Tag Archives: nature

Do Not Cut Trees, Relocate Them!


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Due to the rapid increase in world population, infrastructure projects such as housing, offices, highways, etc., have become a necessity. Often one can hear someone saying, “Cut those trees!”

Felling trees is like cutting off the breasts of a nursing mother.

The solution?

Relocating a full grown tree in minutes (Source: pcbheaven.com)
Relocating a full grown tree in minutes (Source: pcbheaven.com)

Don’t cut the trees, instead move them, even full-grown trees, to a new site. Replant those trees in parks, home gardens, schools, universities, wherever there is space for a tree to grow.

World governments spend billions of dollars to send satellites to arid Mars and beyond. Do you think these space explorations are of use to ordinary people like us who hunger for clean air to breathe? Why won’t the powers that be, invest on essential equipment to move plants?

There are equipment such as a truck mounted tree spade that digs out the root ball and tree. Then, the tree is lifted and tilted on to the back of the truck for safe transportation to its new site.

More trees will help all creatures on earth, now and in the future, by purifying the foul air we breathe now!

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Dhanushkodi – Fifty Years After the Cyclone of 1964


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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A cyclonic storm now referred to as the 1964 Rameswaram cyclone or the Dhanushkodi cyclone started with the depression that formed in the South Andaman Sea on December 17, 1964. On December 19, it intensified into a severe cyclonic storm. From December 21, it moved westwards, 400 km to 550 km per day. On December 22, it crossed Vavunia in Sri Lanka with a wind speed of 280 km per hour.

On December 22-23 night, the cyclone moved into Palk Strait and made landfall in Dhanushkodi, at the southern tip of Rameswaram island, on the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India. The devastating tidal waves that were 7 metres high submerged all houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi town  with heavy casualties.

On December 22, 1964, the tidal wave smashed into the Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger train and washed it into the sea while it was crossing the viaduct during the cyclonic storm.

 The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22, 1964
The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22 – 25, 1964.

More than 100 passengers drowned in the sea. The death toll was estimated to be anywhere between 115 and 200. The variation is due to the many ticketless travellers. The railway line running from Pamban Station to Dhanushkodi Pier was washed away.

The 1¼ mile-long Pamban Rail Bridge over the Pamban Channel, that links the Indian mainland with the island of Rameswaram was also badly damaged; 126 of its 145 girders collapsed. However, the lift span was barely damaged.

The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)
The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)

Most of the girders were salvaged from the sea and the Pamban viaduct was working once again in a span of just three months time.

The metre gauge branch line from Pamban Junction to Dhanushkodi was abandoned after the cyclone destroyed it.

Prior to the cyclone, Dhanushkodi was once a flourishing town. Then, the Railway line to Dhanushkodi, destroyed in the 1964 cyclone, went directly from Mandapam station to Dhanushkodi without touching Rameswaram. In those days Dhanushkodi had a railway station, a small railway hospital, primary schools, a post office, customs and port offices. There were hotels, dharmashalas (religious rest houses), and many textile shops that catered to the Hindu pilgrims and travellers to Sri Lanka.

A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)
A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)

Dhanushkodi is about 18 miles (29 km) West of Talaimannar, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). There was a steamer ferry service which operated daily from the pier on the south-east of the Dhanushkodi town to the pier at Talaimannar. The ferry transported travellers and goods, across the Palk Strait.

In the 1950s and 1960s, I used to travel to Ceylon by the Dhanushkodi-Talimannar steamer ferry.

The Indo-Ceylon Express, also known as the Boat Mail train, plied from 1915 to 1964 on a metre gauge track between Egmore Station in Chennai (then known as Madras) and Dhanushkodi. It took almost 19 hours to complete the journey of 420 miles (675 Km).

Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.
Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.

After the Boat Mail train reached Dhanushkodi Pier at 15:05 hours in the afternoon, the passengers after alighting from the train had to pass through the customs before boarding the ferry which used to leave the Indian shore soon after 16:00 hours. Depending on the weather, it took between 2 and 3½ hours to cross the very shallow Palk Bay and reach the Talaimannar Pier in Sri Lanka. The voyage used to be bumpy and nauseating when the sea was rough.

The name of the train changed from Indo-Ceylon Express to Rameswaram Express after the 1964 cyclone. Now, it is a 12-hour journey from Chennai to Rameswaram on a broad-gauge track.

On June 12, 2014, my wife and I along with relatives left Chennai on Rameswaram Express to attend a wedding at Pamban town. We reached Rameswaram the following day around 5:30 am and lodged in a hotel. We hired a van and left the hotel around 11:00 am to see Dhanushkodi.

After travelling for 20 minutes, we reached Dhanushkodi. Even 50 years after the cyclone of 1964, Dhanushkodi remains a dilapidated strip of land.

The driver stopped the van at a spot on the Indian Ocean side where many other vans carrying tourists were parked.

The driver said he cannot go farther as local regulations, meaning rules set by the local cartel of van drivers, forbids it. But the members of that association ply a number of their own vans to ferry the travellers to the end of Dhanushkodi and charge ₹100/- per person. At the end of the journey we paid ₹2,200/-.

After 35 minutes of a bumpy ride by van, on shallow waters and muddy tracts, we reached the tip of Dhanushkodi where Adam’s Bridge, a chain of sand shoals between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar begins. The distance from the tip of Dhanushkodi in India and Talimannar in Sri Lanka is about 18 miles (29 km). The Dhanushkodi fishermen say that some sand dunes are just 50 yards in length. Surprisingly, the smallest land border in the world, is a shoal in Palk Bay between India and Sri Lanka – just 45 metres in length.

