Buddha figure and the gigantic footprint – over a meter long – I looked back and I thought -“That was a great way to spend an hour”.  An hour and a half later I would have to revise that thought to include what was coming up – my visit to the main Gangarmaya Vihara complex just around the corner.  I didn’t know it yet but if the Seema Malaka was Zen, then the main vihara was Buddhist Baroque to the max.

 the Seema Malaka from the entrance

the Seema Malaka from the entrance

Next Post - Buddhist Baroque: Colombo’s Gangaramaya Temple Complex  The image below is of the vihara’s large central Buddha statue…

the main shrine of Gangaramaya's Temple

the main shrine of Gangaramaya’s Temple

Buddhist Baroque: Colombo’s Gangaramaya Temple

panorama of the Gangaramaya temple front

panorama of the Gangaramaya temple front – click on image to enlarge

To say I was overwhelmed does not even come close to capturing the initial breathless moment of stepping inside the main temple at the Gangaramaya Vihara complex.  I had just walked over after spending a very restful hour contemplating the mostly Thai Buddha sculptures at the stunning Seema Malaka.  As the image below slows, it is built out onto Beira Lake on three connected platforms. As a modern “take” on Sri Lanka’s forest monasteries designed by Sri Lanka’s renowned contemporary architect Geoffrey Bawa, it has an almost Zen-like feel to it.

Seema Malaka on BeiraLake in Colombo

Seema Malaka on BeiraLake in Colombo – used for various monastic ceremonies by the main temple – the Gangaramaya which is perhaps 300 meters away

Passing through the open gate I took off my shoes and sun hat and headed to one of the two side doors of the main temple.  To my right as I approached the door was a Chinese bronze statue of Kuan Yin and an even larger bronze of the Hindu deity Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati. The elephant-headed god is known as the remover of obstacles and the patron of those about to embrace a new beginning.

Kuan Yin and Ganesha bronzes in the Gangaramaya courtyard

While I am not a believer, I am still moved when I visit holy places, whether humble village shrines or massive cathedrals and stupas. What I experienced as  I stepped into the Gangaramaya temple  I can only call Buddhist Baroque.  It is the opulent grandeur of ten thousand Buddhas looking at you thanks to effort of the temple planners to have artists and sculptors fill up every available space with different aspects of the Buddhist narrative. I’d never seen anything like this before  in my limited travels through the Buddhist world.

Gangaramaya Temple - one wall

Gangaramaya Temple – side view of seated Buddha…see two pix down for front view

I spent over an hour in the temple, inhaling the atmosphere and taking in all the details. It was all but empty most of the time I was there and I was able to take my time framing shots of the various tableaux and shrine areas.  I made major use of my ultra-wide angle lens – shooting mostly at the 35mm equivalent of 15mm – and the digital spirit level of my Sony dslr helped prevent the keynoting effect. At other times I just accepted the inevitable distortion as I framed the shot. I upped the iso to 3200 or 6400 and avoided the use of flash.

pointing my camera up in the Gangaramaya Temple

pointing my camera up in the Gangaramaya Temple

looking up at the second massive bodhisattva figure

looking up at the second massive bodhisattva figure

another Bodhisattva figure - perspective correction in Adobe Lightroom!

another shot of the above Bodhisattva figure – this time after using perspective correction in Adobe Lightroom!

Buddhas and bodhisattvas at the Gangaramaya Temple

Buddhas and bodhisattvas at the Gangaramaya Temple

two small Buddhas in Dhyana ("meditation") Mudra

two small Buddhas in Dhyana (“meditation”) Mudra

Buddha and bodhisattvas - a different angle

Buddha and bodhisattvas – a different angle

close-up of Buddha figure in abhaya (%22fear not%22) mudra

close-up of Buddha figure in abhaya (“have no fear”) mudra

Gangaramaya ceiling sculpture

Gangaramaya ceiling sculpture above the side door I entered

close-up of ceiling corner buddha

close-up of ceiling corner buddha

 

the Buddhist equivalent of angels hovering around central figure

the Buddhist equivalent of angels hovering around central figure

meditating monks and bodhisattvas at Gangaramaya temple

meditating monks and bodhisattvas at Gangaramaya temple

the main shrine of Gangaramaya's Temple

the main shrine of Gangaramaya’s Temple

the temple's central Buddha figure in "2earth witness" pose-

the temple’s central Buddha figure in “earth witness” pose

parinirvana Buddha figures in front of the main seated Buddha sculpture

small parinirvana Buddha figures in front of the main seated Buddha sculpture

The Buddha depicted at the moment of his enlightenment, with his right hand touching the earth in what is called the Bhumisparsha (“Earth Witness”) mudra or posture. the Buddhas at his feet are associated with the moment of his death at the age of 80, when he slipped off into what is called parinirvana.

Chinese Buddha and bodhisattvas

Chinese Buddha surrounded by disciples and  bodhisattvas

two of the figures from the above image

two of the figures from the above image

I continued my clockwise tour of the temple complex grounds by stepping out of the shrine room and into a large courtyard with a stupa (called a dagoba in Sri Lanka). More buddha figures lined the stupa and the surroundings. Guardstones – with depictions of the Nagarajas or Snake Kings – and the moonstone in front of the altar emphasized the classic Sinhalese style of Anuradhapura.

dagoba at the Gangaramaya Temple complex

dagoba (i.e. stupa) at the Gangaramaya Temple complex

main shrine at the Gangaramaya dagoba

main shrine at the Gangaramaya dagoba

side view of the Gangaramaya stupa

side view of the Gangaramaya stupa – with copy of the famous bronze statue of Avalokitesvara – see here for a Wikipedia-sourced image

The mini-stupas above and the ones you see below are done in Borobudur style.  The bronze seated Buddhas in various positions.  One is the Vitarka (“discussion”) mudra, with the index finger and the thumb of the right hand forming a circle. the other is the Dhyana mudra which we have seen already; it has the two hands placed together in the lap and is associated with the Buddha in a state of meditation.

mini-dagobas in the Gangaramaya courtyard

mini-dagobas in the Gangaramaya courtyard

Thai bronze Buddhas with Borobudur stupas

Thai Buddhas - row on row

Thai Buddhas – row on row

Chinese bronzes inside the artifacts collection room

Chinese bronzes inside the artifacts collection room

As i wandered around the room of artifacts, I noted Buddha figures that seemed to come from all over. I am guessing that the one above is from China and the one below in from Japan. Who they are exactly i cannot say.  The intellectualized Buddhism that I have been attracted to throughout my life is devoid of the statues and rituals and the Jataka stories that are the bread and butter of Buddhist artists.  My loss!

I am intrigued by the symbolism behind the eight-armed Buddha below, holding an axe (maybe to cut through ignorance?), a dharma wheel, a flag of victory,  perhaps a conch, and symbols of the moon and sun – but what does it all mean? What is the story behind it? Let me know in the comments section below if you are familiar with the details.

eight-armed seated Buddha figure

eight-armed seated Buddha figure

just a few statures of the massive Buddha collection

just a few statures of the massive Buddha collection

The temple is active in community affairs, providing technical training courses to over 7000 students daily at the various schools it has established. Its website details a new project to be launched in the Hambantota district on the south side of the island.  Given that the current President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa,  is from this region, he and the head monk have even more to talk about than the temple’s general contributions to the community.

photo of current Sri Lankan president and head monk of Gangaramaya

photo of current Sri Lankan president and head monk of Gangaramaya

overview of back of artifact collection room

overview of the back of artifact collection room

Along with the massive elephants tusks, the temple complex also has its own elephant, appropriately named Ganga.  She is nine years old and has spent the past seven years at the temple, after being born in the Kattaragama district. For the past three Februarys she has appeared in the annual Nawam Perahera, a procession of monks and elephants carrying sacred relics  which makes its  way through the streets of this area of Colombo.  Google Nawam Perahera and you’ll be treated to dozens of colourful images of the event. The day I was there, Ganga was apparently off for a walk with her mahout in a nearby park. Some visitors are distressed on seeing her chained to a pillar on a very short metal leash. Others don’t seem to see the chains and are delighted by her presence!

display cases and elephant tusks at Gangarama Temple complex

display cases and elephant tusks at Gangarama Temple complex

My visit to Gangaramaya was an unexpected highlight of my visit to Sri Lanka. I entered the gates not knowing anything about the temple. i emerged over an hour later dazzled by the rich – and yes, sometimes a hodge-podge and sometimes kitschy,  collection of Buddhist statues and images. And while I am sure I missed most of the symbolism and identities of the various figures as they looked sympathetically at me, it was still a great experience.

Now I know what Japanese tourists with a solid Buddhist background must feel like as they stand in the middle of the Sistine Chapel and try to make sense of all the awe-inspiring Biblical images from the Old Testament they are surrounded by!

Useful Links:

The Temple has its own website and provides ample evidence of an extensive community outreach program.

Trip advisor has a string of comments from visitors to the temple complex. See here for a variety of views and the overall score.  It currently ranks 8th for things to do in Colombo!

Wikipedia has a short article on the temple, as well as more links which delve deeper into certain related topics.

Obviously the more you know about Buddhism before you wander into the temple, the more you will recognize and appreciate.  Two things that will help you along are these:

  1. the basic life story of the Siddhartha Gautama who became the Buddha; and

  2. the various poses used by sculptures to convey various moments in the Buddha’s story.  See this Wikipedia article on mudras for a quick introduction.

 

A Return Visit To Temagami’s Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

Max framing the north arm of Diamond Lake

Max framing the north arm of Diamond Lake from the previous night’s tent spot

All images enlarge with a click; all blue text leads to more info with a click.

The portage from Bob Lake to Diamond Lake done, we had originally planned to paddle up the north arm of the Lake that same afternoon to check out the pictographs.  Having done a less-than-satisfactory job of documenting the rock painting site on our last visit in 2009, this time we planned on doing better!  However, the wind and the waves had their own agenda, so we ended up camping on a small island at the south end of the arm. We hoped that by the next morning there would be less wind and no rain.

Morning came and the weather for the next three hours would be the best of the entire five days of our early October trip.  We paddled the 2.6 kilometers to the pictograph site on the west side of the arm on completely calm water.  In my thoughts was the withering conclusion about the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs delivered  by Canada’s then pre-eminent archaeologist David Boyle over a hundred years ago.

The Annual Archaeological Report for 1906 (Being Part of Appendix to the Report of the Minister of Education Ontario)  included an article titled “Rock Paintings At Temagami District”. Near the end of the article attributed to W. Phillips but with Boyle as the editor,  he writes this -

David Boyle on the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs

overview of Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

overview of Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

This article (published in 1907) represents the first scholarly record of  the Diamond Lake pictographs.  Doing the recording was a W. Phillips, a “temporary Assistant” in the Archaeology Department at the Ontario Provincial Museum. As the Museum’s Superintendent, Boyle had sent Phillips up to Temagami to check reports of rock paintings. Here is Phillips’ own account of his visit -

Phillips Quote - Boyle Article 1907

The Diamond Lake Pictograph Site - view from the north

The Diamond Lake Pictograph Site – view from the north

As Phillips noted in his report,  the ochre markings are spread out over a ten-meter length of the white quartzite surface.  Overhead ledges protect the painted markings from the worst of the run-off water. They face east/southeast and are thus spared the worst of the winds from the NW. The above photo shows the site from the north end with the dot in the circle as the last of the pictographs.

