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|Year and Month||18-20 Sep, 2015|
|Number of Days||3|
|Crew||Ana, Atha, Prasa, D & Me|
|Accommodation||Ginihiriya Bungalow aka Anderson Lodge|
|Activities||Ulex Controlling Project, Photography, etc…|
|Weather||Gloomy, Rainy, Misty and extremely Windy…|
|Route||Malabe->Avissawella->Hatton->Nanu Oya->Ambewela->Pattipola->Horton Plains and back 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|
Hello everyone, hope you guys are doing great and had enjoyed our conservation effort at Horton Plains before. Well, we (rather Ana) simply couldn’t rest letting Ulex take control of our beautiful country, especially our beloved Horton Plains. So we went earlier (about 6 weeks before this) with a larger group of 9 people and worked for two days and cleared a substantial area with the help of couple of HP workers.
During that journey itself, Ana must’ve made a vow to come back to destroy more Ulex as we got yet another invitation from him to go back once again to clear as much of an area as possible. Well, all we had to do was say yes which we did with no hesitation. So our familiar bungalow was booked once again and we were counting days to go and fight this menace once again. Ana had brought the broken equipment from the last journey and had got them repaired, this time with more robust handles.
For some unknown reason, I spent a whole month (right after the Ulex Project 1) without going anywhere and when I realized that, gosh I felt like I’d wasted so much precious time and energy without doing anything useful. So it must’ve been the first time for the last 24 months that I didn’t do anything for a whole month. I felt like kicking myself again and again. However I managed to break the evil spell by doing one of the dream hikes, worshipping the Sri Pada Summit via Erathna Trail. It turned out to be one grand journey and was a good pre-exercise for the Ulex knock out.
Note: I’m writing this at a time when Lakdasun has been out of circulation for more than 10 days due to some serious technical issue. I’m no computer whiz kid so couldn’t make head nor tail of the actual issue. In laymen’s terms, the site was overloaded it seems and hopefully not due to my 10,000-word and 300-picture reports. J Let’s hope our beloved Lakdasun gets back on-line very soon with more strength to accommodate crazy travelers like us.
On the Move
Well, we as usual left for HP on 18th morning sharp at 3am. Oh I forgot to tell you that this time we’ve cut down on the number of people and vehicles as well. Last time it was two vehicles and 9 people but this time just one vehicle with 5 of us were there. The journey was as usual enjoyable and there was plenty to talk about and we were making good progress as there was very little traffic at that ungodly hour. We reached Devon viewing point and we simply couldn’t resist the temptation to stop. So we all got down not only to stretch our cramped muscles but also to breathe in the fresh mountain air.
The water levels were great and she was falling majestically among the lush greenery. Ana was very strict about breakfast times and said that there won’t be anything to eat till we reached HP. The hungry worms in my belly shuddered at the threat but they had no choice but to listen and make do with it. Ok guys, I’ve got a few pictures of the break so here goes.
We resumed our journey and soon entered the St. Claire Rock Viewing Platform (I’m fuming inside as I type that). What senseless idiotic people we have as our policy makers and governors? Such a waste of a beautiful falls for power generation! We should’ve opted for alternative power sources instead of killing this gorgeous falls such as Solar, Sea Waves, Wind, etc. Well, enough of my outburst at them and let’s move on. We arrived at Kotagala to find one of the Kovil’s festivals was on. There were those typical Veil Carts along the road with people pulling them with half a foot diameter ropes. There were a lot of people gathered around with all the shops in the area were decorated with banana plants.
Apparently it wasn’t just me whose tummy was playing summersaults as they all hinted at being hungry. Finally Ana took pity on us or himself and decided to have breakfast on-the-go. The egg sandwiches evaporated in no time as five hungry mouths kept working on them one after the other. At the same time we kept going and went past Nanu Oya and then reached Ambewela Farm and Kande Ela. Usually we stop at Kande Ela but decided against it this time as we wanted to save time. Well there would probably be plenty to do around Kande Ela in Oct hopefully if our plan turns out ok. Sorry I can’t divulge the details just yet so you have to be content with this for the time being until I decide to tell you more later, if it happens the way we want. By the way, we encountered a rare sighting of a fertilizer tractor spraying a cow-dung mixture to the grass and here is a couple of pictures of it.
We came to Pattipola and the temptation to have a warm cuppa coffee couldn’t be contained any longer. So we decided to take a break and have some coffee to warm our bodies as it was already pretty cold out there. The mist had been haunting us from Kitulgala all the way every now and then and we wanted something warm inside us. After the coffee break we took to the road and drove effortlessly to the HP which was covered in a thick layer of fog. It was so cold and the ticket counter was isolated. You could barely see 10ft in front of you and the water kept dripping off from everything.
The officials at the counter had covered them like grizzly bears and we kept shivering until they printed out our receipt. Finding the warm air inside the vehicle was a god send once again and we kept piercing the thick fog very much like an ice breaker on the arctic sea. We arrived at the Farr Inn which was invaded by the dew and mist and we could hardly find our way in. the winds kept howling across the open plains bringing more mist and dew covering the grass blades and tree branches with ice cold water drops.
