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|Year and Month||23-24 Apr, 2016|
|Number of Days||2|
|Crew||Atha, Janith, Craig & Me|
|Transport||Hired Van and On Foot|
|Activities||Hiking, Photography, Pilgrimage, Trekking, etc…|
|Route||Pelawatte->Pannipitiya->Avissawella->Ratnapura->Palabaddala by Van.
Palabaddala to Rajamale Trail Head on foot.
|Tips, Notes and Special remark||
|Comments||Discuss this trip report, provide feedback or make suggestions at Lakdasun Forum on the thread|
Hello everyone, hope things are ok and the scorching hot season has sort of eased a little bit with the arrival of thunderstorms. But with them come the danger of lightening, especially for hikers like us. Well hopefully you all have taken the safety measures before attempting any hikes. By the way, you might be feeling pretty awkward about the name of this report and wondering what on earth I’m getting at. Well, as we go on, you’ll realize the meaning behind it and I’m sure you will fully agree that this name suits really well.
As soon as you hear the name Sri Pada, there’s this calm and soothing sensation which goes through your system as if a nice cool flow of water through a parched throat. That mountain is so special even her namesake alone is enough to make us feel reinvigorated. I don’t think there exists any such mountain in the whole wide world that has been worshipped and visited as much as this despite her location in a tiny out of the way island in the Indian Ocean with nothing below it until the frozen Antarctic Glaciers. This is very special and it further proves by it being chosen to leave the footprint of one of the most respected and enlightened philosopher that walked on this earth some 2600 years ago, Gautama Buddha.
Since then, this has been worshipped by millions of devotees every year between Dec (Unduwap Poya) and May (Vesak Poya). However the situation has become a bit alarming due to the unprecedented crowds that gather to visit and worship the sacred footprint every year. If you were following the media (and supposing they were reporting the truth), there were reports of some 800,000 people visiting on long weekends and somewhere in April that figure rose to some 1.5 million. There were so many who were planning to go from Hatton but due to the large number of people ultimately ended up climbing from Kuruwita. Just imagine the plight of those people who were only prepared for an easy ride of 4-5km yet were forced to do 12+km. Most of them had been in tears by the time they had reached Galwangediya.
With the increased number of people go multiplied amounts of polythene and plastic, not to forget the tons of bio-degradable stuff either. All in all, there must be around 4 million people if not more, who visit the Sri Pada in the season which is just 6 months. If you were to do a few simple mathematical numbers, you’d sure to be fainted with the results. Human waste alone would come to hundreds and thousands of tons. Ok, let’s do some maths then.
“An average Asian person weighs about 57kg or 125 pounds. The average person poops at least once a day. An ounce of stool for each 12 pounds of human weight which means an average Asian person produces around 0.7 pounds of stool a day. So what about the urine then? The normal range per day is 800-2000ml with a normal fluid intake of about 2 liters per day. As we all know, those who climb the Sri Pada definitely drink more than 2 liters of fluids and eat quite a lot as well. However, let’s just keep the urine output to 1400ml per person. Ok, here’s the moment of truth.
0.7 pounds X 4 million = 2.8 million pounds of stool
1.4 liters X 4 million = 5.6 million liters of urine
Of course this is the average figure towards the lower end and the real figure is bound to go a lot higher than these numbers. So can you imagine the amount of bio-degradable human waste which is being unloaded at the Sri Pada in just 6 months? Not to forget the stinking smell which spread all over the place? Do you think any god would want to stay in a place like that?
How about you add all the other waste such as food leftovers, wrapping papers (biscuits, toffee, chocolate, drinks packets, etc.), polythene sheets and plastic items such as bottles, where would this number be? Unimaginable is the word that comes to your mind, isn’t it? And closely followed by words like Horrifying, Criminal, etc. Amount of fruits, rice and vegetables which they carry for religious rituals alone could be into millions of kilos.”
I know the famous argument which is being played everywhere. It’s the polythene and plastic which are the serial killers and everything else is bio-degradable. I wonder how anyone can justify the dumping of millions of tons of human waste on top of other waste within such a short period of time in one of the most sensitive and virgin forest reserves. The pollution caused alone by these bio-degradable wastes is so great and it must harm many endemic and other plants, animals and other species. If you begin to wonder whether I’m a scientist or an expert, perish the thought right away coz I’m none of them but an ordinary person with a bit of common sense.
Well now that I’ve homed my point in, let’s go on with the journey and see what is waiting for us in this sacred yet being destroyed place. I’ve a few more controversial propositions which I’d keep for the end bit otherwise you might even not go through the whole report and close the screen cursing me all the bad things you can think of. Well, I don’t want that kinda thing just yet, do I?