Diamond Lake pictographs - sketch from Dewdney's book

the northernmost Diamond Lake pictographs – sketch from Dewdney’s book

It would be fifty-three years before the next visitor from the museum  (now named The Royal Ontario Museum) would arrive.  It was Selwyn Dewdney, then at the start of his decade-long quest to document the pictograph sites of the Canadian Shield.   The Diamond Lake Site would be #40 of the more than 260 he would eventually visit.  In the 1962 first edition of the book Indian Rock Paintings of The Great Lakes he writes the following -

Dewdney on Diamond Lake Pictograph site

Diamond Lake - Lady Evelyn South Arm

Diamond Lake/Lady Evelyn South Arm – clink on the image to enlarge

Some time before Dewdney visited the site (in 1942 to be exact), a local lumber company had built a dam just north of the pictograph site at the point where Diamond Lake flows into the south arm of Lady Evelyn Lake. This point – once known as Lady Evelyn Falls but thanks to massive flooding it is now just the Lady Evelyn Lift-Over – is the subject of an Ottertooth article. The writer (Brian Back) writes this -

Lady Evelyn Falls Dam 1942This would explain why parts of the Diamond Lake pictograph site were under water when Dewdney visited in 1959.

Discovering Rock Art In Ontario's Provincial ParksSince Dewdney, with a few exceptions, there has been very little discussion and research of the Diamond Lake pictographs – or of the pictographs of the Temagami area in general.  One exception is Thor Conway, who as a young archaeologist visited the Diamond Lake site with Dewdney in the mid-1970’s and who continues to publish material on pictograph sites all across the Canadian Shield area. His book on the Agawa Rock pictograph site, for example, stands as the definitive study of that Ojibwe rock painting location.

Conway first visited the Diamond Lake site in 1974. As luck would have it, the previous year the dam had been destroyed by a work crew from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the water had come down to its natural level.  Two years later he was there again with a CBC film crew.  Also along for the visit were Dewdney and Gilles Tache,  a Quebec archaeologist also focussed on the pictograph quest.  During their visit they were able to determine that water levels were lower by about 4.5 feet (1.37 meters) from where they had been on Dewdney’s 1959 visit. The  dynamiting of the dam in 1973 made that much of a difference.

 Conway’s book Discovering Rock Art In Ontario’s Provincial Parks (2009) has a chapter on the Diamond Lake pictographs. Even though the book is impossible to find, the one chapter that Conway provides as a sample of the book’s contents is the one on Diamond Lake!  Click here to read at least some of that chapter.

We approached the pictograph from the south.The following sequence of images follow the ten meters of rock face from south to north.  In doing so we followed the order in which Phillips presents his drawings of the various pictographs.  The site begins with some indecipherable ochre marks and ends with the most well-known of the Diamond Lake rock paintings. Conway has counted 77 individual ochre marks or paintings; we were not as successful!

ochre on rock at Diamond Lake

ochre on rock at Diamond Lake

close-up of pictographs at Artery Lake Central location

Artery Lake Central

The pictographs begin with a few barely discernible ochre marks at the south end of the site.  They were “painted” with a mixture of ground hematite and fish oil and then applied to the rock surface, not with a brush,  but by finger.  The figures are usually no more an inch  (2.5 cm) wide and up to five or six  inches long.  As I mentioned in another pictograph-related post, people are sometimes disappointed when they see them.  In the grand scheme of things, these are admittedly  very simple physical expressions of the values and beliefs of a paleolithic culture.  However, they speak to anyone who has experienced the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield.

The photo above is of the first of them, three ochre marks of which what may be a star pattern or a figure with outstretched arms is the most visible. It brought to mind a pictograph we had seen on the Bloodvein River system’s Artery Lake at the other end of the Anishinaabe world.

T mark and other ochre marks at Diamond Lake

T mark and other ochre marks at Diamond Lake

The next evidence of ochre comes just a meter further north.  Still visible is what looks like a T.  It is with this pictograph that Phillips began his drawings of the Diamond Lake pictographs; it is #1 in his inventory.  There is an ochre smudge above and to the right of the T but it is badly eroded.

Phillips - Plate IV top

Phillips – Plate IV top

Diamond Lake - ochre slash

Diamond Lake – ochre slash

We have now moved up about four meters of the site. So far these is very little to make sense of. We were now looking at what seems to correspond to pictographs #2 and #4 on the top of Phillips’ Plate IV above.  The ochre marks in between may be #3. It is impossible to say from the image below. Are we are looking at crane footprints being used as a clan emblem or are we are looking at rudimentary Thunderbird images?

Diamond Lake  - Thunderbird pictographs

Diamond Lake – Thunderbird pictographs or Crane footprints?

And then we come to the core of the site – the stretch beginning to the right of the deep cut into the rock face. The first pictograph we see is of the moose.  It is #6 on Phillips’ Plate IV (see below).   Underneath the moose body is evidence of an impact – from a bullet or a hammer-head perhaps.  Conway states this in his book -

Conway on Diamond Lake pictograph vandalism

It would seem that he locates the “removed” pictograph in the space below the moose painting.  His assumption seems to be based on something Dewdney saw in his earlier visit. He is not the only one to make this claim of a removed rock painting. In a transcript of a CBC radio program called Morning North,  “Backroads Bill” (Bill Steel?) makes this comment in “Glimpses of the Past”:

Backroads Bill on Diamond Lake vandalism

It is also possible that the slab of rock just broke off from the rock face and fell into the water below,  Seeing a copy of the supposed Dewdney drawing or description would help.  However, if a painting has indeed been removed I am left wondering why Phillips did not include a drawing of it on Plate IV.  All of the Phillips drawings from #4 to #7 are visible on the rock face. If there was indeed a painting below the moose image, he would have included it along with all the others.

Update: A visit to the Ottertooth forum turned up a 2006 thread  (click here)  which discusses this very topic – scroll down the thread a bit from Ed’s initial post and you will find the following statement from Ed – and then a whole lot of response!

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 9.55.57 PM

The space underneath the moose pictograph is identified as the claimed location of the missing pictograph. Do continue reading the thread on  page 2 where you will find Brian Back’s summation of the evidence. Included is a photo from 1954 – five years before Dewdney – which shows the area around the moose pictograph looking pretty much as it does now. So just what did Thor Conway and Backroads Bill think was vandalized? Very interesting!

Diamond Lake Pictograph Site - The Core

Diamond Lake Pictograph Site – The Core

To the right (i.e. north) of the moose painting are three other clearly visible pictographs. On the Phillips Plate they are numbered #7 (the six vertical lines, often referred to as tally marks but – who can say for sure?),  #9 (a puzzling construction we called “the half banana”), and #10 (usually interpreted as a canoe with 6 paddlers, and interpreted as a sign of strength and power or of a hunting party).  Looking more closely at the panel, other faint and lines can be seen, with the highest one looking like Phillips #8 with the five fading vertical lines. All that is missing these days is the moss!   Click on the image below to enlarge it and see for yourself.

Phillips Plate IV bottom

Phillips Plate IV bottom

Diamond Lake - overview of the next three pictograph panels

Diamond Lake – overview of the next three pictograph panels

Diamond Lake - moose and vertical lines paintings

Diamond Lake – moose (#6), the stick figure (#5)  and six vertical lines (#7)  paintings

canoe pictograph - Diamond Lake

canoe pictograph – Diamond Lake

Then we arrive at the last three panels of the site as pictured in the shot below.  Plate V (see below) of the Phillips drawings contains all of them.  (If Plate VI, which I included here, also records further Diamond Lake pictographs, then we did not see them.  More likely it is the record of the Lady Evelyn South Arm pictograph site.  See the end of this post for an explanation of what has happened to the Lady Evelyn site since Phillips and Ryder visited in 1906.)

the Diamond Lake Site - the Three Northernmost panels

the Diamond Lake Site – the Three Northernmost panels

Dewdney devotes very little space to the Diamond Lake pictographs in his book. The one quote above, along with the sketch of the core of the site,  and the quote which follows is pretty much all he had to say.

Dewdney on Diamond Lake pictographsLooking at Phillips’ Plate V, #14 would represent the “clumsy heron”, #11 the maymaygwayshi, and #19 the circle with the center.  Perhaps included in his catch-all phrase “stick figures” is #16.  It is surprising that he did not identify it as the horned snake of Anishinaabe myth.  #17, looking very much like a square root symbol,  is another stick figure. Not mentioned by Dewdney are the three dots, what looks like a canoe with two paddlers, more crane or heron footprints, and other impossible-to-say-what marks.

Diamond Lake Picto Drawings Plate V_Diamond Lake Picto Drawings Plate VI

Diamond Lake pictographs - crane and bird tracks

Diamond Lake pictographs – crane and bird tracks

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

Diamond Lake - the last two panels

Diamond Lake – the last two panels

the northernmost grouping of Diamond Lake pictos

the northernmost grouping of Diamond Lake pictographs

Diamond Lake Pictographs - northernmost grouping

Diamond Lake Pictographs – northernmost grouping

As if to point out the problem of saying exactly what it means, he concludes his comments on the site by noting this about the circle with the dot -

Dewdney diamond lake rock painting quoteHe ends the statement with an exclamation point.

one last look at the Diamond Lake Pictograph site

one last look at the Diamond Lake Pictograph site

Already noted was David Boyle’s statement near the end of the 1907 article “Rock Paintings At Temagami District”.   He wrote: “It would be utterly vain to look for any interpretation.”  In spite of that, he could not resist offering an interpretation and ends up proving his very point!

David Boyle on Diamond Lake pictographsRather than see the site as it is – associated in Anishinaabe tradition as the home of the maymaygwayshi and other powerful medicine spirits to which a number of shamans came over an extended period of time – he sees it as a tablet on which one person has written a “sentence” or two using the pictographs as script.

This one person, he writes, has written a “story”. Boyle is able to state quite categorically that the first sentence ends near the top of Plat VI!  Oddly enough, the article ends with that assertion.  I flipped the page, expecting to see a continuation somewhere but that is it – a peculiar way to end the article.  To conclude, Boyle seems to be victim of the notion that the pictograph site represents an application of  a coherent Anishinaabe writing system. It is almost as if he sees the cliff face as another birchbark scroll.

There is no Rosetta Stone – in spite of the mid-1850’s inventories of symbols and their meanings left by Schoolcraft and Copway –  to help us unravel the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs.  However, those who have visited have given us more insight into the nature of pictographs and their significance.  Boyle’s “utterly vain” can be amended to “much is still puzzling”.  Thanks to more recent visitors  we can now better see elements of the Anishinaabe world view in the ochre, from possible references to the their clan (doodem) system and their religious beliefs.

As we paddle past the dramatic quartzite rock face, the least we can do is stop and appreciate the fact that maybe two or three hundred years ago Anishinaabe shamans stopped at this same spot. As a part of a vision quest, perhaps, or as a visit to the home of the maymaygwayshi for powerful medicines,  the rock paintings were part of the ritual.  From their birch bark canoes they reached out to the rock and created enduring marks with their specially prepared mixture of finely ground hematite and fish oil.  While we will never completely understand the significance of all the ochre paintings, we still stop and for a brief while enter into another world.

Useful Links:  

Just click on the blue text to access material.