It was impossible to see the person standing next to you let along the Ulex plants in the distance. We were in a dilemma and even the park warden looked perplexed. However he claimed that it was the usual weather in HP these days. We waited about an hour trying to figure out what to do. It was simply impossible to work out in the open due to the adverse weather so we eventually decided to call it off for the next day hoping the weather would ease a bit. Afterwards, we drove towards the Ginihiriya and reached there around 10.30am. Thankfully the group stayed overnight had left early making it easy for us to settle down before the usual check in time 12 noon.
Well, our usual cook, Abeysinghe wasn’t there as he’d gone to Yala for a cookery exam and the caretaker Piyadasa said he’d probably come the following day. We were disappointed as we really enjoyed his company and cooking. He’s one of those people who keep himself to himself with no hassle to the visitors. We were lucky coz as Piyadasa predicted he appeared on the following day just before noon. Apparently he too had heard we were there (we had informed him of our arrival before) and kind of fast tracked his journey to noon rather than evening.
The other thing was the monkey (if you ready my previous journey you know who I’m referring to) had made Ginihiriya Bungalow his permanent home. According to Abeysinghe, he’d come there about 6 month before and since then stayed near the bungalow. The bugger has become bolder and won’t hesitate to come into the bungalow at the slightest opportunity. So please keep the door closed or be alert. He stole a bun from our bag and ran up to the roof with it. It was hilarious how the fellow licked the cream on it smearing it all over the face.
Another important thing was that Ana had brought with him a shower head and necessary tools to fix in the two bathrooms mainly used by the visitors. Last time we couldn’t use them as they were broken and without waiting for the wildlife officials to fix them, he had taken them with us and they were still the same not fixed properly so the first thing he did was to fix two brand new shower heads. Now the future travelers can have a nice cold or hot bath in these new showers. In addition to this, there was a framed photograph of the Ginihiriya Bungalow in 1986 taken by Ana using his film roll camera then. Now he’d brought it to be hung inside the bungalow enlarged and framed. So that was the second thing done by us. Well after all the CSR work, we decided to have lunch and sleep for a while.
Here are some pictures for you to enjoy while we have our lunch and take a nap coz this weather calls for a good nap in a warm bed. We’ll roam around in the afternoon providing weather is ok.
We got up around 4pm with a great difficulty as it was hard to get away from the cozy and warm bed. Ana was making tea with Piyadasa and we had a few cups of coffee to warm ourselves before getting into the vehicle for a drive towards Farr Inn. On the way, we met so many Sambar grazing on the fresh grass amid the mist. It made a perfect sighting and we were told by the park rangers that the population of Sambar has gone up over the last two to three decades and as a result Leopards’ too which is a good thing, especially the Leopards’.
There were at least 3 large groups on the way and we stopped to photograph them despite having to expose our cameras to the mist and winds carrying millions of tiny water droplets. Little did we know that we’d have to pay a huge price for exposing ourselves to this kinda weather as we all got really sick the next day evening after hours of exhaustive labor at cutting and chopping the Ulex in somewhat similar conditions. Well, let’s talk about that later and here are the pictures of those lovely Sambar.
Call it a Day…
We then drove towards Farr Inn still silhouetted against the grey mist. There were quite a few vehicles even though the weather was horrible. We kept on going towards Pattipola Entrance just to get a feel of this unusually foggy weather. I hope you can remember we experienced the same misty weather before our rail hike from Nanu Oya to Talawakele when we stayed at Pattipola. Passing Maha Eliya Bungalow which was completely covered from our view by this thick curtain of mist, we encountered a rabbit nibbling at the grass near one of the park officers’ residencies.
Then we took a turn and returned to the bungalow. The dinner was served early with Fish and Vegetable Stew with toast bread followed by Cashew Nut Choco. Well, what else can you ask for after a lazy day like this? This must be the laziest day we’ve spent as a group so far and we’re gonna make it even more comfy by hitting the bed early. Tomorrow, rain or sun, wind or mist, we are gonna go fight those stinking Ulex. So be ready.
As usual Ana was the first to get up and his shuffling woke us up too. Gosh, taking the blanket off my face and peering at the time on the phone was almost too much for me. It took me about 15 minutes of wriggling and fighting to do that to see it was 4.52am. Oh dear, who would but Ana, be up at this time in this weather? The temperature was around 16 during the day time and now it had dipped below 10 Celsius yet felt like freezing. I can’t remember feeling this cold at HP before. The body screamed at me to throw the darn phone and get back under covers but the brain being the wise guy suggested get out of the bed and go have a coffee. I almost always listen to the brain and throwing the blanket away walked past two ghosts snoring like old Leyland Engines to the kitchen.
The kettle was on the boil and surprisingly Piyadasa was busily peeling the bark of cassava yams (Manioc). Two cups of coffee was the bare minimum and I duly obliged. One by one the rest of the team came awake and the weather was no better than yesterday. You remember we made a vow to go cut as many as possible regardless of the weather? Well looking at the situation with our own eyes made us sway back and forth.
