Mirror Magazine
23rd January 2000

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Ascending Alagalla

On the adventure trail with Udena Attygalle and friends Shamindrini Sivanandan,Jayanthi Kuru- Utumpala and Nalin Balasuriya

A smashed-up torch, a cigarette lighter dead with the cold and a packet of biscuits was all that was left of our supplies. The idea of spending the night in this leech-infested jungle was rapidly turning into a possibility as the darkness quickly set in.The time read 7.30 p.m. And for the first time we were ready to admit out loud the obvious - we were lost, dead lost on the unforgiving jungle inclines of the Alagalla mountain.

6.00 a.m: Saturday morning at the Fort railway station and Jayanthi, Shamindrini and I were all set to hop on the Badulla train on our way to Alagalla. Nalin would join us at Polgahawela. Shafraz, one of our team missed that train by five minutes, five minutes that would rid him of a life time experience.

The plan was to get down at Kadugannawa and catch a bus to Poththapitiya. The time read 9.00 a.m. when we stepped down onto the Kadugannawa station. But luck would have it that the bus was not working that day. While waiting we were the only people to give a few coins to a beggar woman. The woman in no mean words cursed the rest and promised that no harm would ever come to us. This memory would ring in our ears almost 11 hours later.

On the suggestion of the villagers we were to go to Pilimatalawa and then board a bus to Poththapitiya. From Poththapitiya we could see Alagalla, the 1,143 metre tall mountain. An imposing sight.

A two-kilometre trek toward the foot of the mountain and we decided to cut across a small hill and make it towards the mountain, ignoring the usual path up against the advice of the locals- mistake number 1.

Cutting across grasslands we were eager to enter the jungle, not knowing that hundreds of bloodsucking leeches were waiting impatiently for us to come their way. But we were prepared or so we thought. The sun was up and so were our spirits as we headed up the mountain. Through thick jungle and even steep rocks we climbed. "Towards heaven man" one would say, "one fall and we are in hell," another would reply.

Climbing the rocks first and testing them out was assigned to me. It was a guinea-pig job but it's always fun to be the first to get to the top. One rock was at almost a 90 degree angle and about 100 feet steep. It was decided that it wasn't worth circumnavigating the rock. It was huge and we could see no easier way. So I climbed first. Over a very tricky spot where there was just one crevice to hold onto and I was through.Said Jayanthi "I crawled up the rock and I am glad I didn't look down." " I wouldn't have done it any other time!" Nalin put it.

Another time Nalin suddenly spotted a coiled-up serpent. We were just climbing over a rock and there was no other way except over the serpent. So Nalin watched it as we stepped past.

By now we had climbed for almost three hours and the rains set in and with it the mist.

Oddly enough we found ourselves a cave like structure and avoided the heaviest part of the rain. A break and we were off again.

The mountain seemed to play with us. Each time we thought that we had reached the top another peak would suddenly become visible. After a whole four hours of jungle terrain we had suddenly climbed onto a plain covered in tall grass. A rock was looming in the distance. The peak, the peak, we thought!

Yet Nalin who was in front pronounced, "Guys this isn't the peak but I can see the real peak from here."

Steps quickened and we were soon at the last obstacle on our way to the craggy rock at the top. Climbing it in wet, windy and misty conditions seemed unreal. And gloom set in with the possibility of having to go back down without reaching the peak looming large. But Jayanthi wasn't ready to go back without stepping onto the peak and spurred us on to climb through what is known as the "Singhakata" to the top at 4.28 p.m. Up on the top all huddled together, our spirits soaring, we would shout out loud "Today, we are kings" and like kings we felt.

So cold was it that I was "shaking like a leaf". We could hardly see 10 feet in front of us.

Jayanthi meanwhile lay on her back on the rock. "I looked straight up and all I saw was just pure whiteness," she said. I meanwhile hugged a rock on the side away from the chilly wind and tried to get as warm as I could. Nalin described the final climb as " scary" . And scary it was. On one side was a fall of around 1000 feet and we couldn't even see 10 feet of it.

Maybe it was the cold or maybe the ecstasy of having reached the top or the possibility of getting lost in the mist that we did not explore the top of the mountain: even though we knew there was a easier way down somewhere - mistake number 2 we found out later.

Part 2 next week

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