You can access the pdf file of  W. Phillips’  “Rock Paintings At Temagami District” from my Dropbox folder.  If you want to see where it came from,  look here – The Annual Archaeological Report for 1906 (Being Part of Appendix to the Report of the Minister of Education Ontario) published in 1907.

the 1962 first edition of Selwyn Dewdney’s Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes   is available for online reading or download.  It documents the first 109 sites he visited.  A second edition of the book came out in 1967 with documentation on an additional 155 sites. By this time his quest had taken him far beyond the field of study as stated in the title!

Thor Conway’s Discovering Rock Art In Ontario’s Provincial Park can be purchased directly from the author.  Five pages of the Diamond Lake chapter are available as a sample.

The Thor and Julie Conway article on the Lake Obabika pictographs – “An Ethno-Archaeological Study of Algonkian Rock Art in Northeastern Ontario, Canada” – provide excellent background to the Diamond Lake pictographs, which are briefly mentioned in the article published in issue #49 of Ontario Archaeology in the mid-1980’s.

Brian Back’s  Ottertooth article “The Lady Evelyn Lift-Over”  provides excellent historical summary of  the impact of dams on water levels on Diamond Lake and Lady Evelyn Lake.

Dewdney mentions Cuttle lake in his discussion of the Diamond Lake pictos. Grace Rajnovitch’s article “Paired Morphs At Cuttle Lake” is in the Jan/Feb1980  issue of Arch Notes, the newsletter of the Ontario Archaeological Society. It includes drawings from one of the panels and provides a point of comparison.

Goerge Copway’s The Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation can be read online or downloaded in various file formats.  Pages 132-134 provide examples of pictographic symbols.  Copway writes – “An Indian well versed in these can send a communication to another Indian, and by them make himself as well understood as a pale face can by letter.”

Another collection of Diamond Lake pictograph photos can be seen at the temagami.nativeweb.org site. The pix show some of the pictos from a better angle than our shots do. Go here – Ancient Pictographs at Diamond lake in Temagami                How ancient they are is an open question. My guess would be no more than four hundred years.

Finally, I wonder whatever happened to the film footage shot by that CBC crew in 1976.

The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part Two

Previous Post: The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part One

 

Our tour of the Abhayagiri Monastery precinct done, we headed directly from one stupa to the other – from the Lankarama for the Thuparama. I will admit that on reviewing my pix in my Lightroom image processing app, I did not initially notice the transition and wondered  why I had thirty shots of the Lankarama!   Closer examination of the pix of the two stupas cleared up a classic Duh! moment!  In case you are not coming from Part One of this look at ancient Anuradhapura, here  is what the Lankarama just north of the Thuparama looks like:

Lankarama and pillars

Lankarama and pillars

There are three circles above the base of the stupa; there are few shrines surrounding it and no pillars scattered about on the platform.  Meanwhile, the Thuparama looks like this -

Anuradhapura's Thuparama - up close

Thuparama – up close

The root word “thupa” is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit “stupa”; as the info board below states, the Thuparama was the first of the brick relic mounds built in Anuradhapura and it is believed to hold the right collarbone of the Buddha.The Mahavamsa, literally “The Great Chronicle” of the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura, draws a direct connection between the location of the Thuparama and the Buddha himself. In the very first chapter we read that on the Buddha’s legendary third and last visit to the Blessed Isle of Lanka -

…the Great Sage proceeded to the site of Mahameghavanarama, which today we call Anuradhapura. The Savior, along with his disciples entered into meditation, and thus consecrated the site where the sacred Bodhi Tree would be planted during the reign of Devanampiyatissa. Likewise the place where the stupa of Thuparama in Anuradhapura would one day be built. 

Thuparama signboard

We were now in the part of ancient Anuradhapura called the Mahavihara. The “Great Monastery” was the first of the three monasteries which flourished in the city thanks to the patronage of the ruling dynasty; the monks of the  Mahavihara also promoted the most conservative interpretation of Buddhist doctrine. As in the Christian world,  doctrinal rigidity  would result in some leaving the Mahavihara and setting up a more liberal approach to the Dharma. It was to the area just north of the city – at what would become Abhayagiri  – that these dissident monks went to found a new monastery.  Just as interesting to ponder and appreciate as the physical ruins of Anuradhapura is the intellectual architecture of the various “takes” on Buddhism that were debated here. Visiting scholars would take in the discussion  and export it to their homelands,  from China and Japan to Thailand  and Kashmir.

Thuparama and platform

Thuparama and platform

The vatadage is thought be be an architectural structure unique to Sri Lankan Buddhism and while the wooden roof has not survived, the pillars do give a clue as to how it would have worked.  It seems likely that the pillars that we see standing were put back up by restoration crews in the past hundred years.

A model of the Vatadage of Anuradhapura's  Thuparama

A model of the Vatadage of Anuradhapura’s Thuparama

Thuparama pillars on the platform

Thuparama pillars on the platform – evidence of a former vatadage

 

Anuradhapura - Thuparama and Buddhist flag

Thuparama and Buddhist flag

Fluttering all over the Anuradhapura site – and indeed all over Sri Lanka – are colourful flags characterized by six vertical bands. The five colours and the composite of all five colours symbolized in the sixth band are said to represent the six colours of Siddhartha Gautama’s aura which came from his body at the moment he attained Enlightenment and became the Buddha. This Wikipedia article provides images of the flag as it is used in various other Buddhist countries.

offerings in front of Thuparama shrine

offerings in front of Thuparama shrine shown in the image below

Thuparama overview

Thuparama overview

humble stupa in the vicinity of the thuparama - exact name unknown

humble mini – stupa in the vicinity of the Thuparama – exact name unknown

Sometime around 12:30 Mahinda pulled up to a roadside stand where we had a cool drink and a quick rice and curry. I was definitely starting to sag a bit thanks to the heat – but twenty minutes later we were on our way to the #1 attraction of the ancient city – the Sri Maha Bodhi or Sacred Bodhi Tree.

a rice and curry stop at the junction

a rice and curry stop at the junction

My  approach to the Sri Maha Bodhi was from the walkway that runs down the middle of the map (see below). Leaving a visit to the stupa on my right for my return, I headed down the path.   When you are almost at the entrance to the Sri Maha Bodhi, you pass by (on the right) the ruins of what was once supposedly a nine-storey monastic residence housing a thousand monks and attendants. Given the bronze roof it used to have, it is called the Brazen Palace.  All you see now are pillars, lots and lots of pillars!

Mahavihara:Jetavana area

Mahavihara:Jetavana area

the walkway from the Ruvanvalisaya Stupa to the Sri Maha Bodhi

looking down the walkway from near the Sri Maha Bodhi to the  Ruvanvalisaya Stupa

the Brazen Palace - some of the many pillars

the Brazen Palace – some of the many pillars

chimps guarding food source from a dog

chimps guarding food source from a dog

The walkway ends at a guardhouse/entry gate – some residential nervousness about Tamil Tiger bombers in evidence here? –   and into the grounds of the Sri Maha Bodhi temple complex I went. In seeing the actual Bodhi Tree – believed to have grown from a shoot taken from the very tree under which Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha – it would undoubtedly help to be a devout Buddhist. Otherwise, it really is an underwhelming experience. As the pic two down show, the actual tree is inaccessible behind gates and walls. My experience in Bodh Gaya underneath the original – or not – Bodhi Tree was completely different, a most definitive feeling that I was somewhere significant.  The fact that there were three hundred Tibetan Buddhist monks there that evening chanting their sutras may had something to do with it.  Still, in the context of Sri Lankan Buddhism, this is Ground Zero, the very centre of their Sinhalese Buddhist faith and should be taken as such.

the trunk of an impressive tree within the Sri Maha Bodhi grounds

the impressive trunk of a tree within the Sri Maha Bodhi grounds

The Sri Maha Bodhi and temple

Temple and The Sri Maha Bodhi

 

pilgrims facing the Sri Maha Bodhi

pilgrims facing the Sri Maha Bodhi

doors into temple - closed for lunch

doors into temple

visitors inside the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple

visitors inside the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple

external shrine at the Sri Maha Bodhi temple

flower offerings at a shrine at the Sri Maha Bodhi temple

flowers left in front of Buddha images at external shrine area at Sri Maha Bodhi

flowers left in front of Buddha images at external shrine area at Sri Maha Bodhi

close up of Buddha statue at Sri Maha Bodhi Temple

close up of Buddha statue at Sri Maha Bodhi Temple

seated Buddha at external shrine area at Maha Bodhi Temple complex

seated Buddha at external shrine area at Maha Bodhi Temple complex

THE GUARDHOUSE AT THE ENTRANCE OF the Sri Maha Bodhi complex

Guardhouse – entrance (and exit) of  the Sri Maha Bodhi complex

My visit to the Sri Maha Bodhi complex done, it was back down the walkway to the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba that I had walked by on the way up. From afar I could already see the workers on the steeple of the dagoba, clinging to the bamboo ladders.

approaching the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba from the walkway from the Sri Maha Bodhi

approaching the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba from the walkway from the Sri Maha Bodhi

watching the workers on the steeple of the dagoba

watching the workers on the steeple of the dagoba

western tourists approach the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

western tourists approach the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

approaching the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba base terrace

approaching the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba base terrace

elephant heads on the wall surounding the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

some of the hundreds of elephant heads on the wall surrounding the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

As I watched them scamper down the ladder – no safety harnesses, no shoes, no nothing to stop a fall – I held my breath.  It brought to mind an image from the day before when I had come up to Anuradhapura from Colombo on the train.  At one of our stops I glanced out the window to see a rail crew doing some construction; all the workers were wearing flip-flops as they did the shovelling and hauling away of some gravel.  The only guy wearing shoes looked like the boss!  And now these guys on the stupa using the same techniques that their ancestors had two thousand years ago as they came down the bamboo ladder.

workers descending bamboo ladder

workers on  bamboo ladder

close up of workers on bamboo ladder

 

 

 

 

 

 

one last look a the Ruvanvelisaya Stupa

one last look a the Ruvanvelisaya Stupa

stray cat siesta near the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

stray cat siesta near the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

By this time I was ready to join the cat in the pic above for an early afternoon nap.  But wait, there’s still a bit more! Off we went in Mahinda’s gas-powered chariot to the next “must see” site.  It would be our sixth stupa of the day – the Mirisavatiya Dagoba about a kilometre to the west of the Sri Maha Bodhi Complex I had been at an hour before.

pathway leading to the Mirisavatiya Dagoba

pathway leading to the Mirisavatiya Dagoba

the Mirisavatiya Dagoba up closer

the Mirisavatiya Dagoba up closer

Leaving our sixth stupa of the day, we now headed south to the  Vessagiriya Monastery area, where massive boulder  formations provided cave-like shelter used by monks who used to live there.  Also hinted at in the surrounding ruins were the other building associated with a monastery –  an image house, a refectory, a dormitory.  In the pic below you can see Mahinda’s red tuk-tuk in the shade on the top left; meanwhile it is 1:30 and I am being fried on top of the rock formations that overlook the site.

ruins in the Vessagiriya area

ruins in the Vessagiriya area – and staircase going up to the boulders above

some of the boulders at Vessagiriya

some of the boulders at Vessagiriya

 

Vessagiriya boulders

Vessagiriya boulders

shady pathway at Vessagiriya

shady pathway at Vessagiriya

Isurumuniya info sign

Below are a couple of rock carvings you see from the steps to the entrance of the rock temple. they are carved into the rock face above the pond. Both exhibit a certain playfulness and naturalness.  According to this source their style shows  “the influence of South Indian Pallava sculptural art of the seventh century”.

carving of seated man with horse at Isuruminiya Vihara

carving of seated man with horse at Isuruminiya Vihara

Isurumuniya rock carving of an elephant head

Isurumuniya Vihara rock carving of an elephant head

The two following pix are all that I took in my brief visit to the Vihara. I didn’t even think of framing a decent shot of the admittedly modern stupa now found at the site. “Stupa-ed out” is the nonsense word that comes to mind to describe how I was feeling. I walked back down from the viewing platform by the stupa to the parking lot where Mahinda was waiting and really without knowing if there was yet another site to head to said, “That’s it for today, Mahinda. Let’s head back to the guesthouse.”

evidence of written scripts  at Isurumuniya Vihara

evidence of written scripts at Isurumuniya Vihara

my last stupa shot of the day - Isurumuniya Stupa

my last stupa shot of the day – Isurumuniya Stupa

We were not the only ones who were done.  As we were heading back we passed groups of students heading home.  And each time we can to a major intersection there was yet another in-your-face billboard reminder of the existence of Sri Lanka’s “President-For-Life”. I am still waiting for news that, like the kings of old, he has commissioned the construction of a new stupa.

end of the school day in Anuradhapura

students on the way home at the end of the school day in Anuradhapura

a king in the making - the inescapable Presidente of The Blessed Isle

the inescapable El Presidente on two billboards at one intersection

While I was beat at the end of it, the day had been worth it. All told, I spend $50. US for the ticket and for Mahinda’s services for the six hours he drove me from site to site. He had quoted me $20 US; with the $5. tip he ended up getting a bit more. it would have been nice if the day had been cheaper – or free! – but it isn’t so I just accepted the fact and went from there.

