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)
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Knuckles – Five peaks

Map 1Crew : 13 (A guide, villager and a friendly boy joined the crew additionally)

Transportation : Cars (Kandy – Hagalla Estate Bungalow), Three Wheeler [Tuk Tuk] (Hagalla Estate to Knuckles Nature Trail head), Hiking (Knuckles five peaks) followed the same route back

Duration : One Day

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

There was about a month of silence after the last trip we went. So when a suggestion came up for visiting Knuckles Forest reserve for the “Five peaks Hike” I had nothing holding me back and confirmed my participation. It was a long weekend and we arranged the hike on a Saturday, so that we have a day for resting before going back to work. Most of the participants were around from kandy but 4 out of 13 came all the way from colombo the day before and spent the night at the Superintendent’s Bungalow of Hagalle Estate. Our plan was to departure from Kandy around 5.30 am but was delayed from one hour. We used personal vehicles to reach Hagalle estate but bendy unfamiliar road took some time than we expected. We had to travel around 35 km from Wattegama and the surrounding was somewhat familier after our hike to Thunhisgala .

As the Knuckles five peaks trail head is few kilometers away from Hagalle Estate, we had arranged four three wheelers to go there. It was around 10.00 am when we started the bumpy three wheeler (Tuk Tuk) ride and there were few places we had to get off from tuk tuks (just because our weight was too much for them to pull!)  😀

After many getting offs and getting back ins we reached the trail head around 10.30 am. We distributed the water bottles we brought among ourselves and each had more than 3 liters of water. At the trail head, there is a monument which villagers use to hang few leaves of a tree and pray for blessings of a god for the journey ahead. The view from the trail head was amazing and we could see our destination from there. Our guide took few minutes to tell us the “Rawana” related stories about the region before starting the climb.

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The smaller mountains adjacent to Famous Knuckles fve peaks are called “Bada Dandu Kandu” (meaning bamboo mountains) and are the mountains mentioned in tales of king “Rawana” as he said. There is no one who have visited there in the known past and highly populated with sambar and deer as he told. It was somewhat covered in mist at that moment and the stories we heard made us want to go there, the ice cold mountains hiding unexplored mysteries.

Few minutes after we entered the “Knuckles Nature Trail”, there was a stream of crystal clear water. Our guide took us in a small detour to visit the Knuckles Falls. It was smaller in height and width but created a magnificent scene with the filtered rays of sun. We decided not to spend much time there as we were already late and came back to the track after few minutes. The climb was steep at most parts of the trail and it made me the first one to exhaust among the crew. I took many water/chocolate breaks to avoid cramping and the guide offered me to carry my backpack.

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It took more than 2 hours for us to reach the first peak. There were few natural resting places with great views.On the way up we saw “Dumbara An Katussa or Leaf nose Lizard (Ceratophora tennentii)”. As most of us were exhausted we took a quick break for a snack. Our guide suggested that we should wait until the 2nd peak for lunch, so we continued the climb.

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We were exhausted by the time we stopped for lunch. Few of us were high on “Jeewani” and I used more than 2 l of water! We ate bread with “Seeni sambol” and Strawberry Jam. “Cream Cracker”biscuits, Cheese and Marsh-mellows filled the remaining volume of our tummies.  We sent only about 30 minutes there and start trekking for the 3rd peak. The climb from there was comparatively easy and we reached the end around 3 pm.

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We spent some time there pointing our eyes to the “Bata Dandu Kandu” with the hoping a glimpse of a Sambar, but we didn’t. Our descend was quicker and reached the bottom around 5.30 pm. Our guide wanted to show us at least one sambar, so he guided us to a (not so frequently used) foot path covered with head high bushes. The sun went down quickly taking our last hopes for seeing a Sambar away. We continued the walk in the dark foot path praying, not to meet snakes! After many Kilometers of walking, we reached to a motor-able road and hired three tuk tuks. It was around 8 pm when we reached back to the  Superintendent’s bungalow and had a warm cup of tea. We came to Kandy around 11 pm with the aching legs and bruised hands, but with the satisfaction of a great hike.

Photo credits: Amila Dananjaya De Silva, Chamitha Rathnayake, P S Harshendra, Cabe Abeyrathna

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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!
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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

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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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Day 1map-2

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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.

