Jurong Bird Park

MapCrew : 3

Transportation : MRT, Taxi

Duration : One Day

 

When I got to know I have to travel to Singapore for an official matter, I did a quick search to know what to see and what to do there. Many blogs and previous travelers recommended the Singapore Zoo among the top 5 places to visit in Singapore. But the problem was time. As many said it will take more than 3 hours to cover the zoo and another 5 hours or so for the River Safari and Night Safari, I had to find a full day during the stay. Luckily there was a weekend,  which Saturday was already allocated for a group visit to Universal World, But Sunday was free.

Many had visited Singapore before in our group, so they have seen the zoo. Hence I decided to go alone initially, but found two friends interested in joining the trip. My idea was to get the maximum out of the full day, so I boldly decided to go for all four attractions “Jurong Bird Park”, “Singapore Zoo”, “River Safari” and the “Night Safari”. We took the North East Line MRT from “Little India Station” to “Outram Park” and East West Line MRT from there to “Boonlay” Interchange. Then we asked from an information counter about the directions to get a bus, The kind lady there reminded us that we will be needing the exact amount of change in cash in order to use the bus without the prepaid travel card. There was 194 Bus which goes directly to the Jurong Bird Park just outside the MRT Station, and we were able to collect required amount in coins for the bus ticket! 😀

When I searched online for information about these park, zoo and safaris, found out that all parks are planned in a way that you have to walk the full circle to cover the entire attraction but all of them have a tram ride or a boat ride to get a quick glance at them within short amount of time. As I wanted to see them all, I decided not to use the tram rides in Jurong Bird Park and Singapore Zoo.

We arrived at the Park around 9.30 am and hurried in to the ticket counters as it was starting to getting crowded. We brought Tickets for the all four parks (There was a big discount if you are buying tickets to the all four parks at once, Tickets are Valid within a week of the date of purchase) for 69 SGD per person. We took a minute to see the Jurong Bird Park Map and started from the Penguin Coast. A group of penguins were swimming and playing in an open pool near a model of a large ship. I found out that they are a special species of Penguins that live in a bit warm weather.
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Then we went to the “World of Darkness” featuring different kinds of Owls. There was a special request from the zoo to remain quiet there as noise may disturb those sleepy birds. The zoo have tried to create the best natural living conditions, where owls were harder to spot among close to nature backgrounds.
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We got to know that a bird Show called “High Flyers” will be there at Pools amphitheater from 11.00 am, which was located next in our route. But as there was around 30 minutes more, we decided to visit “Heliconia Walk” first. The path directed us towards a small hill, where many small colorful birds were displayed. That area wasn’t crowded as all visitors might have been waiting for the bird show at pools amphitheater. Then we walked to the “Royal Rumble” passing the “Wetlands” where different types of cranes lived.
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“Royal Rumble” was home to couple of bird species with attractive feathers and colors. peafowls and many other birds (I can’t recall their names) with feather crowns were resting under the shades of shrubs. After that we hurried back to the pools amphitheater for the “High Flyers” Bird show.
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The theater was filled with visitors and luckily we found a free space just in the middle to sit. Soon the show started with large colorful birds flying over just above our heads. They had trained them to catch fruits on the flight and fly through rings etc. The narrator always explained something related to their natural behavior with each activity birds did. It was very informative as well as attractive. The show ended with few dozens of birds, just hanging around with visitors near the stage for a photo shoot!
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Our Next stop was “Hornbills and Toucans” and “Window on Paradise”. There were many informative displays about Hornbills and their lifestyle. Many Hornbills with colorful beaks were there but the steel netted cages blocked my camera view.
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“Birds of Prey”, “Jungle Jewels”, “Bird Discovery Centre”, “Wings of Asia”, “Dinosaur Descendants”, “Swan Lake” and “Waterfall Aviary” were next in our route. The whole setup was in a close to nature way, creating a healthy atmosphere for the resident birds. Birds living freely inside the Aviary was something attractive.
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“Pelican Cove”, “Flamingo Lake” and “Riverine” were our last sections to visit before deciding to have lunch in the nearby Pizza Hut outlet. The food was tasty but only afterward we realized that there is a place called “Hawk Cafe” which we could have tried. Soon as the lunch was finished, we rushed to the Taxi Stand and left around 1.30 pm to “Singapore Zoo”.
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Singapore – What to Know Before Traveling

MapSingapore is an Island nation which is one of the few countries where the capitol is same as the country. It is around 750 square kilometers including all new reclamation, with the east-west length of around 40 km and north-south length of around 20 km. Here are some important facts for the first time travelers to the Garden Island, Singapore.

Visa

Singapore offers On-arrival visa  for many nationalities. You can check further details from following link. Make sure to keep the last part of the boarding document given as it may be required to produce whenever necessary. You can find the list of countries who have On-Arrival visa here.

Weather

Singapore has almost constant weather activities all around the year. As it is located near the equator the climate is bit warm. There will be a drizzle in the afternoon which will be over in about an hour, So better be prepared if you are planning to walk or visit a park. You can use an weather app just to make sure.