Now budget travellers will undoubtedly balk at the notion of spending $50. for the day’s sightseeing. They can walk if they want but given how I felt – and I was being driven around – i cannot imagine how one could see even a half of what I did by foot. The bicycle is another option – bike rental may be in the $7. to $10. range. A bit more and you have a tuk-tuk!

And, as I mentioned in Part One, you could try to see the site without paying. You would have to avoid certain obvious sites like the Sri Maha Bodhi and some of the stupas – and you would have to plead ignorance or be defiant or indignant way more than I would want to waste my energy on.

My quick one-day visit to the site of ancient city was an excellent introduction to the glory that was ancient Anuradhapura. The level of technological accomplishment  attained by its inhabitants puts it on the list of great cities of the ancient world.  I also left curious about the intellectual ferment that on occasion led to monks battling monks about what the Buddha really said.  At one and the same time,  I was reminded about how little I – Mr. Ancient History teacher! – know and how wrong, in the case of the nature of Sri Lankan Buddhism, I was on what I thought I knew. Just wait – I will soon be learning that I am wrong on Mahinda Rajapaksa too! Let me know if I am…

a stele exaulting the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa

a stele exaulting the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa – click on to enlarge

For other posts on sites in the “Cultural Triangle” see also:                                            

Sri Lanka’s Dambulla Cave Temple – A Buddhist treasure Trove   

 and

Before Machu Picchu Was – There Was Sigiriya

 

 

The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part One

Previous Post: Up The Steps of Sri Lanka’s Mihintale

This post is one of two on the ruins of ancient Anuradhapura, the capital of a Sinhalese kingdom which once controlled north-central Sri Lanka . Following my tuck-tuk driver’s itinerary, it will cover our morning visits to the great dagoba of Jetavana as well as the Abhayagiri Monastery district on the northern end of the ancient city.

Part Two will deal with the afternoon tour of the rest of the site, including more amazing stupas and the Sri Maha Bodhi .  It is the temple complex built around what is believed to be the tree which grew from a transplanted branch of the Bo Tree. It was under the Bo Tree in northern India that  Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha.

Abhayagiriya Stupa - pilgrims approach

Abhayagiriya Stupa – pilgrims approach

Why Visit The Site of Ancient Anuradhapura?

Sri Lanka’s “Cultural Triangle” represents the core of the once-impressive Sinhalese kingdoms which flourished in Sri Lanka before external forces (first from southern  India and then from western Europe) overwhelmed them.  Spanning two millennia, the  ruins and the still-intact statues and reconstructed stupas serve as an introduction to a little-known yet impressive cultural achievement.

Sri Lanka's "Cultural Triangle"

Sri Lanka’s “Cultural Triangle” – see here for an interactive Google map

Anuradhapura, located on the plains of what is now called North Central Province, was the capital of the first of these Sinhalese kingdoms.  At its peak, the wealth generated by the kingdom’s economy was such that it was able to support a community of more that eight thousand Buddhist monks and surround them with massive religious structures which, next to the pyramids at Giza, were the largest human-made structures of the ancient world.

The city was also one of the great centres of Buddhist learning and visitors came from throughout the Buddhist world from Kashmir to China in search of copies of canonical texts and scholarship.  To visit Anuradhapura is not only to enter a major tourist attraction, but also an ongoing archaeological site and a living pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from around the world.

For non-Sinhalese visitors to the site, the sheer span of the history – from the 400’s B.C.E. to about 1100 C.E. and their almost total unfamiliarity with it – will result in occasionally feeling overwhelmed.  It’s a feeling I will admit to as I wandered around the site – and I say that as one who earned a living trying to make history come alive for mid-to-late teenagers for thirty-five years.

The grey area is the ancient city to the west of New Town

The ancient city is the greyed area is  to the west of New Town

Transportation Options – By Foot, Bicycle, or Tuk-Tuk

Another issue you have to deal with is the size of the actual site.  Given the oppressive heat after 10:30 a.m. It is too large to be tackled on foot.  There are two better options. The first is renting a bicycle. There is little traffic on the roads joining the various parts of the ancient city and you can make your way at your own pace. As the morning passes, however, it gets very hot and the cycling loses much of its allure!  Having spent the day cycling around the ruins of Polonnaruwa  three weeks before,  I was not too keen on doing the bike option again!

Ruwanwelisaya from the walkway

Ruwanwelisaya from the walkway

Mahinda and his tuk tuk had taken me to Mihintale the afternoon before.  Now his offer of a day’s worth of driving me around the twenty square kilometers of the ancient Anuradhapura site for 2000 SL rupees  was accepted. This allowed me to focus entirely on the various locations and leave the navigation to Mahinda, who has visited the site hundreds of times over the past twenty years.

He picked me up at the guesthouse – The French Garden Tourist Rest in New Town – at 8:00 a.m. For the next six hours we zipped along from one end of the site to the other – he knows the place intimately so no time was lost trying to figure out where we were or how to get to where we (that should probably read “he”!)  wanted to go.  He would sit in the cab or do some socializing while I walked around the stupas or through the remains of monks’ residences or dinner halls or other structures.

Anuradhapura entry ticket

Should You Buy An Entrance Ticket – Or Not?

Our first stop was the ticket office where I paid the $25. US for the day pass.  It certainly isn’t cheap and its cost has encouraged budget travellers of resorting to ways around it. One way is not paying at all and just bicycling around and pleading ignorance if stopped by the occasional uniformed guard.  Another popular way is hiring a tuk tuk driver who will assure you that he can deliver you to all the sites for less than the ticketed price.

Isurumuniya Vihara site

Mahinda and his tuk tuk – top left – wait as I ramble around the Isurumuniya Vihara site at the end of the day

When faced with a situation like this I ask myself this question – How much would I feel is a fair entry fee?  In this case, $15. sounds reasonable. So – we are now really arguing about $10. ($25. – $15.)  When I think about the $2000. in air fare i spent to get here and all theatre expenses, this $10. fades into relative insignificance.

I am also assuming that most, if not all, of the money goes to the upkeep and continued uncovering of the site – so with my entry ticket I am making a contribution to something positive. One issue that annoys non-local visitors is that Sri Lankans do not pay to get into the site; forgotten is that they also earn one-tenth of what the typical foreign tourist does. A fellow traveller at the guesthouse assured me that the entry ticket was only necessary if you wanted to visit the various museums on the site.  If that was so, the US$25. entry fee would indeed be a rip-off, given their so-so quality.   In the end,  visitors will do whatever  they feel is right to them.

my generous contribution to develop and maintain the world heritage sites

my “generous contribution to develop and maintain the world heritage sites”  –  four or five guards would scribble on it during the course of the day

The ticket purchased, I hopped back into the tuk tuk and Mahinda headed for the north end of the site; over the next six hours  we would work our way down to the south end and get to see most of the major sites and a lot of things I still can’t put a name to! My guide for the day was my copy of The Rough Guide To Sri Lanka; reading various relevant sections while seated in the shade provided me with a rough idea of what I was looking at.

First Stop: A Little-known Wonder of the Ancient World

As we drove up to the Abhayagiri Monastery area, we passed by the first of the many stupas I would be walking around that day – the Jetavana Dagoba. (Dagoba is a Pali term which can be traced back to the Sanskrit root words dhātu (relics)  and garbha (womb, inside).  As for stupa, it is a Sanskrit term meaning heap or mound.  What Anuradhapura certainly has is some of the finest examples of colossal Buddhist relic mounds anywhere. The relic believed to be contained within the Jetavana Dagoba is a piece of the Buddha’s belt.

Amazing to think that when it was completed it was, other than the great pyramids at Giza, the tallest man-made structure in the world – and yet few (including me) before my visit have even heard of it.  it was the focal point of a monastic community which not only preserved Buddhist doctrine but helped spread it through south east Asia.

Jetavana Dagoba

Jetavana Dagoba – front view

All day it would be a challenge to frame the various stupas from up close without introducing distortion into the images by tilting the camera up to get it all in the viewfinder. I made frequent use of the electronic spirit level in my Sony A57 to make sure that things were level; the Tamron 10-24mm lens also helped. I was usually shooting at the  ultra-wide 10 mm end (the equivalent of 15mm on a full frame sensor). As you can see I was still left with some bad composition choices!

Jetavana Dagoba - the rear view

Jetavana Dagoba – the rear view …  I really needed to walk back another fifty meters and then perhaps crop the brick out of the image when I got home!

Do note that visitors must leave their shoes or flip-flops at the bottom of the steps before they walk onto the base terrace of the stupa – or many other sites.  The earlier in the day you do your clockwise-direction walk around the stupa , the cooler it will be on your feet! I did notice some western tourists with sensitive feet leaving on their socks.

stray dog enjoying the cool of the morning at Jetavana Dagoba

stray dog enjoying the cool  tiles at Jetavana Dagoba’s side temple

a Buddhist narrative brought to life

a Buddhist narrative brought to life

elaborate figures on the outside of Jetavana's side temple

elaborate figures on the inside of Jetavana’s side temple – Buddhism goes Baroque!

