(click on the photos to see them enlarged)

 

All the way down to Bambarakanda Waterfalls from Horton Plains

 

home

We started at Peradeniya at 5.00 am and reached the trail head, which was about 9 km from the Visitor Centre at Horton Plains towards Ohiya, at 11.00 am. I know six hours to do a distance that was just a little over 100 km was totally unacceptable considering the facts our hired van was so... good, the driver was so... cool, road was so... private, and what was more, we all wanted to get to the trail head as early as possible. The point was one ought to be blindfolded to go from Peradeniya to Horton Plains via Nuwereliya, Ambewale and Pattipola and not stop one's vehicle at least at a few of the numerous locations of enticing beauty.

One such gripping location was at Horton Plains itself placed between the Pattipola-side entrance and the Visitor Centre (Photo 1). Our view was shades of blue peaks surrounding the geometrically symmetric peak of Sri Pada with the cloudy veil that was lifted now and then for just a second or two. On the foreground, to the left, we had a clear view of the ash-blue peak of Kirigalpoththa, the second highest mountain at 2392 m height situated within Horton Plains. After having had our last cups of warm tea/coffee for a long while to come at the canteen by the Visitor Centre, we headed towards Ohiya. The sky on the Ohiya-side was covered with pregnant clouds (Photo 2) unlike the hike-prefect sky on the Sri Pada side. We could not help joking “May be, it is a day for climbing Kirigalpoththa.

 

 

Photo 1: Distant blue hills on the Sri Pada side of Horton Plains

Photo 2: Mist covered ambience on the Ohiya side of Horton Plains

Photo 3: Abiramy at the trail head and the van in the background

Photo 4: Abiramy and Sarath hiking in the misty tea plantation

 

Travelling about 7 km towards Ohiya from the Visitor Centre, we reached the Ohiya-side entrance to Horton Plains. Travelling yet another 2 km along the same direction, we reached the much anticipated trail head on our right. The trial was a wide non-paved road which met the Horton Plains-Ohiya road (B508) at right angle (Photo 3). Since our trail was well known to be totally unsuitable for the van, after unloading us and our hiking gears, the van went via Ohiya, Borelanda, Haputale and Kalupahana to get to Bambarakanda Rest (the trail end) and await us there. Abiramy, the youngest member of our crew (Photo 3) was with her pretty red rubber slippers throughout the hike and was extremely comfortable with them. So much so, I am contemplating on doing the same on my next hike.

We started our hike, at about 11.00 am, from an elevation of 2040 m, enveloped by the gentle mist. Even though it was thoroughly disappointing to realize the possibility of walking through a panoramic landscape adjoining Horton Plains without ever seeing not more than 20 to 30 m from our noses (Photo 4), it must be said here that the gentleness in which those clouds welcomed us and the softness in which they carried us through have no parallel to quote from our everyday lives in the city. As a matter of fact, I have read somewhere that the mist is one of the essentials for a healthy life, as drinking lots of water and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. I am beginning to realize that there is some truth in it since my otherwise sensitive bronchial tubes are so very pleased with themselves whenever I walk though the mist even if it is going uphill along the steep slopes of Sri Pada in the soporific hours, even for the guardians of the forest.

The trail was full of sharp bends and we were descending on the side of a mountain crested with cropped tea plants. We leisurely hiked about 1.5 km and reached a T-junction at which we continued straight ahead without taking the left turn. Sarath (wearing white cap in Photo 4) always does the ground work before our hike such as acquiring laminated coloured printouts of the 1-inch topographical map of the trail and its surroundings. It is a great feeling to stand at an insignificant bend on our route facing a majestic, lonely mountain and to locate that bend on the map and the name of the mountain whose lap we are in. By the way, when we were home bound and dozing in the van, Sarath got the delightful news about his promotion to grandfather-ship; a hike never to be forgotten by Sarath and a birth never to be forgotten by us.   

One of the greatest things about hiking on foot is meeting, greeting and chatting with the people to whom our exploring ground is home. A lady collecting firewood was our first acquaintance in that sense. I was delighted to chat with her freely in colloquial Tamil. She was not surprised to hear about our mission. However, she chuckled when I asked her how long it would take us to get to the Bambarakanda falls. She went like, “Hm.., at your rate, it would definitely be late evening, say 4 or 5.” We took her estimation very seriously and changed our mind about ordering for our late lunch at the Bambarakanda Rest, as planned. We decided to snack at whatever we had with us for lunch and take the dinner at Nuwereliya. That turned out to be a very wise decision, indeed.

Lesson: Always listen to the locals when in a strange location.

Continuing our hassle-free hike along the meandering trail in the misty tea plantation, 3 km from the trail head, at about 12.30 pm, we arrived at the Ohiya-Kalupahana Colonial Trek which laid at right angle to our trail (Photo 5). By this time, the mist had cleared to some extent and we started to see far and wide (Photos 5 and 6). We walked about 50 m towards Ohiya for a good view of the unfolding panorama (Photo 6). Entranced by the shades of colours that rolled out ahead of us, under the partially lifted misty curtain, we were much tempted to continue our hike in the direction of Ohiya along the Colonial Trek. “Perhaps next time,” we told ourselves.

