To Horton Plains from Maratenna, Balangoda

Fascinated by the abundance of nature’s splendour we had seen in the Peak Wilderness reservation on our abortive hike, we decided to see it through with the help of an experienced hand- in this case an officer of the Forest Department.

The route envisaged entry into the Peak Wilderness sanctuary from Maratenna on the road from Balangoda to Bogawantalawa and then a trek through the jungle to cross over to the Horton Plains sanctuary and up to the Plains. We had the Forest Department official and his assistants, a photographer, a journalist, a Customs officer and others with us.

Driving up the Balangoda Bogawantalawa road we got off the vehicles at Detanagala to enter the jungle and kept climbing till we reached a summit. It was late afternoon and we felt we should go down to the valley to reach a source of water before nightfall.

We found a suitable spot and set up camp for the night, with a bonfire to keep away the wild animals. Next morning our navigator, the forest officer told us that if we proceed straight north from here, we would get lost.

It would be easier to deviate to the west to reach a tea estate from where we could find our way more easily. Within a few hours we came out to the perimeter of a tea estate - It was Loinorn Group so we were somewhere in the Bogawantalawa plantation region.

But we realized that we had taken a circuitous route through the jungle and it was late afternoon when we finally set out from Loinorn Group on the trek to Horton Plains.

Being on a supposedly well-established footpath to take us to Horton Plains we were very euphoric for a while until we found the footpath fading away. Blindly climbing up from now on we came to a flat stretch. The map was not of use here as we could not locate our bearings.

Engulfed by feelings of hopelessness we continued to walk till late afternoon. Finally the flat stretch ended and we were climbing again, amidst foliage transformed into the stunted type as seen on Horton Plains instilling some hope into our dejected souls. Coming out to an open stretch here, we saw a valley far below.

Having set up the fire for the second night

We started descending once again and came to an open meadow with a stream flowing in the middle resembling Horton Plains. Over here we drew in a long sigh of relief when we glimpsed people in the stream. But the moment they saw us they took to their heels. They had been engaged in illicit gem mining in the stream.

With no one to ask now, we thought we should follow the stream in the hope that it was Belihul Oya that flows through Horton Plains. Unfortunately, due to the numerous tributaries joining the waterway we could not make out which tributary we should follow. Moving upstream we found that it was taking a turn into the highland jungles. Dejected, we left the stream and walked up the meadow. As it was getting dark now it was not advisable to walk any longer.

The meadow was probably in the perimeter of Horton Plains and with a strong wind blowing, erecting tents or starting a fire was equally difficult but we managed to cook some dinner too. Surviving that night in the cold was an adventure in itself.

On the third day we continued to climb through dense jungle. Though hypoglycaemia was gradually setting in, our morale was high enough to keep us climbing. Quite unexpectedly we came across a fairly broad waterway. The stream tallied with the size of Belihul Oya giving us fresh hopes. With our bearings finally established we gathered that trekking upstream from here we would reach Horton Plains. Some became so joyful that they even had a dip in the icy cold waters of Belihul Oya.

Having crossed to the left bank of the stream we had to climb up the slope of the bank and came across an irrigation channel, in a very much neglected state. Below was a precipitous slope where the slightest slip would be disastrous.

A pond in Horton Plains. Baker’s Fall seen as a white speck in the jungle above and the road seen on the hill to the right

But after crossing all the obstacles on the way we reached the final hurdle, the anicut. The anicut was so narrow and rather tall that we crossed in chain formation and were rewarded with the sight of a beautiful water fall.

From here we started seeing a white speck in the jungles far away. It was Baker’s Fall through the binoculars. We were finally in Horton Plains.

Here we once again spotted the group who had been gem mining and the Forest officers gave chase and caught one of them.

We crossed the Oya over here, finally reaching the sanctuary. After being comrades in extremely difficult conditions passing two of the most hazardous sanctuaries we were sad to split up.

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