Before I left the Jetavana stupa, I made use of my thirty-word Sinhala vocabulary to say good morning to a young woman and the boy she was taking care of. They were waiting for the rest of a wedding party to arrive at the back of the dagoba for pictures.  I did something I rarely do in my travels – I took a shot of her and the boy, having asked her, mostly in sign language and with a smile, if she would mind. More people shots would definitely add an extra dimension to my  portfolio of pix!  Looking at my effort, I really should have had the stupa as the backdrop instead of what you see!

young Sihalese woman and boy at the Jetavana Dagoba

Before we drove up Vata Mandana Road to the first of the Abhayagiri Monastery district sites, we stopped within the confines of what was once the Citadel, the high wall and moat-protected royal palace area. None of this is evident now.   Rambling through the ruins does require a bit of imagination and previous knowledge if the visitor is to be successful in reconstructing the scene as it was fifteen hundred years ago. I supplied the imagination and used a guide-book to help me make some sense of it all.   Here is what you’re given to work with -

Abhayagiri Monastery ruins

the Citadel – ruins in the vicinity of the Temple of the Tooth

Abhayagiri ruins - lintels and doorposts

Citdadel ruins – lintels and doorposts repositioned

Temple of Tooth signIncluded in the Citadel zone was the original Temple of the Tooth – the Tooth being one which belonged to the Buddha.  It is believed to have been brought to Sri Lanka in the early 300’s C.E.  Along with the Buddha’s footprint on Sri Pada and Sri Maha Bodhi Tree in the Mahavihara district about two kilometers to the south, the Tooth is one of the most prized talismans of Sri Lankan Buddhism.  Over the centuries the Tooth became a visible political symbol of Sinhala sovereignty.  This makes sense of its location in the Citadel area and helps explain why its current home in Kandy was a justifiable target in the minds of Tamil Tiger bombers in 1998.  Twenty people died in a truck bomb explosion near the temple.

the original Temple of the Tooth

presumed ruins of the original Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa)

The Abhayagiri Monastery District

Next we were off to the north end of the ancient city to the ruins of the Abhayagiriya Monastery area. At its prime there were apparently as many as 6000 monks living here in one of the ancient city’s three main monastic centers. If you are really big on doing things in chronological order then the way to approach the ruins is by doing the monastic areas in order of age – first comes the Mahavihara area with the Sri Maha Bodhi, then the Jetavana Monastery district, and after a brief diversion the ruins of the Citadel district, a visit to the latest addition to the ancient city – Abhayagiri. I put my tour in the hands of my charioteer Mahinda and trusted him to hit all the high spots in the most logical order!

Abhayagiriya Monastery Area map created by Philg88 and found at Wikipedia

Abhayagiri Monastery Area map created by Philg88 and found at Wikipedia here

The Twin Ponds at AbhayagiriFirst up on our list were the Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds), used by the monastic community for ritual bathing. Built in the 700’s C.E., they show the Sinhala mastery of channelling and storing water. This came from centuries of refinement of the irrigation systems that were the reason for Anuradhapura’s rise as a centre of civilization.  As the overview map of the city found above illustrates, the city itself was surrounded by man-made water reservoirs (tanks or wawas) that allowed the dry plains to produce two crops a year.

one of the two bathing ponds at Abhayagiri Monastery in Anuradhapura

one of the two bathing ponds at Abhayagiri Monastery in Anuradhapura

the steps of one of the Kuttam Pokuna

the steps of one of the Kuttam Pokuna

looking over both of the ponds

looking over both of the ponds

I eventually made my way back to the tuk-tuk you can see at the far end of the ponds and we were off. We pulled up in front of the everyday bath house, a decidedly less elaborate structure than the Twin Ponds.

Abhayagiri bathhouse ruins

Abhayagiri bathhouse ruins

Abhayagiri Bath House detail - purpose unclear to me

Abhayagiri Bath House detail – purpose unclear to me

Nearby were the stone remains of the sleeping quarters – anything made of wood had obviously burned or rotted away long ago.  Walking through the site reminded me of looking down on Machu Picchu and seeing the stone walls of the week-end retreat that the Sapa Inca Pachacuti had constructed there.  Both require a bit of imagination to reconstruct in one’s mind. Perhaps one day there will be a 3D virtual reconstruction map of the ancient city  to help visitors as they walk around? There’s got to be an app for that!

a small section of the residential complex ruins

a small section of the residential complex ruins

Abhayagiri Residential Quarters

Abhayagiri Residential Quarters

residential area - a tree has found a home in the center of one buidling

residential area – a tree has found a home in the center of one building

Samadhi Buddha (early 1900''s)  - note the broken nose

Samadhi Buddha (early 1900”s) – note the broken nose – click on to enlarge …no, not the nose!

Next up was a visit to the Samadhi Buddha, a stone sculpture of the Buddha in the dyana meditation pose. It dates back to the 300’s C.E. and was originally out in the open. It now sits under a concrete shelter built to protect it but spoiling the effect somehow. Also interesting to note is that the statue was apparently painted upon completion.  As with those beautiful paint-free marble statues of Greek antiquity, we forget that the ancients saw something a bit different! Another thing to be pointed out is the crude job done on creating a new nose for the Buddha.

The Samadhi Buddha at Anuradhapura's Abhayagiri Monastery

The Samadhi Buddha on Anuradhapura’s Abhayagiri Monastery grounds

flower offerings in front of the Samadhi Buddha

flower offerings in front of the Samadhi Buddha

During the course of the day you will occasionally come across reminders on proper behaviour.  The two signs below point out important things to keep in mind as you approach or enter various areas -

no hat/no shoes sign in Anuradhapura ancient city

no hat/no shoes sign in Anuradhapura ancient city

No Photograph with Back To The Buddha  sign at Anuradhapura

No Photograph with Back To The Buddha sign at Anuradhapura

Next up was the very focal point of the Abhayagiri Monastery district of the Ancient City – the stupa or dagoba. Thanks to the legends promulgated by the Mahavamsa, a chronicle of the various dynasties of ancient Anuradhapura, local pilgrims believe that the relic mound is built on top of the spot where the Buddha (in one of his supposedly three visits to the blessed island of Lanka)  left a footprint.

Abhayagiri Dagoba in Anuradhapura's ancient city - see the first pic of this post for another view

Abhayagiri Dagoba in Anuradhapura’s ancient city – see the first pic of this post for another view

abhayagiri dagoba during reclamationTo the left is a shot found online which shows the dagoba  before it was reclaimed from the grass and bush that had found holds in the spaces between the bricks.  After the ancient city was abandoned about eight hundred years ago,  jungle filled any space it could and the site was forgotten. (I’m not sure how that fits in with the story about the Sacred Bodhi tree which you wouldn’t figure would be abandoned.)  When the British stumbled upon the site in the early 1800’s it did not take them long to figure out that they had “discovered” a major archaeological site – and this during the golden age of archaeology from Greece to Mesopotamia to India. Thanks to the end of the twenty-five year civil war in 2009, Sri Lankans can now focus on building their country – and if they are Sinhalese, reconstructing the glorious past of Sinhalese civilization. Bringing ancient Anuradhapura back to life is also a political statement on the part of the Sri Lankan government which says – “This island is fundamentally Sinhalese.”

new brickwork on the Abhayagiri Dagoba

Abhayagiri dagoba - new plant growth

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked around the dagoba – clockwise is the conventional way – I noticed the new brickwork which helps restore the stupa to most of its original glory.  Visible in some places,  however, was new plant growth in the cracks between the bricks.  Short of spraying the exterior with some sort of herbicide, there doesn’t seem to be any easy solution in this battle between man and nature!

Abhayagiri dagoba - shrine room at main entry point

Abhayagiri dagoba – shrine room at main entry point

Entering the shrine room on the side of the dagoba at the end of the main entry walkway, I found a Buddha figure in the parinirvana pose (the reclining Buddha just before he died at the age of 80):

the Buddha in paranirvana position inside the shrine room

the Buddha in parinirvana pose inside the shrine room

close up of the Buddha's face in the Abhayagiri shrine room

close up of the Buddha’s face in the Abhayagiri shrine room

the paranirvana Buddha's feet

the parinirvana Buddha’s feet

Nearby was another statue of the Buddha in samadhi (meditation) pose. Time has not been quite as kind to it as to the one shown a few images above.

Abhayagiri Monastery- the second Samadhi Buddha statue

Abhayagiri monastery the second Samadhi Buddha statue

close up of Abhayagiri's second Samadhi Buddha statue

close up of Abhayagiri’s second Samadhi Buddha statue – click on images to enlarge

view of the back of the second samadhi statue

second samadhi staute - upper half

guardstone in front of Abhayagiri shrine

guardstone in front of Abhayagiri shrine house

nagaraja guardstone with seven-headed cobra crown

nagaraja (mythic snake king)guardstone with seven-headed cobra crown

Abhayagiri Monastery ruins

Abhayagiri Monastery ruins

remains of another structure in the Abhayagiri district

remains of another structure in the Abhayagiri district

Abhayagiri buidling foundation and pillars

Abhayagiri building foundation and pillars

Abhayagiri moonstone with elaborate carving

Abhayagiri moonstone with elaborate carving

moonstone detail

moonstone detail

A bit further along the foundation and little else of another shrine room.  However, the finely detailed dwarves holding up the steps leading to the shrine have survived, has the moonstone in front of them.

dwarves supporting the stone steps up to the shrine

dwarves supporting the stone steps up to the shrine

moonstone in front of the above steps

moonstone in front of the above steps

walking through the ghostly pillars in the ruins of  Abhayagiri Monastery

walking through the ghostly pillars in the ruins of Abhayagiri Monastery

the third of four Abhayagiri Buddha in Samadhi pose statues

the third of four Abhayagiri “Buddha in Samadhi pose” statues

Burrow's Pavilion sign

Burrow’s Pavilion information sign

Burrow's Pavilion (Stone Canopy)

Burrow’s Pavilion (Stone Canopy)

Abhayagiri's Et Pokuna (Elephant Pool)

Abhayagiri’s Et Pokuna (Elephant Pool)

the foundations of the refectory with stone food troughs on the right

the foundations of the refectory with stone food troughs on the right

the larger of the food throughs at the Abhayagiri monastery refectory

the larger of the food troughs at the Abhayagiri monastery refectory

the Abhayagiri Museum

statuary on display at the Abhayagiri Museum

guardstones from one of Abhayagiri's buildings

guardstones from one of Abhayagiri’s buildings

the fourth of Abhayagiri's Samadhi Buddhas

the fourth of Abhayagiri’s Samadhi Buddhas

Lankarama sign

Before we headed south to the rest of the site, we had one more destination – the Lankarama. The pillars, some still standing, are taken as evidence that the dagoba was once the core of a vatadage which stood here. If this is so, it would have looked something like this model recreation of another vatadage that we would  visit  in the afternoon – the Thuparama  pictured below. What is sometimes not clear as one walks around the ruins is what has been reconstructed in the past one hundred years and to what extent the modern work truly reflects the original structure.

A model of the Vatadage of Anuradhapura's  Thuparama

A model of the Vatadage of Anuradhapura’s Thuparama

Lankarama from a distance

Lankarama from a distance

another view of the Lankarama from afar

another view of the Lankarama from afar

Lankarama and pillars

Lankarama dagoba and pillars

We had started our whirlwind tour of ancient Anuradhapura at about 8:30. Now it was a bit past 11:00 a.m. and we had only visited the northern-most district of the old city.  Even then, it had been a bit of a rush. You really could spend an entire day just rambling around the ruins of Abhayagiri – but, given the steep entrance fee, you move on and try to see as much as possible.  The energy-sapping heat of the mid-day was starting to make itself felt.

