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|Year and Month||04-05 Feb, 2016|
|Number of Days||2|
|Crew||Atha, Prasa, Morgan (our Guide) and Me|
|Transport||By Car and on foot.|
|Activities||Climbing, Hiking, Photography, Camping, etc…|
|Route||Kolonnawa->Kaduwela->Avissawella->Hatton->Talawakelle->Great Western and return on the same route.|
|Tips, Notes and Special remark||
|Comments||Discuss this trip report, provide feedback or make suggestions at Lakdasun Forum on the thread|
Hi there! So what’s happening about your travelling? I hope they’re in full swing thanks to the superb weather and I too joined the frenzy of hiking opened up after the intermittent rains. Oh I guess I forgot to tell you that I’d bought a new tent online having failed my searching many local places including our long time tent supplier, Ananda. I’m sure you know that it’s such a sad and pathetic side coz in Sri Lanka, there’s very little chance of getting things at a reasonable price when it comes to outdoor and camping equipment. The very few places which sell a very small range of products charge you an arm and a leg for even for the most basic thing. You won’t feel like doing any camping or any outdoor activity as a result. It looks as if these companies try to rip us off in big time and make all the profits in single transaction.
A bird whispered that there was a tax reduction for the imports of camping and outdoor equipment in the 2016 budget proposal. I wonder if it’d continue to be just a proposal or the vendors will make use of this opportunity to rob us in broad daylight without giving that benefit to us. Ordering online is probably the only option remaining to us but even at that, you gotta make sure there’s a safe delivery method to Sri Lanka. We all have had bitter experiences with the postal service when most of our ebay orders went missing in the transit. Well as usual, let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. Here’s the link to where I bought my tent and they deliver it for a very nominal fee.
I have always felt very sentimental about Great Western coz it was the turning point in my hiking life. When I went to GW last time, I told Morgan that we must camp on the summit one day and get the ultimate feeling of this beautiful lady. Oh, please check out the note I’ve put in the box at the top regarding GW coming down the list of Highest Mountains of Sri Lanka to the 7th place. It’s a mystery what this Kudahagala is and the Wikipedia gives no information as to its location, even the district. I wonder if this is the Agra-Bopath at HP coz there’s another mountain further down the list named Mahakudahagala at the 11th place with a height of 2096m. Casual search on Google didn’t yield anything fruitful either. Hopefully, one of you might be able to shed some light into this subject.
Let’s move on and start our journey, shall we? Anyway, she coming down the list was not a very happy thought for me. I wanted to take my hiking partner in the first journey, Hari with me but he wasn’t that sentimental about GW like me and decided to focus on something he’s not done before as the list of our to-do-things keep growing longer every passing day. So I was down to Uncle Tony, Atha and Prasa. Unfortunately, Tony had to pull out at the last minute leaving the three of us and we were in no mood to back off. Oh Atha too bought a tent with me so we wanted to try our tents at 2000+m.
I’ve had virtually no proper camping experience so far. So this was yet another learning curve for the future camping trips as there are many subtle things we have to look into while planning something like this, especially at an altitude of 2100m with no water source anywhere near. As toss is the key in Cricket, planning is the key in camping. If you get it wrong, maybe even a very little, things can get extremely difficult and you’d end up with a very unpleasant experience. So when you do something for the first time, it’ll be either make or break. So we took extra caution to plan everything to the tiniest detail possible. I’m no camping expert and never have been but will just put down a few things which you must look into when going on camping trips. This is not something I’ve downloaded from a website but found out from my last two camping experiences. It might not be anything much but I hope it’ll come handy one of these days.
Few things to remember:
- Crew – Keep this to a minimum but it’ll depend on the hike and the dangers involved. I found 4-man team to be the best combination just like in Special Forces Recon Teams.
- Time Frame – This is crucial coz you have to know how many days (rather nights) you’re going on camping in order to organize the rest of the things given below. It’d be really testing your stamina if you were to go more than 2 nights. So best option is to try and keep it to 2 nights max.
- Accommodation Options – Whether it’s a tent or a cave or just under the starry sky. If it’s a tent, just see the best combination, 2-man, 3-man or 4-man tent and its weight. Sometimes you’ll be better of carrying two 2-man tents instead of one 4-man tent as it sort of spreads the weight evenly but it’s up to you to decide. If it’s a cave, whether it’s a shelter for wild animals such as bears or leopards. You might have to have a guide and some ground sheets too.
