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|Year and Month||08 & 09 Aug, 2014|
|Number of Days||2|
|Crew||Only me and some villagers including two little monks|
|Accommodation||Kohonawala Community Hall cum Temple|
|Activities||Hiking, Photography, etc…|
|Weather||Excellent but too hot and dry…|
|Tips, Notes and Special remark||
|Comments||Discuss this trip report, provide feedback or make suggestions at Lakdasun Forum on the thread|
It was a wet Sunday morning when I woke up for a steaming cup of coffee and the usual Sunday paper. There was this article about a village that, according to the exaggerated version of the journalist, saw the morning sun signing checking in around 9am and then signing out early evening around 4pm.
Naturally I got hooked and tried to imagine what it would be like to live in a place like that. I was craving for that experience when out of nowhere Ashan sent in the report of his journey to this beautiful place. Yet it didn’t have what I was looking for so got my old gang together and went there, not just for a quick visit, but to stay there overnight to witness this strange occurrence. Well you know all about that journey by now, don’t you?
We were quite taken in by the fact that Rev. Dhammananda Thero who is actually from Horana area, had gone to this ultra-rural village trying to help these innocent villagers without a temple to worship let alone a monk. It must be appreciated the amount of energy and effort he has put into convert a then abandoned community hall into a temple. The kids and even the adults were not aware of the usual religious rituals as there was no monk to do those for them. Now they have not only Dhammananda thero but four more little monks to carry on the good work in to the future.
Sadly there are few obstacles for the chief monk to stay in the community hall cum temple. There are factors that try to undermine the good work done by the monk and they try to evict him from the community hall even though the regional secretary has given the approval. So he’s now trying to build the temple on a land given by a villager. It’s only partially completed and if there is anyone or an organization either government or non-government willing to help complete this, it’d bring lot of good for the people and the village.
I must also mention the good work carried out by the Kohonawala School, especially the principal Mr. Jayasena. NG and the team had visited the school and were very much impressed by what they saw. If only the people got together and used whatever resources available for the betterment of the village, they would see a dramatic change in a very short time.
Ok, that is where the situation stands and after my visit, NG, one of the hard core Lakdasun member and a very good friend, arranged an eye camp with the help of Vision 20/20 for these people. You must have seen her report, (she was forced to write a report after a very long time) if not do check it out. Dr. Asela and his team had traveled all the way from Colombo and walking down to the village via Madolsima and staying the night amid minimal facilities conducted the eye camp following morning distributing a lot of eye glasses for free. What’s more, on their way back, they had had to repeat the process all over again for another huge crowd at Urumeethenna. Hats off to them for such a noble effort.
NG didn’t stop there. She took on another big task. If you read my report, you must have seen the 8-year old handicap boy who was badly in need of a wheelchair. She initiated the project to get him a wheelchair, not just another one but a custom built one that can tackle the rugged terrain of Kohonawala. Well by the time you read this, he will be rolling around in his new and tailor made wheel chair that was donated by the kind donors who insisted to remain anonymous. I’ll be sure to send in a detailed account of the event afterwards.
Guess it’s time I got to the story at hand. From the first time I saw Viyangala, the beautiful lady towering over Kohonawala as if protecting it from the evils of the urbanized parts; I wanted very badly to conquer her. She had all the hallmarks of a gorgeous lady and in my first visit I kept inquiring about her yet not many encouraged my thoughts of climbing her. A mysterious veil had been draped over her keeping the outsiders as far away as possible. We later got to know that there are rumors of treasures on top of Viyangala and villagers discouraged or most of the time reported anyone, be it somebody from the nearby villages or outside, to the forest officials and Madolsima police. That’s the last thing I wanted so decided to do it with the help of the chief monk and the villagers.
