This time we decided to explore an interesting place with a group of friends in a single day without camping in the night. The place we selected was the Great Western mountain range because our group of ten could travel to our location by the Badulla-bound night train so we could start our trek at the crack of the dawn.
Though the train was crowded at the beginning, it gradually lessened from the Peradeniya railway station. We started singing Sinhala oldies to relieve our sleepiness and fatigue from travelling standing. When our colleagues got seats, the tempo of our singing gradually died down.
When we got off at the Great Western railway station it was around 3.00 am. It was bone-chilling cold in the station and we rushed to the restroom to avoid the freezing weather. We huddled together on cement benches covered in thick layers of clothes from head to toe to keep ourselves warm, in vain.
Bright red star Antares
Unlike in Colombo, the sky in the hills was clear and we could observe with the naked eye the astrological signs; Scorpion, Capricorn and many more. Antares star was burning bright red and the sky looked like a jewel studded silk cloth.
Though we decided to start our climb early in the morning, the hitch was getting our breakfast. There was no place to buy any food. I saw a silhouette of a person carrying heavy bags trudging along the tracks. It was unmistakably Mohan. He was to provide us breakfast and was bringing breakfast and coffee in a large flask.
Mohan advised us to start our journey as early as possible. The first rays of the sun brought us welcome warmth and breathed new life into the flowers as well as plants lining the railway track, which Thanura never missed to capture on his camera.
We walked about two kilometres along the railway track in the mist to reach the spot where the climb began with a flight of cemented steps.
As we climbed we began to huff and puff. It was sweltering despite the chilly weather. The flight of steps ended at a small Kovil. We decided to rest up and partake our breakfast at the place as there seemed no other suitable place with water around to have meals. The breakfast was a sumptuous meal of rice and curry with mouth-watering dhal curry and fried dry fish.
The footpath leading to the top was steep and narrow making it difficult to climb without clinging on to creepers, bushes and rocks. We climbed the steep slope on all fours and some needed others’ help to boost them up. After about a kilometre of shrub we reached a patch of tall trees. We quenched our thirst from a small stream flowing through the jungle.
By this time we were gradually getting closer to the summit. Butterflies of various hues, birds and animals, none of which were seen at the foot of the hill, were abundant here.
We were at one end of the mountain and to proceed further we had to climb the edge of the mountain. I took some snaps of the tea plantation further down. From the edge of the mountain range Adam’s Peak was visible.
We saw a yellow patch at one end of the hill, which we realized later upon reaching it, was a Kovil. It contained a few statues of various deities, an oil lamp and a trident. They were covered with yellow polythene overhead, which was what we spotted earlier as a yellow patch. Despite our thirst and scorching heat we reached ‘Balumgala’, which roughly translates to vantage point.
The panoramic view of the foot of the hill was astounding. The railway track looked like a winding silver line and the station like a matchbox. The gravel paths running through the tea estates were visible like lines in a map. It seemed as if the mountain range nearly touched the clouds. Adam’s Peak stood out like a cone among the mountains.
The Great Western Mountain is the eighth highest mountain in Sri Lanka which stands 2,216 metres tall. The railway station is 1,464 metres above sea level. The spot we climbed is 750 metres above the station. But it is not the peak of the mountain which is further up the jungle.
The time was one hour before noon and the train was to reach the station at 2.10 pm. So we decided to climb down in order to catch the train without reaching the peak. The journey on the way down was not as easy as we expected. The dry earth was prone to skidding but one of our colleagues devised a clever method to climb down. He slid down on his back which was faster. Others too followed suit. This helped us reach the station on time.
(Translated by Ananda Elkaduwa)