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|Year and Month||5-6 Sep, 2015|
|Number of Days||2|
|Crew||Tony, Atha, Anuruddha (One of Atha’s Friends) and Me|
|Transport||By Car, on foot, by Bus and by Van|
|Activities||Hiking, Photography, Pilgrimage, etc…|
|Weather||Day 01 – Mixed (Sunshine, Gloomy and Rains)
Day 02 – Excellent
|Route||Colombo->Erathna via Kuruwita.
|Tips, Notes and Special remark||
|Comments||Discuss this trip report, provide feedback or make suggestions at Lakdasun Forum on the thread|
Hi folks! Hope you all are sitting comfortably and getting ready for yet another roller coaster journey. As I’ve been telling you all along, there’s so much in this island paradise to see that even a few lifetimes are not gonna be enough to cover all that. However I’m not gonna keep worrying about covering the whole island in this lifetime but to try and make use of it as much as possible. This is going to be one such a journey and one has been a dream of mine for ages. So grab a cuppa tea and sit comfortably or rather lie down and let me hold your hand and walk you with me.
Sri Pada is a unique mountain in the whole world and probably the most sacred and worshipped as well. It’s one of the 3 places where Lord Buddha left his footprint and presently the only place which is possible for us to go worship. There are millions of people who visit this sacred summit year after year defying the difficulties posed by the Mother Nature to pay their homage. Mainly there is a season for people to go worship the footprint of Lord Buddha and it starts from Unduwap Poya (Poya Day in December) till the Vesak Poya (Vesak Poya in May).
According to the legends, Lord Buddha had left his left footprint at the summit of Sri Pada during his 3rd visit to this country on the invitation of God Saman who’s the guardian of this area. Sri Pada means the sacred footprint and the mountain is thus named Sri Pada. This is also known as Samanala Kanda (Mountain of the Butterflies) and Samanthakuta Parvathaya among the Sri Lankans. However foreigners refer to this island as the Adam’s Peak due to their own beliefs. So this is a mountain worshipped largely by the Buddhists but by many others as well.
There are 6 Trails to the summit of this holy mountain 3 of which are more commonly used than the others so if I were to list them according to the popularity it goes like this:
- Hatton-Nallathanniya (Del Housie) Trail
- Ratnapura-Sri Palabaddala Trail
- Kuruwita-Erathna Trail
- Mulgama-Moray Estate aka Rajamale Trail
- Deraniyagala-Uda Maliboda Trail
- Dehenakanda aka Hapugasthenna aka Mukkuwatte Trail
Almost all the Sri Lankans try to at least visit this sacred mountain once in their lifetime. However one famous saying among them is “It’s foolish not to visit the mountain at least once and it’s also foolish to visit it more than once”. I guess it depicts the difficulties it poses for the travellers to visit this mountain and their high regard for this sacred place. It’s also said that in the past climbing this mountain was so difficult and our ancestors used to write their last will before attempting the climb. However, so far very few tragedies have reported in and around the mountain (unlike many others) that strengthen the beliefs of the pilgrims of its magical protection by the God Saman and Dhamma.
One might ask why it was given a dedicated time to climb this mountain not the whole year. Well there are two theories for this. One is a religious belief while the other is more of a practical one. Well, it’s believed that the gods and those spirits use the off season (From Vesak Poya in May till December Unduwap Poya) to worship the sacred footprint without the usual disturbances by the pilgrims. The scientific one is that during this off season the weather turns harsh with strong winds and intermittent rains making it extremely dangerous for the travellers to climb this and as a result declared it off season.
It’s so crowded and difficult to go and worship the footprint in peace during the season, especially at weekends due to the overflowing crowds. As a result many hiking enthusiasts choose the off season to visit this summit daring the extreme weather conditions. Well, I too have many dreams when it comes to Sri Pada. Mainly, I want to visit the summit by all 6 trails and so far have succeeded in doing through 5 of them (including this one) during the past 7 occasions to the summit and 3 of which had been through the Hatton-Nallathanniya Trail which is believed to be the shortest. I also wanted to go worship the sacred footprint during the off season and this was my first time at it. It came as a long overdue dream and finally I managed to fulfill it thanks to the unyielding determination of mine, help of my travelling mates and the protection by the Mother Nature.