Transport

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Main three transportation methods in Singapore are MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), Buses or Taxis. Singapore highly promotes the usage of Public transport. Therefore, you can experience one of the best public transportation systems there. There are even driver-less MRTs. If you are planning to travel more on public transport, it is recommended to buy a Singapore Tourist Pass, which will save you a lot!

MRTs are the cheapest option for traveling. Singapore has a good train network, covering almost every place you need to go and it is further evolving. You need a ticket to enter the MRT platform. If you don’t have a Tourist pass you can purchase a ticket from the automated machines at each MRT station, which you still can recharge and reuse to get discounts on your 3rd and 6th rides.


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Buses are the next cheap mode of transport. Traveling in the Buses will be tricky if you don’t have that re-chargeable card. Then you will need the exact amount of bus fare as there is no bus conductor. So better be aware of the bus fare and recheck your wallet for change before getting in on a bus.

Taxis are common in Singapore, but may cost you more than public transport. There are Taxi stands at common places where you can get one by being in the queue. Else you can use services like Uber.

Other than above modes of transport Walking and Cycling are the best ways to explore Singapore. Some places rent bicycles for daily basis. But with the hassle of  finding a place to safely park the bicycle I would prefer walking. Singapore has this amazing concept of sheltered walkways, which they said to have constructed shelters above more than 50% of the walkway length.

Communication

You can always use roaming facility of your mobile service provider. But I strongly suggest to purchase Starhub, Singtel or any other SIM which you can find every corner. They come with complementary Data allocation which you can use to make calls through Viber or similar methods cheaper than the standard roaming charges.

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Singaporeans are generally very open minded people. They do not have conservative mindset like most of other Asian countries. There are many ethnic groups living together in peace and harmony. There main language is Malay, but all speaks English fluently. There are certain areas named according to the ethnicity of the people who live there. China town, Little India and Arab Street are examples. But Singapore encourages people to live as mixed ethnic groups, they even try to maintain the racial balance in apartment buildings! Singaporeans don’t try to talk much, but they are social and a kind crowd. They respect their elders and take special care of the young. They are very conscious about physical health and most of them spend their evenings in a gym, working out or in doing cardio in walking tracks.

Food

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Singaporean cuisines are rich as they have all Malay, Chinese and Indian influences. There are Open areas with many food stalls called Hawker Centers everywhere you go.  Singapore encourages small scale food stalls by low rentals on Hawker center food stalls, so that they can sell meals at a lower price. That way even people with lowest incomes can survive. There are all kinds of international food chains in Singapore, but people tend to give lower preference to those as they have many more to choose from. There are middle level restaurants that the price can be high as two times the Hawker center and small scale restaurant prices and High end restaurants that you can spend a fortune for a meal!

“Do”s and “Don’t”s

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  1. Do offer your seat for elders, pregnant ladies and people with infants when you are traveling in public transport.
  2. Always use the pedestrian crossings or over passes to cross the roads.
  3. Always use the designated bins to throw garbage, else you will be fined.
  4. Singaporeans admire silence in Public transport, try not to shout.
  5. Don’t consume Chewing-gum as it is prohibited in the country, you will be fined.
  6. Don’t use or keep Drugs as it is prohibited. Singapore give death penalty to drug traffickers.
  7. Don’t eat or Drink in Public Transport, you will be fined.
  8. Don’t take Dooriyan to Buses or MRTs, you will be fined.
  9. Don’t leave tips at restaurants.

Must Visit Places

  1. Gardens by the Bay (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  2. Marina by the Bay (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  3. Sentosa Island (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  4. Jurong Bird park
  5. Singapore zoo, River Safari and Night Safari (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  6. China Town, Little India, Arab Street (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  7.  Singapore Botanical Gardens and National Orchid Gardens (Trip report will be uploaded soon)

Special Articles

  1. Singapore Food Hunt (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  2. Shopping in Singapore (Trip report will be uploaded soon)

Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

mapCrew : 5

Transportation : Car

Duration : Two Days

 

When I was invited to a road trip to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa by one of my friends, I had my doubts whether will it be interesting as I have visited those places many times in my childhood.  But when he told me that two foreigners along with another Sri Lankan friend will join, I couldn’t resist. I’ve always wanted to travel Sri Lanka (at least a part of it) with foreigners and see it through their eyes, experience the difficulties they face. Therefore, I gladly confirmed my participation.

My friend came all the way from Kurunegala by his car and picked me up from Kandy around 8.30 am. We went straight to Dambulla and had some short eats for breakfast. Then left to Sigiriya. Other three participants were on a two week long trip, which started on the previous week and we joined them at the place they spend the last night at Sigiriya. We had a cup of tea while they checked out. Then headed to Anuradhapura. We talked about their travel experiences in Sri Lanka on the previous couple of Days and they were really friendly.

It was about 11am when we reached Anuradhapura town. We all were hungry and decided to look for a good place to eat. Once we stopped the car and got out, we realized how hot it was. We quickly went in to the nearest restaurant and luckily we had a tasty Brunch and appreciable service there. Around 11.30am we got back in to the car and started driving through the complex road network, in search of the Anuradhapura Old (puja) Town.