An eerie stillness prevailed around us except for the chatter of the few tourists subdued by the sound of waves. There were a few marine birds pecking on the soggy earth searching for food and many sea eagles circling in the air ready to swoop on any prey they could spot in the shallow waters or on the muddy land.

We saw many Hindu pilgrims bathing in the Palk Bay. The Hindus believe that pilgrimage to the holy city of Kashi (Benares / Varanasi) in North India would not be complete without having the ritual bath at the tip of Dhanushkodi, considered a sacred confluence of the Palk Bay and the Indian Ocean, before completing their pilgrimage to Rameswaram.

St. Antony's Church at Dhanuskodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
St. Antony’s Church at Dhanushkodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

It was heartrending to see only thatched huts and no buildings with standing walls. The only walls we saw were the dilapidated walls of St. Anthony’s church and of a school devastated during the cyclone of 1964.

Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

The main trade other than fishing was the sale of conch shells, and trinkets and ornaments made of shells sold at exorbitant prices to tourists and pilgrims.

Eventually, we left Dhanushkodi around 2:30 pm with a heavy heart after having seen the ravages wrought by the 1964 cyclone.

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RELATED ARTICLES

 

Are There Snakes in Hawaii?


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Studies show that an invertebrate successfully colonized Hawaii once in every 70,000 years, a plant once in every 100,000 years, and a bird once in every million years.

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The Hawaiian Hotspots. (Image from Tasa Graphics)
The Hawaiian Hotspots. (Image from Tasa Graphics)

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Officially and technically, Hawaii doesn’t have any snakes.

Why?

All Hawaiian Islands are volcanic in origin. Over the past 44 million years, the islands rose up from the ocean floor due to erupting volcanoes. Even today, the youngest island, Hawaii, is still growing from under.

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Hawaii map - Distance from other countries (Source: Padi.com)
Hawaii map – Distance from other countries (Source: Padi.com)

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Hawaii is the most isolated archipelago in the world. The nearest continent, North America, is over 2500 miles (4000 km) away.

The extreme isolation of the Hawaiian archipelago makes it difficult for plants and animals to colonize its islands. The only way for wildlife species to reach the Hawaiian Islands from the rest of the world is to fly or swim across the Pacific Ocean. Chances of surviving the long journey over Pacific by air or sea is virtually small. It would indeed be a miracle to establish a reproducing population on these islands. Since there are no natural predators and diseases in Hawaii, many native plants and animals needed only a few natural defenses to evolve. Studies show that an invertebrate successfully colonized Hawaii once in every 70,000 years, a plant once in every 100,000 years, and a bird once in every million years. This is why it took over millions of years for a very distinct flora and fauna to evolve in Hawaii.

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Map of the Pacific Culture Areas (Author : Kahuroa)
Map of the Pacific Culture Areas (Author : Kahuroa)

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Before humans set foot in the Hawaiian paradise, there were no large animals to eat plants. Harm to the flora and fauna on the islands began about 1500 years ago when settlers started arriving from Polynesia. Mammals such as pigs, dogs, goats and plants brought by them literally devastated many native ecosystems.

It is illegal to own snakes or transport snakes of any kind to the Hawaiian islands. Anyone possessing a pet snake has to face jail up to 3 years and $200,000 in fines. In Hawaii there no natural predators for snakes and large lizards, therefore, if allowed, could pose a threat to Hawaii’s ecosystem by competing with native animals for food and habitat. Some snake species prey on birds and their eggs, and hence could pose a threat to endangered native birds.

Blind Snakes

Hawaii doesn’t officially have snakes. However, there is one snake that does live in Hawaii, the Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops hatmaliyeb) likely an import from the Caroline Islands in Micronesia, an area north of the equator and far west of Hawaii.

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Addison Wynn, a herpetologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History who studies the blind snakes on the Caroline Islands says:

They eat termites and small ants, and there are about 240 or so known species in the world. They spend their lives burrowing so their head is blunt and pointed to push their way through the soil. Their rudimentary eyes can only differentiate between light and dark and exist as pigment spots underneath scales on their head.

These new species extend the known range of blind snakes some 2,000 kilometers out into the Pacific Ocean, into areas where we didn’t know they occurred or could ever occur. We just didn’t expect to find blind snakes out there (Caroline Islands) in the middle of the ocean.

Some other studies that the blind snakes found in Hawaii could have come there from far off the Philippines, about 5300 miles (8530 km) away.

So, other than the blind snakes, it is widely assumed that there are no snakes in Hawaii. Sadly, this is not true. According to a few reports, people have seen some snakes in Hawaii.

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Ornate Tree Snake

The Ornate Tree Snake captured at Hickam Hickam Air Force Base. (Photo by Dr. Allen Allison, Bishop Museum
The Ornate Tree Snake captured at Hickam Hickam Air Force Base. (Photo by Dr. Allen Allison, Bishop Museum)

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On May 23, 2013, military personnel at the Hickam Air Force Base captured a foot-long mildly venomous Ornate Tree Snake (Chrysopelea ornate) in a maintenance bay near the airfield.

Since the Ornate Tree Snakes are able to spring from tree to tree, they are also known as ornate flying tree snakes. These snakes are native to South East Asia and related to the brown tree snakes which have devastated the ecosystem in Guam by virtually wiping out the native forest birds. Their diet consists of lizards, mice, bats and birds.

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Boa Constrictor 

This was a snake found ran over on the mainland. (Photo: National Parks Service)
This was the five-foot long boa constrictor found run over on Pali Highway (Photo: National Parks Service)

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On September 22, 2013, a motorist ran over a five-foot long Boa Constrictor on the Pali Highway. Several inspectors of Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) went directly to the area where the snake was found. However, they did not find evidence of any other snakes. Russell S. Kokubun, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture said:

Any snake found in the wild in Hawaii is of serious concern. Boa constrictors may grow up to 12 feet, which is particularly troubling for nearby residents and for the environment.”

