Makare

MapCrew : 8

Transportation : Double Cabs

Duration : 2 Days

 

Visiting the famous “Makare – මකරේ” or the “Dragon Mouth” was in my mind for a long time but couldn’t find a time and a gang to visit there. Suddenly the idea of camping in the “Gal Oya” national park was suggested by my friend and luckily, there were many friends looking to join for the trip. We fixed a date on a weekend and reserved the Wild Life Department Nilgala Circuit Bungalow two weeks Prior. (Click here to Reserve Bungalows Operated by Department of Wild Life Conservation, Sri Lanka)

Seven of us departed Inginiyagala around 1.30 pm in two vehicles and pick another friend at the turning point for Nilgala Wild Life Department bungalow on Inginiyagala – Bliba Road. Access road is more of a dirt path with bushes creeping in, where we saw few households up to the border of the Galoya Forest Reserve. We reached there and settled in Nilgala wildlife bungalow around 4 pm and prepared for the BBQ. The staff supported us to marinate the chicken (There are no super markets or even large scale boutiques nearer, so better to bring all supplies from the nearest town. We bought our supplies from Ampara). The hardest part was to light up the charcoal in the BBQ grill which we brought with us.
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Then we went for a bath in the Gal Oya, which is few meters away from the place where we stayed. The environment was clam and warm, urging us to take a dip in the cold water. The water flow looked slow, but was strong and deep in some sections. The caretakers made us a delicious dinner to enjoy with the BBQ and we enjoyed it before going to sleep a bit  late.
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We woke up in the morning and our plan was to visit Makare and do a small hike on a wild trail. So we decided to visit makare before the breakfast and started our journey for the day. The road was not that difficult but it is recommended to use a vehicle with a good ground clearance, Four wheel drive is not a must. It took us a considerable time to drive up to makare as we were going below 10kmph all the time. After reaching a small hill like dead-end, we had to walk down to Gal oya. We took some time to capture the beauty of the stream running over the rocky surface. There were signs of a very high water level marked on nearby cliffs which was around 10-15 ft higher than the water level at that time.

Our guide took us on a footpath along the left bank of Gal oya and reached the famous “Makare” after few minutes walk. I imagined that it is a one giant rock and the water is flowing under it. But actually it is a collection of countless big rocks and the water is flowing through that rock filter. So we can’t see water flow unless Gal Oya is over flowing (Which is a seasonal thing if the top end of Gal Oya gets enough rain).
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After clicking few photos there, we decided to head back to our vehicles and go to one of the nearest campsites. We brought a small tent hoping to use it in case we needed, but it wasn’t. So we used it as a backdrop for some group photos!
😀
We were really hungry and missing the breakfast at that time, so we decided to cancel the hike we planned and return to the wildlife bungalow as soon as possible. It took around another 45 minutes drive for us to reach there, and a delicious breakfast was on the table as we arrived.

Since we didn’t had much time to plan and due to the last minutes participation, the food we brought finished with that breakfast. So we decided to head back to Mahaoya for Lunch and to have another dip in the nearby section of Gal Oya before the return trip.
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On the way we saw some fresh elephant dung, indicating that there was at least one elephant nearby. It made us cautious and one of us spotted a small foot prints running towards the stream!
We heard a noise amid the discussion to guess who owns those foot prints. A wild boar appeared out of nowhere and it was coming towards us. Our immediate thoughts were to run for our lives, but we didn’t except making room for the boar to pass the group of us. The boar wasn’t a fully grown one and neither of us could see the Incisors that we were heard of. The boar decided to come towards us anyway and the time seemed passing in slow motion. The boar stopped near a puddle and rolled over resting up side down like a dog. It made us bit relieved and I tried to click some photos.

After having a minute of mud bath the bar again started following us. Then we realized that it must be used to humans and looking for something to eat in the bags we were carrying our towels and stuff. No one had anything to offer to the boar, but he followed us to the stream anyway.
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We jumped from the bank on to the rocks coming out of the stream and started to walk toward the usual spot we bathed the day before. We though then the boar will get back to the jungle as he can’t follow us. But we were wrong and the boar tried to test its swimming skills! But the water flow was high and it seemed that the boar is drowning. We were hopeless and the only thing we could do is to run towards a shallow bank and call it to swim there. After few minutes of rigorous swimming the boar made it to the bank we were on. It was tired from the fight with the mighty currents of Gal oya and let us even pet it.
😛

After a while a dog who lives in the Nilgala wild life bungalow came to the stream and the boar disappeared in to the jungle. So we too went on to have a bath and spent a quality time dipped in cold water. Afterwards it took only few minutes for us to pack our things and start the journey back. We went to Bibila town for the lunch and dropped one of our friends there. Drive back to Ampara took around another two hours and we finished the journey around 5 pm with a whole lot of unforgettable memories.
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Nil Diya Pokuna Cave

mapCrew : 12 + 3 guides

Transportation : Car, Some members used Train (Colombo – Ella) and Public Buses (Ella – Colombo)

Duration : Two Days

We had early plans to visit a place called Nil Diya Pokuna, which is an underground pond in a cave near Ella, Sri Lanka. After many considerations we fixed a date in the last week of December, 2016.

I browsed about “Nil Diya Pokuna” but information available was very little. It is said to be a pond inside a cave or a tunnel complex built by king Rawana and most of it is still unexplored. Many people have mistakenly visited the place marked as the “Rawana Cave” in Google maps thinking it is the location of Nil Diya Pokuna, but it is just a very small cave compared to this. Even villagers tend not to give clear directions to this place because of the recent attempts to grab media attention by some people claiming they have special powers and going to awake the king Rawana back! Whether this is built by king Rawana or another human or created due to natural causes is still to be discovered. Until then keeping this intact is our responsibility. Karandagolle Sugatharansi Thero of Karandagolla Temple and “Meththananda” (0726 108 392) are few of the people who knows the place really well.