Being three out of us five are locals, it was hard to find the ticketing office for foreigners. We saw “Isurumuniya” name board and parked the car. Though I have visited Anuradhapura few times in my childhood, I haven’t been to Isurumuniya before. So I was excited as much as our two German friends! It was early May and we felt like sun have came closer by few light years. As it was a temple, we had to remove our shoes and hats. The floor was burning hot so we darted to a shady corner inside the premises. There wasn’t much to see in the left side so we went in to the “Vihara geya”. There are some paintings in the ceiling. We saw two famous stone carvings called “Man and the horse head” and “Elephants playing in the water”. There are few explanations about the “Man and the horse head” carving, but the famous idea is a soldier resting with his horse. The elephants were carved in the bottom of the rock, just above the water. So it seems the elephants are playing in the pond.

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It was too hot to walk outside. One of us was holding a shawl over the head to cover the unbearable heat. One of the guards screamed saying that it is not allowed inside the premises. Knowing the teachings of lord Buddha, we decided  it is not worth to spend our time explaining it to him and went to a shade near the entrance. There we met a local elderly female who quickly became friendly and expressed her worries about not providing a reasonable service for foreigners for the money they charge to visit Anuradhapura Puja Town. We came back to the car park and went to the “Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi”, a sapling of the Bo tree which gave shade to Lord Buddha for Enlightening. There were many fences with gold plating around the “Bodhi” and a stone outer wall. Normally it is not allowed to go inside those fences, so we walked around the the “Weli Maluwa” observing the pilgrims worshiping the sacred tree. Surprisingly it was much cooler under the “Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi” and we spent some time there before going back. With the not being able to bear the rays of mighty sun, we decided to go back to our accommodation (A Circuit Bungalow of my friend’s Company) and come back in the afternoon. After a shower we went straight to a nap, woke up around 3pm for our evening session. But the sky was gloomy and we hurried to cover all the places before a heavy shower.

On the way back we located the tourist information center in google maps and contacted the telephone number. The three of us Sri Lankan were embarrassed as a lady answered the call and explained that it is not an information center, but her house.  There was no direction alongside of the road about the tourist ticketing counter either. So we followed google maps for the tourist information center. Unfortunately the rain started and we were forced to go back to our accommodation by the half flooded roads and lightening. So it was time for us to re-plan the itinerary. As our German friends needed to visit the remaining places in Anuradhapura, we thought it is best to cover Anuradhapura in the next day morning quickly as possible and then visit Polonnaruwa via Aukana in the evening. We had an early dinner and went to sleep as soon as we could.
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We woke up in the morning and had our breakfast from the place we stayed. Food was tasty but we quickly finished it to start our visit. As we inquired from the Circuit keeper, he directed us to the Jethawanaramaya Museum where we could purchase All-in-One Anuradhapura Ticket for our German friends. We quickly covered the museum and went to the mighty Jethawanaramaya by the vehicle (You also can walk there, but the distance is considerably high and we were in a hurry, so we used the car).  It was amazing to imagine how things were at those old times while walking around them.

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Then we went to the Ruwanweli Seya, The Pagoda made by king Dutugemunu. Folklore reveals that even The king himself contributed the construction by bringing up bricks. In the final stages of the construction, Younger brother Saddhathissa takes over the project as King Dutugemunu falls sick. At the deathbed King Dutugemunu requests to see the completed pagoda. As there was not enough time to complete it before the great king dies, Prince Saddhathissa covers the uncompleted parts of the pagoda by white linen and take the king there. It is said that the king believed the construction was over, Worshiped the pagoda just before his last breath. At the time we visited there was a “Kap-ruk Pooja”, an offering of linen to the pagoda and it was getting crowded as it was two days before Wesak holidays. Between Ruwanweli seya and Sri Maha Bodiya (which we visited the day before) there is another special location called Lowamahapaya. Though now there are only ground level stone pillars left, It is said that there were a nine story building with a Bronze colored roof (hence the name, Lowa-Maha-Prasadaya) which remained the tallest building of the country except the pagodas Ruwanweli seya, Abhayagiriya and Jethawanaramaya between 155BC and 993AD. This building was destroyed by the attacks during the reign of King Saddhathissa and he had reconstructed it with seven stories.

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Our next stop was the Abhayagiriya Complex, which was used as a college to Bikkhus (Buddhist Monks) in the Anuradhapura era. Therefore, the ruins are spread around a vast area. Credit of Abhayagiri Pagoda construction goes to the youngest son of King Saddhathissa, king Walagamba ( 103 BC, 89-77 BC). As soon as he came to the throne there was an Indian Invasion which he couldn’t withstand, he retreated. At that time there was a Jain Shrine in this place and it is said the priest named “Giri” insulted the King “Here the great black Sinhalese King is retreating”. It took another 14 year for King Walagamba to defeat the invaders, but when he did He built this giant Stupa on the location of that Jain Shrine and named the Pagoda by combining the King’s name (Abhaya) and the Jain Priest’s name (Giri).

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After that we went to the “Samadhi Statue” of Lord Buddha. It was wonderful to see how the craftsmen have finished the live-like stone statue. It is believed there were four statues like this around a Bodhiya (Bo Tree), but the tree and other three statues are destroyed.  Then we stopped at “Thuparamaya” which is considered as the first Pagoda constructed after introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. This was constructed by King Devanampiyathissa, enshrining the color bone of Lord Buddha. As the name reveals Thupa (Pagoda) + Aramaya (Where monks reside), there are ruins scattered around the pagoda which are suspected to be the roof for monks. With Thuparamaya, we finished our Anuradhapura tour and started our journey to Polonnaruwa via Awukana.