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Rainbow Boa Constrictor 

A non-venomous rainbow boa constrictor
A non-venomous rainbow boa constrictor

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At about 7 am on November 5, 2013, Victor Palmeri, found a live two-and-a-half foot long non-venomous Rainbow Boa Constrictor on the Nuuanu Avenue sidewalk fronting the Kukui Plaza condominium. Native to Central and South America, rainbow boas can grow up to six feet long. Rainbow boas are known for their attractive iridescent sheen on their scales in the sunlight. Their diet consists of rodents, lizards, aquatic animals, and birds.

It is not known at this time how these snakes found their way to Hawaii.

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Taprobane Island: Part 6 – Does the Dead Count Haunt Taprobane Island?


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Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Does the dead Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande haunt Taprobane Island ?

Sir Philip Christopher Ondaatje (born February 22, 1933), a Sri Lankan born Canadian-English businessman, philanthropist, adventurer, and writer thinks so.

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Sir Christopher Ondaatje
Sir Christopher Ondaatje

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Christopher Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to a Burgher family of Dutch and Indian origin. His name comes from an Indian ancestor called Ondaatchi from Thanjavur, South India.

In the early 18th Century, a physician to the King of Tanjore from the clan of Ondaatchi, was summoned to Ceylon by Adrian Van der Meyden, the Governor-General of the Dutch East-India Company, to treat his ailing wife. The physician arrived in Ceylon on June 9, 1659 from Tanjore. He treated the sick woman with a bath of water in which 23 jungle herbs were boiled. She recovered fully. The physician’s success in curing the lady led to the Governor to become his friend. In appreciation, the Governor appointed him as the First Doctor of the Town of Colombo.

In 1660, the physician got converted to Christianity. He adopted the name ‘Michael Jurgen Ondaatch’. He married Magdalene de Cruz (1640-1688), a Portuguese woman. Michael Jurgen Ondaatch died in 1714.

After Christopher Ondaatje’s alcoholic father lost the family fortune, Christopher had to leave school a year from graduation. In 1956, at the age of 33, he emigrated to Canada, arriving in Toronto with almost no money. He quickly became a wealthy stockbroker, and was one of the three founding members of Loewen Ondaatje McCutcheon. He became a multi-millionaire in the publishing industry by founding the Pagurian Press, which he later sold to the Bronfman family.

Christopher Ondaatje represented Canada in the four-man bobsled at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. He is the author of 11 books including The Man-Eater of Punanai and Woolf in Ceylon.

I have reproduced below an article, wherein Sir Christopher Ondaatje gives an account of his tryst with the dead Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande at about three o’clock in the afternoon on November 27 in the 1940s.

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The Count haunts Taprobane
By Sir Christopher Ondaatje

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I first heard the scream in 1946. Actually it was more like a repeated plaintive gasp than a scream, and this was followed by a long low hissing noise, somewhat like air being released through someone’s teeth. I was only twelve years old and holidaying with my parents, two sisters and my brother Michael on Taprobane Island off the coast of Weligama, a fishing village on the south coast of what was then Ceylon.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon and we children had been sent to our rooms for an afternoon nap – quite a normal thing to do in the tropics. It was a very hot November afternoon. We had been playing and swimming most of the morning on the long crescent shaped Weligama beach only a few yards from the tiny Taprobane Island on which Count de Mauny Talvande had built a unique and magnificent house on the red granite rock covered with palms and jungle scrub. He bought the Island in 1925 and it remained in his possession until he died.

I didn’t know it then, but the Count had died in 1941, only five years before we rented the Island from the subsequent owners who had bought the extraordinary island for Rs.12,000 at an auction in 1942. It really is a magical island, only about two acres in area, and the Count christened it Taprobane because its original pear shape looked a little like a miniature Ceylon. He ignored its local name which had always been Galduwa. The first stones were laid out in 1927 and despite the fact that the island had been used by locals as a cobra dump (he eventually got rid of them) he set about building an enormous octagonal central hall which was thirty feet high and twenty feet at its widest point. The so-called Hall of the Lotus was lined with eight panels of inlaid wood which were dyed a dull gold and eau de nil, and bore a design of lotus buds and flowers.

The dome is supported by eight square pillars of Wedgwood blue, 24 feet in height, and on either side of these two light columns, 12 feet in height making sixteen in all – terra-cotta with gilded capitals support a white stone traverse which join the pillars with an arch of 10-feet span. This is hung with curtains of soft eau de nil silk, a deep brocaded border of art nouveau design at the bottom, black and gold on a cream ground. These curtains are kept open during the day, drawn only at night.

All the rooms converge in to the hall through eight arches; nothing interferes with the full view of the interior, nor with that of the terraces and gardens which are seen through the carved mullions of doors and windows. A frieze inspired by the Sigiriya frescoes runs along the white stone walls. After Count de Mauny had finished building and decorating his building one could look from the centre of the hall through wrought iron and brass gates northwards to the entrance through towering palms and a vast array of tropical foliage. To the east one could see the Italian gardens the Count had created. The land sloped down to a well fed by a spring below sea level. East, and overlooking this garden, was the Count’s own bedroom.

He loved the sunrise and, looking southwards, there was nothing between the small triangular lawn outside his bedroom window and the South Pole. Every morning the Count would lie in bed and listen to the gardener raking the leaves off the gravel path with an ekel broom. Everything, the house, the garden, and furniture of his own design and making, was in perfect harmony. There was a marvellous view up the palm-fringed Weligama bay to the north-east, and at low tide one could easily walk the few yards to and from the shore. However, at high tide the water was chest high and women and children used to be carried by servants to the small pier that led to the entrance steps. After a restless and turbulent life in France and England the Count spent many happy years in his unique island home – less a fortress than a pavilion.

