A TRIP TO SRILANKA – Part 2
(You can read A TRIP TO SRILANKA – Part 1)
Next day, in the early morning, I moved out to visit Horton’s plain, a beautiful plain area and a national park up above the mountain. It is one of the most visited national parks in Srilanka. It is a very spectacular area which is well preserved and maintained. In fact, all the parks/forest areas that I have visited in Srilanka are very well preserved and protected. At the same time, it’s used as tourist spots to generate money. After reaching Horton’s plain I asked for ticket and they said I am not allowed to enter the park alone. I asked them why not, and I should be allowed to visit as I am travelling alone. They tried to explain to me that it’s the park’s regulatory policies. I was not aware of the policy as the tour operator did not inform me of such regulations. After requesting, they permitted me to go up to the main entrance with my car and then, if in the main gate supervisor permits, then I would be able to enter alone or could get tied up with some other groups. I took the chance and agreed to do so. I bought the entry ticket. While leaving the hotel, they provided me my breakfast along with the driver. After reaching parking area, I told the driver that I will not take breakfast with me and will have it after I return. I had heavy dinner at the night before and that’s why I decided to skip breakfast. I took my camera backpack and water bottle and started moving towards the main gate. To my utter surprise, I saw a wild Samber deer sitting just a few feet away from the parking area. I took a few photos of the deer and then moved towards the main gate. At the main gate, the supervisors were checking the bags of all tourists for plastic bags or similar items like that. No plastic bags are allowed inside Horton’s plain. Ahead of me, there were some Chinese tourists who could not understand what the guards wanted to explain. Then I took the chance to help the guards in explaining to the tourists and later on asked the guards if I could enter alone. They allowed me to enter without any question.
The sky was overcast and the clouds were moving above and around me. It felt like walking through the fog. It was really nice, cool and cozy. Some tourists were in winter outfit as well. I started to move along the walking trail slowly. Different sections of the park were named with different names. One such name is “Worlds End”, which was a wonderful area from where one can see the long distance sceneries without interruptions – mountains filled with trees, a lake farther away and beautiful houses downhill. One side of the area is very steep and sloppy and was very dangerous. Most likely, that’s the reason they call it the world’s end. Almost all the tourists sat there to take rest, took breakfast and photographs of the beautiful scenery. This section of the park is also prone to accidents. I came to know from one Srilankan officers on board ship that, every year tragic accidents take place and people lose their lives. There are records of loving couples jumping from there to commit suicide after denial of parents regarding affair. Later on, I also came to know from news that, this year one newly-wed couple was on their honeymoon trip to Hortons plain and while taking photo of the wife, the husband fell over the cliff. Srilankan army managed to rescue him and carried him on their shoulder for about 5km downhill to nearest hospital. Luckily, he survived with injury and was the first man to survive in such incidents. Again, this year, another tourist from China was rescued uninjured. He was hanging on the branches of trees. Then I realized why the authorities do not allow entering the park alone. When I started walking through the trail, the sky was overcast and was drizzling a bit as well. I was a little upset because the light and circumstances were not favorable for photography and I was not managing to spot birds and butterflies on the way back. But I took some photos of wild flowers during sunshine and shot some landscapes as well. I was not carrying any wide angle lens for landscape photography. So, I used my 100mm macro lens for shooting landscapes and the photos turned out to be good enough. After taking some rest at ‘world’s end’, I again started moving through the trails. On the way, I saw plain fields, and passed through splendid wood areas up and down through hilly trail. I become tired at the midway, so took rest again for a few minutes near a fountain in densely wooded area. Later on, I walked back to the starting point. I reached the hotel at afternoon and stayed there till the next morning as it was raining all day long.
The next morning after breakfast, I started for Adam’s Peak. I skipped the Galway forest Park as I wanted to climb the Adam’s peak on the same day instead of going there the next morning to watch sunrise. Adam’s Peak, also known as SRI PADA is a tall conical mountain located in central Srilanka. It is 2243m(7359ft)high above sea level.