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It was around 12 pm when we reached “Awukana” after a long ride on countryside roads. The name “Awukana” means “Under the harsh sun rays”. The Standing Statue of Lord Buddha was constructed during the reign of King Dhathusena, Father of King Kashyapa (who resided in Sigiriya). Recently a roof over the masterpiece of skillful Sri Lankan craftsmanship has been constructed, but as our German friend highlighted it obstructs the grand view. It will be better if the roof height can be increased, but don’t know about the feasibility. They charge 1000LKR from foreigners just to see the statue. Sadly it would have been better if they could do some value addition to the visit at least like a Ticket with the Image of Awukana Statue with related information for the price foreigners have to pay. We brought some biscuits from a nearby shop, so we can wait until we reach Polonnaruwa for Lunch (A very late Lunch) . On the way back we slowed down a bit to capture the breathtaking view over the waters of “Kala wewa” which was also constructed and treasured by the King Dhathusena.

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It was around 3.30 pm when we reached Polonnaruwa. One of our friends had recommended a place to have the lunch, so we tracked the location. Google maps directed us along a narrow road off the main Road (A11) in between light green paddy fields. When we arrived the place, all we could see was a garden adjacent to a house and a young man working with some banana trees. We were worried that this must be a wrong place, but gladly the he confirmed that it is “Jaga Food”. We got a warm welcome and he ushered us to the restaurant i the back of the garden. It was an open area next to a pond with visitors’ comments all over on the ceiling. Though it was very late for lunch, they had their Lunch Buffet open. It was one of the tastiest rice and curry buffets i have been and they had Curd & Trickle, Papaya and Sri Lankan Pan cakes (A yellowish pan cake wrapped around a lump of pol pani – a coconut and trickle mix). Our hungry tummies as well as the souls were filled with their delicious food and hospitality. Our German friends took a minute to made a comment on their ceiling and we hurried to Polonnaruwa town after thanking Jaga and his wife.

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It was easy to find the Pollonnaruwa ticketing place at the Archeological museum as Jaga gave us the directions. Pollonnaruwa ruins were fairly located near to each other and we could access them by a vehicle (must-walk distance is very low). First we took a right turn as we entered the from the gate to visit ruins of the palace called “Vaijayanthi Prasadaya” of King Parakramabahu the first (1153-1186 BC). The main building is said be of seven stories and consisted of 1000 chambers but there is only signs of three stories and 55 chambers at present. South Indian invader called “Maaga” had set fire to this palace to destroy and you still can see burn marks on the brick wall. There were numerous remains of the royal palace scattered around and we were amazed to see that the drainage network of that time is still in good condition. We walked along the ancient paved pathway to visit the “Kumara Pokuna” (The royal bathing Place). It is said that this was constructed by King Parakramabahu, in his garden called “Nandana Uyana” which was below the level of palace. A nearby canal was used to bring water and poured into via two sprouts made like “Dragons”.

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Then we moved to the next ruins cluster, which is to the left from the main entrance. “Thivanka Pilimageya” is an image house as the name implies which was constructed by King Parakramabahu (1153-1186 AD). “Thivanka” means bent in three places,and the Buddha statue in here is bent from the Shoulder, Hip and the Knee (This pose is common in the guard stones). The Buddha statue is  believed to be about 8m in height but now it is less as the part above the head has been destroyed. Interior wall of this building is decorated with Polonnaruwa era paintings of “Jathaka Katha” and Incidents from the life of Lord Buddha while the exterior walls are decorated with various stone statues. It was so dark inside the building at that time, so i couldn’t take a good picture of the statue and paintings inside.
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“Watadageya” is in front of Thivanka Pilimageya and it is a Round (Wata) Stupa (Da) House (Geya).  There are few “watadageya” s in Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa Watadageya is considered the best remaining of it’s kind. Madirigiriya and Thuparamaya (both in Anuradhapura) are other best examples. This is believed to be constructed by King Parakramabahu to safe keeping of the Tooth Relic or a work of King Nishshankamalla to hold the “Pathraya” (Alms Bowl) of Lord Buddha. A stone fence with very detailed designs and columns covers the inner brick wall which encloses the Stupa and Buddha Statues.