The unforgiving drought had hit most of the country, especially Uva and North Central bringing the day to day life to a standstill. Kohonawala too had been a victim of this merciless curse depriving them of drinking water and water for farming. We experience the drought hit Welimada, B’Wela and N’Eliya few weeks ago. You can read all about it too. When I called the monk to check if it was ok to come and climb, he was all encouraging and decided to go ahead as there was no better time like the present. One of my partners in crime, Atha too agreed to come with Prasa (mini version of Hariya) and we initially planned to do it on Saturday and Sunday but figured it would be a nightmare traveling up and down with the people going to and from their hometowns. So I decided to make it on Friday and Saturday instead. This is when things went haywire and Atha got all confused of the dates.
He was nicely having a nap when I called him around 9.30pm even after having the tickets with him. The bus was however leaving Pettah at 10pm. I can never explain the panic I got into. I tried calling the temple and informing him of cancellation. He had made all the arrangements and it had just gone 10pm. I didn’t wanna let all the preparation down the drain so decided to go on my own. I’d never got ready in such a short time before and waking a friend of mine reached the high level road around 10.30pm hoping to catch a Badulla bus. As we were going towards Nugegoda, I saw the light blue sign of the semi-luxury bus and looking closer it turned out to be the Madolsima bus. I couldn’t believe my eyes and we gave chase for about a couple of kilometers and caught it.
The conductor was kind enough to let me have one of the booked seats even though I didn’t have the tickets with me. Well it was a pickle of good and bad. I had a dreamless night and reached Madolsima around 6am. Calling the temple I got to know that one of the villagers was on his way to meet me. We got together and having bought a few rations set off to the Kohonawala turn off in a tuk tuk. It’s about 1km and cost me Rs. 100/-. We reached the sign board that says Kohonawala School, 9.6km and started our journey through the tea estate.
The morning chill soon gave way to the rising sun that penetrated the path in all directions. The sun was behind us and we could see towards Kahataruppa miles away. Suddha, the villager that accompanied me, led the way carrying the stuff on his shoulder while I kept stopping every now and then to capture as much as the scenery in my lens. We saw an old person resting on a rock coming from the village. He had a big sack full of manioc (it makes my mouth water just thinking of all that freshly dug manioc with unique lunu miris) taking to Madolsima to sell and buy some stuff for his home. It’s unfathomable the arduous journey they make everyday up and down just to buy the basic items and sell whatever they find under severe weather conditions.
The surrounding countryside looked parched and many Mana patches had been torched by people for some reason beyond me. So it was a mixture of dark green patches of trees scattered across the sun bleached yellowish hills. The ravines below showed signs of life with houses and plots of paddy fields. The charred areas where Mana was burnt added to the already vivid painting. In no time we reached the “Padi Seeya” (100 steps) where there is a steep downhill path through the tea bushes. Already there was a person coming up and a lady holding a baby girl closely behind him tackling the steep ascent. I spoke to him and he was very cheerful and even bothered to show me a worship place of the estate workers high up on top of a rock. The child, even though being carried by the lady right through, looked exhausted as a result of the heat and the continuous swaying. I managed to take a pic of her (one of the few must-have requirements for me during a journey) and we carried on.
The view of endless panoramic mountains kept us company. We got the first glimpse of Viyangala to our one o’clock and the mostly used Ambalama in the 21st century was barely visible. I knew for a fact that it was 1.8km from the temple to the turpentine trees beyond the Ambalama coz Sheham measured it last time we walked up from the village. So it couldn’t be 9.6km from the turn off to the village, I of course had no GPS with me but it’s simply impossible I’d walked more than 7km till then. I guess Ashan had measured the whole length to be about 6km which sounds about right. The Viyangala kept to our right all the way even though having lost some of her lushness. We were soon walking through the turpentine patch and it brought back happy memories. You can check the videos of our last journey below.