It is fitting to mention here that we met two able young men at this location and they were walking from Ohiya to Kalupahana on some business, and not on pleasure. They told us that it took them 45 minutes to get to that point from Ohiya and that they would be at Kalupahana within another hour or two. They offered to take us with them, but we politely declined because we did not think that our leg muscles would match those of the locals.

The road up to that point was pretty decent for a hiker and the rolling stones under the feet appeared only as we got near the Bambarakanda falls. As we continued hiking towards the Bambarakanda falls, we saw many dwellings, people at work, the first rapids, a well-managed bridge, a tiny shop, a dog, and signstones featuring “WELCOME TO King's Lynn Bio Dynamic Project” and other similar texts. As we passed all the symbols of a desolate micro town, we came across a Y-junction. We took the right track and I guessed that the two young men we met must have taken the left trail. From that point onwards, we went uphill a bit and then downhill a bit taking the left track at the second Y-junction. Then suddenly there we were at the Devils Staircase. The time was about 1.00 pm.

 

 

Photo 5: Our trail meeting the Ohiya-Kalupahana Colonial Trek

Photo 6: South-east from the Ohiya-Kalupahana Colonial Trek

Photo 7: Gayan and Anuradha at the start of the Devils Staircase

Photo 8: Ishak at the rapids after passing the Devils Staircase

 

The start of the Devils Staircase could clearly be identified by the start of the concrete road uphill (Photo 7). A few sharp turns and an appreciable elevation gain coupled with precipitous edge linings are the characteristics that must have earned the notorious reputation for the Devils Staircase. As we were on foot and walking uphill on a wide concreted track, some of the crew members had not even noticed that they went passed one of the most anticipated excitements of the hike. By the way, we also met a cow grazing at the edge of the Devils Staircase, which was indeed not so devilish for those on foot. As we passed the Devils staircase, we came across the signboard (not a signstone) on the left reading Udaveriya Estate, West Haputale Division”. Walking another few hundreds meters or so, we reached the second rapids coming down on our right and the second well-managed bridge (Photo 8).

No sooner than passing the rapids, we come to a point where the sign read Agarapatana Plantations Ltd, Udaveriya” and another Y-junction. We kept to the left. After hiking another couple of hundred meters, we entered the dreamland. Glorious sceneries unfolding in the mist-less ambient towards the southern Sri Lanka were simply overwhelming. Under the picture-perfect sky with rolling clouds, boundless view of the earth laid stretched ahead of us (Photo 9).

 

 

Photo 9: Panoramic view towards the south under the rolling clouds boarded by the multi coloured shrubs on the left and lush green tea plantation on the right

 

Continuing our hike in the grand ambience, we came to a picturesque bend in the track with the view to the virgin forest on the sharp edged mountain range (Photo 10) which, I guessed, stationed itself in the gap between us and the precipitous drops of the small and big World's Ends at Horton Plains. To the right of the bend was the plain luxury abode of the Kanakapillai', who was revered by the simple folks (Photo 11) labouring at the surrounding tea plantations with whom we chat away for a while on Ishak's fact-finding initiation. We realized words such as “A/L” and “university” had very distant meaning for them.

Trekking along and meeting several inhabitants of the township, young and old, in an otherwise dreamland, we reached an irresistible location at about 3.00 pm (Photo 12). Taking a long break there, we chat, laughed and had our lunch which included cakes, biscuits, other tit bits and the infamous kurakan roti' with the delicious ‘seeni sambol'. A few hundreds meters from there, we reached the unique township at Yelatenne (Photo 13) surrounded by a number of virgin forest crusted peaks that were 2000 m high and above, including Gonmolikanda to our left, in the gap between us and the Worlds Ends of Horton Plains.

 

 

 

Photo 10: The picturesque enviable luxuries of the township of the estate workers

Photo 11: The simple possessions of the township inclusive of a tireless van

Photo 12: Wasantha (left), Senarath (middle) and Sarath at our lunching location

Photo 13: The temple getting ready for its much awaited festival

at Yelatenne

 

The township at Yelatenne appeared a richer one in a comparative sense and its livelihood did not depend entirely upon tea. The most educated lad there had done his O/L, living with his uncle at Badulla. He had been told by his three elder brothers that working at tea plantations was not for someone as educated as he was. For those lads (Photo 14) with no generous uncles living close to ‘proper' schools, schooling beyond Year 5 was not only a distant but also a luxury affair because of the location of Yelatenne right in the middle of Ohiya-Kalupahana Colonial Trek which could be traversed either by foot or by a glamorous 4WD. At a distance from the township, there were streams flowing down (Photo 15) from which water supply to the town was provided with some clever engineering and a lot of hardship. Construction of a mini-hydro power plant for the township had been completed to a great extent by an NGO and the final stages of which were not concluded owing to lack of funds, as we were told. I could not help thinking very seriously to get there to educate those kids on weekend basis or something – for that I need to get my 4WD first.