Participants for this journey came from all over the country, so many chose the famous transportation medium Colombo – Badulla Train. But me and another two of my friends had some other plans so we used a car. Two of my friends Started their journey from Kandy around 4 pm and it was about 6.30 pm when i joined them from Mahiyanganaya. One of my friends had reserved a home-stay called “Tree Cold Resort” and it was around 8 pm when we reached Ella. We made a call and asked the Owner of the place for dinner on our way and he arranged a delicious meal within 30 minutes. After having dinner we had a little chat with the home-stay owner. He told us that he is going to Ella rock early in the morning with two foreigners and we could join with them. But we were not sure about our next day waking time, so we kindly declined the invitation. The place was good comparing to the price and we all went to sleep early as we were bit tired.

We woke up around 6 am (earlier than we expected) after a good night sleep. We spent some time just breathing in cool fresh air while enjoying the surrounding. Then we changed and had a heavy breakfast (which was delicious) and tried to figure out the day’s plan. As Ella Rock hike will take more than 5 hours we had not to consider it. So we went to Demodara to see the famous Railway loop first. Vehicles can access the Demodara Railway station and have to walk along the railway for around 1 km from there. You have to be very cautious as the railway is bendy, that one can’t see an on coming train until the last minute. It is mentioned that the railway is initially planned as a 11 km stretch to overcome the large elevation barrier, but Late Eng. D.J Wimalasurendra (Who was a Civil Engineer and considered as the Father of Hydro Electricity in Sri Lanka) redesigned this as a loop reducing the length to 3 km.

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Next we went to Demodara Tea Factory for a Visit. They Charge you 250 LKR per head for a factory visit. It was very informative, but sadly they don’t allow to take photographs inside the factory. There was this old majestic writing table.

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As it was about 12 noon, we thought of having lunch before visiting the famous Nine Arches Bridge. So we went back to Ella town and had our lunch in “Cafe Chill”. We felt like we were in a foreign country  as we were the only Sri Lankan customers there. Food was good and we enjoyed it very much.

There are two ways to reach nine arches bridge. You can use a vehicle to reach there via road or you can walk along the rail road from Demodara Railway loop. We chose the main road as we had to come back all the way to Demodara for our car, if we walked along the rail road. You can easily access there by a tuk tuk and can reach almost there by a car. (Last part of the road was under maintenance at the time we went, so we walked the rest of the distance). Nine arches bridge was constructed without using of Steel and concrete and it is wonderful how it bare the weight of a moving train. We spent some time there taking photographs but weren’t lucky enough to capture a train crossing the bridge.

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Rest of our friends supposed to reach Ella around 3.30 pm so we decided to have a snack until they come. We went to a place called “Ella Flower Garden Resort” just near the start of Mini Adam’s Peak trail and had some snacks and coffee. Our friends reached there around 4.15 pm, and we started to climb the “Mini Adam’s Peak”. It wasn’t steep like the “Adam’s Peak” trail and we reached to the peak within 45 minutes. There are many peaks after the initial peak, So we decided to go to them as well. we spent some quality time there with the views of Ella rock and Ella – Wellawaya Highway. Wind was high and surrounding misty mountains created a magical scenery.

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It was around 6.30 pm when we came back to Ella. Four of us stayed behind to buy dinner for the whole group and the rest hurried up to the bus stand to catch the last bus to “Karandagolla”. As it was a busy day, we had to wait until 8 pm to buy dinner and it was around 8.30 pm when we reached the 16th km post in Ella – Wellawaya highway by the car. One of my friends contacted “Meththananda” (0726 108 392) , The guide for our underground journey well before, so he had arranged us a place to spend the night in his home. All were tired and rushed to take a shower and there was a queue for the washrooms!
😀
We had our dinner as soon after we all took shower and went to sleep with the excitement for the next morning journey.

I woke up around 7 am and all others were awake then. We took our turns in the wash rooms like the last night and “Meththananda”‘s wife prepared us a delicious breakfast. One of our team members from Monaragala arrived then by his car. Meththananda lead us to a by road and we parked our cars in a place he suggested. We started our hike around 9 am. It was roughly about one kilometer trail from the place we parked our vehicles.

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We knew the hardships on our way, so we were well prepared. Every one of us had high intensity head lamps (150 Lumens and 250 Lumens) with extra batteries, Torches, Professional climbing rope, Face masks and two life jackets!

Meththananda said that we are not going to use the common entrance to the cave and going through the newly found entrance via a place called “Hulan Kapolla”. It only took few seconds to realize why it is called “Hulan Kapolla” after we reached the place. It was a tiny hole (approximately 2.5 feet diameter) in the earth and our eyes were blinded by the dust particles in the wind coming out of it.

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Our guide tied a rope around a tree lied on the ground near the “Hulan Kapolla” and he disappeared in to the hole, keeping his other two guide friends with us. We had to use the rope to get down from the two initial stages and the guides helped us by pointing up the places they use to set foot down the hole. There was space only enough to glide ourselves down through  the hole in the first stage. Next there was another hole which was wider and had to use rope plus a wooden ladder placed by Meththananda. We were glad about our high intensity head lamps as they were serving really well in the thick black tunnel. After the second stage there was a steep rocky edge to climb down.

After few minutes of sliding and crawling we entered to a large cave with more than 20 feet height and width (It is definitely more than 20 feet, exact dimensions were kept hidden under the blankets of darkness) . There were few places we had to crawl but generally there was enough space even to play a cricket match!

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We were enchanted by the views and the size of the cave and walked forward on the rocky and muddy floor. There were few places where my legs went about a foot deep in the soft soil. Walls were with very sharp texture, and we had many bruises just by touching them. Few hundred meters after the floor became steep again. There wasn’t a wall on our left side and all we could see was an endless darkness below. I was in the middle of the group and suddenly my head lamp reflected on something blue. As we knew there must be a “Nil Diya Pokuna”(meaning Blue Water Pond), I stopped and observed again.

