Three cities, Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa form the three angles of the Cutural Triangle.
Kandy has Temple of The Tooth, Anuradhapura is the site of an ancient kingdom dating back to 600 BC and is the site of arrival of Buddhism about 200 years BC. Polonnaruwa has the remains of a sophisticated civilisation from 1000 AD.
In the centre of the triangle, at Dambulla, there are cave temples with stone statues of Buddha and the most kitsch gaudy plastic Buddha dominating the view for miles around.
Also in the triangle is Sigiriya, the rock fortress. Climbing to the top is not for the faint-hearted but the views and cooling breezes are wonderful. The ruins are indeed as impressive as it is tiring and hot to view them.
Anuradhapura: recounting my fascinating educational trip
My visit to Anuradhapura was for a different purpose.
Anuradhapura is in the dry zone. The land is flat and dotted with tanks, reservoirs with elaborate irrigation systems dating back to the ancient civilisation. Rice paddy and fruit are local crops.
There are two big health problems; the first is the water supply.
How safe is the water?
About 30 years ago doctors realised that a large number of people were dying with renal failure in and around ANP. They did not suffer from the usual renal diseases and did not have diabetes or high blood pressure which often cause kidney problems.
Since then it has become clear that 10% of the adult population suffers from chronic renal failure with up to 400 deaths per month in the district, the majority being farmers dying in their 50s.
The exact cause has not yet been agreed but it is something in the water supply. One theory is that the fertiliser used contains arsenic and this finds its way into the well water. A contributory factor is that farmers work the fields all day and get dehydrated.
The urgent need is to arrange a decent water supply for the town and surrounding villages. Those well-off buy their drinking water in bottles.
Up close with poisonous snakes
The other problem is age old, snake bites and envenoming. There are 3 common venomous snakes, Cobra, Russell’s Viper and Krait. Here is a true story:
A man went into the jungle one morning to check on his cattle. He had not returned at lunchtime so his father went out to look for him. He found him at the jungle edge, conscious but weak because of a snake bite on his ankle. He said it was a Russell’s Viper.
The father left him to fetch help in a vehicle and returned 90 minutes later to find the man unconscious. Eventually, 5 hours or so after the bite, the patient reached hospital where he suffered a cardiac arrest and died. The post mortem examination showed extensive internal bleeding.
Anuradhapura hospital admits an average of 2 patients per day to the intensive care unit. Many others are less severely bitten, bitten by non-venomous snakes or suffer what are called ‘stick bites’ and are admitted to general wards for observation.
People are told to capture the snake and bring it to the hospital and they often do.
Why is snake identification important?
Snake identification helps as many are non-venomous. Even venomous snakes can give ‘dry bites’ when they have no venom left after biting something else.
‘Stick bites’ usually happen to drunks who leave the track to relieve themselves and step on a thorn. But, what is a krait bite?
Krait bite explained:
The first thing to happen after a krait bite is paralysis of eye movement and respiration. If you survive that there is the internal bleeding. If you survive that, you may get renal failure and need dialysis for a few weeks. If you survive that – phew – you will probably be OK.
Some say the death rate from kraits can be as high as 80% without medical attention. With prompt and first class medical care, viper bite mortality is only 1%.
Kraits are small; when it rains they come indoors and climb into the thatched roof where there are mice.
Sometimes they fall from the ceiling onto a bed and snuggle into the warmth.
If the occupant moves, the snake bites.
A tiny bite that may not be felt. In the morning the occupant of the bed is found dead with 2 small puncture marks somewhere on the body.
There is always anti-venom serum but does it work?
There is an Anti-Venom Serum which is supposed to be effective against all 3 venomous species. It has to be given early before the venom spreads throughout the body. Unfortunately it does not work very well as it is designed for Indian snakes.
Occasionally patients die of an allergic reaction to it. The serum is very expensive and a better anti-venom serum is being developed.
Little helping hands
A colleague was setting up a snake farm to be able to obtain venom. A friend has an estate with many snakes and offered some. Local boys helped catch them but there were few cobra.
Next day a young lad turned up with a cobra in a sack. My friend was so pleased he gave the boy 50 Rs. The next day 20 boys turned up with snakes in sacks.
At first the government would not support the development of a new antiserum but in the last few days a grant of 50,000,000 Rs has been awarded to my colleague in Kandy. Already anti-venom is being prepared and clinical trials will start in November.
If you go into the jungle or paddy fields wear sturdy shoes, preferably boots, and socks and watch where you put your feet.
A promising Snake Doctor
I met a very clever young doctor, who is studying snake envenoming and is making good progress.
Venom is a mixture of chemicals and he is trying to separate the most from the least toxic. The Snake Doctor has discovered one new species of snake not previously known. In his spare time he has also discovered 5 new species of fish and 2 species of lizard.
Post Series: Dispatches from Sri Lanka, by Mike Sedgwick:
- Dispatches From Sri Lanka
- Kandy Lake vs Chandler’s Ford Lakes
- Self-Employment In Sri Lanka
- Sri Lankan Wedding
- Sri Lankan Food
- There’s Some Corner Of A Foreign Field
- The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka
- This Is the Record Of John
- Tuk-tuk: My Transport Of Delight
- Life On The Road
- Commonwealth Games In Kandy
- A Temple For A Tooth?
- Dawn Train Down The Mountain To Colombo
- Traditional And Modern Medicine in Sri Lanka
- Ancient Vedda Tribe Becoming Extinct