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/

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Nil Diya Pokuna Cave

mapCrew : 12 + 3 guides

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

Duration : Two Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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dscf2686-001© Amila Dananjaya De Silva………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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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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© Amila Dananjaya De Silva15875576_10154626955915412_6404957699794976841_o

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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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Uthuwankanda

map1Crew: 7

Transportation: Two Cars

Duration: Half day (May need one day if you are visiting Saradiel Village too)

 

There was a sudden suggestion to climb Uthuwankanda, which is famous for being the hideout for a local bandit, Saradiel. Since it is a few kilometer drive from Kandy Uthuwankanda was perfect for a mini hike and i too decided to join. But before the hike i thought of refreshing my memories about the stories of Saradiel.

Dekirikewage Saradiel AKA “Uthuwankande Sura Saradiel” is a bandit who later became a gang leader. People refer him as the “Robin Hood of Sri Lanka” as he used to rob from the rich and distributed them among the poor. He was born in 25th of March, 1932 as the eldest of a family where father was a tobacco merchant. His father was from “Haldanduwana” (in Dankotuwa area) and mother was from Uthuwnkanda (Mawanella Area). It is said that he studied in Illukgoda temple which was ended by Saradiel assaulting a boy from a rich family who was related to the Vidane (A hereditary leader post in colonial system who usually is from a wealthy, influential family) and being arrested. Young Saradiel had formed a gang to kidnap a wealthy merchant in Kandy, called “Bawa” and robbed him after cutting half of his mustache. Saradiel managed to escape to Colombo after distributing the things he robbed among villagers.

He then joined the Ceylon Rifle Regiment cantonment in Slave Island as a Barrack Boy and learned to used weaponry from soldiers. Later he was dismissed after caught in act of theft from the Barracks. Even then he managed to come back to Uthuwankanda with some stolen weapons from the barracks and continued his work of crime as a highway robber. It is said that Saradiel killed a Man called “Natakoti Chettiyar” during his robberies and arrested but then released due to lack of evidence. Then a warrant was issued for the arrest of Saradiel after a robbery in Molligoda Walawwa (Walawwa is a word used to refer the house of wealthy, which means mansion).  He thought to seek protection of his father and went to Chillaw. But his father was disappointed about Saradiel and refused to provide protection. So he came back but police arrested him near Pillawatte in Negombo after a tip off. Saradiel managed to stab the police informant during the arrest, critically wounding him to die after few days. Police produced him before the Justice of the Peace – Negombo on 3rd of July, 1962, who committed him to fiscal custody in Hulftsdorp Jail to be tried for murder. On dawn of 29th of November 1862, Saradiel climbed to the roof and jumped off the prison roof with help from a friend called Magiris Appu, who worked as a peon in the prison and later sentenced to six months for helping to a prison break.

Saradeil then returned to Uthuwankanda, but rearrested by the village police constable called “Baba Sara”. With past experiences with Saradiel it is decided to keep him pinioned & handcuffed at all times, to be escorted in the custody of a police constable and few fiscal peons and not to travel after dusk and only to stop at Police Stations. But the officials have underestimated him and un-pinioned at Balapane and also let Saradiel’s Step father join the escort party from Ambepussa Police Station onward. It is believed that his step father had supplied liquor to the escort party so that Saradiel could escape. Saradiel escaped again even with his handcuffs on this time, challenging the authority of English governors among the natives. Government then decided to put a five pound reward for his arrest.
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**Government Gazette Extraordinary of 10th January 1863 :

Birth place: Uttoowankandy.
Residence: Uttoowankandy.
Trade: Boutique keeper.
Caste: Wellala.
Religion: Buddhist.
Age: 31 years.
Height: 5ft 3ins.
Hair : Long.
Eyes: Hazel.
Complexion: Brown.
Make [Build]: Well.
Read and Write: Both.
School: Private school.
Family: None.
Former convictions: None.
Distinguishing marks: mark of a mole on the right cheek.
Escaped: 29-Nov., 1862, from Hulftsdorp Jail.