Adam’s peak is considered sacred for all major religions in the world. Muslims and Christians believe that, Adam first landed on the earth on that peak and his footprint is still there. Buddhists believe that Lord Buddha has also put his footprint when he has gone from Kelani through air. Hindus believe that this is the foot print of One of their Gods Lord Shiva. During my cadet life, whenever I used to pass through the sea of southern Srilanka, I read the name of Adam’s peak on chart. From that time, I always wanted to climb the mountain to see the foot print. During my last trip to Srilanka, I could not visit the peak as that was not the season to do so. This time, the season was starting from 06th December. When I checked with my travel agent, he informed me that during this trip, it’s not the season yet and it will be closed for general public. But, if I want I can still visit as the season is nearby and there will be people who will be preparing for the season. And some tourist are always there during off season as well those who visit to watch sunrise and sunset from the peak. I thought of taking a chance to visit with an expectation that if the Buddhist priests are there, I can request them to open the foot print for me so that I would be able to have a glimpse. I reached at Dalhousie, my hotel around at 1030 hrs. The hotel staff informed me that the room is still not ready as the staying guest of the room will check out a bit later and they will need some time to make the room ready for me. I wanted to start climbing the peak as I will be climbing alone and I wanted to climb down before dark. I asked them to give me a room for changing up. They provided me a room to be ready and immediately I changed up and made myself ready to start climbing. It’s a 5.5 km walk through the trail and 750 meter steep hike from Dalhousie(1490mtr).They told me it will take minimum 8 hours to climb up and down without break. I kept my luggage at hotel lobby and took out one of my cameras, lens, laptop and all accessories from my camera back pack to the car to reduce the weight and make space to carry water and dry food. I started moving towards the peak immediately. In hurries, I forgot to take the torch from my luggage. So, on the starting point I bought two – half liter bottle of soft drinks, two peanut bars, one chocolate bar, and three liters of water and proceeded. It was a wooden road with man-made stairs. Initially, the stairs were not steep, and one third along the way there were houses and some temples of both Hindus and Buddhists. People started to make small shops for the season. At first, I met one European elderly couple who were coming down after climbing. The lady told me that she did not climb all the way up. Her husband was on top. I asked them if there is drinking water available on the way up, they told yes, If I want, I could get it from one of those makeshift shops on the way which were already opened. It was a relief for me as the day was very hot and sunny. I was worried about excess dehydration. Though I was carrying enough water and oral saline packets with me but my previous experience while travelling in India few years back made me to become more cautious, because I was travelling alone and during off season. There will be hardly any people or assistance on the way if I need any. So, I continued my steady climbing. At around 1400 hours, I met another lone Indian visitor who was slowly climbing down. I asked her how was the climb and she told me that she is just dragging herself down as she started climbing last evening and was extremely tired,when I told her that I wanted to go up and come down on same day before dark. She was surprised and told me to speed up. I continued to climb upwards. And on the way, I took photographs. I saw a big Buddhist temple. At midway, Srilankan tourist board has a lodge and other offices. I saw a lady in her small shop. I took a break for a few minutes and bought two liters of water again as the previous purchases were consumed already due to extreme heat and rapid sweating. I started to move again. Few minutes later, I saw one European young couple and one Srilankan tourist. I continued to climb slow and steady. On the way, I saw one man giving his offering to a very small temple. I also saw people erecting electrical lines, repairing the steps, and making new shops for the season. About a kilometer apart from the top of the peak, I made another stop to a shop, where I reduced the weight of my backpack by emptying two liters of water and a soft drinks bottle.
During the climb, I took a lot of photos of surrounding areas and the peak from different distances. I was looking for varied bird species but could not find many. I only saw a bird named yellow-eared bulbul (Pycnonotus penicillatus) on a tree nearby. I managed to take a few photos of the bird and that made me content as I was able to take photos of the bird at my first sight. I climbed up slowly all the way. When I was at the top I met with the European and Srilankan tourists. They were happy to see me and told me, “Finally you made it, we thought you will not be able to climb all the way”. When I asked what made them think like that, they replied that they saw me getting very tired and climbing slowly. I told them I wanted to climb slow and steady and needed to be a bit more careful to avoid injuries by being faster, as its better to be slow and steady and safe. I didn’t confess to them that I was on the move constantly for the last seven days and had a very little rest.
Overall, I planned in advance about my climb in order to avoid injury. I took regular very short breaks. I remembered the story that I read once when I was in school about a family from Chittagong who crossed the border for shelter through hilly areas of Chittagong to avoid Pakistani army assault with the local peoples’ help. One local person told the family members to walk slowly with steady small steps to avoid being tired fast. I kept that in mind and followed the same. I don’t know if that was appropriate or not but to me, it was helpful. At the initial parts, during the first one/two kilometer, the climb was easy but the higher I went up, the steps got steeper. It was very difficult for me to climb 750 meters only within 5.5 km trail.
After reaching the peak, I took a few more photos. I rested for about 30 minutes and then I started climbing down. Climbing down through steep steps was even tougher then climbing up. But I wanted to climb down before dark to avoid being alone in the dark as I forgot to carry my torch. On way down, I saw the same bird again and took a few more shots to have at least a few good photographs. With that I got my mental strengths back, though my legs and knees were under stress. I was always worried about damaging my knee. On the way back I met the same man again who was offering his prayer to the small temple. I stopped for a while there and rested. I started talking to that man and got to know that he was there for a few days for offerings. The man is a music teacher from India and got married to a Srilankan lady and settled there. He made some tea for me and we talked for about half an hour before I started climbing down again. Finally, I returned to the hotel just before dark and I was extremely tired. Fortunately my room was ready by then. After taking a cold shower, I took my dinner and went to bed.
Later next morning after breakfast, I started for Negambo, a city about 35km away from Colombo and close to the airport. Negambo is famous for sandy beaches and a very popular tourist area. I reached there in the late afternoon. It was raining there. I went out for dinner and bought some famous Srilankan tea. I managed to take some rest in the hotel before heading towards the airport next morning at 0300hrs for flying back home after a wonderful trip in Srilanka.