19th December 1999
By Udena R. Attygalle
"Build up pace and maintain it over the mud," I thought to myself. I'm not one for "not getting dirty" but there was no way I was going to lay my feet on that ten-inch layer of thick mud.Yet we ended up doing more than wading through mud. We carried our bikes most of the way through thick forest cover, fell into a few mud holes and then almost suddenly were back on a familiar dusty, noisy, congested Colombo road.
With a plan to explore the suburban areas of Colombo, a friend from the "Midweek Mirror" Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala and I set out on Monday last week from Dehiwala. Others were supposed to join us but could not due to other commitments. So if you too want to explore as we did, fix the date well in advance!
Colombo on a bike is quite a different experience altogether we found out. It's much more real than travelling in an air-conditioned car and if you are willing to give those old muscles a bit of a workout, definitely more fun than walking.
For us the adventure really started at the Attidiya Sanctuary where we had the muddy experience above. We cut off from the Dehiwala- Maharagama road onto the Pittawella road about 500 metres past the Bellanwila temple. The stretch upto here is mostly easy. When you are on a bike you really feel the difference between carpeted roads and the ones that are not (make sure you get a good reliable bike, if you are hoping to go off road: mountain bikes are recomended.
Turning onto the Pittuwana road toward the WildLife office of the sanctuary, we were met by a mini "causeway" where the marsh waters on both sides of the road had joined over the road. We had our first and probably cleanest taste of biking over water!
Talking of water, make sure you drink plenty of liquids on the way, if you ever plan to bike around in Colombo or the sun and the humidity combined will quickly sap you in no time. Wear a hat if you have one.
Although the WildLife officers suggested we move through the sanctuary on foot, we armed with the adventuring spirit decided to bike it. It was a mistake but one that we were glad to make!
The path through the sanctuary is definitely not for biking especially after the rain.
The exit from the sanctuary falls onto the Attidiya road just after the Bellantara Junction. But even here people have started encroaching on the marsh land.
Next we headed back toward the Bellanwilla Temple. We felt people stare at us, two mud-spattered adventurers speeding away on our bikes, littering the road with mud and grass.
The WildLife officer at the park had told us there were more birds on the marsh land next to the temple which is not even a protected area so we turned off at Vihare Mawatha, just after the temple. True to his words we saw more birds here than at the sanctuary, calmly oblivious to the people around.
A few turns and this road led to Boralesgamuwa. It was a very good biking road.
As we sped along to Nugegoda we were forced to move through a few main roads. Biking on the main roads is not fun though it's an adventure in itself, dusty, noisy and if you manage not to get knocked down by a speeding vehicle you are sure to get choked by the fumes that they leave behind. We kept on the broad pavements as much as we could, even though it meant that the ride was rougher than on the smooth main roads.
From Nugegoda we moved away onto the Thalawathugoda road,then on to the Baddegana junction where we stopped at a boutique for a bottle of water and were met by a very sympathetic shopkeeper. Amused at the sight of us two fagged-out travellers he helpfully suggested some easy bike routes. Infact we were a bit tired of the ascent-decent sequence so far on this road, although the descending part was fun. When the road is carpeted and there is no traffic around, you can achieve fabulous speeds coming down hill! But then there is no coming down without going up.
So taking the advice of the shopkeeper we went along Maliban Arama road, towards the Sri Jayawardenapura Sanctuary . Here we were met by beautiful marshy terrain and of course stinking garbage dumps. Other than that the area was ideal for biking, almost like some country road.
We turned off onto the Sri Sunethraramaya Rd along the Diyawanna Oya. As we pedalled along quietly, mostly undisturbed by traffic, we could see the busy streets of Kotte on the other side of the water, but it was like an action movie with the music turned down. We were so close to the city yet all was calm and peaceful. The humps on the road seemed to be made for bikers.We sped over them, and this may have contributed to the rear wheel on my bike coming off. Luckily it didn't come off completely or I wouldn't have finished this story!
After a half an hour or so of bike trouble and repair we decided to have a lunch break. And so it was back onto the main roads and the search for a good place for a bowl of rice began.
After the meal we started out again but this time we found sitting down on the small bike seats rather painful. After exploring the marsh land just behind "Sethsiripaya" we were left with couple of hours to spare before we had to return the bikes to the owner in Kotte. So we decided to do a quick circle of the area. Off to Rajagiriya we went and from there we moved along Buthgamuwa, Ambagaha junction, Koswatte road, (where a very sympathetic shop keeper offered us a free drink), Koswatte, and then on the new road towards the parliament.
This smooth straight broad road is a pleasure to bike along when there is no traffic. The scenery too is extremely soothing although marred by the garbage scattered along the way.
We had spent the whole day biking and now the sun was setting and the darkening skies and the distant lightning signalled the beginning of a thunder storm.
Looking back the route we took may not have been the perfect one. But then we were not looking for a perfect route. It had been a spontaneous idea and the experience had been well worth the sweat. According to Jayanthi, "it's a must for every adventurous soul!" Another thing to remember: all along the way three-wheeler drivers were our real guides and a great source of information.
Tomorrow it would be back to slaving away in our concrete towers, but anytime we feel we need a break, we know what to do.
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