Some time after our Horton Plains expedition, Forest Department officials invited us to join them on a hike through the Knuckles range. They proposed climbing the Knuckles range from the Laggala side, then descend to Panwila on the Kandy side through Kalupahana.
It was more or less a conducted tour as arrangements had been made by them.
We set out the day before a Poson full moon day in the early evening to the Forest Department circuit bungalow by the banks of the Thelgamuwa Oya situated within the Riverston reservation. This time there were two ladies too both from the Department and also in the party were porters and cooks, so it made us feel as if we were on some colonial expedition.
After breakfast we left for Laggala Pallegama and then turned off from the main road to reach a remote hamlet, Ranamure. At the time this hamlet was isolated from the rest of the world, with the villagers there quite self-sufficient growing their own paddy, vegetables and pulses etc.
Climbing up from there, we entered the jungle and followed a waterway upstream. Extending across the stream were giant climbers called pus wel. We crossed the stream and came out at an open meadow, beyond which stretched the valley and across the valley, the beautiful Knuckles range, casting its spectacular knuckles-like outline across the clouded sky.
It took us quite a while to drag ourselves away from this majestic view and reluctantly we walked down the meadow and entered the jungle again. Finally, we came to a rocky promontory at the edge of the mountain ridge that we were walking along, all the while looking down on the valley below. From here we took a curve around the rocky edge to the slope on the other side of the river which happened to form the right border of the valley of another stream. This became our pathway as it flowed down to rugged terrain.
Climbing up this rocky pathway, we came to a waterfall, with a pool at the bottom, carved out by the sheer force of the water. The rocky banks of the pool extended out just enough to form a platform suitable for us to make camp that night.
|Taking a look from
the edge of the ridge
After putting up our tents we lit a few Vesak lanterns to celebrate Poson and enjoyed the dinner prepared by the cooks, a luxury we did not have on previous hikes.
The next day we had a more or less vertical climb up the slope of the ridge and it took us quite a while to reach the summit, thoroughly exhausted. It turned out that it was the Kalupahana hill that we had climbed.
The scene from the summit though was quite devastating. Plantations of cardamom had been established with a well laid-out complex of barns and storehouses, and this along with other wadiyas seemed to have caused irreparable damage to the Knuckles reservation.
Apart from the damage to the undergrowth, trees had also been felled for firewood – we saw some where even the bark had been chopped to let the tree die. It seemed the evils of the open economy had invaded these southwestern slopes of the Knuckles.
At the summit of Kalupahana we were received by some officers from Knuckles Conservation who had climbed there from the other side of the range. We had lunch at an improvised Forest Department Circuit bungalow and contemplated climbing the pyramid shaped peak of Tunhisgala but thought better of it. We set off again in search of a camping spot and the next morning came to a pygmy forest close to the summit.
|Knuckles range seen
beyond the meadow
Exposed to the strong winds, the trees here were stunted.
We reached the summit and again what struck us was the man-made destruction visible from this point- barren land devoid of trees, with only sparse mana grass.
Looking back we had a view of Knuckles from the southern slopes.
On our left was Gombaniya, which remained a prominent landmark until we came by road as far down as Panwila.
So ended another hike, our very first to Knuckles but one that didn’t quite live up to expectations because of the presence of human activity in what should have been a pristine wilderness.