As I said, I first heard the scream in 1946. It was late in November and I was having a nap in the room next to the Count’s old bedroom. In those days there were no doors to the bedrooms – only the thin silk curtains which we pushed open and shut along solid brass curtain rings. I knew no one was in the Count’s bedroom because my mother and father, who had been sleeping there, had driven to Galle with a tea-planter friend of theirs, H.L. ‘Tank’ Roche who was also staying on the island. We
were left in the charge of our ayah or nanny. The others were still asleep, and I heard the gasping cry very clearly so I got up and looked into the Count’s bedroom, only to see his large empty ebony bed. And then I heard it again – a long plaintive repeated gasp. A sudden queer sensation passed over me and I felt a little faint. But this disappeared quickly. Far from being terrified I entered the room and looked on either side of the bed for something or someone who could have made the anguished sound. I saw nothing so returned to my own room next door to wait for the others to wake up.

I told no one anything about the scream until two evenings later when we waded across the water to the Weligama Rest House for an early evening dinner of fried prawns and fish curry – my father’s favourite. In those days the main road ran behind the Weligama Rest House and not in front of it. At low tide, one could run down the front steps of Taprobane and literally run across the shallow surf in bare feet, over the wide sandy beach and across a little bit of scrub grass to the Rest House. The food was marvellous and the Rest House keeper, Jayakody, was very kind to all of us. While we were having dinner – in fact we had almost finished and were having a second helping of buffalo curd and kitul panni or honey, that Jayakody jokingly said to me, “Did you hear it?”

“What?” I said, not even remembering the scream.

“You heard nothing? Nothing at all? What bedroom are you in?”

I told him. And then I remembered my experience and told him that I had indeed heard rather a horrible scream or groan a couple of days earlier. My father was actually quite annoyed that I hadn’t told him anything about it.

“Ah yes,” Jayakody said. “That’s the Count. He died two days ago, you know, on November 27, 1941, of a heart attack. Angina pectoris. He was visiting a friend in Jaffna on the Chelvarayan Estate in Nawatkuli. And then they buried him up there in St. Mary’s Burial Ground which is a Catholic cemetery. It was a real shame. He always wanted to be buried on his island. He came here with practically nothing, but he built this fabulous house. It was the only place he was really happy. He was deeply in debt, which is why his island was sold. But he wrote a remarkable book about it, “The Gardens of Taprobane” which is very difficult to get. None of his family went to the funeral which was organised by an English solicitor whom he didn’t even know. He often comes back but usually at this time of the year. And his awful gasping for breath and his last sounds are usually heard by the gardener outside his open bedroom windows. It is quite a usual occurrence and no one pays any attention anymore. He was seventy-five years old and died a little after 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”

During the early part of the night, we made our way back to Taprobane Island with flares and torches. We children were still in high spirits and enjoyed being carried over the high tide by the servants who made several trips to and from the Weligama beach to collect us. My father and mother were unusually quiet. Not surprisingly they didn’t sleep in the Count’s bed and bedroom that night or on any subsequent night. They simply collected their bags and clothes from the Count’s bedroom and
moved to the spare guest room over the servants’ quarters facing the Weligama beach.

Source: The Sri Lankan Anchorman, Toronto, Canada.

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← Previous: Taprobane Island: Part 5

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Taprobane Island: Part 5 – Succeeding Owners of The Island Paradise


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Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande died suddenly from a heart attack at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on November 27, 1941, while visiting a friend at the Chelvarayan Estate, Navatkuli, 3.73 miles (6 km) south of Jaffna in Ceylon.

John Lambert, an English solicitor at the Chelvarayan Estate, is registered as the person who buried the body of Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande at St Mary’s Burial Grounds in Jaffna, Ceylon, with none of his family members present.

The Ceylon Daily News, in its edition of Friday, November 28, 1941, printed the following in its obituary column:

“The death has occurred in Jaffna yesterday of the Count de Mauny, who had resided in Ceylon for over twenty years, making his island home, Taprobane, off Weligama, one of the most attractive show pieces of the kind. A French Catholic, the count became a naturalized Englishman.

He was married to a daughter of the 4th Earl of Strafford and had one son, Mr. V A de Mauny, who served with the British Navy in the last Great War and rejoined when the present hostilities broke out.

The late Count de Mauny’s principal hobbies, in which he was himself an adept, were the laying out of beautiful gardens and furniture craftmanship, which he turned into an art. Besides his own at Taprobane, many of Colombo’s most pleasing gardens owe their inspiration to him. His book The Gardens of Taprobane published in London some years ago, met with a good reception.

Count de Mauny who was nominated to the Weligama Urban Council, took a keen interest in public affairs and there was a time when he was a prolific writer to the newspapers. At one period he was even a member of the Labour Union.

The funeral takes place this morning.”

While the above obituary states that Maurice “… had one son, Mr. V A de Mauny, … “, it does not mention anywhere anything about his daughter Alexandra.

Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande’s son, Victor Alexander, passed away in 1978, and his daughter Alexandra died in 1989. They were both childless. Seweryn Chomet mentions a rumour that Victor Alexander had an illegitimate son in Ceylon who eventually emigrated to New Zealand.

Even after the Count died, Taprobane Island continued to draw new generations of romantics.

Taprobane Island remained in Victor Alexander’s ownership until it was sold by public auction in 1942 for Rupees 12,000.

In 1946, when Sir Philip Christopher Ondaatje (born February 22, 1933) was 12 years old his father had rented the island from the owners who had bought it at the auction.