I was beginning to feel the heat and was glad to be within touching distance from the Ambalama. Having rested our baggage on the bench I swallowed half a bottle of water in one go. I called the temple and spoke to the monk letting him know one hungry fella was on his way. This is when I came across the principal of Kohonawala School, Mr. Jayasena. I spoke to him for a few minutes before saying that we’d bring some books for the school next time. It was the school hols so I didn’t want to visit the school but hoping to do so coz of all the good things I’ve heard. After a much needed rest, we started going down. All the water streams were bone dry save for a tiny trickle of water in the main canal way below.
Despite all this there was music coming from a solar powered radio in one of the houses. We crossed the bridge and were in the village. In a few more minutes we reached the temple, after exactly 2.5hrs from Madolsima. There were the two small monks who are studying in the Pirivena in Padukka, come for the holidays. It was good to see them at last and I gave them the books I brought with me. There was another boy, Udara, also on holiday playing carrom with the little monks. I had a hearty meal of manioc with Lunu miris, unfortunately the drought had killed many chillie crops making it impossible to prepare the unique 12 different varieties Lunu miris. I savored every morsel and the day just wore on. Everyone I spoke to was pretty distraught about the lack of rains and was praying for some. There was this old person who we spoke to last time we went. You can check the videos below.
He was full of stories and this time it was about the elephant that disrupted their lives for nearly a week but a long time ago. None of them could remember an exact time but from what I gathered of everyone present, it is probably more than two decades ago. The elephant had come from Kahataruppa area and been roaming around for nearly a week feeling on the manioc and other crops. He had frightened nearly every one of the village sending them all with whatever they could grab towards Galulla, where Viyangala trail runs through, to their relatives’ places. Eventually the elephant had got fed up either manioc or frightening the villagers and gone towards Madolsima climbing all the way. Wonderful creatures, the elephants.
However none of them knew that their prayers would be answered in a couple of hours. Came the afternoon with the typical heat and we could see clouds gathering towards Madolsima over the Ambalama. “It’s gonna rain that I’ve come here” I said out loud. “It won’t, all those clouds are just for the show” the monk claimed. “I’m sure it’ll rain” I was willing it to rain just to mark my arrival and out of nowhere the winds picked up bringing hundreds of black clouds over the mountains. Birds that were hovering above vanished into the safety of their nests, however at the end of these strong gusts, how many of them were still standing was anybody’s guess. “If the winds keep like this rain will go away” Suddha sounded unbelieving. They had seen these preparations of the unpredictable weather patterns numerous times without a show and now were too skeptical to believe in it.
Then all hell broke loose. The sky was as if heavily pregnant, looming ever so larger than usual with charcoal grey clouds hanging barely with a single thread until she let them all go. The water came from all around whirlpooling in the tree-uprooting strong winds. Simultaneously the mist descended from heaven shrouding the surrounding mountains. There was this muslin cloth draped around us cocooning our community hall cum temple in an almost transparent shell. This must be like how those yet-to-be butterflies feel.
As soon as it came, everything flew off back beyond the mountains. The misty curtain was lifted as if by magic and the stage was set for the after-the-break show. While the drizzling kept at it, the view was superb yet again. Winds went to a faraway land leaving us all in peace and we got back into the open. Suddha was like a kid, all smiles as he had treated some pepper creepers the day before which was badly in need of water. Now everyone got some of their prayers answered. It was good to see those villagers get some deserved water. Hopefully there will be more in the following days. The monk was cooking a polos curry which looked salivating. I went to the water stream some way off and had a wash before settling for the night.
We planned for the following day while Udara and one of the little monks went in search of passion fruit that had fallen in the winds. They both returned with fourty of them having picked up 21 and 19 respectively. They all looked great and we decided to make passion fruit juice for the morning hike giving that extra kick of vitamin C. Meanwhile Suddha was moaning about having to accompany me to Viyangala. This is due to the fact that people’s beliefs about a treasure hidden on top of Viyangala. The legend is that there was a king who had temporarily sheltered on top of this rocky mountain having been lost in a battle with another. He had not built a permanent fortress on the top, instead used it as a transit point on his way to a safer place. “Viyan” means the top cover of a tent in Sinhala. So it makes sense when this mountain is called “Viyan Bendi Gala” aka “Viyangala”, in English, the rock where the tents were erected.