A kilometre or so passing Yelatenne, the much anticipated rain, though not so very welcomed, descended upon us – first a few drops on a sunny sky and then a moderately cold shower with a foggy curtain enveloping us. We continued on, with rain coats and umbrellas, and at about 4.15 pm, we reached the location where the stream feeding the Bambarakanda falls crosses the 4WD trek (background of Photo 16). Because of the volume of water and the force at which it was crossing the trek, we chose the narrow metal bridge to go over the stream. Continuing, we reached the V-cut (1408 m high) at about 4.45 pm (Photo 17). The rain had ceased by now. The visibility continued to remain far reduced, anyways. By now we had hiked 9 km from the trail head.

 

 

 

Photo 14: A lad at play with his home made toy at Yelatenne

Photo 15: Kirthi and myself flanked by Gayan and Ishak at Yelatenne

Photo 16: Reaching the stream feeding the falls

in the rains

Photo 17: Passing the misty V-cut in between two showers

 

From then onwards, we went nearly downhill walking on rolling stones under our shoes and, of course, slippers. Along our trail, we had several sightings of the powerful Bambarakanda falls through her misty veil. The first such sighting was awesome not only because I had waited for that moment for a long time but also we came all the way from Horton Plains on foot to sight her. That was indeed exhilarating. In another hour or so, hiking through tree-lined trails, passing a few partially constructed homes featuring limited affluence, some of us reached the Bambarakanda Rest (1142 m high and about 11.5 km from the trail head), where our van was awaiting us. Some of our crew members had, fortunately, missed the location of the Rest and had, enviably, walked up to the best location (1056 m high and about 12 km from the trail head) to sight the majestic beauty of the Bambarakanda falls. I changed into dry cloths and got into the van with the remaining crew and we moved towards the popular location to absorb the beauty of the Falls. Alas, the rain started to thrash so very heavily as we approached the trendy location that I wavered about getting out of the van lest my cloths got wet again. What I saw through the rain pounding windows was gripping – there she was, or is, free-spirited, wild, graceful, flowing down with shear force having detached herself from her stately, weather-beaten, immortal companion. I said to her – I will come again ma'am for I have not had enough of you.

 

 

Let me conclude the travelogue with the two most memorable photos of the hike. To the left, it is Abiramy, the one with the wild heart, at the V-cut exposing herself to the elements of Nature during the tiny break between two heavy showers. She was holding Senarath's jacket that he had lent her to protect her seemingly fragile stature from the drenching rain despite him having had a severe fever just a few days before the hike and, what was more, no spare jacket. To the right, the Mother Nature herself showing off one of her wildest chattels; Bambarakanda Waterfalls – the tallest in Sri Lanka.  

- August 2010

 

 

Photo acknowledgements:

Photographs 5, 8, 10 and the photo of Abiramy at the V-cut (above left) were taken from the facebook album of Gayan (below left, at Kande Ela reservoir) and Photographs 1, 2, 12, 15, 16, 17 and the photo of Bambarakanda falls (above right) were taken from the facebook album of Eranda Anuradha (below right, by the first rapids as we started on the Ohiya-Kalupahana Colonial Trek). Thanks Gayan and Eranda Anuradha for sharing the photographs of the hike. The rest of the photos were taken by Kirthi (my hubby) and myself.

 

 

Crew:

Abiramy, the youngest member of the crew and of hiking, was very lively throughout the hike. Often, she took off her not-so thick jacket to expose herself further to the cold weather that penetrated through her thin blouse which thrilled her a lot.

Gayan is the prime inspiration for us to take all these hikes for no rain, no cold, perhaps not even a cyclone, could make him change his mind once the hike date is fixed. He was one of the photographers of the crew. His passion is going uphill and not so much going downhill. If the route to Mt. Everest were leach-ridden then Gayan would have featured in the Guinness Book as having climbed Mt. Everest in the shortest time.

Eranda Aruradha is very original, a great listener and says something only if it is absolutely necessary to say it. He was also one of the photographers of the crew.

Ishak thinks aloud. Along our hiking trail, he discussed with the serenity of a philosopher religion, mathematics, politics, education and the cleverness of the roots that crack the rock walls of a study mountain only to fall silent at the plight of the estate walkers hugging on to their meager livelihoods for generations in that no man land far away from schools, hospitals and other basic accessories of modern civilizations.

Senarath is an experienced hiker and have had the unique experience of having been lost in the Thotupola Kanda Nature Trail with his wife of their fresh marriage in a born chilling night of February. It appeared they were occupying the honeymoon ground of a leopard couple and that thrilling story must be told in some other place. He paints on paper as well as on wood (buring it to create lovely paintings).

Wasantha is the silent enlightened type and a skilled painter and a creative writer.

Sarath is a wonderful companion to have on the hike. He is lively, witty and thoughtful. He always does the ground work before our hike such as acquiring laminated coloured printouts of the 1-inch topographical map of the route and its surroundings.

Kirthi never gets tired on a hike and was one of the photographers of the crew. If not for him, many of us in the crew would (happily, perhaps) get lost in our hikes. He's got many hobbies such as TaiChi, Chigun, Painting (not the walls, mind you), and so on.

Shanthini, the author of the travelogue, was one of the photographers of the crew as well.

 

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Uploaded on August 15, 2010