Ok, let’s get going then. Finally after a lot of deliberation I decided to make it through Kuruwita-Erathna to the sacred mountain. Mainly it was because this is the longest trail to the summit (more than 12km) and on the other hand I’d not been along this trail before so it was like two birds in one stone. Next challenge was to fix the date and find the crew which is always hard. My long term travelling partners Tony and Atha came into my rescue after I missed joining Hari when he did the same late Aug.
Finally I managed to convince myself and the crew that 5 and 6 of Sep are the best option remaining for us. I simply couldn’t afford to keep it postponing any further and decided to take our chances with the constantly changing weather conditions. I kept looking up the AccuWeather, Weather Channel and FallingRain for weather updates. Unfortunately our own Met Department is a symbolic white elephant and not as reliable or dependable as we would like it to be so we’ve no choice but to rely on alternatives such as the above. The rain patterns have shot to hell especially during the last couple of years probably due to the global warming and our irresponsible actions towards the earth. This has made it extremely difficult for farmers, fishermen and those who depend on the regular patterns of the climate.
Even the seasoned farmers, villagers or fishermen find it difficult to predict the weather conditions as a result. Usually you can trust those villagers’ expertise better than the state of the art equipment of the US Met Department but not anymore so we resorted to these web-based weather forecasts. It didn’t look good, not at all as it kept forecasting thunderstorms and heavy rains throughout. I was hoping against the hope for a clear window to make it safely to the summit. Anyhow, we were fully committed and there was no turning back. In the back of my mind there was this feeling of security that if your intentions are good and your behavior is acceptable, you’re going to be ok, especially at the Sri Pada. It’s said in the Buddhism that those who live by the Dhamma will be protected by the Dhamma itself. So we had faith we’d face no problems and if there was any, those powers that protect the area will take care of us.
On the Move
Atha, Tony and I left at 4am in a hired car and arrived at the Kuruwita Junction just before 6am. One of Atha’s friends (who came with us to Nagrak) Anuruddha also was coming with us which made the number of crew to a respectable four. Well it’s believed that going in threes is a bad vibe so this new change of events kinda made it invalid. We had a vegetarian breakfast at a shop just opened at 6am. Oh I forgot to tell you that we had planned (like most of the previous journeys to Sri Pada) to remain vegetarian during the whole journey.
Afterwards, having bought whatever else was necessary; we got back in the car (now a tight fit) and drove towards Adawi Kanda at the edge of Erathna where the trail head was. It is about 10km from Kuruwita to Adawi Kanda and the road is in good condition. We reached Adawi Kanda around 7.15am (about 45 minutes later than I’d’ve liked) and got everything sorted and paid the driver off. Oh before he left, we made him take a picture of us together at the trail head. Here it is:
Oh I forgot to tell you about the weather, didn’t I? It was nice and warm with clear blue skies and a couple of scattered white clouds. There wasn’t even a hint of rain in the air and it lifted our spirits so high. There was a Buddha Statue and a Statue of God Saman and we invoked blessings at them. We then started our journey and entered the narrow path that ran through abandoned tea estates which had overgrown into mini forests. Those created the buffer zone between the villages and the Sri Pada Reserve. The path was wet and slippery thanks to the rains and was swarming with leeches.
The leaves were dripping with water and they made our clothes wet as we brushed past them. There were beautiful and colorful flowers to welcome us and looking back we saw a golden painted dagoba among the lush green hills. It kinda added to the beauty as it looked grand against the greenery and blue & white sky. Stopping to admire it invited leeches to get on board our shoes and maneuver their way up the socks to our bare skin. Some even didn’t bother to climb up and decided to go straight through the socks filling their slimy bodies with our warm blood.