We left for Ratnapura on the 23 Apr around 3.30am and on the way, Janith and his US friend Craig joined us at Kuruwita. For those who curious, Janith is the son of one of Ana’s close friends and he’s studying in the US currently. His friend Craig had got this notion of visiting Sri Pada having seen a few pictures and read quite a lot about this majestic place. So they got down and joined us for this journey.
We reached Trail Head around 7.30am and started our journey after a vegetarian breakfast of Cheese Sandwiches. We remained vegetarian right throughout the journey and Craig, being an American, obliged without a second thought. The road condition from Rathnapura to Sri Palabaddala is ok and the road is still under construction up to the turn off where it forks into two, one leading towards Wewelwaththa-Balangoda and the other to Sri Palabaddala.
- Palabaddala Trail.
- Rajamale Trail.
- Rolls Royce Museum, Plantation Hotel, Kitulgala.
We sent the vehicle with the instructions to come on the following day to Fishing Hut to pick us up and got on the trail. Already there were many vehicles, notably the buses, parked waiting for pilgrims to come down and some were on the way up. We went and worshipped at the temple and mingled with the few people on the way up. It was a fine morning for a hike and we passed the shops which were selling all these artificial jewelries, flowers, ornaments, clay pots, sweets, toys, etc. Almost all the people tend to stop by and do a bit of window-shopping before getting on with the hike. However, those who climb down have eyes only for the safety of their vehicles.
It’s believed to have some 11,000-12,000 steps from the trail head to the summit on Palabaddala route. You will see that the steps are marked at every 100-foot point and there are almost 9000 steps (if I’m not mistaken) until you reach Galwangediya. As we went up passing the houses on either side of the concrete steps, there were many others coming down having spent the night travelling downhill. The humidity was unbearable as we kept sweating like pigs. Thankfully the path was shady thus making it not so uncomfortable to do the hike up.
One funny thing happened at the beginning of the hike. There was this Election Poster with the symbol of a Bell (you know the party name, don’t you?) and an X below it asking for our vote. Seeing this Craig looked perplexed and very quietly asked us “This means no bells allowed on the hike?” and we burst into a roar of laughter and he watched us with mixed feelings. Well, I’m sure it wasn’t the first time a foreigner was wondering the same thing and this wouldn’t even be the last time. Janith and Atha explained that it was how the begging of votes is conducted in Sri Lanka.
More surprisingly, Craig was the only Suddha (White Man/Foreigner) among the crowds. Usually the foreigners take the Hatton Route and most of them choose the off season to enjoy the hike and the nature. Commendably, those foreigners (notably the Europeans, Americans, Australians, Japanese, etc.) hardly ever, if not never, leave their garbage behind them littering the surroundings. It’s always the locals and some foreigners from you know where who do this ungraceful deed of polluting our Mother Nature.
Many local pilgrims took notice of Craig and attempted to dram him into some conversation using their limited vocabulary. There was one old lady (she was fitter than any of us despite her age) who kept encouraging us, especially Craig and even offered him mangoes couple of times. People were very amused to see him going with us and anyway with 6’ 4”, he couldn’t have been missed unless they were having sight issues in their eyes. After some hard laboring and constant breaks, we managed to reach the Ambalama just passing Lihini Hela and took a small break.
Most of the pilgrims took pleasure in throwing food items at the monkeys residing in nearby trees and watching them catch those tit bits and some even went so far to claim those monkeys were very good than most of our present cricket team in the field. Nevertheless, it was a very silly and careless thing to feed any wild animal and may I request at least you, who are reading this, not to do so in the future. Even I’m guilty of it and have done that in the past without knowing the repercussions so if you too are guilty of it; it’s never too late to stop now. Ok, here are some pictures on the journey so far before you get bored to death.
We resumed our journey while the echoes of people calling for Lihini Akka were coming all around. Sri Pada has all these unique rituals and customs which you won’t find anywhere else. Those chants they sing while climbing up and down is another unique feature and most of the people, especially the older ones, believe that by singing along would make it easier for them to climb and reduce the exhaustion. Of course you’d find some modified versions of these as well which might not be that suitable to use in a place like that. However, it helps interact with the other pilgrims who you might not ever have come into contact with. You’d also be surprised at the length people go to help complete strangers.
There was a bit of unfortunate incident as well. There was this group who’d come from down south (most of the people who climb via Sri Palabaddala is from down south due to the easy access) and had one of the old lady missing for four days. They’d been climbing up and down, looking down at the crevices and in the forest shouting her name looking for her with the help of the police. Fortunately, we heard the same day night that she was found sitting on a rock inside the forest. As many believe, there’s very little chance of anyone coming to harm at Sri Pada so this was another point where it’s proven once again.
