Stepping into Kotte, you’ll find it an ancient fortress surrounded by water with stream-formed ‘lakes’ and associated marshes known as the Diyawanna Oya. Here one can enjoy the soft breeze, as did the 15th Century royals on a tiny brick path or boat. The location is known for hosting the Island’s uniquely designed parliament and of course being the administrative capital. Amidst the urban skyline this is a wetland and wildlife sanctuary in the heart of the Western Province.
The Diyawanna Oya includes a tree-studded, shaded and cool strip of land, which is the Diyawanna Oya Park, a comparatively recent creation. It is evidence of the enhancement to the greening of the area, a good place-encouraged by friendly seating, to get an impression of this part of the lake.
Over the centuries a great deal of change has occurred in the extent and shape of the Diyawanna Oya wetland, the most significant being the 1980s dredging to create the five-hectare island of Duwa to house the New Parliament Complex, which opened in 1982. The shape of the lake today is long and thin, with protrusions and depressions, the most predominant being the artificial island south of centre with its causeway to the shore.
Scorching rays of the sun may discourage visitors during the day, but its surroundings are a much visited locality for relaxation and family outings during the cool dusk. The new walking and jogging track around the lake attracts many fitness-buffs for a daily jog or walk, especially at dawn. It’s the coveted breath of fresh air that city dwellers yearn.
Over the blue-arched bridge that crosses the lake, is the Diyatha Uyana, the market and restaurant hub of the Diyawanna Oya. The flower show, sale of plants among other goods and small restaurants are a fixed function. The weekly ‘Good Market’ in between attracts hordes of visitors to the vicinity due to its authentic and organic appeal. Many items that can only be found beyond the city limits of Colombo can be found here during fairs. On the opposite shore is a new addition, a vintage train engine with a complement of assorted wagons.
The wetland environmental value attached to the Diyawanna Oya is incalculable. Most of the area surrounding the parliament complex consists of low-lying freshwater marshland. Habitats as diverse as lotus-filled ponds, outcrops of shrub land, grasslands lightly flooded during the monsoon, and the grey mudflats of old, can be found here.
True natural beauty lies near the Diyatha Uyana edge of the lake, where the wetland is dominated by a small tree with pretty white flowers, the South Indian Plum (Syzygium caryophyllatum), known in Sinhala as dan. It is a threatened species found in abundance here surrounded by myriad water plants such as reeds, ferns and lilies.
Resident species to be seen at Diyawanna Oya include the spectacular Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus Philippenses), with the characteristic long bill and large throat pouch. The Diyawanna Oya is home to both the Little Cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger) and the slightly larger Indian Cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis). Visitors who take a boat ride may, if they are lucky, witness a cormorant making its headlong dive into the water.
In addition, you may see the White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus), which makes loud and repetitive croaking calls after rain; the small, squat Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis); or the gregarious Lesser Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna javanica). The Indian Pond Heron (Ardeola grayii) has a streaked olive and brown plumage and has the habit of standing very still for long periods while hunting fish. The Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) is also an inhabitant of the Diyawanna Oya.
A suburban wetland to savour, the Diyawanna is both a body of water that refreshes and a park that provides relaxing stimulation to the desk bound city dwellers. So take an evening stroll here and enjoy the environs.