Sunrise behind SriPada

By Dr Kavan Ratnatunga

Most Lankans who have climbed SriPada, would have seen, if they had clear weather, Sunrise from SriPada. A glorious spectacle which must be experienced by any Lankan. I am glad to have seen Sunrise from SriPada on two occasions in the early 1970's. You would probably have seen at least photographs of the shadow cast by SriPada at Sunrise. If you are exactly at the tip of this shadow you will see the Sun rise behind SriPada mountain.

The SriPada Peak with a height of 2.2 km is about 64 km from Colombo and therefore seen at an altitude of about 2 degrees above the horizon. An engraving from a 1833 magazine shows SriPada as prominently seen from the Colombo Fort harbour.

From Colombo the Mountain covers a region just smaller than half a degree or apparent diameter of the Sun. On two days of each year, from any particular location from Kandana to Kalutara, you can see the silhouette of the SriPada mountain against the Sun at Sunrise, if it is not cloudy towards the eastern horizon. Weather which limits the SriPada season from December to May, makes this the best period to observe the sunrise as well.

The concept was used on the first stamp issued by the Republic of Sri Lanka on 1972 May 22nd. However I have never seen actual published photographs of Sunrise behind SriPada.

In mid 1970's low pressure in the Colombo water mains was just starting and without a pump water sometimes didn't rise to the overhead tank. It was one early morning when I climb on the roof to check the water level, that I saw the Sunrise over the range of mountains, just south of SriPada. I estimated when the Sun would rise behind the SriPada and was able to observe the event a few days later in mid February.

At the next few opportunities I setup two or three times with a telephoto borrowed from Arthur Clarke to photograph event, but was clouded out each time and gave up. At the last opportunity before leaving Lanka in 1978, I saw it, but again had no camera. After returning to Lanka in late 2004, I found that the skyline in Kollupitiya is now too crowded from our rooftop. After moving to a condominium in Mount Lavina in late 2005, the mountain range with SriPada, was again on my horizon, from it's flat-roof.

In 2006, I was going to be visiting India on March 17th, when I expected to be able to see event from my flat-roof. I tried a flat-roof in Nugegods on March 7th. It was perfectly clear till Sunrise, and as the sun rose so did the foreground clouds to cover SriPada. A friend I asked to stay over at my place found it cloudy on March 17th. After returning from India, I tried from the rooftop of the ACCIMT on March 25th and 26th, with a bit of success through thick cloud.

On 2007 March 17th, when I went up to the flat-roof it was fairly cloudy. SriPada was not visible. I however waited for Sunrise expecting maybe to take more shots through thick clouds. However as the Sun rose behind SriPada it appeared out of the mist silhouetted against the face of the Sun. A glorious view as I had seen almost 30 years previously. March 17th of both 2008 and 2009 were clouded out and I am hoping for clear view in 2010.

For some observing Tips visit my website http://lakdiva.org/sunrise/tips.html. As always, Never try to observe or photograph the Sun without proper filters in front, particularly when Sun is more than about 2 degrees above the horizon, as there is then insufficient atmospheric extinction.

Since there are many high-rise condominiums now in Colombo, which probably have a clear view of SriPada, hope I have motivated some photo enthusiasts, to try their luck in observing the Sun rise behind SriPada.


An edited version of this text Behold the sunrise behind the peak By Dr Kavan Ratnatunga appeared in the SundayTimes of Sri Lanka on 2010 February 14th.