Yes! It was crystal clear water which had a bluish touch when reflect. We all hurried down on the rocky floor and stopped just before the pond in an awe of the scenery.

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Water was cold and calm. There was no visual movement at all unless we made ripples just to reflect the light in order to take photographs. For the first few feet we could see the bottom of the pond, but after that there was only an endless darkness though the water was crystal clear.

It is said that the water is drinkable, so we had a sip and we are still okay!
😛

As we were prepared to swim in the pond, we switched to our swimwear and put on life jackets. We only took two life jackets so we had to take turns. One of us tied the rope in to a rock and put the other end in the water, just in case we needed it. We swam to the opposite end of the pond (the deeper side) with our goggles and head lamps on, but still couldn’t able to see anything below the water surface. That end had an inclined wall which ended below the water surface, which made creepy sounds when ripples collided against it. Most of our group members were regular swimmers (except a few who can’t swim at all) but all had this strange uncertain feeling about the pond, so we were careful not to do anything stupid and risk our lives. It is suspected that there is an entrance to another cave under water but still haven’t confirmed.

As the water is clear, once we aim a torch at the water surface it doesn’t reflect (we had to create ripples even to take photographs). But when we have an open light source or when we aim the torch at the walls / roof of the pond it creates a perfect reflection on the water surface. Most of the people mistake this reflection as the bottom of the pond (Which seems somewhat shallow), but definitely it is deeper than 40 feet in some parts (Some say its 80 feet, but no one has officially reached the bottom). As water is cold and using extra energy to be cautious, Two of the team mates had cramps in their legs. Therefore be careful if you are swimming in “Nil Diya Pokuna”and it is advised always to wear life jackets (We bought life jackets from Pettah for about 1500 LKR each and they served well).

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After spending about one and half hours in the pond, we changed back and started our journey to so called “Rooms” like formation in the cave. We had to use the same path as we came in for a certain distance and then take a detour to a side which was on the dark end of the cave. For the first few meters it was hard to walk on the slippery and sharp rock floor, but had enough space to walk. But then we came in to a part where all we can see was a small wedge like space between a large rock plates. It was scary as someone could get stuck in the middle!
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Then it again opened to a small path which we could crawl. I was relieved but it only remained for few minutes as  we reached a place where, literally there is no place to set foot. It was kind of a fallen rock over the cliff we were crawling on, so one had to stretch the legs while hanging on to a tiny sharp edge on the wall to reach the other end or to rely on their fate and make a step on the fallen rock which was slippery and the only thing we could see above the endless darkness beneath us. Five of the team decided to stay there (including me) and the rest of the (thin) fellows continued crawling. We went few steps back to a place with enough space to stand up and decided to observe the surrounding. We observed a small amount of graphite in soft spots of the cave wall. Mineral deposits were also observed in some places of the cave roof.

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That was the moment we had to actually use the masks we brought due to the infinite number of insects attracted to our head lamps. So we turned the head lamps in to kind of a sleep mode, which had a red LED. After getting rid of that insects, we decided to have a little rest until others arrive. We had to wait about an hour before we could hear their voices from far far away and another 10 minutes before see the light from their head lamps through the rocky barrier.

They described what was there while catching their breath. They had to crawl for around half an hour and pass another slippery obstacle to reach the “room” like formations. They have observed limestone formations. Some of them were with sharp edges. The mysterious part is there was a passage further and even “Meththananda” claims he haven’t explored it up to now.

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Then we started our journey back to surface of the earth and it was harder than descending. Each step was risky as there were nothing to stop us if we were falling. We had to give our total body weight to the arms at the last part, where we had to climb back on the rope. We were so glad that everyone came back safely and our cameras, head lamps, Life jackets, ropes & masks. Then only we realized that our cloths were totally covered in mud and our cameras were brown in color!

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We took 10 minutes to catch our breath and walked back to the place where we parked our vehicles with a huge satisfaction in mind. We decided to clean ourselves before getting in to the vehicles after eating jambu, which “Meththananda”‘s friend provided. Suddenly three Buddhist Monks and few lads arrived there and they wanted to talk to our guide, Meththananda. They were with Karandagolle sugatharansi Thero and also willing to visit the cave complex. So we took that opportunity to discuss with Sugatharansi Thero and learn more about the cave. Then we came to back to Meththananda’s place and had a long bath in a near by “Peella”. It was about 5 pm when we had our lunch. Me and another three of my friends had to leave as we had to go back to work in the morning. Others had plans to climb “Kurullangala” and then visit Karandagolla temple next day. So we said our goodbyes and came back with the sadness of missing another great hike.

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Chariot Path

sattelite-imageCrew : 11

Transportation : Bus (Kandy – Pussellawa), Hired Van (Pussellawa – Perettazi (Frotoft) Division), Hiking (Frotoft – Chariot Path – Mooloya Estate) , Bus ( Hewaheta – Kandy)

Duration : Two Days

(Please note that the path marked on the map is not a GPS track but only a graphical representation, Red triangle is the place we put our tents but i recommend camping on the place marked by a green triangle)

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Me and my friends wanted to go on a bit simpler camping trip with less hiking and less adventures. After considering many locations a place called “Chariot Path” on the Piduruthalagala Mountain Range was decided as the final destination. This year the monsoon patterns were bit odd, so it wasn’t raining on December 2016 to “Chariot Path”.

“Chariot Path” is believed to be the path that King “Rawana” took Princess “Seetha” from the Capital “Lankapura” to “Ashoka Vatika” (now Nuwara Eliya). Some say they traveled by “Dandu Monaraya” (The wooden airplane) but the common belief is that they traveled by a “Chariot” and for some reason the path remains “treeless” while all surrounding is covered with  montane rain forests. It is said that there is a pond created by fallen tears of Princess “Seetha” on top of the hill.