We were on a mission and simply couldn’t leave it unfinished no matter what. If those soldiers who fought at the earth bunds at Akkarayankulam, Pudukudiruppu, Chundikulam and all over the Northern and Eastern Belt felt the same way, we’d still be fighting those barbaric terrorists. So taking inspiration from our own heroic soldiers, we decided to go and finish what we started. After a delicious breakfast we set off for Farr Inn to meet the assistant park warden. Here are some pics till we go sort it out with the officials.
It was gone 8am but felt like 6.30 in the evening. The temperature hovered around 12 degrees but the wind chill made it staying outdoors a painful experience. Our determination slowly began to wither away but Ana was adamant and pushed us to the shed to gather the tools. Armed with our older tools and the new ones with robust handles, we walked to the area about 200m from the Farr Inn to go further in clearing the Ulex.
I won’t bore you saying how cold, misty and wet it was as if you watched the videos, you’ll know for sure what we went through. We wore our transparent and disposable rain coats to keep us getting drenched from the mist and water carrying winds. However, the tails of the raincoats kept flapping here and there making the cutting and chopping more difficult. It felt that the weather changed from one form to the other almost at 5-minute intervals. The winds were relentless and kept trying to tear our arms and limbs away.
Taking pictures was next to impossible in this weather as it’d’ve made the camera redundant in no time. So we worked and worked for about an hour which felt like a leap year. Then came three workers who were assigned to us by the HP. They too joined the prey and we took a break around 10am to go have some tea for our cold-hit bodies. Some pictures till we enjoy our tea. Oh forgot to tell you that the newcomers were not given a break coz they were late and those three guys were kept at the destruction while we went for a break.
A funny thing happened. That was the generator that supplies power to the Pattipola Gate had broken down stranding about 200 vehicles back to back along the road as they couldn’t issue the tickets without the computers. The manual system couldn’t cope with the volume of the visitors so it’d taken more than 3 hrs for the officials to clear the queue and finally they had got the generator repaired. So we were lucky as we came the day before.
Battle goes on…
After a couple of hot rolls and tea, we returned back to our battleground with some tea for our helping hands. The weather improve slightly making it easy for us so that we could take off our hilarious looking raincoats but it all was short lived as the mist and winds appeared from KGP and Agra Bopath enveloping us all.
I’ll just let you take a look at these pictures instead of me blabbering away.
Finally around 12.30pm (after 4hrs of laborious bending our backs) we called it a day. Unfortunately we lost our helping hands as they were called in just after the tea break for an emergency at the campsite. So it was all down to the five of us. All in all, we had cleared about 2000 square feet. Well this was a great improvement compared to our first attempt where we did around 3000-3500sqft for two days (about 8hrs) with 9 of us plus two helping guys from HP.
It proves we had learned how to battle this menace really well in our first attempt. If it wasn’t for this terrible weather, we could’ve done a better job and outdone our previous attempt.
Just on second thoughts I even suggested the assistant park warden to get support from places such as Prisons (there are hundreds of them with nothing to do so we might as well make use of the money spent on them), Universities (we can use their energy and enthusiasm without sending them on those so-called leadership programs but by getting them to do important things like these) and Forces (the trainees). There are also many hundreds of organizations and institutes that can contribute to eliminate dangers like this before they completely ruin our bio diversity.
“Some Mathematical Facts:
The estimated Ulex invaded area: 3.5 Hectares
3.5 Hectares = 8.65 Acres = 35,000 Square Meters = 376,737 Square Feet
20 Man Hours = 2000 Square Feet
1 Man Hour = 100 Square Feet
So the estimated number of man hours required to clear the Ulex from HP = 376737/100 = 3767.37”
Ok, now don’t get too excited and start throwing stones at me about the numbers. This is just a rough estimate so that you can get an idea as to what we can do. Anyway, it should involve not only cutting the plants but also uprooting those evil roots which needs more expertise and time.
We then left our equipment safely locked away in the shed and bid our farewell to the officials who were delighted at our progress. We then drove to the bungalow and were treated with more Sambar Show.
Arriving at the bungalow, we all had a hot bath thanks to the solar powered hot water systems and the newly installed shower heads. While we were waiting for lunch, Abeysinghe appeared carrying a bag and said that he heard we were there and come earlier than planned.
So the lunch, dinner and we were ready for bed as the next day we were going to leave around 7am. So good night!
We got up early as usual and while the breakfast was being prepared took a few pictures you might like to see. Here they are:
Then taking our leave, we drove out of HP amid even thicker mist feeling as if floating in the sky. It was so tough to get to Pattipola amid the thick fog. Passing Nanu Oya, St. Claire and Devon we reached Watawala where we stopped for a cup of tea and a piece of freshly baked cake. It was really tasty and you can see some pictures of the place.
We arrived in Colombo around 2pm well in time for a wash and another hot meal from home.
Well, thanks guys for reading and hope I’ve been able to inspire you into doing something other than casual travelling. Please do whatever you can to help protect our environment from invasive plants such as Ulex. Don’t wait for that ideal moment coz it’s not gonna come during your lifetime.
So get together even a couple of you and go do something. Well, this is Sri leaving you with food for thoughts, will see you again and hopefully by then Lakdasun will be functioning as usual.