The island changed hands to various people, and none of them lived there long as the Count did.

Paul Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999). An American expatriate composer, author, and translator.
Paul Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999). An American expatriate composer, author, and translator.

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Paul Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999), an American expatriate composer, author, and translator was a child prodigy. He could read by the time he was three, and within the year he was writing stories. Soon, he started writing surrealistic poetry and music. In 1922, at age seventeen one of his poems, “Spire Song“, was accepted for publication in the twelfth volume of Transition, a literary journal based in Paris that served as a forum for some of the greatest proponents of modernism – Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, Paul Éluard, Gertrude Stein and others.

In 1947, Bowles settled in Tangier, Morocco, and his wife, Jane Bowles followed him in 1948.

Bowles visited Ceylon for the first time in 1949. He wrote:

Like most people, I have always been certain there was a place somewhere on this planet that could provide the necessary respite from all reminders of present-day chaos and noise, a place to which one could escape and, having escaped, shut the figurative door, there to breathe pure air and hear only the sounds provided by natural forces. So it was with tremulous excitement that I first saw the little island of Taprobane, in Weligama Bay off the south coast of Sri Lanka. Here was a site that seemed to have all the requisite qualities: It was scarcely more than a hummock of black basalt rising above the waves of the Indian Ocean, yet was heavily covered with high trees that left visible only a glimpse of the house at its summit. I had never seen a place that looked so obviously like what I was searching for. And I felt that it was aware of me, that it silently beckoned, sending forth a wordless message that meant: Come. You’ll like it here.

Three years later, I signed the necessary documents and became the owner of this tiny parcel of paradise. The erstwhile proprietor, a rubber planter named Mr Jinadasa, also bred racehorses and bet on them. When a horse in which he has great confidence failed to justify his hopes, he found himself in immediate need of cash. My informant in Sri Lanka wired me in Madrid, and as soon as the news arrived I rushed out to cable the money.

I inherited a couple who were resident gardener and maid, and who continued their work as if they were still in the employ of Mr Jinadasa. In aspects they had worked for several owners, scarcely knowing them apart, and were aware only that their employer must be addressed as Master. The island had belonged to various people in the recent past, and none of them had kept in very long. It was a pleasure dome, a place they used for weekend parties. The only person who had actually lived there was the Comte de Mauny Talvande, who had built the house and furnished it after reclaiming the island from its former status as the local cobra-dump. (All cobras found in the region were put into sacks, carried across to the island and left there since in Sri Lanka one doesn’t kill snakes). In order to settle in, I needed to buy only new mattresses for the beds, and lamps and kitchenware. The furniture, made of the heaviest kinds of tropical wood, was well-nigh immovable.

In 1951, Bowles purchased the island from its owner, Mr Jinadasa, for English Pounds 5,000. He lived there for many years, alternating seasonally with his better-known home in Morocco.

In 1952, during a three-year self-internment on the island, Bowles wrote his most successful novel, “The Spider’s House.” He incorporated the villa as one of the principal settings in the book. In his diary, he wrote of early-morning tours of the garden:

“the sun, although scarcely risen above the headlands to the east, is already giving off an intimate, powerful heat, and the distant flotillas of fishing boats later slip past the white line of the reefs into the open sea, their furled sails like the dorsal fins of giant sharks”.

The American art collector, bohemian and socialite, Peggy Guggenheim, the Moroccan artist Ahmed Yakoubi, and British science fiction writer, science writer, and undersea explorer, Arthur C. Clarke were among those who visited Taprobane Island during Paul Bowles’ tenure.

In 1956, at his wife’s insistence, Bowles sold the island to the Irish writer Shaun Mandy and moved back to Morocco.

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Frederick Lorensz de Silva

Shaun Mandy sold the Island in the late 1950s to Sri Lankan lawyer and politician Edmund Frederick Lorensz de Silva, MBE, who was once the Mayor of Kandy, Member of Parliament and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to France and Switzerland, and a former Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya from 1990 to 1993.

Frederick de Silva was known to the residents of Kandy and outside as ‘Fred’, and his colleagues and litigants called him ‘Lion of the Kandy Bar’ as he dominated the Criminal Bar for 58 years with a lucrative practice like his father late Mr George E. de Silva who dominated the Criminal Bar for well over 30 years.

‘Fred’ was the second son of veteran politician and statesman late Mr George E. de Silva who fought to achieve Independence and Adult Franchise for his country along with national leaders like late D. S. Senanayake, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Baron Jayatilleke, E. W. Perera, A. E. Goonesinghe and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.

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Sir Desmond Lorenz de Silva, QC, KStJ

Sir Desmond de Silva and Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia.
Sir Desmond de Silva and Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia.

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Sir Desmond Lorenz de Silva, QC, KStJ (born December 31, 1939), a prominent British lawyer, and former United Nations Chief War Crimes Prosecutor in Sierra Leone inherited Taprobane Island from his father Frederick Lorensz de Silva.

Sir Desmond married Princess Katharina of Yugoslavia, cousin of Queen Elizabeth and one of Queen Victoria’s great-granddaughters. They divorced on May 6, 2010.

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Thasseus Klossowski de Rola and his wife Loulou de la Falaise at a holiday in 1977. (Copyright: Roger Viollet | Nisberg Jack, Keystone)
Thasseus Klossowski de Rola and his wife Loulou de la Falaise at a holiday in 1977. (Copyright: Roger Viollet | Nisberg Jack, Keystone)

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The island became neglected for many years until a brief period in the 1970s when writer Thadée Klossowski de Rola, the younger son of the Polish-French modern artist Balthus, held court there and captivated many a young visitor!