- Weather – This is the most important of all. I know it’s so hard to read weather accurately but try to get as closer to accurate weather reading. You may consult a couple of trusted weather sources such as AccuWeather, Fallingrain, Weather Channel, etc. and compare the readings. You can then decide whether you need rain gear and waterproofing materials.
- Weight of the Packs – This too can make or break not just your trip but your back too. Keep it to a minimum and choose a lightweight and back-supporting pack. Make sure it’s packed properly distributing the weight equally inside. Don’t have things sticking out as it will make the hike more uncomfortable.
- Camping & Sleeping Gear – This is also very crucial. Depending on the area you’re visiting, check if you need thick woolen clothes for the cold or simple lightweight cotton ones will do. If you have an ultra-lightweight sleeping bag, it’ll do the trick but make sure it suits the temperatures you’ll be in. Ground sheets are handy but see the weight and if the pack snuggly into your packs. Tony once brought one of those rolled up aluminum and sponge material that is used to minimize the heat inside buildings especially on the roofs. It can be rolled up and weigh very little. Any hardware outlet should have these and you can get a piece that suits your height (around 6’X2.5’)
- Food – Another thing that needs careful planning. This will depend on the point number 2. I came across a thread in our forum about Camping Food and you can take look at it too coz it has some very good suggestions. Plan all of your meals and separate the things you’re taking into them so that you will not miss out anything. Canned things like Polos, Meat Balls and Fish with gravy will be really good but don’t take too much coz they are very heavy. In addition to them, there are some things in sealed polythene packs too such as Dried Sprats, Fish, Mushrooms, etc. For the main meals, you can always take the Instant Noodles, Pasta and Sliced Bread. Balance the dry rations with a few curried items too. Think about the energies in them such as protein, starch and sugar. In addition to the main meals, take a few snacks or trail mix where you can munch on the move. We found the Jujubes can be a good muncher on the move. Peanuts, Energy Bars such as Snickers and some Biscuits will be handy too.
- Water – Ok, this is probably the trickiest of all. Well I say that coz it’s so unpredictable a source. Even the most trusted springs might be dry or not usable when you go on camping. It’s the most difficult thing to plan and you won’t know until you’re there in person. That’s why you need to have a trusted source such as a contact person or a guide who will have better idea on the availability of water and where to find them. For an overnight camping trip with a bit of cooking, we found that each individual would have to take around 3 liters of water (two 1.5-liter bottles). If you have a water filter, it’d be really good but you gotta be very careful as most of these diseases are water-borne.
- Clothes – Remember, you’re not going for a fashion show. Use hardy but lightweight materials for your clothes. If you’re walking through bushes like Mana, it’s always best to wear long sleeves and pants. A sunhat or a cap will be very useful but you don’t have to carry different hats or caps to match your clothes. Change of underwear and socks are more important as they’re the ones you’ll be having closer to your body. You’d be surprised to see how much of a difference a fresh pair of underclothes and socks does to you. Again, take the most wanted stuff, nothing fancy unless you’re Hercules and wouldn’t feel a 10kg pack more than a feather.
- Shoes – This can hamper your journey if you don’t have a suitable pair on you. The pair of shoes you’re wearing should actually be an extension of your legs in order to have a comfy hike. This is not the time to test your newly bought shoes (remember you don’t take new pens for an exam and the same theory should apply here) coz they are not broken into properly. It doesn’t mean you have to wear your old and worn-out pair either.
- Misc – This is the one that decides the weight of the pack as there’s no hard and fast rule to the selection of the other things you might require. Therefore you need to look at the place you’re going, weather, etc. before deciding on these extra items. Now let’s look at what might be the extra things you would need.
- Cooking Utensils such as pans, pots, etc. – Make sure you take only the essential items and with a cover as it’ll speed up the water heating.
- Plates, cups, spoons, etc. – Can be used paper and stainless steel. If you use plastic, do bring them back.
- Cooker – There are portable and lightweight cookers available and you might want to take them. If you can use firewood and make a hearth, you can leave it behind but remember, firewood is not eco-friendly and it leaves char on the containers.
- Paper and Wet Tissues – Can be useful in many ways. Wet tissues will come handy where there’s no water for sanitary purposes.
- Leech/Insect Repellent – This will be useful against leeches and mosquitos mainly. It’ll help have you a good night’s sleep.
- Lights – Flashlights and Headlamps are very useful and make sure you’ve charged them properly or have good batteries. You’ll be surprised the number of times you’ll find that you’ve forgotten to insert battery or charge them beforehand. If it’s not windy, a packet of candles will be real handy but not to light inside the tents. It’ll keep the surrounding lighted at a very nominal cost and environmental friendly too. Take a box of matches or a lighter too.