We had to concentrate really hard on our footing so the pictures were few and far between. In about an hour, we reached the first milestone of our journey, the Jambola Gahayata Ambalama (resting place under a citrus tree). They had built places called Ambalam (resting halls) along these trails (mainly Hatton, Palabaddala and Erathna) for the pilgrims to take a break or even stay overnight as the journey was tiring and difficult. Before I show you some of the pictures so far, here is a list of Ambalam along Erathna Trail:
- Jambola Gahayata Ambalama
- Daimangala Ambalama
- Warnagala Ambalama
- Seetha Gangula Ambalma I
- Seetha Gangula Ambalama II
- Medahinna Ambalama
- Geththampana Ambalama
- Gal Wangediya (Heramitipana) Ambalama (This is where Ratnapura Trail merges with the Erathna Trail)
- Andiya Mala Thenna Ambalama
Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Out of those all the places were in habitable shape except the Geththampana Ambalama which has caved in making it next to impossible to stay overnight. Some of the others such as Seetha Gangula Ambalama I and II are too in bad condition but can still help you pass a few hours or if really needed a night too but it’d be a very cold one. Ok, enjoy the pictures up to Jambola Gahayata Ambalama.
Going Gets Tougher
After a short break we got back on the trail and kept going uphill through the rain soaked virgin forest. There were many streams crossing the trail making it even harder to walk. We had to hop like rabbits from one slab of rock to another but at the same time remain balanced as one slip would end you up in serious trouble. A pair of rubber slippers would be the ideal to cross this terrain as you can wade through the water but it’ll make you expose to the leech attacks.
Still there was no sign of rain and our hopes rose even higher. We then had to cross a very dangerous place where the Warnagala Hydro Power Plant releases the excess water that cross the path which goes over a bare rocky surface. In the old days the pilgrims had to hold onto a chain-linked fence and cross this stretch about 30-40ft in fear of gushing water coming down with no prior warning. Fortunately, now they have kind of built a small bridge to cross this point yet you would still have to be careful as the water levels can rise so high in no time. We saw the fading warning signs put up by the Hydro Power Plant but very little good they’d do if you don’t take the matter seriously and stay alert.
We then came up to the next resting point on Erathna Trail known as Daimangala Ambalama. This area used to be a tea estate but after Sri Pada was declared a reserve, all that was abandoned and now claimed by the forest itself. Yet you can still see the signs of former tea estates and this Ambalama was built to help the pilgrims trying to get to the summit through one of the most challenging trails. Here are a few pics for you to enjoy!
We continued our ascent after a short break. It’s a heart-breaking sight to see the reckless behavior of our travellers who have written so many stupid and unwanted things on the white-washed walls of the resting halls. These have been built with so many difficulties having carried the building materials on the shoulders of those dedicated and kind-hearted people for our benefit. So instead of taking measures to keep them nice and clean for the others, many ignorant so-called pilgrims do many stupid things such as littering around, writing on the walls and not cleaning after they leave. They simply don’t think that they could use this place thanks to the people who arrived before them kept it nice and habitable for them. So please take it into your heart and brains to make sure to keep them clean and nice for the others to use after you. Further, please don’t litter around especially with polythene and plastic items as they do irreparable damage to this virgin forest.
We then arrived at the Warnagala Mini Hydro Power Plant and this is the biggest in terms of capacity in the Mini Hydro Power Plant category generating some astounding 10 megawatts of power. The constant rains in the Sri Pada Reserve help it run without an issue throughout the year but I was a bit upset about giving permission in the first place for a power plant to be built inside this forest as it’d someway have contributed to the harming of this wonderful forest reserve of the country. Now that the deed has been committed and there’s very little anyone can do about changing it.
