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|Year and Month||21-23 Feb, 2015|
|Number of Days||3|
|Crew||Ana, Atha, Prasa, Hasitha & me|
|Transport||By SUV and on foot|
|Activities||Hiking, Photography, Relaxation, etc…|
|Weather||Sunny, Misty, Gloomy, Cloudy, Drizzly, Rainy and much more.|
Koswatte->Kaduwela->Avissawella->Belihul Oya->Non Pareil Estate->Nagrak Bungalow
|Tips, Notes and Special remark||
|Comments||Discuss this trip report, provide feedback or make suggestions at Lakdasun Forum on the thread|
What would you give to spend a couple of days in a comfy bungalow more than 7000ft above the sea level which is bordered by a cloud forest? Well I would go to greater lengths to make it a reality. I’m sure you would too. Tell me you wouldn’t give a toss and you would win the first prize for the biggest lie. I’ve been lucky to have visited some wonderful places where you could get completely isolated and feel heavenly. Ginihiriya Bungalow at Horton Plains, Fishing Hut, Morning Side are some of them. This is when we came across Nagrak Bungalow, a place highly rated for its location, comfort accommodation and most of all the awe-inspiring views it offered.
There have been a few online posts about it and we decided to give it a go as well. The highly controversial but very tempting Non Pareil Trail to the Horton Plains begins near the bungalow and it added flavor to our intentions. Ana as usual led the planning and all we had to do was tag along. The charges for one day is Rs. 15,000/-. I know the moment I heard it, I felt the same way how you just felt hearing that. “They must be joking”, I thought out loud. It was however true and we had to haggle over whether to go for it or not. Finally having weighed pros and cons, we decided that there was not much choice but to give it a go. “But for how many days?”. We asked each other many times that question. Even though the experience is wonderful, if it’s not affordable and beyond our reach we wouldn’t be able to go for it. If we try to do everything wonderful, it’d soon leave us beggars.
We passed the idea this way, that way and the other way and still got nowhere. After what felt like an eternity, we came to the conclusion that we need minimum two nights. We couldn’t anyway afford more therefore settled at two. Having arranged everything we set off on the dawn of Saturday, 21 February. Just a word on the way we were given the instructions by the Nagrak Management. They gave us the account details promptly to deposit money and other than mentioning about the electricity which is available from 6pm to 12 midnight, there was no other information given. It’s a major lapse from their end because the way Fishing Hut Management (click on the link to check the info sent by them) sent out the information was simply brilliant. They had gone to great trouble to put everything in writing so that there was no misunderstanding. We knew exactly what was they were giving and what we had to take. Further, what we could do and shouldn’t do. It was just great and I feel Nagrak Management failed to meet those standards. They have some catching up to do and do it fast coz that small lapse could lead to very unpleasant things and disappointments.
Driving up to the Bungalow
We made good ground and arrived at the Non Pareil road passing Belihul Oya as the sun was beginning to appear. According to the estate sign board, it is 21km to Nagrak but the provincial council notice, World’s End is 32km away. Well it’s a bit confusing as the Non Pareil trail to the world’s end is about 4km. Well, it’s the way and let’s not waste too much breath over it. One thing I can tell you is that the elevation gain from A4 to the bungalow is well over 5000ft. We drove on passing a couple of hotels and then a couple of abandoned big houses. The road was tarred and in fairly good condition.
After a few kms we came across the CTB bus coming from the Non Pareil estate. The road is very narrow and very few places where two vehicles pass each other. We saw a couple of cascades falling but didn’t stop for a picture. Then we arrived at Hirikatu Oya Educational Center. It’s about 6km from the A4. Passing it and feeling ravenous we stopped for our breakfast of sandwiches while the mountains were showing their shades of green. Many of the Mana-covered Mountains looked like a light green velvet has been draped over them. The morning wind made us shiver and we badly wanted a scalding cup of strong coffee but it was just wishful thinking.
Hirikatu Oya Ella aka Non Pareil Estate Falls
We came to a school then and taking the next turn we came face to face with a beautiful waterfall. We couldn’t ignore her and stopped for a photo shoot. Despite the lack of rains, she still had a fair amount of water flowing from the Horton Plains. She must be something close to 100ft and above her loomed the Non Pareil Tea Factory. Later on, we realized this as the Hirikatu Oya Ella. Looking around we saw many cascades, of course with very little water, falling from great heights. So a journey during the rainy season is in order and I saved all the locations in my already packed brain for future use. There are 35 hairpin bends before we reach the bungalow along the snaking uphill estate road. Going up maneuvering around made me think of 18-bends below Udadaumbara. It was nothing compared to this even when it was in bad shape. Ana’s expertise in driving took us safely up and it must have been a nightmare without power steering and auto gear.