Many of my friends confirmed their participation as it was a long weekend and we decided to start the trip from Kandy around 8 am as few of them had to travel long distances. It was about 8.20 am when all arrived, but NuwaraEliya Bus at the stand was full. As we had many bags to carry and had a hike ahead, we got in to a “Pudaluoya” bus which travels via Pussellawa. But then another NuwaraEliya bus came and it departed well before the bus we were sitting in. But as we already took tickets, we stayed and the bus left Kandy around 9.10 am. Most of us were meeting after a long time, so had many to catch up while traveling. The main bottle neck of our journey was the part from “Pussellawa” to Frotoft Division in Delta Estate as the road conditions were bad and buses were less. As our contact said we had to be there before 9.30 am to get a seat in the 10 am bus to Frotoft from Pussellawa. Therefore we decided to hire a van from Pussellawa to make the traveling times more flexible. We reached Pussellawa around 11am and had some short eats and tea as the brunch and brought some more short eats for the hike. We were able to hire a van for 3500 LKR and realized it was very reasonable price considering the road conditions and the distance.

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The road was surrounded by a lush green tea plantation of Delta Estate, Pussellwa and the views were amazing. We saw Kothmale reservoir from Frotoft, way up on the bendy gravel road. We contacted a person (Christoper Nimal 0767189381) in Frotoft well before the trip by a number obtained by a previous group of travelers and asked his help to find the way to Chariot Path. As we reached the Frotoft Old Hospital, he came there and guided us with another friend of his.

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The first few kilometers of the path was on the dirt roads of delta estate and was comparatively easy to walk. Most of us had ordinary backpacks (for laptops) and had difficulties carrying heavy loads with back pain. The guides took us in to a small foot path towards a misty wall of mountains. It was a “one man” path along the montane forest for most of the hike and the climb was steep. As it was covered with thick forest, the steepness kept hidden to eyes but was feeling on our knees and legs. We took many water and Chocolate breaks to catch our breath. After about 2.5 hours of hiking we reached the top and was mesmerized by the scenery.

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It was over our expectations and we spent hours looking far in to the horizon and taking photographs. Our guides helped us to collect some firewood and showed “Seetha Pokuna” (Believed to be the tear pond of Princess Seetha). Water in “Seetha Pond” doesn’t flow, so it is said to have a certain saltiness. There is a spring nearby for drinkable water. The wind was strong and we had to put on our jackets and monkey caps. Then our guides went back home, leaving the whole mountain to us. Many of us took our next Facebook Profile pictures with this amazing background!

😀

Just after we finished collecting firewood, we saw some other group of hikers arriving the location via the steeper side of the mountain and later got to know that they were lost on the way but reached the destination after many kilometers of tiring climb.

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We decided to set up our tents before dusk and it was very difficult to find a suitable place due of heavy winds. Four of us had to always hang on to the corners of each tent to stop them from flying before pegging and then put our backpacks inside to make sure the tents wont fly. I have bought a tent for our Knuckles – Thunhisgala Hike but couldn’t use it as we stayed in KMP wadiya, so this was the first time it was being used. It was easy to setup and had ample space, only concern was the rain as it didn’t had a separate rain cover, which every other tent had. As we finished setting all four of our tents, another group of 12 hikers reached the Chariot path. 😛 (We thought this location was unpopular, but seemed it is not as another two groups camped there on the same day). Both other groups were enthusiastic hikers too and was friendly. We planned Instant noodles for our dinner, bread for next day breakfast and cream corn (canned) for lunch. One of my friends brought a Kerosene Cooker so we thought it will be easy to prepare our meals. But mist and heavy winds turned it around. When we looked, the lighting part of the lamp was missing and we had to tear apart a handkerchief and make one. Even then the gushing misty wind didn’t allowed us to lit the cooker so we decided to interchange the Breakfast and Dinner hoping we would be able to lit it in the morning.

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One of the tents were big enough for all eleven of us to get and sit in. We have brought Jam and Seeni Sambol, so bread was tasty and then we had chocolates for dessert. We talked for a while and went to our respective tents to sleep. Luckily few friends remained in the large tent had tried and lit the cooker after a while. We only got to know that when they invited us to have a cup of coffee in the ice cold night. Any of us didn’t thought that it would be this cold and was great to have something hot to drink. We came back to the tents after the coffee and prepared to take a nap. The grassy mountain floor made the tent floor a bit comfortable and we laid a blanket over it. No one had sleeping bags but blankets saved us from freezing. I slept for a while and woke up hearing a sound. Wind was stronger than it was and the noise it made was loud. The  sound came again and I was relieved when I realized it were my friends in the other two tents talking to each other at 3 am!!!

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After many roll overs to avoid freezing and find the perfect sleeping spot, I fall asleep and woke up around 8 am. Almost all others were then awake and preparing breakfast. We had instant noodles, Eggs, Sausages and Meatballs. It really energized us after a freezing night. One of the groups camped there, went back while we were having breakfast and the other group had trouble making a fire using firewood so we lend them our cooker for preparing breakfast. That group was planning to camp there for two days, so we gave them the firewood we collected and remaining “ready to eat” food. Then we had to take a vote for the route back home. Few said (including me) to use the same route we came up but most others wanted to try the longer route via “Mooloya Estate”. We came out of that tent and found out some feces of an animal! Someone must have visited the place in night but we didn’t hear anything. :O

We refilled our water bottles from the spring nearby and packed our bags. It was kind of a nice thing to see that all other campers were concerned about the environment and took back everything they disposed. We too took many garbage bags and dumped everything to them so we had extra bags to bring down.

