Luca Novelli


I wish you a long life

To the Garden of Eden

and back





“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every

tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.

The tree of life was in the midst of the garden,

and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it”.

Genesis 2:15-17

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version

Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers


The world is too complex and interesting for one way to hold all the answers.” 
Stephen Jay Gould

Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History


“The past is already gone; the future is not yet here.

There's only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment” 
 Gautama Buddha




Foreword / Preface

  1. In the house of the God of Light

  2. A teardrop in the centre of the world

  3. The world above the clouds

  4. Adam’s peak

  5. Elephants from the third millenium

  6. Above and below the liquid sky

  7. The Palace of the Sacred tooth

  8. The Balangoda Cave

  9. The Tree of Knowledge

  10. The Perfect Garden

  11. The Temple on Golden Rock

  12. The city of the Sacred Tree

  13. The Stone Guardians

  14. The port to the past

  15. Sigiriya, King Kasyapa’s Paradise

  16. Adam’s Bridge

  17. The people of the Garden of Eden

  18. Buddha’s Paradise

AYUBOWAN, I wish you a long life



The story I am about to tell is not about events that took place in a faraway world, populated by dinosaurs and primordial creatures. It begins on a planet, finally inhabited by a single species of Homo sapiens that managed to survive countless cataclysms and climate changes over the span of a million years. It’s planet Earth with the same continents as today: Asia, Europe, the Americas and all the rest, but, were an astronaut to see it from space, it would be impossible to recognize... bewildering in fact.

The north and south poles of the world are covered in immense glaciers, thousands of metres thick. The level of the oceans is one hundred metres below what it is today, revealing immense plains and innumerable islands, presently submerged in water. England and Ireland are practically covered by a blanket of eternal snow, the English Channel is a vast valley carved out by a river. The Alps are an immense icy plateau from which only the highest peaks emerge. Ice covers most of Russia, Turkey, Siberia and China while Guinea and Australia are united in one, great continent. Sumatra, Java and Borneo are similarly united while most of what we know of as the Sea of China is a boundless plain, chiselled out by numerous restless rivers.

It is the world of the Last Glacial Maximum, the time of maximum expansion of glaciers on our planet, 20,000 years ago.

Twenty thousand years are nothing, no more than a blink in the history of planet Earth. In these twenty millenniums humanity became what it is today. It survived innumerable cataclysms, embarked on a new era and, as the glaciers receded, populated one region after another of the planet.

But twenty thousand years ago North America was covered by the arctic polar cap and the Hudson River was a glacier that randomly deposited enormous boulders where Central park is today. The regions bordering the Mediterranean were a frozen inferno. The climate was similar to that of present day Tierra del Fuego, in the extreme south of Chile and Argentina. Simultaneously however, in certain regions along the equatorial belt, small communities of hunters and gatherers prospered and lived in happy isolation.

They were driven south in the old continent by the advancing glaciers; driven by the same spirit of survival that forced countless large animals to migrate. Some tribes settled in North Africa, near lakes now extinct, others on islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans, where the temperature was mild, similar to what it is today.

The inhabitants of these lands picked fruit off the trees, hunted and fished in harmony with nature, needed no clothing and very little else in the way of personal belongings. Compared to the rest of the world these places were very similar to the mythical Garden of Eden, as described not only in the Bible, but in many non Western traditions and religions as well. The peoples that lived in these regions disappeared almost entirely or melted into other tribes. Only one survived and still lives on the Island of Sri Lanka, has in fact been living there for over 34,000 years: the Vedda.

The Veddas spoke a proto-European language now extinct. They still pick wonderful, exotic fruit and cohabit peacefully with an amazing variety of animals: from the great varan to the long-haired deer, from elephants to mountain bears. The Veddas have never left the forest where Adam and Eve, as depicted by the celebrated painter Lucas Cranach, would still feel perfectly at home today. And where they would still find the Fruit of Knowledge that abounds in places such as the Horton Plains in the heart of Sri Lanka, a land where wheat and barley were grown as far back as 14,000 years ago. Eden indeed existed and perhaps still does. But let’s not move too quickly and take our time with the surprises.




Sri Lanka is an island-nation with 21 million inhabitants.

Its’ surface is 65,610 square kilometres, twice that of Belgium

The island is almost entirely flat, slightly above the level of the Indian Ocean, except for a range of hills and mountains in the centre south region.

Pidurutalagala, 2,524 metres, is the highest mountain. Next to it and only a little lower soars Adam’s Peak.