We reached the factory and the road from there is closed. However our permit took care of it and we were onto the most strenuous part of the road. Thanking our stars for not having to climb up walking, we drove on tackling one bend after the other. The sun was shining down fiercely but the cool breeze coming from Horton Plains kept them at bay. The road has been repaired in places with stretches of concrete paved patches making it relatively easier compared to what it was. The season for Nagrak starts from late February till late April so that must be the sudden urge to make this road better. Even the road closer to the bungalow was being repaired using earth.
We then came to another milestone, the Baker’s Bend which is almost like a horse shoe. It’s located 5000ft above sea level and is the 23rd bend. We got some beautiful and panoramic views from here but the sun made it tough for our cameras that were not so sophisticated. The surrounding mountains stretched miles and the Samanalawewa Reservoir was visible clearly. There was a group going uphill when we reached the Baker’s Bend. After the usual picture taking, we got going and reached another milestone, the 33rd bend with a signage saying it was 1km to the bungalow, 4km to World’s End and 5km to Belihul Oya. This is 6990ft above sea level which meant we had climbed over 5000ft within 20 or so kms. You can imagine the climb, can’t you?
Finally we got to the bungalow passing a few people who were repairing the road. The gardener was there to open the gate and then we drove in to find one of the best places to spend a holiday.
To say that we were impressed is an understatement. The single story typical colonial-era type bungalow painted a dull green or similar to deep grey with a matching greenish tin roof looked majestic in the middle of a huge garden full of perfectly trimmed plants, well-cut grass and vividly-colored flowers. There were many large windows allowing the natural light in. At the edge of the garden is the sloping tea patch. Further away velvet green mountains looked grand. Beyond them we could see the Pambahinna Town, Samanalawewa Reservoir, Walawe Basin and further away faintly visible through the haziness of the glowing sun was Udawalawa Reservoir. There was a nicely built summer hut at the edge of the garden allowing visitors to enjoy the view shielding from the sun and rains. To our left was a long mountain range. From Wangedigala via Balathuduwa towards the Gon Molliya (double humped peaks) Range, it looked menacing. Bambarakanda, Lanka Ella and the Kalupahana-Ohiya Road that goes through the Udaweriya Estate were behind them. Further towards the end we could see the edge of the Horton Plains where millions of people visit every year. The famous World’s End was a bit away hiding from us. Non Pareil Trail to the World’s End runs behind the bungalow through the Horton Plains. The back garden borders the Horton Plains Reserve with millions of trees and many shades of green. It was a sight worth seeing over and over again.
We ran around like a bunch of kids taking in the scenery and breathing the mountain air filling our parched lungs. The grass was like a carpet especially laid for us. Not even bothering to unload, we kept shooting this way, that way and the other way. Ana taking pity on us carried on unloading allowing us to be play around. After a heavy shooting we decided to go see the interior as well.
Going in we were greeted by a huge fireplace and a large set of comfortable settee set kept in a big sitting area. Either side was two rooms and the passage through the sitting area, led to a room to the right and the dining room to the left. Further along there were two other rooms either side before the passage led to the kitchen. In the back passing the kitchen were servant quarters, storage and the boiler room where they have a typical firewood-powered old boiler to provide hot water. Now they have a solar-powered hot water system as well but not so effective compared to the old one. The ceiling is wood paneled along with the floor helping to keep the cold out. The rooms are so spacious, bigger than any I’ve seen in a place like this with two beds each. There are four fully equipped washrooms which are clean and well maintained. Thick, long and matching curtains are hung along the windows. Even the rooms had their own fireplaces. Well, now you know what this place is like, don’t you?
We settled in our rooms while the workers got busy. There are three workers in the bungalow, a cook, gardener and an assistant who served meals. Unfortunately the cook didn’t turn up on time delaying our lunch. Fortunately we had some pre-cooked curries with us. We got very little information about the number of people in the bungalow and we had to take meals for them as well. Nevertheless we managed to weather the storm and make do with the resources we had. Finally we sat down for lunch with Rice, Polos, Chicken, Gotukola Sambol, Papadam and followed by Cashew Nut Chocolate. After a bellyful lunch, we took to our comfy beds for a nap wrapped in clean and warm blankets.
Just a word on the workers in the bungalow.
Gardener – Does a superb job of keeping the garden and stay away from the visitors keeping to himself.
Assistant, Kumar – Very polite and attentive. Always ready to help you.