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Geoffrey Dobbs

Geoffrey Dobbs
Geoffrey Dobbs

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In the 1970s, the Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Geoffrey Dobbs, a very successful Anglo-Australian hotelier, first saw the Taprobane Island in an airline magazine. Struck by the beauty of the place he fell in love with it. He patiently negotiated with the de Silva family and obtained it on a long lease. Eventually, he bought the Island from them. In 1995, Geoffrey Dobbs moved in and restored the island to its heyday.

A resident of Sri Lanka for the last 18 years, Geoffrey Dobbs is one of the key players in the tourism renaissance of Sri Lanka. He opened the first boutique hotels in Sri Lanka’s south-west, restoring two colonial mansions in Galle: the Sun House and the Dutch House. He has another beach retreat at Tangalla and more recently restored Lunuganga, the jungle retreat near Bentota.

Dobbs was one of the key figures in raising money and awareness for the tsunami relief for Sri Lanka and founded the charity “Adopt Sri Lanka” in 2001 with the objective to assist rebuilding and rehabilitating local communities on the coastline of Sri Lanka and to get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible. Having originally worked with other NGOs, Adopt Sri Lanka is now principally operating in the Weligama and Tangalle areas on long-term projects, rebuilding the fishing industry, restoring small businesses for widows and helping with education and housing.

He runs a “twinning” program which connects Sri Lankan schools with schools around the world.

He is the founder and president of the Ceylon Elephant Polo Association, Hong Kong. Every February he plays host to the world’s only beach elephant polo tournament held in front of his idyllic island of Taprobane on Sri Lanka’s south coast.

In 2007, he set up the Galle Literary Festival, which has now become a well recognised annual event.

Dobbs has a natural love for water and spends as much time as he can in or near the sea. He is a keen enthusiast for traditional boats and said:

“I have had a Chinese Junk in Hong Kong for over 25 years and was a member of the 1995 expedition sailing a bamboo raft across the Pacific Ocean to prove the Chinese reached America before Columbus.”

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Taprobane Island: Part 3 – Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande’s Island Home in Ceylon


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande travelled several times between Hampshire and Colombo during and after the Great War.

When the First World War ended, he came to Ceylon on a mission to find the spot which, by its sublime beauty, would fulfil his dreams and hold him there for life.

His skills as an expert furniture maker and a gardener in Ceylon, and, later on, his writings, may have provided him with the necessary finances to supplement his travel and living. There are accounts from people who knew him in Ceylon that he also used to receive remittances from overseas, probably sent by his wife, Lady Mary, from time to time for his upkeep and living.

Ferguson’s Ceylon Directory for 1920-21 listed him as residing with his 21-year-old son Victor Alexander at ‘Ascot‘, Albert Crescent, Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7; the very élite and high-society area of Colombo.

Maurice had a furniture factory and workshop in Colombo. The furniture crafted most admirably had the designs of French styles of that period. A number of de Mauny-Talvande furniture pieces that survived in the hands of private owners are now highly valued and cherished in Sri Lanka.

In 1925, Maurice launched the “Weligama Local Industries” in Weligama. He claimed that he gave employment to over 200 carpenters, carvers and inlayers. By 1930, the enterprise succumbed to depression. However, Maurice restarted it in 1936.

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Taprobane Island (Source: taprobaneisland.com)
Taprobane Island (Source: taprobaneisland.com)

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Though Maurice had first visited Ceylon in 1912 it was in September 1927 that he saw for the first time and quite by chance, the rocky outcrop covered with lush foliage rising out of the sea, just beyond a broad sandy beach, at the centre of the arc of the Weligama Bay. It was the Galduwa islet. Ten years later, he recalled: “a red granite rock, covered with palms and jungle shrub, rising from the Indian Ocean – an emerald in a setting of pink coral.”

Entranced by the site, he waded across the sparkling clear waters to the islet. Ten years later, he recalled:

“There was nothing between me and the South Pole … I sat for a long while on a boulder overlooking the sea wishing that this island lost in the Indian Ocean were mine; picturing and planning what I should do with it. … I felt my heart beating with the overwhelming desire to find peace in it, the nearest thing to happiness. Yes, it must be the home which I had dreamt of so many years past.”

Having found his own island paradise, he chose to build his house on the islet and live his dream of peace and tranquillity, close to nature.

Local records show that Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande purchased the island in 1925 for a sum of Rupees 250 in the name of his son, Victor Alexander. It remained in Victor’s ownership until it was sold by public auction, in 1942, for Rupees 12,000.

Maurice named his private island “Taprobane” based on the ancient name for Ceylon given by the Greeks and also because of the island’s similarity in shape to Ceylon.

The foundation stone was laid on February 1, 1927, for an octagonal fantasy stone mansion in pseudo-Pompeian style with five en-suite bedrooms, and verandahs in every direction. Small gardens extending through the foliage to the overhanging edges, fully occupied the crest of the island.

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Infinity Pool at Tabrobane Island
Infinity Pool at Taprobane Island

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The spilling out verandahs that embrace the landscaped garden, stepped terraces hovering over the ocean, and a stunningly clear ‘infinity pool’, create a sensation of living on a landscaped cruise boat.

Maurice encouraged people to visit his islet. He received a constant stream of visitors. He has hosted heads of state, famous authors, and many business elites. His historical visitor’s book was filled with names of Kings, Princes, Dukes, Duchesses, aristocrats, Prime Ministers, and other famous personalities who visited Taprobane Island.