Just beyond the power plant was the third resting place known as Warnagala Ambalama. This is when we got the first alarm about the rain. There were dark clouds coming towards us from the Sri Pada Mountain and they appeared above the huge rocky mountain behind the power plant known as Peduruthalagala (note not Piduruthalagala). All of a sudden it started drizzling and we decided to wear our lightweight and transparent raincoats and walked uphill to find the Warnagala Ambalama just there. The rain increased dramatically and we sheltered inside the shop next to the Ambalama till it eases a bit while tasting some of the chocolates we had brought. I was craving for a steaming mug of coffee but there was nothing other than dream about it. Well, look at some of these pictures before we head towards Warnagala Ella.
Warnagala is a very remarkable place as it holds one of the most beautiful and difficult to reach waterfalls in the country known as Warnagala Ella. I’d been dreaming seeing this beauty for ages and this was the clinching reason for me to choose the Erathna Trail as my first-ever off season hike. I badly wanted to have her in my long list of waterfalls so decided to take on Erathna despite warnings of rain. In addition to the falls, Warnagala also has a fairly large temple where it acts as a transit-point for the meditating monks in the jungle where they come for supplies such as meals.
First let’s go and see the falls coz I’m itching to go see this beautiful girl. Warnagala Ambalama looked nice and well-built but we saw the similar forms of destruction caused by the idiotic hikers to it writing their childish stories on the walls. There was a shop adjoining the resting place where pilgrims could buy meals and rent mats for the night but during the off season it was home mainly to rats and insects. The path to the falls lies closer to the Ambalama and it’s a little over 200m in length. Leeches would chase you relentlessly but we decided not to get distracted and went down through the barely visible path.
The path was slippery and you gotta keep your grip solid on the ground not letting it veer off course sending you falling to the precipice to the right. We emerged from the thick forest patch onto the water course and saw the dam built across it diverting the water to the power plant. As we slid down the rock to the water stream to the left about 50m upstream was this beautiful waterfall falling through a narrow rocky gorge. My first thought was the Gal Oruwa Ella at Lankagama. This was very much like her but more prominent and easy to see compared to her.
The amount of water was just right thanks to the rains and we enjoyed her company for about half hour. This was a sight not to be missed but I felt sad as the water stream downhill was nothing but a bare rock. It’d have made an even better falls hadn’t it been blocked for the power plant. However I felt happy at least they didn’t kill this beauty and took the moderate decision to dam it below the main falls. Ok, enjoy the beauty while we get back to the Warnagala Ambalama and continue our journey now that the rain had given us a break.
We got back to the trail and reached the temple just beyond the Ambalama and met a young boy who offered us some coffee. Well my wish was just about to be granted and it kinda proved that if you wish for something good the chances are you will get it very high. We first talked to him (Sanjaya) and found that he’s from Ja Ela and has come here to help, treat and look after the meditating monks in the forest. I told you before that this temple acts as a transit point for those monks and he’s the one running this place all with help from villagers at Adawi Kanda.
I wanted to hurry it up and make some more ground while the rain had eased but for some unknown reason we stopped and chatted to him while the two monks inside were finishing their lunch. Ok, you guessed right and the time was just after 11.30am and we’d been hiking for the past 4+ hours. There were a few guava trees (common in the upper wetlands) with ripe fruits so we helped ourselves while talking to Sanjaya. He then asked if we cared to go see a hut used by one of the meditating monks and we were very much delighted at the idea to go see how these monks live in the middle of nowhere with very little things. This was possible as the monk was having his meals in the Dhana Shalawa (eating hall) so we followed him for about 100m into the deep forest and came across a rudimentarily built shed among the trees.
It had nothing other than short mud walls and a polythene covered roof. The walls were covered with curtains with tiny holes in them very much similar to mosquito nets. Looking inside we saw nothing but a bunk like bed built on wooden sticks and it looked far from comfortable. The floor was covered with some white sand and there were a couple of robes of the monk and a tiny Buddha Statue on a shelf towards the roof. “Gosh, how on earth can someone live like this” was the first thought that came to my mind. But I shouldn’t have worried as this was the way Lord Buddha preached to his followers in his day. To live simple with only the most essential items and go find the truth or the enlightenment.