Cook – Can cook really well. But can be a nuisance too coz he kinda expects us to offer some liquor. We were asked by other workers not to offer alcohol to him as it can be troublesome.
Amid all this, we heard a roar of a huge engine, very much similar to that of German M6 engine and we were wondering if the railway line was closer. Out of nowhere appeared a SLAF Bell 206 Jet Ranger circling the World’s End. At the time we could no longer make anything out but later on came to know that it was looking for a fallen Dutch tourist. Initially it was communicated that was a Chinese national who had fallen but in fact it was a Dutch. We were only a few kms away from the World’s End.
There are remains of another bungalow type structure behind the current one and we found out one of the superintendents had illegally cleared the reserve building a house of his own hoping to stay there forever. Well looking at how serene and tranquil the surroundings, I’m not surprised he went to that length. Now it’s in ruins as the officials had finally claimed their territory but the area still hasn’t got any typical Horton Plains plants. Instead it’s just grass that covers the entire area. Apparently that fella had planted vegetables as well such as potatoes, carrots and some others.
Afternoon Stroll in the Drizzle covered with Mist
After a nap, we had a nice cuppa tea and decided to go for a stroll downhill just to unwind ourselves. The sun was on his way down but there was plenty of light. We walked down the road where we came from hoping to experience the atmosphere around 7000ft up. Kumar offered to accompany us but we declined as we didn’t plan to get lost. Now that the sun was behind us we could see the Gon Molliya range very clearly and a mist was heading our way. We reached the 33rd bend to find the weather had changed completely. Rain clouds loomed threateningly and we had to cut short our walk and head back. The rain caught us before long but thankfully there was a medical center where we sheltered for a while. It kept drizzling and we decided to walk in it. The mist covered the entire area within seconds making it hard to see anywhere.
Walking tucked my sweater under the arm, feeling the tiny drops of water pricking the exposed skin sending a chill right throughout was a new kinda experience. The evening wore off amid chit chat. The bulbs flickered into life when the generator was turned on at 6pm. With it came the mobile reception. Anyway we wouldn’t have minded the poor reception coz it adds to the calmness. Later on after a hot shower we sat down for an early dinner which was sumptuous. The solar panel is not maintained properly, especially it needs washing to clear of the moss and oiliness of the rain water. Unfortunately the workers at the bungalow were not aware of this when Ana explained what needs to be done to improve the efficiency. Thankfully the good old firewood-driven boiler was our savior.
We then got into our beds which were nice and warm. The temperature dipped below 14 degrees and the winds picked up howling around the bungalow but it in some strange way it felt great. The drizzle kept on but it hitting the tin roof was muffled thanks to the wooden ceiling. Having wrapped the thick woolen blankets around us just like mummies we settled down for the night. The sleep slowly crept up on us dragging us slowly into a dreamland. Well before I become dead to the world, lemme wish you good night.
Sunrise over the Mountains
The shuffling noise brought me back to earth and getting up I saw Ana as usual making coffee. The cold was back now I’m out of the protecting layer of the blanket. Strong and sweet coffee tickled down the throat warming the interior. The time was closer to 5am and our noise brought the rest of the household into life except Hasi who was still snoring like hibernating grizzly bear. Throughout the night it was a snoring contest between three rooms. Ana backed Atha was the first to take part closely followed by the selfie king, Hasi but they were no match for Prasa who kept up snoring throughout the night moving between various rhythms. Ana was the first to notice the faint glow in the sky and we ran out not caring a toss about the cold. The thermometer read as 10.6 Celsius but our focus was far away.
The whole mountain range comprised of Gon Molliya, Balathuduwa and Wangedigala were silhouetted against the glowing sky. The Walawe Basin was faintly visible through the thick fog that hung above it. Red, orange and yellow strip of light kept expanding up the sky while sun was doing his morning rituals before turning up for work. Towards the world’s end, the sky looked like a milky sea full of thick clouds cluttered together. We were all pointing our cameras firing them off occasionally disturbing the stillness of the environment. The garden was still largely in darkness but we kept moving about looking for that perfect angle.
I just simply don’t have the capability to express the events unfolded within the next hour or so. But lemme try all the same. The first rays of the morning captured the subtle hues of the valley below. Twin humped Gon Molliya was the most prominent among the mountain tips but sharp point of Balathuduwa was looking grand too. We just tried to picture the tallest girl in the country waking up for the day and being bathed in the golden sun rays. There were a couple of clouds hanging just above the tips of the mountains. The golden rays colored them in vivid pink, purple and magenta. After what felt like a millennium, the sun peeped above the mountains and then came slowly up until he was fully out and shining down on us.