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Saradiel came back to Uthuwankanda and used it as the hideout for his gang consisting Hawadiya, Bawa, Sirimale, Kirihonda, Suwanda and Mammalay Marikkar who is considered Saradiels best friend. This gang robbed 500 rupees (A big amount at that time) from an Arab horses seller at knife point in Galagedara area and killed another two vendors in the vicinity out of suspicion they could have been police informants. This incident again made a huge impact on the rulers which made them to send soldiers and police officers under the supervision of Chief Superintendent McCartney and assisted by villagers to raid Uthuwankanda. When Saradiel saw that there was no other way to escape, he rushed a herd of buffaloes through the thick human wall while hanging on to the neck of a buffalo hiding under its belly, avoiding the arrest. Due to this constant raids of Uthuwankanda, Saradiel moved towards Aranayake giving a severe headache to the European planters of that area. Government had to setup a new police Station in Aranayake due to their requests and strengthen adjacent Police Stations. They also increased the price on Saradiel’s arrest to 100 pounds and 25 pounds each for his gang members.
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In February of 1964, a police party headed by Head Constable Amat who was from Utuwankanda raided a house out of suspicion, but they could only find some stolen money and weapons. Again on 17th of March 1864, two police troops headed by Head Constable Amat and Special Constable George Van Haght raided Saradiel’s mother’s house after receiving information that Saradiel and his best friend Mammala Marikkar were hiding. At this time Special Constable George Van Haght was under suspension for not effectively assisting the arrest of Saradiel. This made him want to prove otherwise and suddenly ordered his team to storm the house. Saradiel’s mother saw them and had enough time to warn her son and his friend. Saradiel and Malmmala stormed out of the house shooting George Van Haght dead and mortally wounding Sergeant Christian Appu (Van Haght’s father in law) and injuring Sergeant Muttusamy and two others who were in the George Van Haght’s team. This made Chief Superintendent McCartney to raise the price of Saradiel’s arrest to 150 pounds but rumors said Saradiel fled to Mathale area and hiding in a jungle.

Sirimale, a member of Saradiel’s gang then became a police informant and arranged a two storied safe house on the Colombo Kandy Road owned by a person named Abdul Cader in Mawanella. Then he tipped off Sergeant Ahamath Mahat and Constable Tuan Saban about the hideout. Two policemen entered the house from the back door and Sergeant Mahat took a shot at Saradiel at the first sight, injuring him. That made Constable Tuan Saban to celebrate the victory too early and Mammale Marikkar fired, killing him on the spot. Sergeant Ahamath Mahat then hide near the stair case making it hard for Marikkar and injured Saradiel to escape without being a target to his revolver. Then Assistant Government Agent of Kegalle, F.R. Saunders arrived the location with forces from Ceylon Rifle Regiment and surrounded the house. Both Saradiel and his friend then surrendered realizing there was no way to escape. Saunders hit Saradiel hard with his cane during the arrest, causing a fracture in his right arm. Saradiel and Mammala Marikkar were escorted to Kandy on the same night.
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Both of them were charged for the murder of Constable Tuan Saban and were tried by an English speaking Jury before Justice Thompson. Considering the history of Saradiel, Advocate Dunuwila who was initially assigned, refused to appear for the accused and government assigned attorneys Purcell and J. Van Langen. Both of them were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging and were hanged at Gallows Hill in Kandy on 7th of May 1864. Thousands gathered expecting to see a well built man but were surprised to see a slim man with a pleasant face. Mammalay Marikkar was out of his words before execution but Saradiel addressed the crowd and advised the gathering to take a lesson from his life and avoid such acts.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………..………………………………** The Colombo Overland Observer describes the event as quoted by AC Dep, retired DIG of Police, in his book, A History of the Ceylon Police Vol: I (1795-1866) (Colombo: Author, 1982):