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The path from “Chariot path”to “Mool Oya” Estate lies via a thick montane forest but the foot path was clearly visible guaranteeing us a safe passage. There were many loose stones and slippery edges, but all managed to climb down safely. We crossed two small waterfalls on the way. Few kilometers after, we reached to a point where the foot path became an abandoned gravel road, with signs that those parts of the estate must have used for tea plantation a long time ago. With wide road, walking was easy and we came to an old concrete bridge with an overlooking hut. The hut was in good condition and we thought of having a break there. Many of us jumped into the shallow pond before the small waterfall and freshened up by cold crystal clear water. Then we had Cheese and Cream Cracker Biscuits as our brunch and started the walk again.

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We reached to the tea plantation just few minutes from the waterfall and asked the ladies working there for directions. The views were amazing with the sun hidden behind mist over the mountains. After around 4 Kilometer walk from the top of the tea plantation, we reached to a carpet road and continued the descend. Next there was the Mool Oya Tea Factory and we luckily found a Van (Operating as a replacement to buses) to travel rest of the distance to Hewaheta. All 11 of us managed to get in to the already filled van and reached Hewaheta within half an hour. There was an empty bus parked in the halt which goes directly up to Kandy, so we happily settled in. It was around 5 pm when we reached back to Kandy.

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Thunhisgala

map-1

Crew : 7 (including a guide)

Transportation : Bus (Wattegama – Gomaraya), Three Wheeler [Tuk Tuk] (Gomaraya to Lebanon Estate), Hiking (Knuckles via Rathnagiri Estate – Narangamuwa) , Lorry ( Narangamuwa -Pallegama), Bus (Pallegama- Kandy)

Duration : Three Days

(Please note that the path marked on the map is not a GPS track but only a graphical representation)

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One of my hiking addicted friends informed me that he has a plan for an adventure in Knuckles range and it may take three days at least. As I haven’t been to knuckles before, i confirmed my participation as soon as i heard it. Then i started my own research about the planned route of travel.

Knuckles Mountain range is located in the central Sri Lanka. Mathale – Kandy District boarder lies over this mountain range. As the name implies, there are five adjacent peaks resembling a knuckle. But altogether there are 34 peaks in the range and it has been declared as a forest reserve in Sri Lanka. Famous Meemure (Read My Visit to Meemure) lies in the middle of the Misty Knuckles Mountain Range.

We started our journey on a Friday morning. My father was kind enough to drop me and another two of my friends to Wattegama  Bus stand. The organizer of this hike came few minutes later with the guide who has been spent the night in my friends’ house. Two others were yet to arrive, so we decided to have something for Breakfast. Then we came back to the bus stand and get in to the “Gomaraya” bus hoping the other two will arrive before the bus leave. During the planning stages of this hike, one of my friends (one of the two who were late to arrive) had prepared a menu for the nine meals during our hike.

Day 1 – Breakfast – Anything from a cafe in Wattegama Bus Stand
Day 1 – Lunch – Shorteats (buy from a cafe in Wattegama Bus Stand)
Day 1 – Dinner – Roti (A flat bread/ like a thick version of pancakes)

Day 2 – Breakfast – Corn
Day 2 – Lunch – Kadala
Day 2 – Dinner – Instant Noodles

Day 3 – Breakfast – Sweet Potato
Day 3 – Lunch – Bread
Day 3 – Dinner – Bread (Hopefully we will arrive our homes before this)

Considering the variety of the list and the weight, I thought this will be limited to just a list and we will have to eat instant noodles and bread for the whole three days. But he made the list real and proved that he is a good cook too. Two of them arrived just 2 minutes before the bus left and we looked odd among the normal crowd with heavy backpacks and tent equipment. The distance to Gomraya from Wattegama was comparatively less but the narrow bendy roads took its time. The passengers started to talk with us to know where are we going and it seemed most of them were excited about the hike too. We got off from the bus in Gomaraya Junction and started walking towards “Lebanon Estate” hoping to catch three wheelers  (tuk tuks) so that we could save some energy for the real hike. Fortunately we were able to find two three wheelers (yes, 7 of us fat boys were able to utilize 2 tuk tuks!) after about one kilometer walk and reached the Lebanon Estate around 10.30 am.

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We started in a slow phase taking time to catch the breathtaking view from our cameras and with naked eye. The gravel road was damaged here and there but a 4 x 4 would easily have reached the top. Some distance along the way we saw CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board – Electricity Supplier in Sri Lanka) guys working on to supply electricity to the small houses far away on the mountain. Then we saw some crowded three wheelers coming down and realized we could have gone to the top of “Rathnagiriya Estate” by the tuk tuks we used earlier. After few kilometers walk among the tea plantation of “Rathnagiri Estate” we reached a point where a head high grass forest began. The guide somehow directed us through the thick growth to a hardly identifiable path along the contours of the mountain. The path lead us to a peak after a peak without even a single descend. We realized that we alone couldn’t have been able to find the trail and were glad that we had a guide. He said he used to work in a Cardamon plantation as a young boy but wasn’t talking very much on the first day but only talked to urge us to start the hike back when we took countless water breaks. For almost quarter of the first day trail, we were safe from leeches but they started attacking us as soon as we entered the jungle on the first peak. It was an extended dry season for knuckles as the North – East monsoons delayed, but the rain started on the day before we started our hike. That was enough to make the floor wet and leeches were appearing from nowhere like they were magicians.

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As soon as we arrived to an open space, all started plucking leeches away. Most of us have tucked our trouser hems in to the socks but surprisingly the leeches were able to reach within. Then we had our “Short-eat” lunch trying to forget the army of blood suckers surrounding us. The environment was extremely quiet, even without a noise from birds and it looked magical with the wall of wet tree barks covered from Lichens. It was around 2.30 pm when we reached the place called KMP Wadiya. No one was there when we arrived and our guide opened the doors and started to clean the inner floor without even taking a break. We had a good 10 – 20 minute session finding leeches in our shoes and attending the leech bites. Then only we saw that there were many trees with yellow bulb like fruits and found out those were a sour type of Oranges (Ambul  Dodam). Our cook friend climbed a nearby guava tree and we had guava after making weird sour faces while having Oranges (Ambul  Dodam).

