By Dharman Wickremaratne
Today jogging tracks are found in many areas of Sri Lanka. In the past the most popular jogging track was the Galle Face green. Later jogging spread to Kiribathkumbura in Kandy, the area near Diyawanna Oya close to the Parliament and to Independence Square. Colombo 7. Now plans are underway to build jogging tracks in several other selected cities and towns.
These are most useful for people who do sedentary jobs – among them clerks, administrative officers, staff officers, CEOs etc.
Jogging as a means of improving physical fitness began in Britain in mid-17th Century. Walking, jogging and other exercises are essential for a healthy life. Physical exercises are most important in preventing/controlling diabetes, heart ailments, high blood pressure and mental depression. William Shakespeare talks about jogging in his play The Taming of the Shrew written in 1593 and Australian Author Rolf Boldrewood refers to it in his1884 novel My Run Home. This led to the subject being cited in dictionaries.
Proper weight and height depending on a person’s age is vital for physical well-being. Jogging or walking fast for a time period between 30 and 60 minutes a day is a very good exercise. This exercise should be done at least four days a week. It helps to develop a efficient and fruitful life-style thus making an important contribution to the progress of a community and a nation.
The focus of this article is on the jogging tracks of Oruthota, Gampaha and Kelaniya-Mahara which have been built under the Rivers and Waterways Management Project of the Sundara Gampaha (Beautiful Gampaha) program. Dawn was breaking and the first rays of the sun were upon Gampaha when we began walking along the newly-built jogging track in Oruthota. The track-building was done under Western Provincial Council Minister Nimal Lansa’s direction on the advice of Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa. The objective is to promote physical fitness and good health among the people in accordance with the Mahinda Chinthana Vision, said R.M.S. Bandaranayake, General Manager of the Western Province Road Development Authority, which is handling the project.
The Sundara Gampaha program aims to control floods, develop paddy cultivations for ensuring food security, improving bio-diversity of the area and create a healthy community by protecting the natural environment. Protection of marshes and wetlands will help to purify water resources. Gampaha District is experiencing rapid urbanisation and the Gampaha town is fast developing.
The history of Oruthota goes back to the time when the Sinhala armies fought against the Portuguese invader. Since the Oru (boats) the Sinhala soldiers used were anchored here it earned the name Oruthota. In the past the only road in Oruthota was a cart track and the chief livelihood of the villagers was paddy cultivation. They also cultivated rubber, coconut, betel and pineapples. Their products were transported by boat across the Ooruwal Oya. In the 1940s this place had a wooden bridge. Later in the 1960s a better one was built which is now being replaced with another new bridge. Kalu Palama or the black railway bridge has enhanced the beauty of Oruthota. Among the first settlers in Oruthota was Lewnis Appuhamy who hails from Hasalaka. Not being far from Gampaha Town, Oruthota became a populated area by the 1990s.
The area where jogging tracks have been built was earlier a marshy land and had abandoned paddy fields. The lack of a system to allow the smooth flow of water from the Ooruwal Oya caused floods in Oruthota. Today the entire irrigation channel system has been properly built. The scientifically built jogging tracks are located in an attractive environment. The Ooruwal Oya flows calmly. The repaired channels and canals have helped to re-cultivate the abandoned paddy lands. The approach roads to villages have been developed. Protection for river banks has been provided at a low-cost. Hundreds of plant varieties including herbal plants cultivated on either side have added to the beauty of the surroundings. These include aquatic plants that help to purify water. Thermal power is used providing lights to the jogging tracks. The Butterfly Bridge there looks identical to its counterpart in Galle.
At Mahara we met Sunitha Weerasinghe (58), her son Sisira Perera (29), daughter-in-law Lilantha (29) and granddaughter Ruwani (4). Sunitha Weerasinghe (said it was a great joy for her to see jogging tracks in thearea during her lifetime. She is confident that the flood control system will prevent floods like the ones that occurred 1956 and 2010. Oooruwal Oya which begins from the Pilikuththuwa Mountain flows into the sea at Ja-ela. The Oruthota jogging tracks have joined three villages – Oruthota, Bendiyamulla and Moragoda. This has also resulted in a bio-diversity bridge between Pilikuththuwa forest boundary and Gampaha Botanical Gardens.
The length of the Mahara jogging tracks extending from the bridge at Gala Junction, Kiribathgoda to the Dalupitiya bridge is two kilometers. It connects Kirbathgoda and Dalupitiya, Mahara. As a result of this track the re-cultivation of the Horiyana paddy lands - which had been abandoned fort 25 years – will begin in June. Land values in the area have trebled since the jogging tracks were built. Water now flows into Mudun Ela canal in Mahara from Attanagalu Oya. Deputy Ministers Lasantha Alagiyawanna and Pandu Bandaranaike have made a major contribution to this development work.
Before the end of the year two more jogging tracks will be constructed in the Gampaha District. One of these will be built along the two sides of the Attanagalu Oya from Samurdhi Mawatha – the approach road to Biyagama Investment Zone – Delgoda Road, a distance of two kilometers. The other will extend from Malbole bridge, Wattala towards the express way along the two sides of Kalu Ela, a distance of three kilometers. Work on this has already commenced.
The objective of building these tracks is to help improve the health and physical fitness of the public. President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself inspected these jogging tracks at Gampaha Orothuta on March 13.
This project is part of an extensive program focused on Attangalu Oya river basin in the Gampaha District. It will become a waterway connecting the Gampaha Botanical Gardens and the Pilikuththuwa Forest and improve the living conditions of the people. The project will help to protect and improve the natural environment and water resources in the area.
Increased cultivation of different plant varieties have helped to yield more springs bringing water to wells, according to Jaweera Bandara (52), a father of three and a polio victim. He comes there daily to do physical exercises. Former Government Officer Jayantha Gunawardana too agreed on the physical and mental health benefits of regular exercising. The presence of mobile sales outlets proved that the current development trends will soon raise the economic level of the rural community there.
Walking along the jogging tracks we can see a variety of bird species and other creatures including otters. Having jogged along the Oruthota tracks in the morning we did the same on the tracks at Mahara in the evening.
According to Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa the Sundara Gampaha program has helped to achieve environmental protection with a greater understanding of the issue. These projects will soon make the Gampaha District the most environmental friendly areas for people to reside.
(The writer is an environmental journalist who could be reached at [email protected].)