- Ropes – This is not needed most of the times unless you plan to do some hiking.
- Jeewani – This is the Mother of Rehydration and very cheap to buy in small sachet packs. Be sure to dispose of the wrappers wisely or bring them back.
- Medicine – Things such as Paracetamol, Imodium, Piriton, Siddhalepa, Cotton Wool, Crepe Bandages, Plasters etc. Make it as small and lightweight as possible.
- Sanitary Things – Toothbrushes, Toothpastes and Soaps. Breaking the toothbrushes in half, using an almost-empty toothpaste and a tiny slab of soap will reduce weight of course but see if it is really necessary.
- Anything else that I’ve missed and you think is useful.
Well, do you see how important it is to plan this properly and the number of things we have to look at and carry? I hope this will help you do a proper tune up before your journey and make it a success. I’m sure you’ll find more things to add to this list and make it improve over time. Ok, now let’s go to the story coz we’re lagging behind time.
We left our homes as usual at 3am on the Independence Day when the rest of the country was in a deep and dreamless sleep. It’s always a wise decision to make it as early as you can coz it’ll give you more of daytime to explore. We arrived at Talawakelle around 7.30am but from there to reach Morgan’s House took almost an hour as the estate road was simply impassable in our car. If you go in a jeep, it’d be a lot better experience. The road and the houses were decorated with the proud Lion’s Flag to celebrate the 68th Independence Day when the British finally stopped looting our country. Well you can see where they are now, nothing but a diminishing empire as there’s nowhere to rob to keep their war-mongering and money-eating royalty going. However, we saw the beautiful outline of Sri Pada on Kotagala Road as soon as we turned to Nuwara Eliya Road at Hatton.
Morgan came about halfway to welcome us and we all drove carefully to his house where we left the car and walked up the house. We were greeted by his two sons and his wife and offered coffee and a hot breakfast afterwards. Roti with Lunumiris and Dhal Curry filled our hungry tummies in no time and while Morgan packed our lunch packs, we walked towards GW station to take a look around. The weather was absolutely at its best with the sun shining like a pot of lava while the dew slowly melted into ground providing water to its roots. Even the GW station was ready to welcome the hard-earned independence and had raised the beloved Lion’s Flag. We sat and waited for Morgan feeling the cool breeze coming off the mountains on our bare skin.
While we were waiting, a German lady appeared from Watagoda and parked majestically as if she owned the whole of upcountry line. You might have noticed that she’s become grumpier ever since young Chinese girls started moving gracefully along these lines which were dominated by them. Well here are the pictures of us roaming around the station.
By 9.30am, Morgan appeared laden with our meals and we headed towards the trail head about 1.5km from the station towards Radella. It looks like GW had managed to attract many travelers and villagers alike. Morgan said that on 1 Jan, there had been more than 100 people on the summit. Well in a way it’s both good and bad at the same time. The impact on the environment due to the dramatic increase in people going is also high and it multiplies when these ignorant people leave everything from papers to plastic bottles on the way. It’s paramount that you do your bit to safeguard our forests and mountains for the future generations (yeah in plural form).
A Chinese lady was coming to the GW from Radella which is the Colombo bound Udarata Menike. We met her on the way and she moved with her sleek body making patterns. The German lady who was breathing hard at the station had been waiting for this train crossing and in a few minutes we heard her rumbling towards us. As we were getting closer to the trail head, the steps to the Kovil, she went past us spitting fire with jealousy. We arrived at the steps and after a few pictures of the railway bridge nearby, started our climb.
The steps to the Kovil have been done in order to fulfill a wish by one of the devotees but now badly in need of repairs. We slowly climbed them and already we were feeling the ferocity of the sun and our bodies kept screaming blue murder as they’ve not been stretched in a long time. At the Kovil we stopped to take our breath while Morgan went onto do the rituals of invoking blessings for our journey.
This is the first place where you can fill your water bottles. There’s another about midway but always check with Morgan about its water levels as you should never depend on such water sources completely.
Afterwards, we followed a group of young kids, from a nearby village, who were going uphill. It’s become a norm now among the villagers. When Hari and I climbed this couple of years ago, there was hardly anyone bothered with GW but now it’s completely the opposite. The initial stage was bordered by razor sharp Mana bushes and the path had been eroded due to excessive usage and there was no traction at all. It made us have to hold onto something along the path but there were only the Mana blades which will cut into you like a knife if you are not careful.