So almost all the villagers are vary of whoever trying to climb this. The people in Galulla village which is closer to the top half of the rock keep their eyes wide open for any intruders, be it one of their own or someone outside. This will result in them giving an innocent phone call to the Madolsima police, forest officials or the Grama Niladhari (Village Chief). One of these factors would rush in and you would have a armful of problems to deal with. However, the OIC of Madolsima police know the monk well and he said if something happens he could explain. He then sent a message to a villager who is living close to the rock, pretty much at the edge of Galulla village informing him of our arrival. The little monks too wanted to join me on this journey and Udara, the little boy wasn’t in the mood to be refused of all the fun. So after a hearty dinner of Kurahan Thalapa and Polos curry I went to a deep sleep hoping to see Viyangala in my dreams.
I got up to the noise of puppies crying for their mother. It had just gone 6am and I could hear the people had already brought morning alms to the temple and little monks were doing the rituals. I got up lazily and strode out to see the Ambalama, higher up in the mountains on the way towards Madolsima. It was a fine morning and the little monks had started to cut the passion fruit preparing to make juice. We had more than enough to make two 1.5-liter bottles, plenty for three kids and two adults. Udara was summoned so he too could join in the workload. While he and one little monk were making the juice, I accompanied the other with a hoe and a basket to dig some manioc from the garden. We managed to find a good haul of them only having to dig at two plants. The chief monk took on the task of peeling and boiling them. I went on with the washing of myself very carefully as the water was a very scarce commodity. By the time I finished the peeled off manioc was in the pot looking creamy white having shed their brown and pink outer cover, all set to be boiled.
I got ready while they went on with their choirs. In no time juice was made and carefully strained into two bottles and boiled manioc already served on a freshly cut banana leaf with hot Lunu Miris. We had milk rice and manioc for breakfast and packed most of it wrapped in the same banana leaf for lunch. Udara had gone and put on a new suit for the journey, would you believe it now? New clothes to climb a mountain through the dense undergrowth? I’m sure lady Viyangala must have been flattered by the naivety of this kid. Suddha still wasn’t fully convinced and looked to bolt at the slightest chance despite numerous reassurances from the chief monk. We bid our farewell to him and were on our way. I was planning to get to Madolsima from Galulla. I promised to come back soon with the wheelchair for that handicap boy. We started our journey while the sun kept coming over the mountains to haunt us with his piercing rays.
Well, there are two ways to reach the Viyangala, one relatively easy and the other is pretty tough. If one chose to go climb the mountain from Madolsima, it’s the easy way. You have to take the Madolsima – Ekiriya road about 3-4km till you reach the Galulla turn off to your left through the Galulla tea estate. From there it’s another 1-2km to the Galulla village along the estate road till you reach the Bo Tree with a mud hut next to it. This is called the Pahalagama junction. The estate road is concrete paved but only at places. The rest is in not-so-good condition but motorable. From the Bo tree, there’s a path that starts with steps to your right. It’s 3800 feet from here to the last house of the village where you have to climb the last bit of Viyangala. The house belongs to a very hospitable farmer called Gune. “How do you know the exact distance to his house from the Bo tree”, you’re bound to ask me and the answer is easy. Gune had measured it with the Grama Niladhari in the hope of making that path into at least a tuk tuk-driven one. Because they too have to carry their harvest on their heads to the Pahalagama junction to be sent to the town, not so a tough task compared to Kohonawala people. The most unfortunate thing is when they have more than one sacks of things to transport, which is most often the case, they have to do multiple trips back and forth carrying them. However they have to leave somebody to guard those sacks against thieves. Otherwise when they go back for another load, one they brought before would’ve been vanished without a trace. Well that is their plight for you.