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Then there is “Atadageya”next to it, which once hold the sacred Tooth relic. This said to be a two story building constructed by King Vijayabahu the First. There is another more closed sturcture called “Hetadageya” adjacent to “Atadageya”. There is a Stone Door frame with very deatailed carvings and the stone walls have inscriptions. Walls are believed to be decorated with frescoes and carvings. This building too had multi stories and the remaining section of stair case is still in good condition. Finally we visited “Sathmahal Prasadaya” at the same site. As the name Sath (seven) Mahal (Story) Prasadaya (Building) implies there are seven stories to this building (Which are still can be seen). This is said to be a Square shaped Stupa, which is very rare in Sri Lanka.
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Then we drove to the Pollonnaruwa Gal Vihara complex car park under the gloomy dark sky. It started to drizzle as we walked towrds Gal viharaya but as it was our last stop, we didn’t care to wait till it stops. The distance we had to walk is less than 500m. There are four Granite Statues of Lord Buddha in all three poses. One large statue in seated pose adjacent to a smaller similar statue inside a “Kuti” (room) called “Vidyadara Guhawa”. A standing statue and a reclining statue. The place said to be called “Uththararamaya” andconsidered to be a work of King Parakramabahu the First. Recently a roof has been constructed over these figures in order to protect them. We couldn’t spend much time there due to the rain and we came back to the parking lot and started to drive back home. We reached Kandy around 9pm and our foreign friends stayed with the plans to visit Kandy on the next day. Read about our visit to Kandy.

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Hot Air Ballooning

MapCrew : 13
Transportation : Cars (To Dambulla), Hot Air Balloon
Duration : Two days

One of my friends invited  me to join for a Hot Air Balloon ride. I was surprised by the invitation as i thought it was a bit unaffordable luxury, and immediately inquired about the cost. It was way cheaper than i was expecting, so i confirmed my participation without a hesitation.

The Balloon ride starts early in the morning, so me and few other friends thought it will be best to go to Dambulla on the day before. Three of us came from Colombo directly to Dambulla by bus. The one who invited me, drove his car all the way from Kurunegala and picked me and another one from Kandy. We all reached Dambulla around 2.30 pm and decided to have a late Lunch. It took us more than an hour to finish the lunch as we were busy talking, than eating.

We had reserved a place in Dambulla for six of us to stay, and it took a while to figure out the exact location. It was a hot evening in Dambulla, so we rushed in to the rooms and turned on the AC’s. It was around 7.30 pm when I finished resting and had a shower.
😀

It was time to search for a place to have dinner!
We walked to Dambulla town under the faint street lights. The streets were less crowded, but there were few long distant buses waiting for passengers. We settled for a place with privacy and Air condition after checking out few other restaurants. They offered the menu and we had a very hard time deciding what to eat. But when we are going to place the order, the waiter said there is only Fried Rice and Noodles! So we had to select again, but it was easier to pick one out of two.

When we were going back to the hotel, I met an old lady selling “Pera” (Guava) outside the restaurant. I was wondering, are there anyone interested in buying Guava from the street around 9pm. I felt bad for her and bought one. We had to take showers again after the walk and felt asleep as soon as head hit the pillow.

The alarms rang and I woke up within a second with the excitement for a ride of a lifetime. We were ready by 5am and the guys from “Sri Lanka Balloon” contacted us to inform that they have arrived to the Hotel gate. We hurried in to the van. They picked up two foreigners on the way and started driving on a narrow road towards a village. Soon we saw a Lorry, carrying the basket of the Balloon. It was the first time for all of us to see a Balloon, so we focused our excited eyes and cameras for a glimpse of that through the darkness.  The take-off point was a school ground. The rest of our team arrived there by two cars. One was from Colombo and the other one from Kandy. There were 13 of us in the team, five girls and eight boys. We completed the payments before take-off and watched the crew working hard to prepare the Balloon.

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There were two Balloons, one for us and another one for few foreigners. It took two lorries to carry the basket and the Inflating part of a Balloon. They assembled them together and started filling air with portable industrial fans. Our pilot then took position in the basket and blew “Hot Air” in to the Balloon. It only took about 15 minutes to fill the balloon with air and we were asked to jump in to the basket.

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With another shoot of gas in to the Balloon, we were ascending over the trees. It was a gentle take-off and no one was afraid at that moment, though we have analyzed the risks earlier. Still the sun was sleeping and sky was dark. Within few minutes we were about 700 meters high and watching the very first rays of sun light over the Kandalama Lake. That was a breathtaking scenery to watch, up from the sky. We all were busy with our cameras to capturing that awesome moment. Our Turkish pilot, Umit was very friendly and shared his experiences and showed photos of his Balloon rides in Turky.

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There were another two Balloons in the sky with us. We had to spend some time over the Kandalama Lake as there was less wind to carry us away. We saw people coming out of the houses to have a closer look at the Balloons floating over. Though ballooning has started some time ago, most of the villagers were excited to see us. We saw the lorries (witch brought the balloon to the take-off point) were following the balloon. Umit said that as the pilot can only control the vertical movement of the balloon, the landing destination depends on the wind at that time. We were able to see Dambulla Cave Temple, Sigiriya and Pidurangala from the distance, after the mist faded off. After about 1.5 hours we were floating tree height in search of a good landing place. We were able to pick the leaves from top of the trees and wasn’t afraid of a crash landing as we saw how skilled our pilot was.