Asupini Ella

Map

Crew: 8

Transportation: Bus (To Aranayake)

Duration: One day

 

There was a sudden idea to visit and try to climb a waterfall called “Asu Pini Ella”. The only thing we got to know was the location, Aranayake. Some said the name implies “The Waterfall which a horse jumped” but still the origins remain secret. Gladly one of my university friends is from Aranayake, but he too hadn’t climbed it before. We decided to visit it in a weekend. But four of us couldn’t resist barging in to my friends home and spending a night there.
😀

So we took a Kandy – Mawanella bus on a Friday afternoon with our friend for the 27 km ride and then went another 13kms by bus to Aranayake. My friend’s father came to the bus halt to pick us up and drove another few kilometers to reach their home. We were greeted by the residents with delicious “Weli Thalapa”, many more snacks and tea. It took only few minutes for us to  finish all the snacks and settle in. Soon it became midnight while we were chatting after the Dinner, and forced to sleep as there was a long journey ahead in the morning.

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The rest of the team (another three friends) arrived to my friend’s home early in the morning traveling all the way from Kandy. If you are planning to arrive Aranayake on the same day morning, it is recommended to find the bus schedule or use a private transportation method. We had the breakfast as soon as possible and departed around 8.30 am.
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The bottom end of Asu-Pini ella is in Aranayake and the waterfall begins near Dolosbage, Gampola. It is said that there is a small road parallel to the water flow from Aranayake to somewhere near the beginning of the waterfall. Also there is an observatory, which we saw on the way. The waterfall height is around 30 meters and we thought of climbing the falls rather than walking on the road to the observatory.

First few kilometers of the road is flat, but then it reduces to a walk-able path through bushes and rocks until the Asu Pini Ella Mini Hydro Plant. The water flow was not that high at the time we went, but there were traces to prove us that water level could rise very high. Most of the rocks immersed from the water had caves and pits which we carefully crossed. There were few places we had to walk in 3 feet high water, even though the water level was low. Since neither of us had waterproof backpacks, our main concern was to keep our belongings dry while crossing the water.
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After many kilometers of walk we reached to the bottom of the waterfall “Asu Pini Ella”. There was a large water flow even with the dry climate and we could imagine how beautiful it would be with a full flow. Though we planned to climb along the waterfall, we never expected it to be that steep and dangerous. So we took some time to decide whether are we going to continue or turn back. All agreed to continue, but the risk was very high. It was obvious that we won’t be able to directly climb along the water flow. We thought of climbing along the left bank of the waterfall as it seemed less risky.
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It was around 2 pm, so we  quickly ate what we had for lunch on a flat rock surface peeking out from the water. It was hard for us to climb on to the left bank but after getting on it was only a steep climb for few meters. Then suddenly we were facing a large rock with a 90 degree face, around 15 feet in height. We weren’t prepared for such difficult climb with ropes but luckily there were Mangrove type trees with their thick roots hanging below. We started to climb one by one after assessing the strength of the roots. It was hard to climb with the backpacks, so some threw them over after the first one climbed up. It was difficult but all of us managed to climb up with each others help.
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Even after that, the climb was steep, where we couldn’t even take our cameras out considering the risk of falling down the hill. But at least the floor was dry and it made the life bit easier.
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Top most part of the waterfall was a rocky surface with more than 20 feet high banks which we couldn’t climb. So we decided to crawl over the rock as it will be much difficult to go all the way back to Aranayake. The stone surface was smooth and slippery due to the water flow over many thousand years. Adding another fact to our disadvantages, there was nothing to hang on to while climbing for the most of the parts other than uneven rock surface. No one looked down the waterfall as there was a high probability it will be the last thing we see before our death and luckily able to reach the top without any injuries.
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It was a serene view from the top of the waterfall. The whole world seemed stopped other than the continuous water flow on the background sunset. We rested there for about 20 minutes and reached to the natural pool on top around 6 pm. We were exhausted but couldn’t resist a dip in that cold and clear water. According to the information we got top of the waterfall is Gampola, so we took our time and spent a good half an hour swimming there. Then we inquired a villager about the directions to Gampola town and realized there is another 16 km trip. It was so late that we missed the last bus and couldn’t find even a three wheeler. So we decided to walk again. 😛 Fortunately we saw a van parked nearby a house and was able to convince the owner to rent it. Finally it was 9.30 pm when we reached Gampola Town with the memories of an adventure to cherish forever!
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Photo Credits : Amila Dananjaya De Silva, Kalhara Jayasinghe, Sithira Mihiranga