We went on further up and already we saw so much of plastic bottles and wrappers scattered either side of the trail, especially closer to shops and resting points where people had very carelessly dumped them with leftover food. The ranking smell wafting from them was so disgusting and I felt like throwing up many times. So much for the bio-degradable waste! Passing Dharmarajagala, Geththampana and Seetha Gangula, we finally arrived at Galwangediya around 2.30pm after a 7.5hr journey.
There were dark clouds threatening to break loose and we were glad when we came to the safety of the Ambalama at Galwangediya. We had lunch (rice & curry) at the co-operative shop in front of the Ambalama. However, I recommend the shop at the junction where Ratnapura and Kuruwita Trails meet each other. Their food is tasty and good quality. Both these places offer accommodation facilities if you need your own room but not sure about their quality or the comfort levels as I’ve never used them before. We were quite content with the Ambalama so after lunch went and found a corner for the night.
We were very grateful for the army soldiers of many regiments from the SL Army who’d spent so much time and efforts building the whole path with concrete steps. If it wasn’t for those, it’d’ve nearly impossible for us to climb from Ratnapura side. We could still see the old steps carved into the rocky surface parallel to the newly built concrete steps with handrails. No wonder it’s said that in the past people used to write their last will before attempting this pilgrimage. There are still iron chains hanging from the rock which people used to pull themselves up. There are a few on the last leg at Mahagiridamba passing Hulang Kapolla. Here are some pictures of the journey up to now.
We hung around the Ambalama taking those pics you already saw and went down to the Galwangediya itself for dinner. We had rice again while Craig tasted Rotti with Lunu Miris. We even heard some people talking among themselves “Arun Bath Kala Suddhata Rotti Deela”. Janith had asked Craig to watch out for that word “Suddha” and he immediately spotted it and asked what they were talking about.
The night was dark but the lights at along the trail lit up the surrounding beautifully. The Pirith Chanting and the echo of the bell coming from the summit were soothing. We fell into a deep sleep until Janith’s calling brought us wide awake. “What’s the matter?” I asked having forgotten that we agreed to get up to see the Sri Pada lit up and the clouds cleared. As they were still suffering from jetlag and time difference (12 hours is quite a big difference almost like night and day), it was hard for them to fall asleep. So at 3am, shivering like skinless polar bears, we got up and took some pictures of this wonderful and heavenly place. Here are a couple of shots taken by Janith with his DSLR.
After a chilling photo shoot-out which made us surpass all the Hollywood, Bollywood and Kollywood film directors combined, we went back to sleep and got up again at 5am. It was time to get ready and go to the summit. Our plan was to go up to the summit early to witness the sunrise but had to give that idea up due to the number of people going up. One of the workers on the shops claimed that he’d never seen such massive crowds ever before. So we can safely assume this was the most crowded and visited season ever.
After a quick cup of tea, we went on our way around 5.50am. We had some snacks with us so kept munching on them while hiking. The next stop was Andiyamalathenna and then the summit itself. The sewerage system which was being built had been completed but there was a foul smell in that area. We heard that the whole system couldn’t be fixed due to the lack of power in the off season and financially it wasn’t viable. As a result, one major component was missing thus the reason for the bad smell. It was a grand thing to have built the system but leaving it half-done wasn’t probably a good idea.
It was still dark when we left Galwangediya but the sun was on his way up. We were sheltered from the morning sun by the shadow of the great mountain herself. Looking backwards, we could see the squarely shaped Kunudiya Pawwa which resembles Bathalegala and Sigiriya, getting lighted up slowly from top to bottom.
To our right was the twin peaks of Bena Samanala and to our left was the Seven Virgins. In between there were many other hills looking radiant in the morning golden rays. We made good ground and in exactly two hours reached the summit. As soon as we entered we saw huge piles of garbage collected on either side of the summit. People were cutting fruits and dumping them right over the parapet wall around the summit without giving a toss that they were polluting the environment by allowing those rotting fruits to stink the whole place overpowering the smell of the fresh mountain air. They were all selfishly interested in invoking blessings for themselves, even at the cost of the Mother Nature. If they thought the gods will look at them and bless them, they had another think coming.
The stench coming from rotting fruit and vegetable matter was so overpowering we just lost the interest to stay in the summit more than absolutely necessary. The sun was fully up and there was still a long queue from Hatton Route to go worship the sacred footprint. We went around quickly and worshipped from outside and got on our way. It was so saddening to see the pollution caused by our reckless and selfish pilgrims in the name of religion. Here are some pictures of our journey to the summit.