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The building was in fairly good condition considering it was abandoned. It even had a water line from a nearby spring. I had the most freezing bath of my life there and then all the pain from walking with heavy backpacks and camping gear disappeared.  We all had a good chat on the floor inside the house and the guide then became talkative. When the rules are not that strict, people from nearby villages used to plant Cardamon in the valleys of Knuckles. So there were many Huts (like the one we were staying) and main income of the villagers were that. But during 2010 the forest department evaded the cardamon plantations and it is said that they have burned all Huts except this one, even with the valuables inside. That stopped the Cardamon plantation and even few villages inside the now Knuckles Forest reserve were deserted as villagers moved to near by towns looking for jobs eventually. Somehow this Hut (actually it can be referred as a house) with five rooms, living room, kitchen and a toilet was survived and hence providing shelter for the wayfarers like ourselves. We were prepared for the worst but was happy to find the toilet was in fairly good condition. Our guide said that then this building had even electricity using solar panels.

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It was becoming dark so we started to prepare roti for dinner. Our guide just converted an empty glass bottle in to a kerosene lamp (Kuppi lampuwa) so we started cooking around 6.30 pm but constant stories and smiles made it around 8 pm when we prepare the first roti. So we took turns and prepared roti until 9.30 pm. My friends have brought Kurahan (a grain) floor to mix with wheat floor so the dinner was very heavy. We prepared a bonfire but sleepy heads and strong rains made us sleep 1round 10.30 pm. There were two wooden panel bed a likes in one room and another wooden panel bed with a Coir Fiber mattress. our guide chose one of the two wooden panel beds and the rest of us chose the living room floor. We put the tarpaulin (floor of one of the tents we brought) first and the rest of the tent material on top of it. That was the bed for the night! Two of us (including me) brought bed sheets and the rest had to cover from the roof material of the tent. Initially, the tired bodies made us sleep for a while but then a cold sting woke me up. I looked at my phone and it was only 1 am. My back was paining due to the hard floor surface and the cold was too much for the cloths and the bed sheet to resist. After many peeks in to the phone for time and many rotations to find a non- aching position to sleep it was dawn. We had plan for a early morning photo shoot, but the mist due to heavy rains made it impossible. So we started to prepare the breakfast. I was hoping to see corn (with the husks on) but gladly my friends were able to find precooked sweet corn cans. We tasted it but it was cold and too much sweet. So some of us mixed tomato sauce and chili paste to it while other made the morning coffee and Kadala for lunch. The breakfast was tasty and remaining roti from the last night made it even better.

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We started day two hike around 10 am and many of us mistakenly set feet on a swamp early in the morning. So we had to face the leeches with a one dry foot and a soaking wet foot a like covered in mud. The trail was almost covered in forest and the guide said it was about five months earlier when someone traveled the path. Though we planned to set our camp on the day two night before, the heavy rains made us re-evaluate the situation and decide to find shelter on the same place as yesterday. Our backpacks were heavier than yesterday and it made us wonder how it is possible. We thought of leaving them in KMP Wadiya, but our guide said that there was an instance where some group of hikers kept there stuff in the huts for the day and many valuables were missing after another group of hikers came to the place on the same day. So we took out the non-essentials to the mountain hunt and hid it near a large rock and covered it from the tent material about a kilometer away from KMP wadiya. there were two “ë danda’s” (Single tree trunk bridging two sides). Day two was same as the day one except that we had to deal with bushes with thorns throughout the day. Leeches attacked us more and we became ore efficient in plucking and throwing them away. We used many (said) leech repellents but didn’t saw any progress. Most of us lost balance while walking due to the slippery leaves fallen over the path and the earth kissed our butts each and every time. I even twisted my ankle at some point. Gladly there was not much effect to the ankle for that injury but my leg was hurting from the hip bone, each time i had to climb higher steps. It made others to slow down and we were not sure about the heavy rains in the afternoon.

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Our destination for day two was “Thunhisgala” and found out that it is really “Thun This gala” meaning (33 peaks). It is said that the peak was named such because we can see the all other 33 peaks of the Knuckles range form that mountain. The path to the peak lied on the edge between the valleys of Thunhisgala and was covered with the head height virgin forest. There were many false peaks and it made my leg pain even worse. Each time we reached the place we thought as the peak, there was another peak higher which wasn’t visible earlier. So i decided to stop so that my friends could go faster and i could recover as there was another day left. There was only one path to the peak so they had to come back on the same path. I checked my remaining water and food status and found a place to sit comfortably.

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It even didn’t took a minute for the forest to hide my friends under its lush green top and all i could hear was the wind until few minutes. Then the Crickets started their noise and it only stopped when there was another sound. I heard the monkeys, birds and bees. Suddenly another large sound made by an animal which i couldn’t identify. Then only i realized that there are no mobile signals and my friends are far away that they can’t hear me even if i screamed! I kept listening for a while for that sound but it never heard again. So i became more confident and checked out the surrounding. Right to me was a small path with low height clearance that can be suspected as used by animals and a tiny cave! I tried to figure out is it possible for Sri Lankan leapords (Panthera Pardus Kotiya) to live nearby as knuckles has been identified as their one of the residences. But then i saw many cob webs across the path indicating no one has used that in days. So there was nothing to worry and i tried to have a nap. It was a wonderful experience surrendering to the mother nature without any other human contact even for a little while. That calmness was a reminder why monks use forests to concentrate more on meditation. My nap was disturbed by a noise and it was our guide. Next came another friend of mine. But the rest was missing, and saw their heads far away towards the Thunhisgala peak. We wait for them and started our journey back to the KMP Wadiya. The sky looked all gloomy and grayish making us worry about the things we hid in the jungle to reduce our weight. Our guide directed us through shortcuts in steep valleys and we were able to reach back to the place we kept our thing around 2 pm. Our things were safe but leeches were all over. It took us a while to get them off but reached back to Wadiya within few minutes.