In the 1930s, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande served as a member of the Weligama Urban Council. Though he possessed a natural skill to cultivate the friendship of the rich and famous, his penchant for grandiose, as well as his conscience-free disposition to marshal the financial resources of other people, whether morally acceptable or otherwise surfaced very often. Writer Joe Duncan wrote about his negative trait:

During a visit to Sri Lanka last year (2002), I came across a reference to ‘Count de Mauny’ in an as-yet-unpublished family memoir. The late writer, a prominent Ceylon civil servant during the 1930s and 1940s, mentions encountering the 73-year-old Maurice in his bathing shorts at Weligama early in 1940 and recalls having ‘fallen out’ with him on an earlier occasion. The memoirist had refused permission to the local Government Headman to decorate the Weligama beach with lighted coconut shells and to hold a procession of dancers and fireworks, all at government expense, to entertain Governor Caldecott on a private visit to ‘Taprobane’. If Count de Mauny had himself offered to pay the villagers to put on such a display, comments the memoirist, there could have been no objection, but instead, he had expected the local taxpayers (in effect) to cover the cost of what was strictly a private visit.

The above anecdote certainly ties in with certain less attractive characteristics mentioned in Count de Mauny – Friend of Royalty, by Seweryn Chomet.

In 1931, the Count was residing at Weligama, and his son, Victor Alexander, was residing at “Boxmead“, Turret Road (now Dharmapala Mawatha), Colombo.

The book, “The Gardens of Taprobane” by The Count de Mauny, edited by Bernard Miall, was published in London in 1937 by Williams and Norgate. This book is all about his Taprobane Island home and includes several black and white photos of the villa and the gardens. He has also the authored two other books titled “The Peace of Suffering 1914-1918” and “Gardening in Ceylon.”

Many renowned writers such as Paul Bowles, Robin Maugham, Shaun Mandy and Norah Burke have also given graphical accounts of the Taprobane Island.

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Taprobane Island: Part 2 – Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Comte Maurice de Mauny-Talvande
Comte Maurice de Mauny-Talvande

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Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande, whose real name was Maurice Maria, was born on March 21, 1866, in Le Mans, France. His father Felix Talvande worked as a banker at Portet-Lavigierie et Talvande which became the Banque Talvande in 1882. The bank, and Talvande himself went bankrupt in 1889. The following year, his mother Margeruite de Mauny applied for legal separation from her husband, and thereafter she resided with her mother at Domaine du Bourg in Pontvallain, their family home, which had been in the possession and ownership of the de Mauny family since 1859.

On the death of his mother, Maurice inherited the family home. He then sold it and shared the proceeds of 17,000 francs with his brother Roger and sister Suzanne-Marie.

He self-styled himself as a Count and went by the name of “Comte Maurice de Mauny-Talvande”. He adopted the prefix of “de Mauny” from his mother, Mme Marguerite de Mauny, and the suffix from his father, Felix Talvande. Later he anglicized his name to “Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande.”

On June 24, 1898, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande married Lady Mary Elizabeth Agnes Bynge, daughter of the fourth Earl of Strafford, Henry William John Byng. Seweryn Chomet suggests that Maurice may have met Lady Mary through his friendship with her brother, George Byng, with whom Maurice briefly attended the same fashionable Jesuit-run school in Canterbury in the early 1880s. Lady Mary was 33 years old, and Maurice was 32.

It was a glamorous ‘high society’ wedding in London, attended by the Princess of Wales, Princess Christian and Prince and Princess Saxe-Weimer. It was followed by a dazzling reception at Wrotham Park, in Hertfordshire, the bride’s family’s 18th-century mansion.

After their wedding, the new couple lived at the historic Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau, let by the Marquis de Biencourt.

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Chateau Azay-le-Rideau
Chateau Azay-le-Rideau

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After their marriage, the new couple lived at the historic Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau, let by the Marquis de Biencourt.

Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau is built on an island in the Indre, a part of the current region of Centre (Val de Loire). Built on the foundations of a medieval fortress in the heart of Touraine, the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau is the creation of Gilles de Berthelot, a wealthy financier of François I. Standing in the centre of a romantic park, this masterpiece of 16th-century architecture has preserved, with the passing years, all the refinement, elegance and grace of an exceptional Renaissance châteaux. It is now on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Maurice turned the castle into a kind of academy or “university” for young Englishmen (teenage boys) from “good” English families.

In late 1898, a leading New York newspaper published a vituperative article criticising Châteaux d’Azay-lle-Rideau for being “not a university, but a mere boarding house” where the main subjects taught were “cricket, polo and football”. The locals resented the “English takeover” of the historic castle.

Maurice turned the château into a kind of academy or “university” for young Englishmen (teenage boys) from “good” English families.

In late 1898, a leading New York newspaper published a vituperative article criticising Châteaux d’Azay-le-Rideau for being “not a university, but a mere boarding house” where the main subjects taught were “cricket, polo and football”. The locals resented the “English take-over” of the historic castle.

The book Count de Mauny – Friend of Royalty written by Seweryn Chomet, a Physicist and Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, London, reveals that there were rumours of homosexuality and sexual advances made by Maurice to some of the aristocratic adolescents entrusted into his care. Eventually, Maurice had ‘owned up that it is so’.

By late 1898, the owners of the château, alarmed by mounting local dissent and the dark rumours of (then considered) criminal activities, precipitously cancelled the lease.

The de Maunys moved on to Cannes where on April 19, 1899, their first child, Victor Alexander was born. Later they moved to San Remo, and finally landed in England.

Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande possessed charm, intelligence, natural style and an uncanny skill to cultivate the friendship of the rich and famous people. His aspiration to mingle with the élite of the society; his fondness for grandiose, wining and dining; as well as his conscience-free disposition to deploy the financial resources of other people, whether morally acceptable or otherwise, surfaced in the early stages in his marriage and drove him into financial difficulties. But it seems that he never mended his ways even after his downfall and bankruptcy.