The fragrance of the flowers and the trees was so great and we were shivering in the morning breeze. The bungalow looked stunning standing in the middle of all this. We spent a long time being washed by the morning rays before going in for yet another splendid meal.
Morning is here
After a grand breakfast, we did a bit of exploring around the bungalow coz the morning sun had lit up the whole area and we wanted to capture the scenery as best as we could. The Non Pareil Trail to the HP runs behind the bungalow but as I’ve mentioned in the notes above, please don’t attempt it without proper permission as there’ll be serious repercussions for those who violate the park laws.
We just took it nice and easy and relaxed to the max till lunch time. As you know the weather in the upcountry keeps changing in no time, especially the areas closer to HP. As if on cue, a great cloud of mist appeared as if to signal the end of the show.
The mist invaded our bungalow in large numbers just like King Dutugemunu’s army surrounded the Vijithapura castle. We were hopelessly outnumbered and out-gunned. It was like floating in the sky. The rain arrived early confining us inside but we didn’t mind that. The lunch was delicious and we had a hearty meal before tucking up for another short sleeping run.
The evening turned out to be a mixed bag. At times the sun managed to penetrate the thick fog just a wee bit but most of the time we were shrouded in the grey white mist. Gon Molliya range was completely covered and if we didn’t know they were there, it looked as if there was only the sky. The evening wore off ever so slowly paving the way for tea and then the temperature touched the 9 degrees forcing us to turn in early but not before another wonderful meal.
This was a great relaxing journey. We were pampered with stunning views, mouth-watering food, walk-in-the-park strolls and warm beds. What more can someone expect? We were fully content and happy. With these feelings we settled in for our second and final night in this heavenly place. Tomorrow it’s gonna be a long run back home.
Journey to Kuda Oya
We slept soundly till the morning and Ana brought us to the earth once again with the noise of clicking china. The morning coffee was gulped down eagerly by everyone. After washing and packing, we sat down for the breakfast at 5.30am. You must be flabbergasted but we had yet another remarkable meal that early while the sun was still struggling to wake up.
By, 5.50am, we were ready to go. We were the first to have left that early. The workers were astonished at the fact that we were cutting short our stay coz the check-out time is 10am. Having thanked them all, we got in the vehicle and were glad for the warmth it offered.
The sun was really struggling to come up. We were very lucky the previous morning to have witnessed such an extraordinary sunrise but today, it was completely different. There were way too many clouds not giving any mercy to the sun and the sunrise was far from eye-catching. When reaching Baker’s Bend, we came to a sudden halt as the lorry which had been carrying stones to repair the road had left its load on the middle of the road very carelessly blocking our way. However, the heavy brigade of Hasi, Atha and Prasa ran towards it throwing the load to the side within seconds. They were lightning fast I barely managed to take a picture. Hoping there would be no more obstacles, we carried on the downhill path taking those hairpin bends once again before reaching Pambahinna.
We took the Kalthota Road, where I’ve had some great memories, and carried on towards Hambegamuwa then to Kuda Oya where Ana had some personal business to attend to. While they went on with that, I used the time picturing the surrounding areas. The nearly ready paddy fields were in many shades between yellow and green. Bunches of rice were nearly ready to be harvested, they were falling towards the earth due the weight of the seeds while the yellow and green blades of grass were rising to the sky. There must have been hundreds of acres of rice waiting to go and feed the hungry mouths. Hopefully these farmers will get their word work’s worth.
In addition to them, there were tiny papaw trees yet with plenty of fruits in various stages of ripening. The soil is very fruitful and ready to give back a healthy harvest. Kuda Oya flows right next to the bungalow where we went but she’s being abused brutally by the sand miners. So venturing into the water is very dangerous due to deep pits.
We then took leave and headed towards Colombo via Udawalawa. The reservoir looking beautiful as ever and we saw the pipeline that takes water to the Samanalawewa Power Plant. Further to the right was Diyawini Ella but very little water. Even the Udawalawa itself has a small hydro power plant that generates electricity. The swimming beggar was there. If you wonder if it was Michael Phelps, you’re sadly mistaken. It was that elephant who dares the water and swims across to come beg for some delicacies from the passing travelers. There were people against numerous warnings trying to give him something. Simply absurd and they never learn a lesson.
Finally having completed yet another successful and memorable journey we arrived back in the concrete jungle well before the dark.
Don’t go yet. Just wait for a few more minutes coz I’ve got some fabulous Panos to show you. I’m sure you gonna love them.
Well, that’s it and now you can get back to making your living. Hope this was a good distraction for your overloaded schedule.
Keep traveling but be safe.