“All the available Policemen in Kandy formed part of the procession. The Roman Catholic minister, Rev. Duffo, went with Saradiel from the jail and the Mohammedan Priest attended on the Moorman. It was quite clear that the prospect of death had completely unnerved the two unfortunate men. They were both pale and the Moorman in particular appeared to be greatly affected. Saradiel walked pretty steadily, reading out of a book, which he held in hand, but the Moorman was quite knocked down, and scarcely once lifted up his head during the walk. The procession passed through the town at a funeral pace until it reached the Hill on which the gallows had been erected.”
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Saradiel and Mammala Marikkar were buried at the Mahaiyawa cemetery in Kandy and a  Police guard was maintained since there was a demand for the bodies. Queens Advocate Richard F. Morgan who conducted the case, commanded the zeal and bravery of Constable Saban and Sergeant Mahat for taking part in the arrest of these two defied law and order, in his report to the Colonial Secretary. Constable Tuan Saban of the Kandy Police Station was the first ever regular Police Officer of the Ceylon Police to sacrifice his life in the course of duty. Later March 21st was declared to commemorate Police heroes in in Sri Lanka every year.
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It is said that Sergeant Mahat was promoted to Head Constable and received a price of 35 pounds. Sergeant Muttusamy received a price of 20 pounds and the son of late Constable Tuan Saban received 30 pound for his father’s bravery. Also Saban’s wife was awarded with a monthly pension of 2 pounds and 6 shillings for life. Christian Appu’s family also received a pension. It is said that Special Constable George Van Haght’s family never received a pension, considering he was on suspension at that time and did not even considered his heroic death as a death of a police officer in the course of duty. Though Saradiel caused terror among the rich, he was a provider for the poor. There is a story of Saradiel once stole from a person who was collecting money for his daughter’s dowry and came to know that later. Then he asked the man to meet him at a certain place and returned the stolen money and another amount as a gift from. There is also a story which says Saradiel was sentenced to death after receiving a letter from the Queen saying ‘kill him, not let him go’, when it was supposed to be ‘kill him not, let him go’.

All that being said, i was interested to see the place which sheltered Saradiel during many raids. I was thinking there must be a special reason for Saradiel to always come back to Uthuwankanda despite it was constantly being raided. Our initial plan was to take a Kegalle bus from Kandy and get down from Uthuwankanda and climb to the peak and follow the same route back home. But then we decided to use two cars considering the flexibility of traveling time and locations. Two cars left Kandy around 7.30 am and it was about 8.00 am when we reached Pilimathalawa to pick another friend. The crew consisted of four males and three females of the same age. We stopped somewhere before Kadugannawa for breakfast and leisurely enjoyed it as there was plenty of time. But the roads bacame busy with travelers realizing us that it is a long weekend and the place can get crowded as we getting delayed.
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We reached Uthuwankanda and turned to “Uthuwana” road. The road was under construction but was manageable to travel by cars. There were many people and we were wondering what might attract such a big crowd for a hike. Seeing many old people in the crowd made us rethink of the idea about the “hike” but then realized all that crowd were visiting the new attraction “Saradiel Village”, a private owned resort with live size statues resembling the life story of Saradiel. We wanted to visit there but we decided to postpone it considering the crowd. Uthuwankanda is a small mountain with a rocky peak and the access road was even concreted for most of the length. Considering the crowd going to Saradiel village, the hiking part was deserted. It was not hard to climb and half way through we met another team climbing down. They directed us towards the caves which is believed to shelter Saradiel.
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Climb towards the caves is not hard and we had to go through a small passage between two rock to enter the caves. (Nothing much to worry about, but thinner you are it will be better 😀 ). We entered the caves with our mobile phone flash lights on, as we were not prepared for a cave expedition. For couple of meters we had to crawl but then the passage got taller enabling us to stand up. Then we came to a small room like place and didn’t went further as the cave got smaller and we were not prepared. (Total length of the passage we travel didn’t exceeded 50m). Then we came out and had a small rest there. The caves were hot and it was hard to breath as there is no proper ventilation inside. Almost every inch of the outer cave walls were scribbled by travelers and  polythene and plastic/glass bottles were dumped everywhere. It was a very disturbing and sad scene to see, what people do to harm nature without considering the effects on their own lives.
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We couldn’t identify the exact path on the way up, but reached the rocky part without much trouble as the mountain was small. Then we started to climb the rocky peak. Me and two others decided no to climb the peak and helped other four to climb. The first part was almost 90 degrees climb and then the middle became easy. There is a kind of square shaped rock on the top and my friends even climbed it. After many photographs and eyes full of scenic view from the top we came back down around 11 am. The crowd towards Saradiel village was then doubled and we decided to have lunch before planning the evening stroll.

