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!

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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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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.