These monks have left the comforts in their temples and come into this wilderness in search of some peace and quietness to meditate and achieve the path to freedom. They’ve given up practically everything, especially the attachment and meditate to understand the real meaning of freedom and happiness. Most of us laymen think differently I know. We chase money, power and status in the hope of finding happiness and peace of mind but when we achieve them do we find the real happiness and freedom? I’m sure most of the people have found those physical things don’t bring happiness instead they make them more miserable and susceptible for sorrow. Well, I’m not gonna preach you how to live simple and all that right now. Instead I’ll show you some of the pictures of the place around the temple just to get an idea.
Please remember not to venture off the main trail searching for places like this now in the future. It’s not the right thing to do go on disturbing these monks. We just got lucky to have gone and see this as they were having their meals and Sanjaya offered to take us there. So please refrain from being too inquisitive and curious should you do this hike. Just before we got back on the trail, it started raining really hard and I wasn’t very keen on going in that downpour even though we had rain coats. While we were pondering what to do one of the monks came after his meal and talked with us for about an hour giving his precious time for us.
The things he told us sounded so practical and true and that must’ve been one of the most important hours of my entire life. I’ll just tell you one thing he told us that kinda really stuck in my mind. “Tell me a temple or any other religious place which has finished building and there’s absolutely nothing more to do?” he asked us. What do you think of that question? At first it didn’t have any significance but thinking deeply I realized what he really meant. I’ll leave you to make your own assumptions on that and finally bring you the pictures I promised.
Afterwards we had our lunch then and there and Sanjaya treated us with hot cups of coffee mixed with Kottamalli. Gosh, it tasted out of heaven and we savored the warmth it brought to our bodies. The time had flown while we spent listening to the monk’s words. However it made a really useful break from heavy downpours and we learned a lot of things by listening to this wonderful person whose wisdom opened our eyes to the unseen. We then took our leave while the rain eased and were blessed with Pirith Chanting and Pirith Threads bound on our wrists by the monks. He warned us against jumbos lurking around the trail and the rising water levels of Kuru Ganga where the Seetha Gangula is.
A group of people walked past the temple while we waited signaling that even during off season there are quite a lot of people visiting the Sri Pada. The monk too confirmed that the off season is dedicated for the gods and other spirits to come and worship the sacred footprint and not to make noises or disturb the nature unnecessarily. Taking his advice, we left the temple and headed towards Seetha Gangula. Just before we go, if you happen to do the Erathna Trail, please bring some extra dry rations such as biscuits, tea, sugar, etc. and donate it to this temple for the use of those meditating monks. Actually we made a vow to bring in some essential goods to the temple at a later date; probably I’ll be able to let you know about it later on. I hope it’ll become a reality.
After a short while the rain was back but not in heavy drops just to keep nagging at us. There was a slight mist too coming from the jungle hanging overhead as if acting to protect us from the rain. The photograph opportunities were over as we concentrated on walking carefully and avoiding leech attacks. After a while we reached the Kuru Ganga and saw the group of people came before us taking a break at the Seetha Gangula Ambalama (I named it Seetha Gangula Ambalama I as there is another on the other side of the river bank) probably making some tea. The rain had eased and the sun was peeping through the cloud clover sending golden brown rays to warm us. There is a cable hung across the river (about 60-75ft) for the travelers to wade through safely but make sure to check the water levels before attempting the crossing. It was about 1-2ft deep but the rocks helped us cross without an issue but they are very slippery so you have to mind your footing.
The other group didn’t seem in a hurry to get going but we were running out of time so hurried onto the next Ambalama which is the Seetha Gangula Ambalama II for a quick break.
Our next resting point was Medahinna Ambalama so we got back on the trail after a 10-minute break. The time was well after 4pm so there was no time to waste. The walking seemed endless as we kept going through the thick virgin forest at a moderate pace when all of a sudden we saw a huge snake in front of us across the trail. We stopped dead in our track waiting for it to cross the path and go away but there was no sign of it moving so we cautiously got closer to find that it was no live snake but a skin of probably a cobra. We all had a good laugh at the expense of it.