Of all the countries in south-east Asia, Sri Lanka is the one with the longest life expectancy. The degree of literacy is 92%, and 66% of the population has graduated from high school. Compulsory schooling lasts nine years and is completed by 90% of students. Sri Lanka has the highest pro-capita income in south Asia, almost twice what it is in India.

In Sri Lanka the most popular religions are Theravada Buddhism (70, 2%), Hinduism (12, 6%), Islam (9, 7%), and Christianity (7, 5%).

Only a few kilometres from the coast of Sri Lanka is located the lowest gravitational field present on Earth. It is, in fact, the place on our planet where we are lightest and where "you are closest to the sky”.







In the home of the God of Light



“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

 Albert Einstein



I catch my breath. My heart is beating like mad. I’m as agile as a monkey but the rocks I’m climbing are getting bigger and bigger, damp and slippery. The others have fallen behind; they are many lengths further down, immersed in the fog. I can hear them. They’re struggling and murmuring to each other. Someone is cursing. I recognize Arhua’s voice but can’t make out the words. I look around. Here the vegetation is shiny and bright, and seems to glow with a light of its own. Out of the corner of my eye I spy a tiny, multi-coloured bird as, with its long beak, it sucks the nectar from a fuchsia flower much larger than itself. As I turn it disappears quickly like the heart of a flame. I move my head slowly. Small creatures retreat among the giant ferns. There’s abundant food up here, alive and edible. I see fruit I’ve never tasted, animals I don’t recognize. The Great Mother was right: there are other worlds above our own.

Anahita! Anahita!” They are calling me. The voices of the boys are closer. I continue to climb. The destination is getting closer. But something strange is happening. The fog is thinning. There’s more light.

I want to get to the top of the Okra Mountain before everyone else. I want to see Arhua’s face when he gets there after me.


Friday, January 23rd

We’ll be landing at Bandaranayake Airport in 20 minutes. A nine-hour flight:UL582. The woman sitting next to me could be Vandana Shiva’s identical twin; all that’s missing is the violet “tilak” in the middle of her eyebrows. She trades in precious stones and is bombarding me with questions. Who are we? Where are we going? What are we looking for?” Elisabeth chatted her up at the beginning of the flight and now can’t manage to contain her. I observe the clouds below us and listen to her patient answers in her enviable, impeccable English. “The Professor” – she explains indicating me - “studies climate and archaeology. He writes science books for the general public.” she added. “We’ll be visiting museums, ancient sites and protected areas.”

This is not the first mission with Elisabeth. She’s a delightful travel companion when she’s not scolding us for our excessive eating habits or because, in her opinion, our behaviour is not sufficiently sustainable. Together we bathed with the otters in the Galapagos; we watched the Chilean glaciers fall into the Pacific Ocean and climbed almost to the very top of Mount Ararat, 5,167 metres. But this time we won’t have to climb to dizzying heights or trek across glaciers. According to our plan, the most difficult climb is a mountain of only 2,100 metres at the top of which is a Buddhist Monastery. What Elisabeth doesn’t tell our fellow traveller is the purpose of our mission. Extremely ambitious, Vandana Shiva’s look-alike would say. We’re here to find the origin of an extraordinary myth, common to a great part of humanity.

Light. There is more and more light around me. The fog is thinner. I can see the plants and the rocks more clearly. A small hairy animal scurries off through the giant ferns. I can spot him at a distance that is unusual for me. Perhaps Arhua could still strike him with one of his arrows, even so far away. I pick a red fruit, covered in soft spikes. I taste it. I’ve never tasted anything like it: good, sweet.

The fog is even thinner now. The Okra Mountain is full of unpredictable surprises. I climb higher. I pass a big, smooth boulder, a palm tree, more giant ferns.

In only a few seconds my perception of the world changes dramatically. The fog no longer surrounds me.

It’s below me.

Above and around the peak of the Okra Mountain everything is a blinding blue. The fog extends as far as the eye can see, like an infinite carpet. All this blue and the pristine air make me dizzy.

Anahita! Anahita!” They’re calling me. I’d like to answer “I’m here” but I’m paralyzed like a monkey mesmerized by a snake. One after another of my companions pop out of the white, billowy blanket: Arhua, Manu, Devi...they look around and are breathless like me. The light here is completely different. It’s everywhere. We are in the house of a god which can only be the God of Light. We don’t know what might happen if we disturb a god.