So how was the situation at the top? I just put only a handful of pics. In fact I could’ve taken million shots just like that, especially along the downhill on Hatton Route. It was really pathetic and disgusting. After about half hour where we took turns to go and worship, we started our descent without further delay coz staying up watching them raping this virgin environment was giving me heart attacks.
We started our descent and soon passed the Bhagawa Cave. It was yet another disastrous move to have cleared those trees and wines covering the cave. Now it’s being used to pile garbage sacks and some wooden planks. Some even claimed this was the long-searched Diva Guhawa. As soon as we passed it, there was so much of bread (made into sandwiches with some sort of paste in the middle) thrown either side of the trail. There were hundreds and thousands of rotting bread slices and looks like somebody’s efforts at giving a Dansala had gone horribly wrong. We thought the paste or whatever which was put in the sandwich must’ve gone bad thus resulting in throwing all the bread slices very conveniently over the railing on either side.
It was as if walking through the garbage dump at Kolonnawa. I had to put my camera way and hold a handkerchief to my nose until the end of Mahagiridamba where you need to take a right turn, through so much human waste, to enter the Rajamale Trail. So photographs were few and far between in that stretch. It was so horrible and frustrating I decided not to come again in the season at the time. I know I should’ve taken some pics to show you but my main priority was to get out of this stinking hellhole into the safety of Rajamale Trail.
There was another ongoing Dansala where they were serving rice and curry. Yet again, the lunch sheets with remaining rice and curry were piled up in bins which were overflowing and attracting crows and other birds who kept taking them here and there dumping those sheets among the green foliage where nobody could reach to pick them up even if they wanted to. I know it’s a noble act to feed people especially those who attempt such arduous hikes but one needs to think of the huge environment impact it’ll have on the nature.
Finally after it felt like a life time, we reached the safety of the Rajamale Trail and managed to avoid a few piles of human waste but Craig was not so lucky. We had to stop for about 15 minutes before he managed to clean himself and got on the way. While he does it, please enjoy these pics.
We followed the trail breathing some fresh mountain air at last out of that garbage pit. Even as I type, I seem to choke on my breath remembering how awful that experience was. Unlike my last time where we climbed to Sri Pada from this route, there was considerably a large amount of polythene and plastic items signalling that many had used this trail as well.
Reaching Sandagalathenna was the pinnacle of the journey and both Janith and Craig marvelled at the beauty unfolding their eyes. The sun was nearing the top of the sky thus the colors were not so glamorous like in my last journey. Nonetheless, I couldn’t take my eyes off. From there we made good ground and soon (well not so soon) were on the summer hut to find our van waiting faithfully for us. One funny thing about Rajamale Trail is that when you climb down only you will notice how steep that really is. Also it seems to grown in length as it never seems to end, especially the stretch between Sandagalathenna and Summer Hut. Here are the pictures of it.
We got on the van and left with a very sad feeling at the way this beautiful place is being invaded by the Cockroaches killing the Butterflies, thus the name for this report which you’ll find fits nicely. Not only Gods or Butterflies, even Devils won’t stand so much pollution. Well what to do? I’ve a few suggestions which might stir up a hornet’s nest. Well I’ll come to it after I show you the Rolls Royce Museum.
We stopped at Plantation Hotel for lunch which is owned by Dr. Jayasuriya and he’s built a museum for a number of old Rolls Royce cars. It’s said the place is not big enough to house all the cars he has. One noticeable car was the one Queen Elizabeth drove when she visited Sri Lanka. Here are the pictures for you while we have a hearty lunch.
Now would you like to see a couple of Panos as well? Coz I can’t remember attaching any in the recent reports. Here are a few.
So how do you like the journey? I know it’s been not so nice coz of the garbage and pollution. And here are my controversial theories or propositions to make this a better place and save it for the sake of us all. Coz this mountain alone feeds so many rivers in Sri Lanka which in turn helps us enormously in our day-to-day use with drinking water, agriculture, factories, etc. It’s of paramount importance we safeguard this place, not only coz it has the footprint of Lord Buddha, but also, it helps us live in many ways. So whether it is religion’s sake or environment’s sake, we must safeguard this wonderful place like our own eyes.
