15.30 We started our journey hopping on to the bus to Hatton. From Hatton, our plan was to take a bus to Maskeliya and then to Nallathaniya, to the base of the trail. The friendly conductor said he would point us to the Maskeliya bus once we reach Hatton.
20.30 Reached Hatton The conductor recommended us to take a tuk tuk or a cab directly to Nallathaniya as it would be difficult to find transport to Nallathaniya from Maskeliya even if we manage to make it there. After some haggling, we managed to get a cab for LKR 3300 definitely more than the norm.
Having finished the dinner near bus station and started towards the base in the van. The very confident driver didn’t take his foot off the pedal even around corners all the way to Nallathani (Dalhousie). The cab driver had advised us not to venture out at 0200 hrs warning about the leopards he had seen on the road and the possibility of down pour.
22.30 – We reached our stay and slept after agreeing that we would get up around 02.30 and see if fellow hikers are around. If yes, we would start otherwise, we might have to settle for a early morning hike.
02:30 We got up sleepy and not wanting to start yet. But the moonlit sky and the bright stars looked promising and in a couple of minutes, we saw a group of four walking past followed by a couple with a small bag and a headlamp. It took us another 30 mins to pack our bags and start.
[Photo: Entrance in night and the gate]
With the forest around casting dark shadows on the path, the torch was on most of the way. The moon still shone bright lighting up the clear patches. We realized soon there was a well laid concrete path with few puddles directly leading us to the top.
We passed a buddhist monk sitting with a register near the small iron bridge over the ravine. He greeted us friendly and assured us that we just have to follow the path.
Crossing the bridge, the path forked ahead and we got back to the monk for the right direction. He recommended us to take the left. It might probably have been a little shorter than the right. On our return, we would come from the right enjoying the best view of all.
We ended up walking along the unlit lamp posts that might have put the torches off if we had started after 24th December. The season starts on the Poya day and ends on the vesak in May. Had it not been for the unlit trail we would have been ever mentally tired of the long hike. It is always better not to know the length of the journey.
There were few tea shops along the trail. We reached the first after an hour of excited walking. We started our first meal swallowing small bananas. The shop was probably the mid point in our journey. A group of four who joined us took the remaining banana bunch and left before us. We still had a two hour hike remaining to catch the sun rise and the real ascend would begin shortly.
With a little sugar in the body and water to quench our thirst we resumed. Even with the drop in temperature, the sweat inside made it difficult to continue wearing the jacket.
Along the way friendly monks from Cambodia greeted, helping their older members of family ascend the holy mountain. One monk advised us not to sit down as it would make it not help the leg muscles to continue. We followed his advice and continued for another hour climbing up the stairs occasionally feeling thankful to walk over the patches of flat land on the long trail.
The peak was finally visible and the orange sky towards the east was telling us the we need to hurry to catch the sun rise from the top. We were 20 minutes away. We all made it to the top with fellow travellers lined up with their to frame the sunrise. It wasn’t a easy hike and it started to feel cold again.
The sun hid himself behind the beautiful clouds that day.
The prayers had started inside the temple. There was a small palanquin being lifted inside the temple and the worshippers hymned a familiar tune and circled around the ‘Sri Pada’ bare footed.
After spending an hour clicking at all sides. We started our descend hoping that it is always easier getting down.
We didn’t notice her when we were climbing in the dark. As we came down, We met a happy 80 year old lady slowing making to the top.
The sun still wasn’t out and it was comfortable for us to slowly got down after a tea and some pol roti. As the day started getting brighter you start seeing regular hikers without any gear, slowly moving up the hill in a strange climbing pattern. With their 20-30 kg load on head they take each step sideways climbing diagonally. While it definitely increase the time of ascend it reduces the tool on the knees. They are not slow in their descend, trotting easily in their simple bathroom slippers.
After passing ‘buddhist temple’ on our left, the path forked on the right steeply disappearing upwards and a gradual slope straight ahead. We took went straight ahead after guiding fellow hikers coming from the right towards the peak. We were rewarded. It was not just the walk through the tea plantation, seeing the streams circling the range but also the flat path was easy on the tired legs.
We were still not close to the end. It took another 20 mins to reach the hotel passing through the preparation for the season starting on 24 of december – the full moon day.