6:30 a.m. Bandaranayake Airport

Vandana Shiva’s stand-in is called Aditi. At the baggage pick-up she gives everyone her business card: it’s in Singhalese, Tamil and English. She gave one to Virginia, the youngest in our group. Virginia stared at it, turning it over in puzzlement.

Ms Aditi invites us to go and visit her in town, in her sapphire and ruby shop. The mere mention of some of the legs of our journey aroused considerable curiosity in her. It happens to practically anyone who hears about our project. Elisabeth suspects she may also be hoping to sell us some of her precious stones.

Only three years ago I would never have imagined myself looking for such an improbable place as Eden. I write books about the history of science and about ecology and evolution. Which is exactly how I developed an interest in those early migrations which brought a few pre-Indo-European tribes to proliferate and to disseminate their myths and legends in the West. Then, as I was reading Marco Polo’s travel notes from seven centuries ago, I had something which very much resembles an epiphany, a revelation. Marco Polo, who was in Sri lanka for the Kublai Khan, writes that a preceding Chinese mission had managed to locate the relics of ... Adam. Not even Marco Polo believed them to be authentic. Nor did he believe that the magic cup, also supposedly Adam’s, extorted from the reluctant Singhalese by Kublai Khan’s emissaries, was actually his. “For the Saracens”, writes Marco Polo, “the Garden of Eden was on the summit of one of the mountains in this region”. Hindus and other religions also believe Paradise to be on the top of a mountain.

I reflect on all of this while Elisabeth and I load our luggage into a cab. Puk, Virginia and the others are getting into the one just ahead of us.

“Hotel Tintagel, Paradise Road”, says Puk to the driver.

“Paradise Road?”

Elisabeth looks at me: “Not a bad start.”

“Not bad at all.” I reply.


I’m speechless. I am literally unable to speak. Without new words I am unable to describe what I see. I’m on a luxuriant island, surrounded by a sea of snow-white fog. But I’ve never seen the sea, and I don’t know what an island is. I can say that the peak of the Okra Mountain is surrounded by a sea of fog and that my family lives down there, below it: Black Bear and Great Mother. My tribe has always lived immersed in this fog without ever knowing what there was above their heads. So I have no words to describe the sky that is now changing colour. I don’t know what the great masses are that are moving above me and quickly changing shape from animals to monstrous creatures. But more importantly I don’t know what the blinding ball of fire is suspended there above the blanket of white. I’ve never seen anything like it, non even when we light all the fires in the big cave. You can’t look at it for very long, but we can’t avoid doing so. It burns my eyes. But fortunately it’s extinguishing it’s a red disc that is sinking in the white sea of fog. I’m sorry. I hope it’s not going away because of us. I hope that the chilly wind that it is sending us isn’t punishment for our impudence. Now I’m cold. I feel an icy cold. Aruha, Manu and Devi are next to me, also shivering and frightened. Night is coming and we are intruders in the house of a god. Arhua is next to me. His arm brushes against mine and I’m a little less afraid.


12.00 noon. The Kingsbury Hotel

Our ancestors beheld a completely different landscape. 18,000 years ago, what today is a stony desert was once a green plane. What is now a sea was once a forest and a river delta. In front of the coastline was a wide expanse of flat lands and sea-level was more than a hundred metres lower. With a global temperature of four or five degrees less than today the snows accumulated one year after the next on the tops of mountains above 2000 metres. Imposing glaciers formed in improbable places such as on Etna in Sicily, on the Great and Small Atlas in Africa, in Australia and Tasmania, and even on the highest peaks in Sri Lanka. At the foot of these glaciers lakes and rivers formed which, at every successive thaw, became a hundred times more powerful and torrential than today.

Marine currents took completely different routes. Some provided rich flora and fauna to lands which today are bitterly cold and unhospitable. Others generated drought in regions which are presently rainforests. When the cold, dry climate of the Glacial Maximum began to subside enormous amounts of water and mist were freed and distributed themselves throughout the planet. The climate changed dramatically.

Massive banks, big as continents, of persistent, noxious, impenetrable fog appeared. Millenniums will go by before vanishing completely. Many generations of people never saw the stars.




AYUBOWAN: I wish you a long life.

By Luca Novelli


English version by Barbara Santoro

Drawings in black and white, drawing of Sigirija: Federico Canobbio Codelli

In the cover: EDEN by Gianni de Conno

Photos by Ruggero Longoni

Coordination of Sri Lanka Paradise Project: Shamin Panditharathna

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