Coming back to the directions, when you reach Gune’s house, it’s less than a kilometer hike to the top of the Viyangala. That is always supposing Gune lets you walk through his garden to climb. Well, if you speak to the chief monk of Kohonawala temple first and then he recommends you to Gune, you should be ok. I have given his contact number, so if you wanna climb this, do check with him in advance. However do try not to disturb him unnecessarily as he’s always working in his lands trying to make a living. It’s always best to contact the temple first and get through to him via the chief monk. So it was the easy path but for some mockery of my destiny, I was to take the difficult one from the Kohonawala climbing all the way to Galulla then walk across to Gune’s house.
We passed the village and walked along a tiny footpath that winds up the mountain to Galulla. Ideally we should have started as early as possible, say around 6.30am but all our preparations took its sweet little time. The Viyangala was now to our left looking down on us as if challenging us to climb her. “Who Dares Wins” is the motto of elite British commando unit, Special Air Service aka SAS and it’s one of my favorite mottos and I wasn’t gonna falter having come all this far. The heat kept breathing down our necks and we had made a grave error in our hasty preparations. We had two bottles of passion fruit juice but not a drop of water; gosh I wanted to kick myself for overlooking it. It made me feel worse after tasting the juice as it was a wee bit saltier than necessary. It means only one thing; it will make you all the thirstier. I couldn’t possibly have let three kids aged between 9 and 14 to figure it out. Thank goodness Hari wasn’t there otherwise he’d moaned to death without water.
We made good ground but my fully laden back pack dragged me down making every step a challenge. In about an hour we cleared the trees and entered a Mana patch that was taller than us in most places. We could see the mountains to Kahataruppa and the Ambalama was still way higher up. I kept asking Suddha if the Galulla village is in line with the Ambalama just to get a sense of the height but he said to my great disappointment, that it was higher than that. “Ok legs, be ready for more, this is just the beginning” I mumbled to myself. The razor sharp Mana blades scraped my exposed arms and legs but I hardly felt it as I kept it going steadily up patting the battle scarred legs. After what felt like an eternity, we reached a flat area where there had been a house long ago. Now only the remains of the foundation and a well could be seen. Udara said the grandpa who was the last to live in the house now roams around in a ghost form. That was why he and one of the little monks who had climbed before us were waiting for our arrival. So it’s a well-known thing but I had a lot on my plate at the time than to worry about those unseen spirits.
The passion juice did very little to clench my thirst, nevertheless the kids kept gulping it down blaming one another for adding more salt than sugar. I was the worst affected but not about to call it quits. We continued from there towards Galulla. Well, I think I’ll now save you the trouble of having to read me struggling uphill and get to the point.
Having taken numerous breaks on the way, we finally crossed the wooden post that acts as a gate and reached the first house of Galulla village. The household was very hospitable, more so due to the presence of little monks. After a long pull of water, we were offered some tea, in the monks’ terms “Gilanpasa”. The old grandpa warned us against trying to climb the mountain but we were determined to, especially the little monks and Udara were in no mood to back down. He said that Gune might not be at home, even if he was, he wouldn’t let us go through his garden. “Well, we’ll have to take our chances and go see, won’t we?” said one of the monks and that settled the matter. We dumped one bottle of juice and filled it with water. Thankfully it was a flat terrain that we had to walk till we reached Gune’s house. We did it soon and were at his gate which was closed. On the corrugated tin plate that acts as the gate was painted with a map of some sort and a telephone number.
It was a crude hand drawn map which I couldn’t make head or tail. We saw someone in the distance close to house and Suddha spoke to him. Another came out of the house and told us the gate was unlocked and we could come in. I was relieved and we went through. It’s about 200m walk along a jack tree-lined path to the house. There were lime and orange trees full of fruits but on the verge of falling off due to lack of water. We were warmly welcomed by Gune and one of his relatives Kalu Ayya. The usual offers of water and tea followed one after. That is the typical Sri Lankan hospitality to you.