GW was towering above us and Atha pointed at the rocky outcrops saying that it resembled sort of Mount Rushmore (where US Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt & Abraham Lincoln – are carved on the rocky face). Well looking up, I too noticed the resemblance at least before they constructed the Mount Rushmore. Now I hope our politicians won’t get any mad ideas of turning GW into another Mount Rushmore in Sri Lanka with their small heads and bulging girths.
Mana patch was devoid of any large trees and as a result there was no shade whatsoever on offer. We kept toiling up the slippery and dusty path towards the forest patch which was beckoning with its typical motherly gestures. Finally after it felt like an eternity, we reached the forest area and sat down on an opening to take a break and eat some Jujubes. Morgan pointed that the path had been changed from what we took last time. There was a small section that one had to climb up about 15ft with the help of a rope and last time Hari almost slipped out of it while getting down. Now Morgan has found another path with a second water source which is a life saver.
Afterwards it was a steep climb once again on a similar but a shady path with solid trees on either side for a better grip. We were drenched with sweat but the breeze kept drying them off. We then arrived at the water source and golly, it was one of the coldest streams I’ve come across even closer to the midday. It was like having water straight out the freezer. We filled our water bottles (six 1.5-liter bottles) which were the greatest hindrance as it was 9kg in total.
Eventually after a lot of stops and huffing and puffing we touched the top of the range where it was the lowest. From here it’s a more of a walk in the park with a few ups and downs walking across the mountain range to the summit. It’s about 1km walk with a breath-taking view towards the mountains of HP and the towns of Radella and Lindula below. Around 3pm, we arrived at the summit and from what I saw I felt a shiver run down the length of my back. There was a hill of ash in the middle of the opening where people had camped and lit fires. Many plastic wrappers, bottles and papers were scattered among the bushes, hanging from tree branches, etc. It looked as if the whole place had been turned into a polythene graveyard.
I wonder how on earth people can be so heartless to destroy the beauty of our country despite many pleas by environmental societies, media and others. It’s such a pathetic side of the story. Here are our pictures on the way but I’ve purposely not taken any with the garbage and plastic mountain coz it was simply unpleasant. So we had to eat our lunch in this unpleasant environment which made me lose my appetite greatly. It’s such a sad thing to see how this grand place has become a playground for drunkards and careless travelers.
After unloading our stuff on the grass (where it was least littered), we went to the observation point to get a view of incoming trains to GW station. This was one unique experience to be able to see trains above 2000ft. We saw two trains, one Chinese lass and a grumpy German lady going to Kandy. The haziness of the air made it extremely difficult to take good pictures but you can see them fairly decently on the pictures. Here they are:
How do they look? I know the quality is not supreme but it was better than nothing, wasn’t it? We then got back to the campsite and started “GW Cleaning Project”. There simply wasn’t a way for us to bring back that pile of garbage back to the base so we decided to the next best thing even though it’s not so environmentally friendly. We put them all on the campfire and burned them until nothing was left. The whole are got their lush green again without the colorful patches of plastic and papers.
We had no water for a wash or even a face wash. So we had to make do with the paper tissues as best as we could and then we pitched out tents. Gosh, it was the first time I pitched, rather helped others, my own tent. Well it is very tricky, I’m telling you. I wonder how much practice I’d need before I’m able to put it up properly. We all four had to chip in while I stole a few moments to take pictures. Finally both our tents were up and ready looking sexy in their blue colors.
Afterwards, we decided to cook our dinner of canned Polos and tinned fish with sliced bread. We had our portable cooker and Prasa and Atha rustled up the meal in no time. The sunset was obscured by a thick veil of mist so we had to be content with the pinkish glow in the sky. Well, it’s freezing cold and we’d be experiencing temperatures below 10 Celsius in the night. So it’s high time we went into our tents and cuddled up. Don’t wake us till it’s time for sunrise. So good night folks and sleep tight!
The night was long and cold but Prasa was as unperturbed as a seal on a calm beach. He kept snoring so loud I was worried if the tent would be torn in half. In the other tent, I could hear Atha had joined in the synchronization and snoring in equal gusto. Like me, there was very little chance where Morgan got any shut-eye. Around 1.30am I heard Atha stirring and spoke out to him and checked the temperature. It was hovering at 9 Celsius. I simply couldn’t believe it as there was no wind or dew yet here we were freezing like arctic fish but on a completely different environment.