Next Post : The ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part Two

For other posts on sites in the “Cultural Triangle” see also:                                            

Sri Lanka’s Dambulla Cave Temple – A Buddhist treasure Trove   

 and

Before Machu Picchu Was – There Was Sigiriya

Taking In The Fall Colours With Viggo

Toronto Skyline from above the Brickworks

looking south to the Toronto downtown skyline from above the Brickworks

It is autumn in Toronto and that means fall colours. Viggo and I have been up and down the Don Valley – the eight kilometers from Lake Ontario all the way up to Moore Park – on this week’s rambles. It has been mostly overcast but every once in a while the sun manages to poke through.  On the days I had a camera with me we stopped for some photos.  Spoiler alert: what you’ll see as you skim through are lots of pix of Viggo and lots pix of fall colours, and sometimes both at the same time!

fall colours in Riverdale

fall colours at Withrow Park in Riverdale

On Sunday we made our way down to the beach at the foot of Cherry Street – it is the ultimate off-leash dog park in the city and Viggo’s favourite place since fetch also involves going into the water. This was the morning the little p & s camera was giving out bogus “Charge the battery” messages so not a lot of pix were taken. But here are a few of Viggo at work!

Viggo at the Cherry Street Beach Dog Park

Viggo at the Cherry Street Beach Dog Park – my current desktop image!

it's all about the ball!

it’s all about the ball!

Viggo ready to exchange the ball - for a treat!

Viggo ready to exchange the ball – for a treat!

The lack of maple trees down along the waterfront meant that the colour palette was somewhat muted – the above shots were about all the camera would work for.  The next day I had better luck with another camera as we walked the streets of Cabbagetown, a residential area just on the other side of the Don Valley from our Riverdale home. The housing stock there dates back to the 1880’s; what was once a very working class area of Toronto has been gentrified over the past forty years and is now a desirable address!

one of the many simple cottage homes of Cabbagetown

one of the many simple cottage homes of Cabbagetown

Cabbagetown front yards

Cabbagetown front yards

Cabbagetown fall colour

Cabbagetown fall colour

classic Cabbagetown - right down to the lace curtains!

classic Cabbagetown – right down to the lace curtains!

another Cabbagetown front yard

another Cabbagetown front yard

Once back on our side of the Don Valley, we paused for some water when we reached the picnic tables.  I got a few shots of the dog we call “Mr. Happy Yappy” as he stood on top of the table we usually sit on.

Viggo on a park picnic table - Riverdale Park East

Viggo on a park picnic table – Riverdale Park East

Viggo still seemed “full of beans” so I figured we might as well go up to the skating rink and play fetch for a while.  Given V’s chase drive, I like being able to shut the door to the rink.  The previous night’s rain meant there was a bit of water covering the concrete but we managed to get a few throws in.

viggo checking out the ice condition

Viggo checking out the ice condition

Viggo at the ice rink

Viggo at the ice skating  rink – ice is usually in by December

As you can see from the background of the previous shot, there is not a lot of fall colour happening in the woods by the skating rink yet. It turned out that the day’s most amazing colour was on our own street! Here are just a couple of shots of what we saw that day as we walked back home -

Riverdale Avenue maple leaves

Riverdale Avenue maple leaves

more Riverdale maple leaves on display

more Riverdale maple leaves on display

This morning was another overcast day but since the forecast was for rain in the afternoon, I figured we may as well make use of the morning. I had an ulterior motive at play; my new Polar H7 heart rate sensor – it pairs with my iPod Touch via Bluetooth – was just asking to be tested and what better way than a two-hour outing with Viggo!

I had heard rave reviews of the colours on the trail running up behind the Brickworks (aka the Moore Park Ravine) so that was our target for the morning.  First we bicycled up the Don Valley bike trail to Pottery Road and over to Bayview Avenue where I locked my bike to a utility pole. Then we scampered up and over the hill to the most fantastic view of Toronto – the one you see in this post’s first photo. The following pix will give you an idea of what the Moore Park Ravine looks like this week.

[While the Ravine is always a great place to be, right now it is especially pretty – and you don’t need a dog to visit! Just park your car at the Brickworks and go for a walk.]

I tied Viggo’s leash to my bicycle seat post and off we went. Up the street, down into the park, down the flight of stairs to the bike trail, over the footbridge and through the tunnel you see below, past more than one reminder that our quest for fall colours is unfolding in a gritty urban environment.

the footbridge across the Don just north of the Riverdale Bridge

the footbridge across the Don just north of the Riverdale Bridge

The tunnel underneath the old Belt Line rail tracks

The tunnel underneath the old Belt Line rail tracks

a reminder that this is not a nature preserve

a reminder that this is not a nature preserve

And then, after a bit of work, we get to THE View – we are on the ridge above the Brickworks, looking at the immense cavity that provided the raw material for the brick homes that are so characteristic of a certain period of Toronto building.

Viggo surveys his domain from the Stone of Viggo above the Brickworks

Viggo surveys his domain from the Stone of Viggo above the Brickworks

Viggo responding to his name -

Viggo responding to his name -

And the Stone of Viggo. Well, it is the large boulder that sits up on the ridge .  Too much time spent reading LOTR led to creating a mythic world for our Viggo, Prince of Iceland.

The Stone of Viggo

The Stone of Viggo – he hops up, he gets a treat, I take a picture.  Familiar routine!

And then it is a bit of a scramble down a muddy hillside  to take us to the trail which goes up the Moore Park Ravine. I use the exposed roots of trees to provide some footing as we make our way down.  Down in the valley there is lots to explore…

the creek (Mud Creek?)  running down the ravine

Mud Creek  running down the ravine – Viggo checks it out

down along the creekbed

down along the creekbed

Viggo wading in Mud Creek:Moore Park Ravine

Viggo wading in Mud Creek – Moore Park Ravine

And then it was back to the path and the occasional encounter with other dogs and dog owners and, with my sincerest apologies, Viggo’s most recent giving chase to a bicyclist. She appeared before I could put V on a leash – but not before he had already clicked in to his urban job as Icelandic Bicycle Dog. She apologized for the incident; I told her it was definitely my “bad”.   In the hour that we were down there she was the only cyclist we saw. We do avoid the trail on weekends when all the joggers and cyclists are out in full force.

Viggo and a bed of fallen leaves

Viggo and a bed of fallen leaves

a short stretch of the ravine trail

a short stretch of the ravine trail

another section of the Moore Park Ravine pathway

another section of the Ravine pathway just before it ends south of Mount Pleasant Cemetery

Viggo watching a couple of dogs in the distance

Viggo watching a couple of dogs in the distance

Viggo giving me that smile of his

Viggo giving me that smile of his

more leaves - and another %22smile' from the Veegs

more leaves – and another “smile” from the Veegs

And then it was time to head on back down to Riverdale.  When we got home, Viggo was pretty mellow for a good chunk of the afternoon. We really have to do this more often!

I was keen to upload the heart rate information from the Polar Beat app on my iPod Touch. Our almost two hour adventure had burned up 1000 calories and had my heart getting a good workout. While the time spent in the two lowest heart rate zones hardly constitutes exercise, the hour I spent in zones 3 and 4 definitely qualify as my aerobic exercise of the day.

walking the dog - heart rate graph

walking the dog – heart rate graph

As I looked at the various peaks where my heart rate approached the red zone (zone 5) I wondered which peak was the one where I ran to get Viggo back on leash as he chased after that cyclist down in the ravine!

Withrow Park maple hiding  the sun

Withrow Park maple hiding the sun

Just a few minutes after finishing this post, I surfed my way to this Globe & Mail photo collection published today – a collection of fall colour shots from across Canada. See here for some truly creative images that capture the magic of a Canadian autumn.

Thorung La: The High Point of the Annapurna Circuit

Thorung Phedi to Muktinath Map

Thorung Phedi to Muktinath Map

Update:  Devastating News.

The Annapurna Circuit is in the news – and not in a good way.  Since October 14  the number of deaths has gone up into the dozens  [it now stands at 39]  as the Thorung La area recovers from a massive blizzard caused by the tail end of Tropical Storm Hudhud which swept up from the Bay of Bengal. The result was landslides at lower altitude due to massive amounts of rain and avalanches and blizzard conditions higher up because of the wet snow and wind. 

Apparently some trekking parties – some with guides, some not – decided to make what is normally a four-to-six-hour crossing of Thorung La in spite of poor weather conditions.  They may have been betting that the worst was over and they’d get across without a problem. Instead, they were walloped by a worsening blizzard that caught them unprepared both in terms of gear and dealing with a full-out emergency mountaineering experience.  While some trekkers took shelter at the teahouse at the pass itself, apparently it was those who continued on down to Muktinath that lost their lives. 

There were also deaths on an Annapurna side trail  from Koto (just east of Chame)  up the Naur and Phu Kholas to Phugaon (map here).  Four Canadians, an Indian, and three local villagers were killed in an avalanche. To the west of Jomsom at the Mount Dhaulagiri Base Camp two Slovak mountaineers and three Nepali mountain guides were also killed in an avalanche as they prepared to summit the mountain.

 In time more details will emerge to help us make more sense of what must be the darkest day in Himalayan trekking and climbing history.

My condolences go out to the families and friends of those trekkers and guides who lost their lives.  ________________________________________________________________________

The Annapurna Circuit is one of the world’s great hiking routes. Along with stupendous scenery, walkers find easy accommodation, a clearly defined route that the locals have used for hundreds of years, and enchanting cultural expressions  – often in the form of religious architecture or ritual – that have drawn western travellers for decades, ever since the trail opened in the late 1970’s.

Buddhist temple front before Chame

Buddhist temple front before Chame

All images enlarge with a click; all blue text leads to related info with a click.

Over a period of two and a half weeks or so, the 225 kilometer walk takes you from the lush sub-tropical environment of Besi Sahar and the Marsyangdi Kholar Valley up to the stark windswept alpine region north of Chame before crossing the the high pass of Thorung La . Then it is a 1600-meter descent  to the pilgrimage town of Muktinath before following the world’s deepest gorge (Kali Gandaki)  down to the end of the walk at Birethati.

Annapurna Circuit altitude gain graph

Source: Solundir at Wikipedia – see here

From the altitude profile above it is clear that Thorung La (La means “pass” in Tibetan) is literally – but often figuratively too – the high point of the entire trip.  At 5416 m/17769 ft, for most trekkers it will the highest point they ever walk up to in their lives.  It also presents the biggest potential danger of the circuit.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) sign above Manang

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) sign above Manang

The problem usually lies in the fact the trekkers are ascending too quickly and not giving their bodies enough time to acclimatize to the decreasing density of oxygen in the air.  Kathmandu at 1300 meters is where most will begin their Nepali adventure; after the bus ride to Besi Sahar via Dumre, the trail begins with a gradual ascent of the Marsyangdi Khola to Chame at 2710 meters.

Entering Thorung Phedi Base Camp Lodge

Entering Thorung Phedi Base Camp Lodge

We spent five days on this first section of the  walk and another six to get to the Thorung Base Camp Lodge ( altitude 4540 m) just above Thorung Phedi. ((Phedi is a Nepali word meaning “base of the hill”.)  Built into the walk up to Thorung Phedi were two extra acclimatization days – one in Pisang and the other in Manang.  In each case we followed one of the basic rules of mountaineering – “Walk high, sleep low”.  To help us further acclimatize, a few hours of each spare day were spent in the hills above the two villages before we  came down in the afternoon to our lodges at the lower altitude. When we got to our accommodation above Thorung Phedi, I went for a two-hour walk in the hills above the lodge.

the trail up the valley from Yak Kharta to Thorung Base Camp Lodge

looking back at the trail up the valley from Yak Kharta to Thorung Base Camp Lodge

our rooms are on the right of the stone patio

our rooms are on the right of the stone patio

the view from above Thorung Base Camp Lodge

the view from above Thorung Base Camp Lodge

two local dogs in the hills above the Thorung Lodge

two local dogs in the hills above the Thorung Lodge

Another general rule of acclimatizing is to set a maximum of  five hundred meters in  daily altitude gain.  Take a look at how established trekking companies plan their itineraries and  you’ll see that they build in a gradual ascent and provide enough time for their clients to acclimatize.