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I was hungry at this point and was glad that I took the Guava (that i purchased last night) with me. It was tasty and I regretted not buying more. There was an empty space between few houses near a road. Our pilot descended the balloon about ten feet high above the ground and threw the Sand bag attached to the basket by a rope to the crew in the ground. They pulled the rope and tied it. The landing too was gentle and we didn’t feel a thing. The crew asked us to stay in the basket and the pilot opened the top part of the balloon to let the hot air out. Then we came out and the crew was busy folding the balloon. There were around 20 people staring and photographing our landing. The Crew gave us small gifts to distribute among the village kids and we felt like celebrities!
😀

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After few minutes we gathered in a nearby open space, There was a Champagne to celebrate, and soft drinks. There was an action camera hanging from the side of the balloon and they were recording our ride. We purchased the video and received certificates for the balloon ride. It was around 8.30 in the morning and they provided transport back to our hotel. We quickly packed our bags and checked-out. Our next stop was the place we had brunch yesterday. The Breakfast was tasty and we had a lot to talk about until 10.30 am. Then we decided to visit Sigiriya, the rock fortress of King Kashyapa and came back to Kandy around 5.30pm.

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Photo Credits : Amila Dananjaya De Silva, Chamitha Rathnayake, Chamith Nilanka Wijesinghe, Cabe Abeyrathne

Contact : Sri Lanka Balloon, https://www.facebook.com/srilankaballoon/

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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Kadadora Temple

MapCrew : 10

Transportation : Cars

Duration : Half a day (another half day may be needed to visit the “Mahaweli Maha Seya”, ruins of “Kadadora” entarnce and ambalama)

One weekend, one of my friends told me that he and his relatives are visiting a pirivena (School for monks) in Kothmale area to offer Thripitaka (The Buddhist Holy Book which consist of three sub sections;”Sutra pitaka”, “Vinaya pitaka”, “Abhidarma pitaka”). I wanted to join to the journey as I hadn’t been there to Kothmale before.
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Name of the shrine is “Gunarathana Piriwena” and it is located in Harangala area. We used Kandy – Nawalapitiya Road (AB13) and turned to Nawalapitiya – Harangala Road (B506) from Nawalapitiya Town and traveled 13 kms to reach there. The road conditions from Nawalapitiya to the location was not good and it took around 30 mins to travel that 13 kms. But later we heard the road from Ulapane to Harangala (B431) through kothmale Dam is in better conditions, so we used it to travel back home (this is the route shown in the map above). We though of having our lunch on the way, but we were already in Nawalapitiya – Harangala Road before realizing that there are no place to buy lunch there. So we bought a packet of biscuits and “Gnana Katha” (A bun shaped hard cake decorated with sugar) and had it on the way.

The road was along Kothmale reservoir which gave us a stunning ,a movie like view though the water level of the reservoir was very low with the delayed monsoon rains. we arrived to the Pirivena around 2pm and offered the Tripitaka to the Chief incumbent and several other monks after observing pansil. The shrine looked old but the environment was very calm and relaxing. The locals had arranged us some tea along with Dodol , Rulang , Cashews and Bananas.
😀
It was the best Dodol I have ever had!

As the planned activity was over, we thought of visiting the ruins of a submerged temple in Kothmale reservoir which are now surfaced due to the low water levels. We traveled through the Kothmale Dam and reached Kothmale reservoir observation point, parked our vehicles there and started walking downward. Though the banks of the reservoir is named as a forest reserve and normally do not allow public to travel, the authorities have allowed people to go down there and visit the ruins as this is a very rare incident. We had to walk through a jungle for about one kilometer and a steep river bank.

I had seen few photographs of previous travelers who were the few days back, but the environment was totally different that day. A local travel show had telecast a documentary filmed on this location, which increased the number of visitors so someone built a fence using sticks and used red flags to mark the boundaries which the visitors can enter without damaging the ruins. In the point of preserving the ruins, it is a good idea but it was very hard to capture the ruins without disturbance from the red flags.

We spent a good half an hour admiring the quality of building which still standing up even after spending around 30 years submerged. It was sad to see the marks which seemed to have occurred in an attempt to dig the statues for treasures.

Here are some facts about this area and the temple which i found very interesting,

This area has a very important place in history books as the great king Dutugamunu’s (161BC – 131BC) life tale is based on Kothmale. Before that era, the King Panduwasadeva (504BC – 474BC) is said to held a dance by the Yak (devil) tribes in this area which was referred “Malaya Rata” at that time.

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King Kawanthissa ruled the “Ruhuna” kingdom while there were two other kingdoms named “Pihiti” and “Maya”. It is said that there were only four entrances from “Ruhunu” kingdom to “Maya” Kingdom; Kadadora, Watadora, Niyangandora and Galdora. Only remaining ruins of four entrances, “Kadadora” which is also known as “Dehadukadulla” is in Kothmale area, but unfortunately we couldn’t visit that in this journey. It is said that prince “Gamunu” hid his royal sward in a tree near “Kadadora” before entering Kothmale, where now only remains a stone staircase towards Kotagapitiya starting from a (stone) entrance which has been restored. Ruins of an “Ambalama” (a hut like structure  – resting place for travelers), which is beleived to be built by the prince “Gamunu” is also along the path to Kotagapitiya.