We had our lunch in a place near Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and decided to visit “Asupini Ella” (Read my last hike to Asupini Ella) in the evening. It took us some time to reach Asupini Ella via B172 route. The road was good and even the final bit towards Asupini ella is concreted. We stopped our cars near to the top pool of asupini ella and waked towards the observation point. The waterfall was on its full blow making a very beautiful scene. Old memories were recalled seeing the path we climbed few years back and  realized how much a risk we took in that hike. It was dusk when we took our eyes out from the waterfall and came back to Kandy around 7.30 pm.
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Photo courtesy
Chamitha Rathnayake

Reference
* Saradiel – The Robin Hood of Sri Lanka by W.T.A Leslie Fernando

** Uthuwankande Sura Saradiel – The Robin Hood of Sri Lanka – උතුවන්කන්දේ සූර සරදියෙල්
by M.D. (Tony) Saldin

*** Uthuwankande Sura Saradiel – wikipedia

Hanthana Mountain Range

route3_____DSCF4280Crew: 8 to 34

Transportation: Bus, walk

Duration: One day
Hanthana mountain range is in the Central province, Sri Lanka; stretched out between Udawela and Nillambe. As this is a mountain range there are several paths for hiking.

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Route 1:

route1-hanthanaDifficulty Level : Moderate

The path considered as the longest lies between the two ends of the range, Sarasavigama and Udawela.There are buses from Kandy to Sarasavigama which is a 12.5 kms ride. Then the way to the bottom of the mountain can be found through a tea estate and a housing area of tea estate workers. The start is a head high undergrowth of trees and then a small forest of eucalyptus can be found. When traveling in this route, there is a high possibility of getting lost in the small jungles which are all along the way since there is not even a foot path. A hiker must be aware of the jungles between each peak of the mountain and the weather as sudden thick mist can lead to lost the way very easily.

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Route 2:
route2 -hanthanaDifficulty Level : Normal

There is a small path which is the most common route among hikers, between Upper hanthana circuit bunglow of university of Peradeniya and Udawela. In that route the probability of facing difficulties are less because there is an identifiable path created due to foot steps of frequent visitors and only few jungles are there to be crossed. One must Travel from Kandy to near Wijewardhana hall of residence of University of Peradeniya (which is also in the Kandy – Sarasavigama Road) which is around 6.5 kms. Then can walk along the Udaperadeniya road to upper hanthana road junction or Use Kandy – Udaperadeniya buses directly. There is a few kilometer walk from the Udaperadeniya-Upper hanthana road junction to the Upper hanthana Bunglow. From there onwards the path is clear and easy to follow.

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Route 3:
route3 -hanthanaDifficulty Level : Normal

There is a another common route which is most frequently used by scouts for Annual J.J.P. Dehigama Memorial Hike which starts from “Amaya Hills” Hotel. There are Kandy – Dangolla buses to go near “Amaya Hills”. There is a good gravel road for about two kilometers to a monastery of Buddhist monks. Then have to hike along a waterfall to reach to the peak of a mountain.

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Route 4:

route4 -hanthanaDifficulty Level : Hard

One can travel from Kandy to near Wijewardena hall of residence and start walking along Udaperadeniya road until the Farm maintained by University of Peradeniya. Then a pathway can be found towards a stream. Then can hike along the stream up to a mountain peak but there is no identifiable path so has to create one of your own. This route has the highest risk and also will lost very easily. This route is not recommended for travelers with lack of experience and lack of knowledge abo    ut the location.

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Route5:

route5 -hanthanaDifficulty Level : Hard

Although Sarasavigama – Udawela is considered as the longest route, longest route lies between Nillambe (Nillambe meditation center) and Udawela. Since i haven’t used that route and even didn’t heard about anyone who traveled in that route, guess that also should be a very risky path where most probably the hiker has to create his own route.

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