- As you all know, almost everyone who gets to the summit, try to donate some money for the fund there. It’s done in a way of cleansing their sins or bad times. I wonder if those who manage this fund (which I’m sure is not being audited) would be kind enough to recruit people to clean the three main trails during the season. I’m sure it’d require a lot of manpower, probably about 100 in total if we divide them 30 each into the Ratnapura and Kuruwita and 40 for Hatton. So how much money would we need in order to maintain this workforce? Back to my mathematical table. If we pay, Rs. 2000/- per day, for the whole season we would need 36 million rupees (100 X 180 X 2000). I know it sent your eyebrows so far up and they almost touched your hairline above the forehead. Is 36 million so big a price to pay for our own well-being? Now, there’d be a huge uproar saying how on earth are we to find that money coz we don’t get donated that amount to the fund? Well, if it is the case, I’ve another suggestion, a very wild one but doable.
- How much is your satisfaction when you are able to climb to the summit? Can you ever measure it with any of the metric parameters available? I don’t think so. That’s why we have expressions such as “Kotiyak Deela Wath Ganna Be”. So isn’t it worth to keep this place safe and sound for us to come back again and again? It is. So what we can do? Would Rs. 10/- make you bankrupt? Surely not. So what if there was a system to issue tickets for the pilgrims to buy at all three trail heads, there’d be money to fund the whole cleaning project every year without an issue. Of course, it’ll have to be managed without corruption as we know how money goes AWOL and end up in Panama and other offshore accounts. There might be some who are vying up for the argument of selling tickets to a religious pilgrimage wanting to crucify me for suggesting this. Well, all I have to say for them is look at or read what Lord Buddha preached properly before taking the sword to kill me.
- If ticket selling is so much of a criminal act, we can also have a fund at the trail heads but it’ll be too difficult task to manage as it’d require a lot of book keeping and account balancing. The chances of money going for walks are also very high.
- I wonder if it’d be practical or viable to limit the number of people entering like they did are planning to limit the number of Jeeps in Yala. Well this is yet another line from my own wild imagination and is bound to stir up more hornets’ nests.
- Now for one of the most sensitive and controversial points I wanna make. How about not allowing people to carry all those fruits and vegetables to make rituals as they in the end play a major role in piling up the garbage at the summit? These rotting food matters keep stinking the whole of summit along with the toilets making that place uninhabitable for anyone let alone butterflies or gods. Instead they all can contribute to the fund at the summit for the daily rituals conducted at certain times. Well, the blessings you invoke will still be the same so long as your thoughts are pure. You don’t necessarily have to do them individually, do you?
- Ban the Dansal or enforce strict rules to monitor them and make sure nothing is added to the environment and everything is taken back down by those who organize them. If you can’t do so, well, it’s better not to do them at all and add to the pollution of this sensitive environmental habitat.
- Further, what if we removed that huge bell tower which was erected couple of years ago taking up a substantial space on the already cramped up summit floor? I feel it is unnecessary to have such a huge bell making so big a boom and we all know what the sound pollution is, don’t we? I guess those who did this thought the bigger the bell and more the merits gained. The echoes generated by ringing that huge bell can also destabilize the rocky bed where the summit is located along with its buildings. I wonder whose bright idea it was to have that bigger bell tower in the first place as there were a couple of nice and small bells already which took up virtually no space.
- Also, the pilgrims shouldn’t be allowed to ring that bell more than once despite the number of times they’ve been to the summit before. It’s more of an ego-massaging exercise than a ritual nowadays as people keep ringing the bell while many others waiting for a chance. And they do so by pulling hard at the rope sending shock waves all along the mountain range. Nobody else is interested, let alone God Saman, about the number of times you’ve been to the summit. Also, you don’t get any advantage or a bonus as a result of the numbers. So why deprive others of their chance of this ritual by just doing it once and moving away?
Now I know what you’re wondering. Sri is the perfect role model and as a result he’s qualified to preach all these to the rest of the world? Well, I’m not and even I’m guilty of committing these mistakes to a certain extent. Nobody is perfect but what really important is to learn from our mistakes and avoid them in the future. More importantly, convey that message to the next generations so that they’d be properly educated about the value of places like Sri Pada. Not just the religious value, but also the environmental value. Let’s hope there’ll be some strict measures taken before it’s too late to preserve this place. It should not however be a tug-a-war between the Wildlife Department and Ministry of Buddhist & Religion Affairs. This is our heritage and treasure so we all need to contribute to its preservation for the years to come.
Well, folks, that’s about from me on this journey. Hope you enjoyed it despite the frustration and sorrow involved in. if I’ve hurt anyone’s morals or feelings by my controversial ideas, I sincerely apologize as it was never my intention to do so. Also, they might not be the best of solutions but I just listed down the things I thought would be ideal to make things easier and safer for the future.
Take care and keep travelling!