The house of “Uru pelesse Gama Mahage” of the village Kotagapitiya in Kothmale is believed to be the place where the young prince Gamunu hide after sending female jewellery to his father, as a symbol of his weakness not to starting a war with the enemy King “Elara”. Then the prefix  “Dushta” (Wiked) is added upon his name “Gamunu” and shortened to be “Dutu Gamunu” afterwards. The folklore says that the prince was discovered by the Royal elephant “Kandula” after the death of king “Kawanthissa”, realizing the villagers that the boy who lived among them by the name “Guptha”, actually is the royal son. Tales say that the farmer and his family begged for their lives thinking the “King to be” may slaughter them as they used him as a helper, but instead the prince married “Ran Menika”, the daughter of the farmer who became the Queen mother of prince “Saliya” afterwards.

Folklore reveals that the Queen mother “Vihara maha Devi” arranged secret meetings in a Raja Maha Viharaya (Temple) in Kadadora area to update the Prince about war preparations with “Velusumana”, one of his ten giants. It is said that the Chief incumbent Thero of this viharaya knew the true identity of the prince. This temple is believed to be the “Kadadora Priya Bimbarama Raja Maha Viharaya” which was in Kothmale.

In 19th Century, SriLanka carried out a huge multi purpose development, 35 year – master plan called “Mahaweli project”, based on the river “Mahaweli” and allied 6 river basins. Main objectives were increasing Agricultural production with water utilization, Hydro power generation, Settlement of landless people, Flood control and providing employment opportunities. Some of the land owners in affected areas of Dam construction were resettled in near by places where some others and landless poor were resettled in identified places, called “Mahaweli Region  – A” to “H”. In 1977 a new prime minister (J.R. Jayawardena) was elected and decided to accelerate the project under a separate Ministry called “Mahaweli Development” Under Minister Gamini Dissanayake.

Priliminary studies for the Kothmale project was carried in 1961, again during 1964-1968 with foreign assistance and another feasibility study during 1973 – 1976 with Indian assistance, but the project never took off. Considering all proposals from previous studies the Kothmale project was started in 1979 under the “Accelerated Mahaweli Development Project” (AMDP) with the newly established “Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka”. Kothamale reservoir was created by constructing a Dam (2100 feet above Mean Sea Level) between “Thispane” and “Kadadora” hills; obstructing “Kothmala Oya”, one of the main tributaries of Mahaweli river. The Kothmale reservoir spreads across 2270 ha land with 174 million cubic meters of full capacity which powers the turbines of 206MW first ever Underground Hydro Electricity Plant in SriLanka from 1985 onward.

It is said that more than 14 tea estates and 50 villages of 3050 families (more than 15000 people) were affected by the increased water level due to Dam construction. Around 1750 families were agreed to resettle in “Mahaweli Region – H” while the other 1300 families, who requested lands near to their original habitats; were settled in the 2600 acre land acquired from Tispane and Rothscild estates.

It is said that many (Couldn’t find the exact number) ancient Temples (including Kadadora Priya Bimbaramaya, Morape Bodhimalakaramaya, Morape Subhadraramaya, Hadunuwewa Medagoda Gangaramaya, Othalawe Bodhirukaramaya, Nawangama Abhinawaramaya, Tispane Sri Subhadraramaya) and Devala  (including Morape Devalaya, Hadunuwewa Medagoda Paththini Devalaya) has been identified will be below the reservoir water level. The authorities decided to build a bubble shaped pagoda with 289 feet height, named “Mahaweli Maha Seya” in the right bank of the reservoir to compensate to the submerged temples which now overlook the Kothmale valley from 4150 feet above Mean Sea Level.

I have heard that this Pagoda has an inner chamber which feature some of the ruins of submerged temples where people can visit but the increasing darkness in the surrounding urged us to go back home before the giants(elephants) start their routine walks. So we headed back to our cars from the ruins of Kadadora Viharaya and came back to Kandy around 8.30 pm.
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References:
Mahavanshaya
Sunday observer 2011, march, 13
http://mahaweli.gov.lk/en/complete.html
The Accelerated Mahaweli Development Programme By Ratna S. Cooke, 1982

 

 

 

Kurundu Oya Falls

MapCrew : 8

Transportation : Hired Van (Use a vehicle with good ground clearance, preferably a 4 wheel drive)

Duration : One Day

 

Kurundu Oya Ella is the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. “Kurundu Oya” is a feeder of “Mahaweli Ganga” and connects directly to the Randenigala reservoir. This Majestic waterfall is in the upstream of the Kurundu oya surrounded by a dense Sub-Montane Forest. Top of the waterfall can be reached through “Ragala” side but we took walapane route to reach the bottom of the waterfall.
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It was a long weekend in January 2016. Though many had planned to participate to this hike, all of them couldn’t make it except one friend and he is a member of a Traveling gang called “Wanagatha Kollo” (Boys in Wild). So he came with them and it was more like I joined with them in this Hike. You can visit their web page through below link.
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Wanagatha Kollo – Excluding Me…

http://www.wanagathakollo.com/
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We started our journey from Kandy around 7 am by a hired Van. There are two routes from Kandy to Walapane and we choose the Road via Randenigala as it is shorter and the road condition is good. We had to stop for 30 minutes near Adhikarigama for breakfast and to buy some food to eat on the way. The roadside view of the Randenigala Reservoir is fantastic and we couldn’t resist stopping in few places for better camera angles.