When the alarm went off at 5am, I couldn’t have been happier. In fact, at home it’s the complete opposite but this morning, I was willing it to ring and finally there it was and I soon got ready and woke Atha up and slowly made our way towards the viewing point about 100 yards from the tent. The surrounding was still dark and we were just in time to witness a full-blown sunrise coming from Haggala. We had a view of about 150-160 degrees and in that window; we could see practically all the top ranked mountains in Sri Lanka. From left, Piduruthalagala, Kikiliyamana, Radella, Single Tree, Conical Tree, Haggala, Thotupola, Kirigalpoththa, Agra Bopath, Sri Pada and Seven Virgins rose majestically into the morning sky and among them there were many other peaks which we didn’t know the names.
Then the painter appeared with his magical brush and started coloring the biggest canvas in the whole world. As usual, he very carelessly tossed pink and purple here and there and then drew that fine line just above the black outline of the distant hills. He gradually colored it with yellow and orange before turning it into flaming red. The white clouds which were hovering above turned into bright red and crimson and finally having slept for nearly 12 hours, the sun appeared. It was really cold but this magical show unfolding in front of us kept us fully focused on it without even allowing us to think about anything else let along cold. Then the ground below us was slowly being lit up with the fresh rays and we could see smoke rising from the villages below. Here’s the show for you:
We then walked back to the camp site and reached the other observation point where you can see the GW Station and the railway line clearly. There was no train at that time so we only managed to capture the surrounding areas. Among them, GW Tea Factory, one of the Schools located in the estate, Upper Kotmale Dam and Reservoir, Devon Cabanas and Falls, GW Station and most notably the sacred peak of Sri Pada. Here are those pictures for you.
Afterwards, we came to back to the campsite to have our morning coffee, breakfast and then pack our tents. The breakfast was instant noodles mixed with chicken meatballs. While Prasa was boiling the water, we cleared around the campsite, packed the bags and kept the tents ready. After a delicious meal, we were all set to go. The time had gone just 8.30am and we started our descent having bid our farewell to this beautiful girl for protecting us and making our stay as comfortable as possible. Here are some pictures of our breakfast and campsite before we left.
The downhill journey took less time and as we’d rested and fresh in the morning helped it more. The birds were up and about making their noises as usual. Unfortunately none of us had Dhana’s expertise when it comes to identifying them with the sound, so we just enjoyed the typical “Kichi Bichi” and many other sounds on our way downhill. The sun was coming up fast and furious making us sweat profusely. However the tree cover kept us safe from being sunburnt. As I mentioned before the path had been eroded by the previous travelers as they had used their butts to slither down along the path making it like a backslide. According to Hari, it’s a way of measuring the friction of your back but as we were not in the mood to tear our pants, we decided to take it nice and slow.
After an hour or so, we were at the ice cold stream where we had filled our bottles the previous morning. We’d run very low on the water contents so drank this cool mountain water heartily. When we came out onto the Mana patch the sun hit us with all his weapons. We also saw plenty of leopards’ pooh along the path which told us that they are roaming at will. Finally we got down to the Kovil and stopped to do our rituals.
Around 11.30, we were on the railway track once again. Instead of walking back towards GW Station, we walked towards the railway bridge as there was a water stream where we bathed our overworked feet in ice cold water. It was like a foot therapy and soothed our muscles to no end. Then we walked back the rest of the way to the station and while going towards Morgan’s house, there was Badulla bound Podi Menike coming to GW from Watagoda. Simultaneously, Colombo bound Udarata Menike was coming from Radella to GW. Two Menikes were met at GW and we managed to photograph a hypothetical railway accident and the longest train too. Well, I know you’re confused as to what on earth I’m talking about but when you see the pictures you’ll get a better idea.
We reached Morgan’s house around 12.30pm and had some plain tea before saying good-bye to Morgan and his family. We took a different road to reach the main road and managed to get some exclusive views of Great Western Mountain. She was looking at us as if asking if we were ok and had a good time. We certainly did and looked back at her to show our gratitude. Here are some of the pictures:
We reached Colombo around 7pm, at a more humanly hour. Well folks, I hope you enjoyed our camping trip and learned a few things. The most important thing behind any journey is to plan it to the minute details and have a contingency plan as well. Again, all of them can go wrong but no harm in having them in place. You’ll probably have better examples and ideas which can be added to the Camping Tips & Tricks. If so, do share them with us as they can be invaluable for the future campers.
Thanks for being with us and reading through. This is Sri signing off for now and will see you all in another journey. Until then take care and keep travelling.