Afterwards, we got back on the trail and found a rocky shelter with a board saying “50m to the Canteen”. It looked like the Lion’s Mouth at Kadugannawa. We knew the Medahinna Ambalama should be closer and true enough found it very soon and took a look around it. The area had been reclaimed by the jungle so there was precious little open ground but it was the least of our problems. It’d gone 5pm and we still had to go past the Geththampana before arriving at the Gal Wangediya. To our alarm, we hadn’t even come to the point where the Maliboda trail merges with the Erathna Trail. I was familiar with the Erathna Trail from there coz last Feb, Dodam and I did the Maliboda Trail.
To our horror, we came across a small pile of jumbo dung. Oh gosh, this was the least we expected to find on the trail. However the monk at Warnagala warned us against them and advised not to panic saying those jumbos won’t discriminately attack the pilgrims. So with mixed feelings we continued uphill. No sooner had we crossed one pile of elephant dung than we came across even larger one again. There were side trails branching off the main one where the dung was scattered on. The rain had washed them all across the path and we didn’t even know how old the dung was but it couldn’t have been older than a day.
In our haste, we didn’t even know until we came to the Maliboda Trail merging point and we heaved a sigh of relief. However, we kept doing short videos for my video documentary which you can watch if you haven’t already. From there the trail got steeper and very uneven making the footholds unsteady. The eroded soil had exposed rocks which were as sharp as croc teeth so if you walked barefoot or with rubber flip flops, they’d have been a real nuisance. Finally after a lot of laboring, we reached the tiny bamboo stretch where it signals Geththampana is near. The railing along the slippery rocky surface brought smiles to our faces but the time was past 6pm. We had our work cut out for us but the limbs kept screaming for a break so we decided to take a short break at Geththampana. The Ambalama here is in bad shape, the roof caved in and walls crumbling down making it very difficult and probably dangerous to stay in. Just take a look at the pictures up to now before I show you some gorgeous sunsets from Geththampana and beyond.
Sunset @ Geththampana and Beyond
It was getting dark to our liking and we had no choice but to keep going. However looking towards the Kunudiya Pawwa we saw something spectacular unfolding before our eyes. All this time we were fully engrossed in front of us along the trail trying to cover as much ground as possible but when we stopped at Geththampana to take a short and much-needed break we saw this miracle happening to the east.
The whole sky was dark blue but to the horizon it was a mixture of deep orange, violet and nude pink painting the sky with patterns. In the foreground stood the square shaped Kunudiya Pawwa resembling Sigiriya and Bathalegala silhouetted against the colorful sky. We just wanted to stay and embrace the beauty but the nagging feeling of getting to Gal Wangediya was in the back of our minds all the time. So we decided to make short work of the grand show and start heading uphill which was getting steeper by the minute.
The path was barely visible but we decided not to light the flashlights as it’d only make it hard and darken the rest of the area more. So relying on the apertures of our eyes (which must be 0 or even a minus F number) we kept going maneuvering around the jutting out rocks where the soil had been eroded in the rains. Every now and then I stopped to take pictures of this gorgeous sunset. Here are some pictures.
Then came the real battle as our eyes no longer see through the thick blackness. Usually very chatty Tony was silent during the last hour or so and we could almost hear his knees shaking with fear. There were many tree branches broken down and scattered along the trail making it even more difficult to walk. That could’ve been one of the few occasions where Tony fell silent (after KGP and Knuckles leopard sightings). After what felt like an infinity, we reached Gal Wangediya just after 7pm even though it felt like midnight and took to the Ratnapura Trail to get to the Heramitipana Ambalama. The wind kept howling throughout the night and the temperature dropped to dangerous levels but we managed to remain warm and spend a good night. Ok, will see you in the morning and hopefully the rains will have gone away and we’d have a grand hike ahead.