We spent good one hour sharing the experiences while attending our leech bites before having an ice cold shower. It was dark sooner than expected but we were able to collect some firewood for cooking and the bonfire with the help of our guide. We changed our cooking plans a bit and inter changed Day 2 dinner with the Day 3 Breakfast as boiling sweet potato in the morning may delay our Day 3 journey. So we prepared Sweet potato and ate it with “Seeni Sambol” we brought. But it was not enough for hungry 7 tummies so that we ate one loaf of bread as well. The rain was delayed than the previous day so we made a good bonfire and shared stories in the warmth of the fire. Learning from the previous night experiences we agreed to sent someone to use the wooden panel bed, and it was me who volunteered. It was same as the cement floor but the added height from the ground made me feel less cold and had a good sleep.

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All were up early in the Day 3 but it was still dark around 6 am. We prepared noodles for the breakfast and had it while on the same saucepan that we cooked. We took our time to pack the bags and it was around 10 am when we leave. For the first section we had to use the same path we used to climb Thunhisgala. We remembered the swamp and went around it. I was third in line at the start and the “Ë danda” just broke and fell off while i was on it! Luckily i managed to jump before it fell and others had to cross that creek using stones peeking over the crystal clear water. We took many water breaks as it was a steep climb and it empties our water bottles sooner than we expected. Each step we took was uncertain as the ground was wet and we couldn’t see where to set foot as it was covered from a wet layer of decaying leaves. We forgot the count, how many times we fell and how many times our ankles sprained. We smelled like mud and looked like wild bores. We reached “Reana Ketu Pathana” around 11.15 and spent sometime resting. The path there onward was more flat and it made us walk faster. Then we reached “Pelessa” peak and the view from there was mesmerizing. We had plans to visit “Wannimana” and “Uda Wannimana” but our guide said that we will not be able to reach Narangamuwa before dusk and then we might have to spend another day. As we were not prepared for it, thought of satisfying just from the view of “Uda Wannimana” and plan another hike there.

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There was only trace of a path made by the cattle from “Pelessa” onward. So we crawled above a few hundred meters downfall, holding on to everything we could. As there was no ascending, we traveled much faster and took less water breaks (we had almost no water at this point). Around 12.30 pm we reached a waterfall and decided to have the Lunch. The three day old bread tasted better with the Jam and Seeni Sambol we brought. We refilled our water bottles and started our journey back within few minutes. The steepness became less along the way and reached to almost flat path after around one hour. The jungle looked less thicker and we saw a fully dried out remains of a large stream of water. It was a very sad scene to look at. After many kilometers of walk we saw the signs of human presence near Narangamuwa. It was a chena and an old lady was working on it. Then there was a mud hut (people were living there) and many houses with same appearance on the way. It took around another kilometer walk for us to see a house with electricity supply and another kilometer to reach a proper concrete road. Then the walk was easy and we reach to a little boutique in Narangamuwa around 3 pm. We bid farewell to our guide there as he had pans to visit his relatives in Narangamuwa and Cleaned ourselves before putting on less smelly cloths. We were able to hire a small lorry to drop us to Pallegama and no one wanted to use the seats in front. We all get on to the back of the lorry and enjoyed the ride. We saw a Hettipola – Dambulla Bus on the way and were able to get on to it. Gladly the bus wasn’t crowded so we could travel with ease without disturbing other passengers with our smell and heavy backpacks.

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As soon as we got off from Dambulla we found a Kandy bus. One of my friends was traveling to Kurunegala and the other to Colombo, so they took a bus to Colombo via Kurunegala. Kandy bus was crowded and we couldn’t find any seats until half of the way. My father picked me up from Kandy and reached home around 8.30 pm.

Galoya National Park

MapCrew : 5

Tranportation : Double Cab (Up to Inginiyagala Dam), Boat

Duration : Half day

Gal Oya National Park is located in  the boundary of Uva and Eastern Provinces surrounding Inginiyagala reservoir AKA Senanayaka Samudraya, the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka. Senanayaka Samudraya is created by constructing a dam across the water stream called “Gala Oya” which later became “Gal oya” under Galoya project to distribute water to Uva and eastern provinces for irrigation purposes. The Dam, which power up the 11.25 MW Hydro electric generators in Inginiyagala Power Station was started in 1949 and completed in 1953.

This was the area which King Saddhatissa, Brother and successor of King Dutugemunu used as his hiding place during the war between his brother. After he throned, King Saddhatissa has build many temples in this area which later covered by dense forest with the establishment of the Kingdoms in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa areas. Later the villagers in Uva – Wellassa, in the times of the famous “Wellasse satana” had been fled to Digamadulla (Now Ampara-Inginiyagala-Hingurana-Damana area) which was a dense jungle at that time and established villages. After few centuries of isolation from the rest of the country, Galoya project made people from all over the country to settle down in Digamadulla.

The Galoya National park was established in 1954 as the main catchment area of the senanayaka samudraya and controlled under the Galoya development board until 1965, when the department of wildlife conservation took over. 63000 ha land of this national park is the home for 32 species of terrestrial mammals including Sri Lankan Elephant, Deer, Water Buffalo, Leopard, Wild Boar and Monkeys. It is rare to see mammals in this park other than elephants, buffaloes and monkeys through the untouched, thick walls of gigantic tress. Therefore this national park still remains unpopular, keeping its residents safe and sound.