His house is located at a very beautiful place just below the summit and you can see miles all around, especially towards Mahiyangana, we could see a couple of tanks too probably Loggal Oya reservoir, Hepola Oya reservoir and Dambarawa tank. At night he could see the Mahiyangana town clearly, even the gigantic Buddha statue, Gune claimed proudly. However and atmospherical haze limited our vision and it was hard to beat the glare of the sun. Gune has been living in this house for the last three decades but now he lives on his own as both his parents had passed away. What a beautiful place to have, I kept wondering. In fact his land is the gateway for the winds that are gushing from one end to the other and he has a helluva job keeping his roof intact. After the pleasantries we decided to start the hike. In fact he’s laid a small pipeline stretching about couple of hundred meters halfway to the summit bringing a trickle of water that is being originated amid Mana bushes. We followed it around the rock till we reached the spring. He’d built a tiny squarely shaped structure with a cotton cloth over it acting as a filter. Clever chap, isn’t he? According to his and the villagers’ beliefs, God Kalu Bandara is protecting them, and that tiny trickle of water is a gift from that God to him.
The sun tried his best to inconvenience us but the cool breeze coming from all around the mountains kept us sane. Everywhere were the signs of wildlife as there were dungs of rabbits and wild boars. After tackling through 6-foot tall Mana bushes for the second time of the day we finally arrived at the summit where a tiny slab of the rock visible from the dense grass and Mana undergrowth. We could see all around but that taller than us Mana plants made the visibility not so easy, especially the camera found it hard to focus on anything other than the blades of Mana. It shows no lens can be smarter than the naked eye.
The Kohonawala village was so far down in the ravine that we had to get closer to the edge of the rock for a proper look. We could see a smoke rising beyond the school. We could also see a few houses scattered across only the roofs were visible among the greenery. We managed to shoot three short clips, kinda documentary from this majestic location. Do check them out below.
There was a large Nuga tree growing from a side of the mountain. There was Gune’s house below, far down than I imagined. We could even see the Ambalama but at definitely a lower level. I just couldn’t believe that I was actually here having only dreamt about it last time from the Ambalama. So the tables were changed along with the positions. We took a different and shorter path downhill and reached his house in high spirits. We were ravenous and as soon as we got home Gune handed out plates around for manioc lunch. Gosh, it tasted so much better after a strenuous hike. Having devoured our sumptuous meal we were on our way as there was so much to go. We had 3800 more feet to reach the Bo tree at Pahalagama, you know how the distance came but not before paying a brief visit to Gune’s chena cultivation of manioc that he is so proud of. It’s located facing the Viyangala giving a clear view of Kohonawala downhill. Gune didn’t wanna leave us there so instead followed us to the Bo tree and even called for a tuk tuk for us to get to Madolsima.
Having thanked him profusely we bid farewell to him and were on our way. We all reached Madolsima around 4pm and I got a bus to Passara while the rest of my team took the journey back to Kohonawala. It’d been a rollercoaster of two days it didn’t end till 3am when I reached home so exhausted even to breathe.
Well I didn’t think I would end up doing this hike at first but instantaneous decisions got me through all that. I hope you guys enjoyed it and I could bring this unknown beauty in style for you.
Enjoy some Panos too.
Hopefully I’ll be able to bring you the scenes of our handing over of the wheelchair to that boy in the next episode. By the time you read this, it’d have happened.
Keeping the fingers crossed.
Take care and keep exploring, this is Sri signing off for now.
P.S. I’m glad to let you know that we delivered the wheelchair to the boy in the village and are now in the process of helping them build the Image House aka Dhathu Mandiraya. Take a look at the Videos of Wheelchair Donation and will send in the details with the next report.
Further, Prasanna (Prasa) and Ana have funded the much needed cement and metal for the Image House. They deposited the money to the account and the monk is in the process of re-starting the building work. Fortunately, they’ve also received money from the government for the Sanghawasa. Hopefully both the image house and Sanghawasa will be completed soon giving the village a much needed temple.