Author William Warren has suggested in his book “Tropical Asian Style,” which showcases contemporary residences throughout Southeast Asia, that Count Maurice de Mauny Talvande’s dwindling financial status, along with the many marital problems he was facing, must have forced him to move to Ceylon.

It was Sir Thomas Lipton, the tea magnate, who first invited the Count to Ceylon in 1912. During that visit, Maurice was deeply impressed by his first experience of the tropics and the serenity and beauty of the country. He vowed to return to the Island nation.

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Taprobane Island: Part 1 – Tambapanni the Island Paradise


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The ancient historical poem Mahavamsa or the ‘Great Chronicle’ of Sri Lanka, tells that the cruel and callous Prince-regent, Vijaya, and his unruly companions, after being banished from Sinhapura in India, landed on the shores of an island. After disembarking from the ship they sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So, they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-colored sand”). Later on, Prince Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.

As time wore on, the exact location of Tambapanni as described in Mahavamsa became obscured to the world.

Ancient Greek texts describe an island nation of perfect beauty where people lived in communal peace and in perfect harmony with nature, amid tropical gardens and idyllic seas. Around 290 BC, the Greek geographer Megasthenes reported first about this island to the Europeans.

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Map of Taprobana- 1588
Ptolemy’s Map of Taprobana

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The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) drafted a map of the island. He identified it as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from the then prevailing name Tambapanni. His map carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering top.

The whereabouts of this mythical island nation were fiercely debated for centuries. Adventurous seafarers chased the dream of finding this fabled land, and a few landed at Bali islands, Madagascar and the Maldives.

Eventually, the long-sought Taprobana was identified with the exotic tropical paradise, the island of Sri Lanka, a pearl in the Indian Ocean, lying south-east of India.

Weligama

Stilt Fishing in Weligama, Sri Lanka
Stilts fishermen, Sri Lanka (Source – Написал Fergan_Trop)

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Weligama is a town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka in Matara District, 89.48 miles (144 km) from Colombo. In Sinhala, the term ‘Weligama‘ literally means “sandy village” derived after the area’s sandy sweep bay. Fishing is the main occupation of the region. It is most famous for its distinct stilt fishermen.

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The Taprobane Island

Tabrobane Island on the shore of Weligama. (Source: Google Maps)
Tabrobane Island on the shore of Weligama. (Source: Google Maps)

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A hundred yards offshore in the Weligama Bay is an islet whose traditional name is “Galduwa” meaning “Rock Island” in the Sinhalese language. In ancient times, the islet may have been a part of the mainland as it is not shown in maps of the Portuguese Colonial era. This Islet comprises 2½ acres of sheer tropical fantasy with nothing between it and the South Pole.

A hunt for an earthly paradise inspired a self-styled French aristocrat, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande (1866-1941), a gentleman of leisure, and furniture maker, to transform Galduwa into a privately owned islet called “Taprobane Island,” which is now one of Sri Lanka’s most renowned luxury destinations.

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Tabrobane Island
Tabrobane Island

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While travelling on the Weligama By Pass road a partly hidden octagonal villa could be seen through the dense foliage atop the rocky island.

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Next → Taprobane Island: Part 2

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Why We Should Plant More Trees …


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Here is the best ad concept for afforestation …

An add for plant more trees

The above image is a Hindustan Times Public Service advertisement for “Plant more trees.

How about these?

Dog urinating

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Problem caused by DEFORESTATION - 2

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Problem caused by DEFORESTATION - 3

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Problem caused by DEFORESTATION - 4

This long queue happens to be one of the problems caused by DEFORESTATION.

Shouldn’t we be worried?

Let us plant more trees at least for the sake of our dogs!

 

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Iran: 2013 Sistan and Baluchestan Earthquake (Magnitude 7.5). Reverberations in New Dehli, India


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Yesterday, April 16, 2013, at 15:14 p.m. IRDT (UTC+4:30), an earthquake struck the mountainous region between the cities of Khash and Saravan in Sistan and Baluchestan Province, Iran, 83 km east of Khash, close to the border with Pakistan. It lasted about 25 seconds. The Iranian Seismological Center listed the earthquake as 7.5 magnitude on the Richter scale.

Pakistanis evacuating nearby buildings following tremors in Karachi on April 16, 2013. (Photo: ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistanis evacuating nearby buildings following tremors in Karachi on April 16, 2013. (Photo: ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The quake was felt throughout much of eastern Iran and southern Pakistan, and as far away as Riyadh, Manama, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, some areas in the neighboring state of Pakistan, and in New Delhi, India. The tremors destroyed many buildings in Iran. People evacuated buildings in far away places such as Delhi, India, and on the Arabian Peninsula. Pakistani news channels showed buildings shaking in the southern city of Karachi. People in panic evacuated their offices and homes.

This earthquake closely follows the 6.1-magnitude quake that struck the southwest coast of Iran near the port city of city of Bushehr on April 9, 2013. Saravan is about 600 miles from Bushehr, on the south-eastern border of Iran near Pakistan.

Overview map of the Arabian tectonic plate boundaries with the Eurasian, African and Indian plates (U.S. Geological Survey)
Overview map of the Arabian tectonic plate boundaries with the Eurasian, African and Indian plates (U.S. Geological Survey)

Iran is well-known for its long history of disastrous earthquake activities. Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, crossed by several major fault lines that cover almost 90% of the country. The Iranian plateau is subject to most types of tectonic activity, including active folding, faulting and volcanic eruptions. Hence, earthquakes in Iran occur often and are destructive.

Yesterday’s earthquake was probably the strongest earthquake in Iran within the last 40 years, and possibly the strongest in the last half-century, equal in magnitude to the one that shook Tabas in 1978 killing 15,000.

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