I had an idea of visiting the park someday as i heard it is the only national park in Sri Lanka, where visitors can go on a boat safari. One fine day of July in 2016 me and another four of my friends went to the Gal oya National Park. As I have been contacted Galoya wild life department office few weeks earlier and reserved the afternoon (3.00 PM) boat session, we only had to pay the fees and jump in to the boat. There are two boats which you can reserve, one with 10 and another with 7 passenger capacity. You only have to make a call to Department of Wildlife Office in Galoya (0632242002 / +94632242002) to make a reservation, which they will be confirming your participation by contacting you in the morning of your date of reservation and payments can be made just before the boat safari.
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I was already in Ampara, so i went from a personal vehicle to the Inginiyagala dam. One who is travelling from Kandy to Galoya national park have three routes as options.

Option 1: Kandy to Andaulpotha – B492 (Randenigala Road) & B36 > Andaulpotha to Inginiyagala Via Bibile (178 km) : Haven’t used this route in a while, heard B492 (Randenigala) road in not in perfect condition as rest of the road. But can’t say the road condition is bad.

Option 2: Kandy to Mahiyanganaya – A26 (18 Hair pin road) > Mahiyanganaya to Inginiyagala Via Andaulpotha  and Bibile (178 km) : A26 (18 Hair pin) Road is one of the most scenic routes in Sri Lanka and the road lies through Galoya national park during the Bibile – Inginiyagala part

Option 3: Kandy to Mahaoya (69 junction) – A26 (18 Hair pin road) & Mahaoya (69 junction to Ampara – A5 > Ampara to Inginiyagala – AB1 (209 km) : A26 (18 Hair pin) Road is one of the most scenic routes in Sri Lanka but there is around 60km length after Padiyathalawa in  route

My favorite is Option 2, But you have to always keep an eye on the road as there is a high chance of wild animals crossing the road in the Bibile – Inginiyagala part. Also i have observed that dogs love sleeping on the road just after a drizzle which is rare to this area in latter part of the year.

We went to the Galoya national park, wild life department office around 2.30 pm and then paid for the boat ride. You have to pay for 5 people to reserve the boat and if there are more poeple, it is 650LKR per head, small amount as the boat operator cost and Taxes. For five of us, it was around 840 LKR per head alltogether. (*Please note that these charges are for local visitors, Charges for Foreigners may be different). Then we went to the far end of Inginiyagala dam, where the Wildlife department holiday bungalow is located. The boat operator gave us life jackets and prepared the boat while we were struggling to put on them.

Then the ride began. It was too sunny so that we all wore hats and i was wondering will there be any animal sightings with this hot climate.  Initially we saw many birds who has been residing the small islands emerged from water. There were only few species of birds though the count was numerous. As we got to know afterwards it is better to go morning boat safari to see birds and afternoon session for elephants. Then we saw one elephant on a island far away and traveled there, the operator shut the boat engine as we came nearby and let it float without any sound. The giant was searching for food and was too busy not to notice us (or may be he knew there is no treat to them inside their home).
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We started the ride once again as the elephant disappeared behind the rocky center of the island. As it is an island the elephant must have swam to it, but it is a rare to witness  that event. Then we saw few deer, Monkeys, alligator and another elephant in the mainland. All the mammals were there for water, while the alligator was spying on them. Then we saw the event we were looking forward, one of my friends pointed out an elephant walking towards the reservoir from the mainland far away. It was nearly 4.30pm where the sun was on the background making it hard for us to watch the elephant. So the operator took the boat around an island . When we were looking there was no sign of the elephant. Then the wild life department boat operator shut the engine and pointed out a small rock like thing around 8 inches over the water surface, that turned out to be the one we were looking for. It was a majestic scene to witness. The elephant was swimming!!! the thing we saw was the top of her head and she gently rise her eyes above the water once in a while to see the direction. As she could breath through her trunk, which was slightly over the water surface the swim seemed pretty easy even though the body is large.
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Suddenly our boat, which was floating with the engines turned off hit a decayed tree trunk under the water. That made a large noise and got the swimmers’ attention. She quickly swam the rest of the distance and challenged us as soon as she could feel the ground underwater. But as we kept clam and she realized it is safe, she gently walked out of the water and had a snack before disappearing in to the tree curtain of that island. On the way we saw another couple of elephants having their wet bodies covering with dust and enjoying the sunset. Finally we headed back to the dam to realize that we were on the boat for around 3 hours and 30 minutes.
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Meemure

mapCrew : 10

Duration : Two days

Transport : Bus, Public transport service (Van)

Meemure is a Valley in knuckles mountain range. One should travel around 42 Kms in KMP (Kandy-Mahiyanganaya-Padiyathalawa) highway from Kandy to Hunnasgiriya and then again travel about 31 kms in Hunnasgiriya-Meemure road. There is a transport service from Hunnasgiriya to Meemure which charges a reasonable price in the scheduled time table, but will charge more if you want to arrange a van at your convenience. We used public bus service to reach Hunnasgiriya and then traveled to Meemure by a van. It will take more time to go Meemure from Hunnasgiriya than Kandy to Hunnasgiriya, because of the poor road condition. If you are expecting to travel by a private vehicle, A van or a 4 wheel vehicle is recommended.

Since Meemure is surrounded by mountains, there was no mobile network coverage (hope still the same). Meemure post office has a fixed line telephone connection and as i heard that is the only telephone line existed. If you plan to stay more than a day it is better to buy everything you need before passing Hunnasgiriya, because it will be very difficult to find anything other than the essentials inside the village. There are many sites for camping and came to know that there are few cottages which can be rented. We located our tent near the stream which is few kilometers away from the village. We carried a kerosine oil cooker with us and prepared food ourselves except one meal. The villagers are very friendly and one prepared a meal for us for a very reasonable price and it was tasty (Y) .

If you are planning to travel meemure in early september, you will be able to climb “Lake gala”, which is a steep rock near Meemure. Villagers said that it will be slippery in other times of the year. Meemure is a place where you can find the beauty of nature still unharmed by humans and was the main location of the movie “Sooriya arana”. The time spent there without any interactions (No calls, no texting, no Internet so no Social Networking) with the outer world is one of the best relaxation i’ve ever had.
🙂

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