[As an example of a reputable small-group adventure travel company, here is the Exodus itinerary for the full circuit; even the Exodus Mini-Annapurna Circuit (!) doesn’t mess around with the acclimatization time needed to deal with Thorung La. See here to see what is cut out to create the shortened non-circuit Annapurna adventure.]

Clearly, the last thing any trip leader needs is the problem of what to do with a client or three unable to continue the trek half-way through. While there is no 100% guarantee that following the above guidelines will ensure that nobody will suffer any effects of altitude sickness,  it does make sure that no one will die of AMS.  In the end, the profile of someone likely to suffer from altitude sickness would include the following characteristics – an independent, twenty-something male trekker in a hurry to do the entire circuit in 10 days because he has to catch a plane back to NYC in five days. I met him in Manang and wonder what happened to him!

fellow trekkers killing time at Thorung Base Camp Lodge

fellow trekkers killing time at Thorung Base Camp Lodge

As well, keeping well-hydrated is crucial; notice the water bottles and the tea thermos on the table as trekkers kill some time waiting for the next morning’s climb up to Thorung La. While beer is available all the way up the trail, I stuck to bottled or treated water and tea and passed on the beer until we made the crossing!

The following zoomed-in Google map of the Thorung La area has the trail on it. You can get a sense of the terrain the crossing of pass involves. I am sure that one day soon the Google team will have a 3D virtual path view available!

We got up around three for a 4:30 a.m. departure.  The reasoning for the early rising seems to be that the snow will be at its hardest and the winds at their most moderate – whatever the case, lodges in Thorung Phedi will see a flourish of activity as trekkers try to get going. Many will have spent a restless night as they worry about what Thorung La will bring.

4 a.m. and ready to go

4 a.m. and keen to go – a Canadian, an Aussie, and a German – a mini- United Nations!

Our crew of a dozen walkers was ready to go by 4:30; people were wearing all the cold weather clothing they had – fleece underpants and sweaters and wool hats and gloves and those extra thick wool socks. The temperature outside was surprisingly mild and it was completely windless.

There are trekkers who are not so lucky, who have to wait for a day or two at Thorung Phedi because of the weather or, even worse, have to retreat back down to Manang or Dumre.  October and November are considered the best months for crossing Thorung La. Of the 20,000 trekkers who made the crossing in 2013, 6000 of them did it in October!  We were there on October 21 and walked into  a beautiful day.

Waiting for a couple of stragglers at the day's start

Waiting for a couple of stragglers at the day’s start

As we made our way up the first steep section to a plateau where things seemed to level out a bit, the trail created by the previous day’s and week’s walkers was clearly visible. Every once in a while there would be a cairn or other marker to show where the path was.  All it would have taken is a major snowfall or an incoming blizzard to turn our scenic and occasionally breath-taking walk into a full-blown difficult mountaineering situation where staying on track or finding shelter would become the #1 priority. Walking inside a ping png ball is the best description that comes to mind to describe what it is like to be on the trail with heavy snowfall.

Walkers are pretty exposed and there is really nowhere to go – other that returning to Thorung Phedi, there is a hut/teahouse at the pass, and another lodge (4100 m) on the Muktinath side of the day’s walk. While most trekkers are pretty well-equipped, there were some doing the trek who had clearly made a last-minute decision in Kathmandu or Pokhara to do the famous Annapurna Circuit on the cheap (i.e no guide or porter) and without the better-quality gear you need.

trekkers on the snow path to Thorung Phedi

trekkers – the dots on the right side of the image! – on the snow path to Thorung Phedi

trekkers approaching Thorung La

trekkers approaching Thorung La – notice the pole route marker

ponies ready to be used

ponies ready to be rented out to tired trekkers!

the route to Thorung La after the first steep bit

the route to Thorung La after the first steep bit

For four hours we walked through stunning mountain scenery on a pretty good hard-packed trail; as the hours passed, anticipation rose every time i saw what looked like the final ascent.  The following image illustrates once such situation – the ridge top we were approaching looked like it could be the pass!

a bit of uphill on the way to Thorung La

a bit of uphill on the way to Thorung La

Well, wish all you want but the pass will come when it comes – until then, just keep moving your feet and you’ll get there when you get there!

Movin' on up towards Thorung La - one step at a time

Movin’ on up towards Thorung La – one step at a time

the two Aussies give me a smile as we shuffle up to Thorung La

the two Aussies give me a smile as we shuffle up to Thorung La

snow trail to Thorung La

snow trail to Thorung La

looking back at where we've come from

looking back at where we’ve come from

a cairn on the trail near Thorung La

a cairn and prayer flags above the trail at Thorung La

The Teahouse/hut at Thorung La

The Teahouse/hut at Thorung La

The peak behind the teahouse is known as Thorung Tse or Thorung Ri (6144 m).  Behind it but not visible from the pass is the even higher peak of Khatung Kang (6488 m). I’m sure a few people have stood at the pass and looked up and thought – “Wouldn’t it be neat to quickly go up there and see the view!”  However, both are in the expedition peaks category and require additional permits on top of the trekking permits all trekkers on the Circuit have to get. Given the above, as well as the initial very steep and icy approach and the reported danger of avalanches, a basic Annapurna Circuit trekker would be foolish to enter into the realm of mountaineering  without the proper gear and skills and guide necessary!

catching our breath at Thorung La

catching our breath at Thorung La

Trekkers chillin' at Thorung La

Trekkers chillin’ at Thorung La

Thorung La Sign - compulsory photo!

Thorung La Sign – compulsory “I wuz there” photo!

The steep downhill to Muktinath - with Mustang region to the right

The steep downhill to Muktinath – with Mustang region to the right

It is on the downhill that the trekking poles become even more valuable.  While they are useful for balance and propulsion when going mostly up, being able to stabilize yourself and break your forward motion at times makes the 1600-meter descent to Muktinath easier to take.  A major plus is that your knees are spared the usual punishment they take on downhill stretches since some of your weight is transferred to your upper body. I’ll admit that on first seeing the poles in use around Chamonix in the Alps I thought they were an affectation that only a wussie Euro would  take to.  Well, live and learn.  I would never go on a trek without them again!

the steep descent from Thorung La - note the trail marker!

trekkers making the steep descent from Thorung La – note the almost invisible trail marker!

the descent to Muktinath continues

the descent to Muktinath continues – we’re below the snow line now

temple in Muktinath

temple in Muktinath

We got to Muktinath around noon.  we were now at 3800 meters and all the worry of Acute Mountain Sickness was gone. After a celebratory lunch we dumped our gear in our rooms at the lodge and walked back up to the temple area;  Muktinath is a major Shiva pilgrimage site for Hindus.

Muktinath and the Hotel Bob Marley

We eventually found our way to another shrine – the Bob Marley Hotel!  What is it about the popularity of this Jamaican reggae singer in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal?  It is as if he is the patron saint of hippy travellers! Our visit involved bottles of beer – the pressure was off.  Time for the pilgrims to do  a little celebrating!

Useful Links:

if you’d like to see the entire Annapurna Circuit in 1:125000 detail here is a map produced by Shangi-La Maps in Nepal.

Lonely Planet have a somewhat dated (2009) but still useful  Trekking In the Nepal Himalaya  guidebook available.  A new edition is in the plans for 2015.  The Annapurna chapter can be downloaded as a 7.34 mb pdf file for $5. See here.

The Cicerone guide book series recently (2013) published a new edition of their Annapurna guidebook.  I have used their books in the Alps and the Everest region and find them worth taking along in my pack.  See here for some info.

I’ve got another post on Annapurna – The Annapurna Circuit: Is It Still Worth Doing? – that might have some useful information and suggestions and other links. Click on the title to check it out.

The survivors’ stories make for some uplifting – or depressing – reading.  This BBC report from October 18 (Nepal Annapurna: Trekking Disaster Toll Reaches 39) provides an overview. An Israeli’s story provides an explanation of why so many died on the descent from the pass.the UK’s Telegraph  highlights his account in this article – Nepal trekkers ‘kicked out of lodge during snow storm’ blame local greed for eight deaths.

Canoeing The Bloodvein Day 17 – To Bloodvein Village & Flight to Red Lake

Previous Post: Canoeing The Bloodvein Day 16  – Lagoon Run to Rapids W88  Campsite 

Day 17 - W888 to Bloodvein First Nations Village

Day 17 – W888 to Bloodvein First Nations Village

Click on images to enlarge; click on blue text for more info.

DAY 17 BASICS:

distance: about 8 kilometers

weather: sunny and clear

rapids/portages: W89 (swifts) ran

campsite: by 9:30 p.m. a room at the Telstar Motel in Kakabeka Falls!

The view from our tent site 7 km. from the mouth of the Bloodvein

The view from our tent site 8 km. from the mouth of the Bloodvein

We left our Day 16 campsite at about 8:30 and a little more than an hour later we had paddled past the Bloodvein River Lodge on Kitchi Island on our way to the Bloodvein First Nation ferry landing and the end of the trip.

Bloodvein River Lodge on Kitchi Island

Bloodvein River Lodge on Kitchi Island

Hello, Bloodvein Village! the suburbs come into view...

Hello, Bloodvein First Nation! The suburbs come into view…

Once at the ferry landing  Max stayed with the canoe and gear while I went off in search of a telephone so that I could phone Viking Outposts Air and let them know we were ready to go.  All we needed to know was where exactly the plane would be landing.  For months before the trip I had assumed that we’d be picked up at the landing strip just to the east of the village – without thinking of asking to make sure.

Shortly before we left Red Lake Harlan informed me that we would have to make our way over from Bloodvein Village to Islandview on the ferry  and then get ourselves and the canoe and gear over to Pine Dock Lodge where the pick-up would be made. I can’t say we were too happy with the news – but it was what it was!   I had forgotten the name of the lodge and was now phoning to find out exactly where it was and how to get there.

The Dumoine has landed! Bloodvein Village ferry dock area

The Dumoine has landed! Bloodvein Village ferry landing area – landing is above the canoe

the Edgar Wood ferry landing at Bloodvein Village

the Edgar Wood ferry landing at Bloodvein Village

Welcome to Bloodvein sign as you come down the ferry docking strip

“Welcome to Bloodvein” sign as you come down the ferry landing strip

After a short walk over to the corner store/restaurant ,  I was making use of the landline phone to contact Harlan Schwartz at Red Lake Outfitters.  No answer!  So  I phoned Viking Outposts and got Craig Carlson on the line. He said he’d been expecting the call and had some news for me – the pick-up would not be taking place at the lodge near Islandview after all.

Apparently the new lodge owner had ended whatever landing arrangement the lodge used to have with Viking.  The de Havilland Beaver would land right in front of Bloodvein First Nations and pick us up there.  Alright!  This was making a lot more sense!  It meant that we could relax instead of jumping through a few extra hoops before actually getting into the plane.

Bloodvein's new Nursing Station on Main Street

Bloodvein’s new Nursing Station on Main Street

Bloodvein Nursing Station window message

Bloodvein Nursing Station window message

Carlson figured the plane would be there in under three hours so we settled in for a bit of a wait in the shade of the “Welcome to Bloodvein…” billboard.  In our rambles around the village we did chat with a few of the locals – a high school student, someone working at the Nursing Station, a local keen on information about moose numbers up river.  Most people seemed to be driving up and down Main Street – still unpaved and very dusty but given the presence of a road construction crew soon be be covered with asphalt.