We woke up around 6am and there was nothing but the mist and wind. Getting out of the sleeping bag was not a chore I fancied just yet so rolled over to the other side and went back to sleep once again. Around 7am we decided to get ready and wait to see if the weather would clear. The moment I tried to wash my mouth I felt a stab of pain coursing through the gums via roots then all the way to the brain. The teeth set felt as if it were carved out of granite for the next couple of hours.
Washing the face was like burning it raw. Just imagine the plight of those who live under subzero conditions? The noodles breakfast managed to cheer us up with the instant coffee. Finally it looked good enough for us to start our journey and we bid farewell to our shelter and were off uphill along the nicely done cement steps. Just a small piece of gossip to keep quench your curiosity. Last time the shop and the set of rooms were tendered for Rs. 850,000/- for the season. All the shops along the trails are tendered and given to the highest bidders. So you can see the business they have to do to cover up all the costs incurred. Some pictures of the place where we stopped.
To the Summit
As hoped, the weather eased and the sun appeared beyond the summit. The top of the mountain was still covered with clouds and the backlight and the angle we were climbing made it next to impossible to take a decent picture of the summit. The trail was isolated except for us and we made full use of it to take pictures as we couldn’t take many the previous day due to relentless rain. The clouds dissipated bringing the royal blue carpet above them and we could see the peaks of Kunudiya Pawwa and Bena Samanala clearly.
At one point, we could see the towering skyscrapers of Colombo, the BoC Tower, Twin Towers and half-built Lotus Tower stood out among the other buildings. Unfortunately the haziness and the distance made it impossible to take a decent picture. However once again our eyes were far superior to those cameras and we enjoyed it with our own eyes.
The leaves were heavy with the dew and looking downwards as a result. The steps were slick with mud and water from yesterday’s rain. However the lush green and royal blue tinged with pristine white made a perfect picture that couldn’t have been drawn by Da Vinci or any artist in that league. Here are some pictures.
We finally climbed up to Andiya Mala Thenna where the last of Ambalama is located. It was fully occupied by the people working at the “Waste Water Treatment Plant and Sewer Collection Network for Sri Pada”. This has been going on since the end of season in Dec 2014 and estimated cost is 221 million rupees. So there are quite a lot of workers and they use Andiya Mala Thenna Ambalama as their quarters as there’s nothing else in the vicinity for them to use as accommodation. So if you plan to go during the off season, make sure not to plan to stay at Andiya Mala Thenna.
The workers greeted us and there were a couple of dogs who offered to accompany us to the summit. It must be a great difficulty for them to work at such high attitudes with adverse weather conditions like these. We were shown a plant named “Washee” which means that it can be used to kind of spell bind someone to get their willingness. Those workers at site said that the flowers of these plants only bloom during the off season but we didn’t get lucky to see one.
Our next resting point was Ehala Kanuwa and passing that we entered the Hulan Kapolla along the Mahagiridamba. We noticed a group of people appearing below us and they were resting at the shop when we started our journey this morning. They too must’ve spent a cold night there. One other thing was that we noticed a metal plate fixed on the steps closer to the summit like this “Walker Sons & Co. Engineers Ceylon”. Apparently they had been one of the companies that had helped build the path (Mahagiridamba) properly to the summit. They had also helped with the water supply to the summit making it very easy for the pilgrims. Ok here are pictures till the summit and will show you some of the pictures of the summit later.
At the Summit
Arriving at the summit was a huge relief for us. It’d taken us little over 2hrs to get to the summit and the sun was shining beautifully. There was a mild wind blowing across and the granite floor at the summit was cool to the touch. We simply lied down to rest our battered bodies but there was this strange feeling that made us feel really at peace. Well that’s the magic of Sri Pada. There’s a monk permanently based at the top even during off season with a helper.
Just so you know, it’s not allowed to stay at the summit in the night any longer. I guess this was implemented as a result of some reckless behavior by careless groups travelling there. We even saw many empty cans of beer thrown about all along the trail signaling that people really come here not to worship this sacred footprint.