It was around 11am when we reached Walapane, and wasn’t much hard to find the way to Japanese peace pagoda (which is the road to Kurundu Oya Ella). The initial bit of the road is concreted and then there are few stretches with stone paving and gravel. We came to a Three way junction and took the road towards right (up hill) after asking the neighboring villagers. The road to left is towards the Japanese Peace Pagoda which we thought of visiting when returning from the waterfall.
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It was a dirt road from there most of the time and had extreme elbow bends, where the driver just reversed the vehicle uphill until the next elbow bend as it was easier than taking that turn. Again we came to a three way junction and the driver of the hired van refused to go further as the road conditions were bad. We took our backpacks and thought of hiking from there just before a lorry coming uphill appeared from a bend. We asked the lorry driver for directions and he offered us a ride further towards the waterfall. 😀 We gladly accepted it and jumped into the lorry. There is a mini hydro power plant construction going on, which will be fed from the water of Kurundu oya waterfall and that lorry was carrying construction material for that project. The Driver gave his mobile phone number in case we need help about directions. The lorry ride was fun as the climb is steep and the view was great. He stopped in a cleared area where construction material was unloading and we went from there by foot.
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Few hundred meters of walk brought us to the Construction area of the inlet valve for the water tunnel and we used the concrete canal (which was under construction) to go forward as the lorry driver instructed. The start was good but there was mud and some rain water (1~2 inches high) accumulated in the canal and the muddy water inside our shoes slowed our walk. Only one from our gang was wearing a pair of safety shoes and he survived from that problem. If you can walk on the side walls of the concrete canal, it also a good solution for that matter, but as one side is a steep cliff it doesn’t worth the risk. End of that canal was a steel gate to prevent the water coming in and we climbed on to the concrete structure to have a good look at this massive water flow. The mist made of its own water vapor was trying to cover the waterfall.
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At the water inlet gate

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First Cascade is hidden…

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Kurundu Oya Ella has three cascades and was in its full flow as the upstream area had rain past few weeks. We were at the bottom of the waterfall facing the third cascade and the first one was hidden behind the Second. We went through the journals available on the internet about Kurundu Oya Ella and thought of climbing to the second cascade through the thick cover of vegetation. So we went back on the same path until the place where we get out from the lorry and found that another lorry is about to leave back to walapane. So we waited until the unloading is over and jumped back in the lorry and arrived to a small path along the way towards the second cascade.
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Three Cascades…

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We started the walk along that and came to a fountain where we refilled our water bottles and had a rest. After crossing few barriers over the path we came to a dead end facing a thick Sub-Montane Forest. A call to a friend who traveled along this path confirmed that we had to go through the vegetation. So we put on our long sleeve t-shirts, packed our cameras and put them in the backpacks and went in. Few steps inside the vegetation lead us to a small cave like path through the bushes and we followed it. Leaches were every where and the earth was covered with wet decaying leaves making it hard for us to set foot firmly. The rocks were sliding down as we stepped on them and had to keep a few feet distance to avoid rocks hitting our heads unexpectedly. The path became more unclear towards the jungle and we came to a point we had to decide whether are we going to go further or turn back. Considering the time and thickness of the jungle we turned back and rushed towards the fountain. Even then it was hard to find the way back.
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As soon as we reached the fountain first thing we did was removing shoes and socks to remove the leaches trying to find a way in through the socks. I removed 4 leaches and one was able to bit me through a sock. After that we put our shoes back, washed our faces and had a snack before starting the walk back. We was bit disappointed with unsuccessful trail towards the second cascade and thought of climbing the mountain over the path at least to have a good look at the first and second cascades of the waterfall. The mountain was shorter and easy climb as we saw from the path. So we started climbing.
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First Cascade – On the way to the mountain…

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It took a while for us to realize that what we saw from the path was not the actual case. There were few carrot nurseries which were hidden to the path and then was a steep climb full of loosen rocks. The view from the mountain top was great and we spent almost an hour there zooming our cameras to capture the best.
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Top pool of Kurundu Oya Ella…

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Randenigala reservoir from the view point…

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The path we walked – Little hut is where the material unloading site…

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Our expectation was an easy path downwards when starting the climb and as what we saw from the path was not the actual case it was hard to go back from the same path. We peeked to the other side of the mountain and saw the van we came as a dot. That meant if we could go down from that side the distance will be shorter.
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Two of us lead the way downwards as all others (including me) had doubts about going down from that steep endless cliff. We had no other choice than following them and it was harder than we thought. The arms and legs were bruised and all had a big brown patch of mud in the back of the trousers after the most steep part of the way back. Then there was a head high, thick (But, Damn that was heavenly) growth of “Maana” bushes where a shades of a foot path was available.
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We took that path and finally came back to the point where we got out from the lorry second time an walked back to the Van. We couldn’t visit the Japanese peace pagoda as it was around 4 pm then and we rushed back to Walapane town to have something to eat. We couldn’t find a place in the town and decided to head toward the “Belihuloya” (Not the famous “Belihuloya” in Badulla District) at least we could then have a bath.
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The view point covered in mist…

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The friend we met in the Roti Kade…

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There was a boutique where we had “roti” and “plain tea” before jumping in to the water. We spent about half an hour in the water and got into the Van with tired but satisfied faces. It was around 9pm when we arrived Kandy.