Bloodvein Village - to the side of the old Anglican Church building

Bloodvein Village – to the side of the old Anglican Church building

Bloodvein's old Anglican church building

Bloodvein’s old Anglican church building

When I saw the old Anglican church just off of Main Street I thought about a Bloodvein trip report (perhaps jjoven’s) which mentioned that they had slept inside the church for a couple of nights at the end of their trip. The building is looking a bit derelict; services are now held in the building next door – the new Anglican Church! We learned that they made use of straw bale to construct it.

the new Anglican Church building - next to the old one

the new Anglican Church building – next to the old one

We watched the Edgar Wood ferry make a smooth stop at the end of the gravel ramp.  It didn’t seem especially busy on this particular day. After the white truck in the photo below dropped off its cargo on the ferry, it went back to town.

the Edgar Wood  ferry at the Bloodvein Dock

the Edgar Wood ferry at the Bloodvein Dock  – see here for the ferry schedule

Islandview-Bloodvein area

Islandview-Bloodvein area – see here for an interactive  map view of Manitoba

off goes the Edgar Wood ferry to Princess Harbour before returning to Islandview

off goes the Edgar Wood ferry to Islandview and Highway 234

Within thirty minutes the ferry had come and gone and we were left listening for the sound of a De Havilland up above. When we did, we hopped into the canoe and pushed off shore – obviously keen on moving the day’s proceedings along.

We couldn’t understand why the pilot – Mike, as we would learn! – kept on circling and not committing to a landing. It actually took him ten or fifteen minutes before he hit the water.  We would later learn that landing in front of Bloodvein Village means a good chance of hitting badly-placed rocks!  This would explain Mike’s deliberate approach!

Waiting for the Breaver to arrive from Red Lake

Waiting for the de Havilland Beaver to arrive from Red Lake

the de Havilland Beaver control panel

the de Havilland Beaver cockpit and instrument panel

Beaver serial number plate

Beaver serial number plate

Bloodvein flight path back to Red Lake

Bloodvein flight path back to Red Lake

Up in the air by 1:30, we would be in Red Lake before 3:00. (It is a 200 kilometer/125 mile flight.)  On the way back we got to see – but not always recognize – bits and pieces of the river that we had spent the last seventeen days with. Here are some of the shots I took from my front row seat with the window rolled down.

The Bloodvein - between the Bridge and the last set of rapids (W89)

The Bloodvein – between the Bridge and the last set of rapids (W89)

the bridge over the Bloodvein in late July 2014

the bridge over the Bloodvein in late July 2014

The Bloodvein Bridge under construction - July 2014

The Bloodvein Bridge under construction – July 2014

Meekisiwi Rapids W87 just above the new Bridge

Meekisiwi Rapids W87 just above the new Bridge

The Bloodvein's Meekisiwi Rapids up close

The Bloodvein’s Meekisiwi Rapids up close

Off the Bloodvein - Kaneeshotekwayak Creek headwaters just above Meekisiwi Rapids

Off the Bloodvein – Kaneeshotekwayak Creek headwaters just above Meekisiwi Rapids

The Bloodvein's Wayweekokanshok Falls (W76) with W77 coming up at the bottom of the image

The Bloodvein’s Wayweekokanshok Falls (W76) with W77 coming up at the bottom of the image

The Bloodvein - Leyond Junction and Namay Rapids

The Bloodvein – Leyond Junction and Namay Rapids

The Bloodvein - Sekak Rapids (W49)

The Bloodvein – Sekak Rapids (W50)

The Bloodvein from the put-in after Crater Rapids (W32)  towards the junction with the Gammon River

The Bloodvein from the put-in after Crater Rapids (W32) towards the junction with the Gammon River

looking down at  a small pond on our Bloodvein flight path .

looking down at a small pond on our Bloodvein flight path

Google view of pond, flight path, and Bloodvein

Google view of pond, flight path, and Bloodvein – click here for the Google view

X-Rock Rapids and Island campsite

X-Rock Rapids and Island campsite

Looking down on the Bloodvein - Rapid W25 just before X-Rock Rapids.

Looking down on the Bloodvein – Rapid W25 just before X-Rock Rapids.

Bushey Lake on the Bloodvein River system

Bushey Lake on the Bloodvein River system

Basecamp view of Bushey Lake on the Bloodvein

Basecamp view of Bushey Lake on the Bloodvein

Burn evidence in the Larus Creek area south of Larus Lake

Burn evidence in the Larus  Lake area

approaching Red Lake

approaching Red Lake town from the west end of Red Lake

RGB - Green Island in Blue water on Red Lake

Red Lake with Green Island in Blue – natural RGB!

Red Lake Townsite under the wings of the Beaver

Red Lake Townsite under the wings of the Beaver

The Beaver has landed - at the Viking Outpost dock

The Beaver has landed – at the Viking Outpost dock

our Beaver's next emergency flight cargo into Woodland Caribou Park

precious cargo on our Beaver’s next emergency flight into Woodland Caribou Park

one last look at the iconic dehavilland Beaver

one last look at the iconic de Havilland Beaver

Wow – nothing like a bush plane ride!  Even better, nothing like a bush plane ride after having earned the ride by paddling from one end of the Bloodvein to the other.  Canoe and de Havilland Beaver – this was only my second ride, but I’m liking the combination a lot.  Yes, it does free the bankbook of a bit of cash – but it also frees you from always having to plan your trip as a loop.

We came back from the trip totally buzzed by the experience – and by the river itself.  A few weeks later when putting it all into words on a canoe forum  it came out this way -

My brother and I have canoed a string of incredible rivers in the last few years. Our introduction to the Wabakimi area opened up a new world for us, focused as we had been on NE Ontario. While I am hoping that next year’s trip is still better, I think this summer we may have hit the jackpot.  The Bloodvein River is the most beautiful river we have ever paddled down. We spent seventeen days – six on the headwaters in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario and eleven on the Manitoba side in Atikaki Provincial Park down to Lake Winnipeg – on a river system that has it all. 

A couple of months later it still sounds completely reasonable. Stay tuned as we search for a new river which may take the crown away!

First Post:   Canoeing The Bloodvein River System – Introduction,  Maps,  And Planning

Canoeing the Bloodvein Day 16 – Lagoon Run to Camp Below W88

Previous Post:  Canoeing The Bloodvein Day 15 – Namay Falls to “Lagoon Run” 

DAY 16 BASICS:

distance: about 17 kilometers

weather: sunny and clear

rapids/portages: W87 port 65 m; W88 ran

campsite: point less than 1 km below W88

looking back at the Day 15 Campsite

looking back east  at the Day 15 Campsite on the hilltop above “Lagoon Run”

Our last full day on the river was really a half-day of paddling, given that we were setting up camp shortly after noon on a point below Kasoos… Rapids (W88) about five kilometers outside of the Atikaki Park boundary.

Day 15 - Lagoon Run to Point below W88

Day 15 – Lagoon Run to Point outside the park below Wilson’s rapid #88

narrow stretch of the Bloodvein below W86  just before a set of swifts

narrow stretch of the Bloodvein below “Lagoon Run” just before a set of swifts

river left at Meekisiwi Rapids (W87)

river left at Meekisiwi Rapids (W87)

Meekisiwi Rapids -

 

We had one portage to deal with – the 65-meter carry at Meekisiwi Rapids illustrated by my gps track to the left.  The very next day we would fly by the rapids on our way back to Red Lake; the shot below shows what the rapids look like from 600 meters up.

The Bloodvein's Meekisiwi Rapids up close

The Bloodvein’s Meekisiwi Rapids aerial view – the river is running from image top to bottom right

Coming up were the last two reported pictograph sites on the river and we scanned rock faces in anticipation.  No pictographs – but very nice reflections!

rock face and reflection on the Bloodvein

rock face and reflection on the Bloodvein below Meekisiwi Rapids

Rock face below Meekisiwi Rapids on the Bloodvein

Rock face below Meekisiwi Rapids on the Bloodvein

The first of the pictograph sites came up just downriver from the new bridge spanning the Bloodvein for the all-weather road which will soon be open and connect Bloodvein First Nations with Highway 304 about ten kilometers east of Manigotagan.

the new Bloodvein River Bridge at the end of the Park

approaching the new Bloodvein River Bridge and the end of the Park

The Bloodvein Bridge under construction - July 2014

an aerial shot from the next day – The Bloodvein Bridge under construction – July 2014

Unfortunately easier access to the river via the road has already resulted in some graffiti spoiling what is a mostly pristine wilderness river and shoreline. Paddling downriver from the bridge, in the next 1.5 kilometers you will see this on river right -

the graffiti south of the Bridge and a few meters north of the pictograph site

the graffiti south of the Bridge and a few meters north of the pictograph site

Chubby, Vern, and Chester's %22Hello to the World%22 by the new Bloodvein Bridge

Chubby, Vern, and Chester’s “Hello to the World”  by the new Bloodvein Bridge

more graffiti - technically petroglyphs? - on the Bloodvein near the new Bridge

more graffiti – technically petroglyphs? – on the Bloodvein near the new Bridge

Along with the recent defacing of the rock face, we did find a small panel with three pictographs.  A human figure with outstretched arms and one holding what may be a medicine bag, what looks like a tripod but with five legs, and a rectangle. A line underneath them all seems to serve as a foundation.

Bloodvein Pictograph just south of the new bridge crossing the Bloodvein

Bloodvein Pictograph just south of the new bridge crossing the Bloodvein

And then it was back to more recent scratchings of lichen-covered rock face.  What were Marty and Marcy thinking?  I am surprised that nothing has been done to get rid of the worst of the graffiti. It does not make a great advertisement for those trying to create a U.N. World Heritage site in the area.

more scratchings on the rock face

more scratchings on the rock face

yet more graffiti near the end of the Bloodvein below the new Bridge

yet more graffiti near the end of the Bloodvein below the new Bridge

Clyde Cook does the Bloodvein

Clyde Cook leaves his mark on the Bloodvein

break time on the Bloodvein below Meekisiwi Rapids

break time on the Bloodvein below Meekisiwi Rapids

the Swift Dumoine takes a break on the Bloodvein!

the Swift Dumoine takes a break on the Bloodvein!

We were ready to see the last of the rock painting sites as we approached Kasoos Rapids (W88).  Just above the rapids on river right is apparently a half-life-size pictograph of a moose.  Well, i don’t know how we managed it, but we didn’t even see a rock face, let alone the rock painting! As for the rapids, the term “swifts” would be a more fitting term to describe the water we found.

The view from ourBloodvein  tent site 7 km. from the ferry dock and the village

The view from our Bloodvein tent site upriver from the ferry dock and the village

Bloodvein W88, picto site, and Day 16 CampBelow the rapids the river widens into a mini-lake.  It seems to be a popular spot for fishermen as we spotted a few boats over the next few hours motoring up to the foot of the rapids.  We headed to a point on river left and found a great tent site. While we could have paddled right down to Bloodvein First Nations and waited there for the next day pick-up by Viking Outposts Air,  this quiet and hassle-free spot seemed a better option. The last seven kilometers to the village could wait for the next morning.

The Last Post! Canoeing The Bloodvein Day 17 – W89 Camp to Bloodvein First Nation