The monk kindly opened the gate and allowed us to go and worship the sacred footprint. However, he said that there’s a family of wild boar (three little ones and the mother boar) at the summit foraging for scraps thrown about by the pilgrims. This was very dangerous and bad news and looking out of the window of the main complex we saw them sunbathing below ever so optimistic about something to eat. It was a huge one probably weighing around 200kg. Fortunately they kept their distance from us.
We went to worship the footprint then. There was not a soul except for us and we had all the time in the world to sit cross-legged and worship the sacred footprint of Lord Buddha. It was so tranquil and I felt all my worries vanish into the thin air as this bubble of peace and calm hugged me tight. It was a feeling that can’t be expressed no matter how much I tried. Here are the pictures of the summit.
We spent about an hour at the summit. We could see the full 360-degree view unobstructed. Peace Pagoda glittered in the sun and the super high Yaka Andu Ella kept sliding along the rock. I’m just wondering if her height was properly measured coz at a glance she looks as tall as any other fall in Sri Lanka. Sandagalathenna was clearly visible down below while the mysterious Gawarawila loomed in the distance with the tiny plain looking light green against the dark green background. Just below Gawarawila there were two white streaks drawn on the green hills which were the Upper Gartmore Falls.
Well, you know that not many people would spend overnight at Ambalama when they do the hike from Hatton Trail coz it’s too short. However there are resting places available should anyone need to stay. Here’s the list:
- Rathu Ambalama
- Seetha Gangula Ambalama
- Gangulthenna Ambalama (closer to Peace Pagoda)
- Kehelgamu Ambalama (about 400m before Makara Thorana)
We arrived at the Seetha Gangula in about 2hrs. The surrounding views were simply majestic and we saw many workers take goods on their back and head to the summit and using the by trail towards the Ratnapura Trail probably for those workers near Andiya Mala Thenna. Here are pictures up to Seetha Gangula Ambalama.
Towards the End
We felt exhausted and took a break at the Seetha Gangula Ambalama where Atha fished out a bag of salted peanuts. The weather held like magic and we now had the easy bit of the trail and started downhill towards the Gangulthenna where Yaka Andu Ella and Peace Pagoda were. There was plenty of shade along the trail thanks to the overgrown trees on either side. Further now the shops can’t cut down trees at along the trail for wood or as pillars. They have to bring everything from below which is a good move by the authorities.
We arrived at the Gangulthenna and stopped to enjoy the Yaka Andu Ella and the Peace Pagoda. If you want to see how she was when in full flow, take a look at my Tour de Waterfalls 8 when most of the falls we saw were in overflowing mode. Here are the pictures of Gangulthenna.
We finished our photo shoot and walked towards where we nearly a dozen seasonal falls 357 days ago. I’m sure you must’ve seen them in the trip report above. This time despite heavy rains (apparently it hasn’t rained to this side of the mountain) there were only a couple of them falling down. After them we went to see the Sri Pada Ella near Makara Thorana. She had a substantial amount of water and we enjoyed her company before bidding farewell to this awesome hike. We then reached Del Housie aka Nallathanniya around 2pm and waited for a bus while having some snacks from a shop nearby. The whole of Nallathianni looked like a ghost town due to the off season and during season this comes alive buzzing with hundreds and thousands of people. Here is the last set of pictures.
It was a battle to find transport to Hatton and then from Hatton to Colombo. Just be sure to reach Hatton at least by 4pm if you’re to catch a bus to Colombo otherwise you’ll be yet another victim of this private van scheme. We had no choice but to pay Rs. 600/- each for a van. The funny thing is that even those van drivers have to pay kinda ransom for those who set them up at the bus stand. Our fellow paid that person Rs. 500/-.
Finally we arrived in Colombo around 10pm and hit homes in search of some hard earned sleep.
Well guys, that’s the tale of my first ever Sri Pada Off Season Hike. I hope you liked it.
This is Sri signing off for now and hopefully will be able to send some more journeys in the future…