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Trekking Thotupola Kanda, the 3rd highest mountain

There is a legend behind Sri Lanka’s third highest mountain,Thotupola Kanda. It was so named because it served as the landing place for King Rawana as he was returning from India. When King’s sister visited King Rama and his beautiful wife in India she had been mistreated (I wished there was a better tone to this story) and on her return she complained to her brother King Rawana. Who then took off in his flying machine and kidnapped Sita and brought her to Sri Lanka. This mountain peak had been the first landing spot and thus it was named ‘Thotu Pola’. So many places I’ve visited has been touched by a bit of Rama and Sita and King Rawana doing useless things (nothing to be proud of), even in Thailand!

We were in Nuawara Eliya, Small Englandof Sri Lanka (elevation 2000+ meters above sea level, average temp 20 degrees) this weekend staying over at the beautiful Tea Factory hotel. Sadly they were not many water falls along our route Ambepussa-Kandy-Nuwara Eliya-Kandapola and so I turned my focus on to mountains. 32 kms south of Nuwara Eliya lies the famous Horton Plains (2,100 m) sorrounded by mountain ranges. It is dominated by Kirigalpoththa (2,389 m) and Thotupola Kanda (2,357 m) the 2nd and 3rd hieghest mountains. It is also the catchment area for the Mahaweli River and Belihul Oya. Of the two trails that ascends these peaks, the Thotupola Kanda is the easier one. It starts about 400 meters from the Entance Gate from a path to the left. Kirigalpotha the tougher one requires you set off early morning in order to be able to cover a round trip of nearly 11 kms. The trail starts from a path behind the Visitor Center. (formerly the Far Inn)

You can also spot the Adam’s peak (Sri Pada) which according to a notice board we read in Horton Plains, had been visited by nearly 2 million pilgrims! But to reach this peak you need to go to Hatton and drive 33km southwest to a small settlement known as Nallathanni. The shortest (7km) trail to Admam’s peak starts from Dalhousie. So far I’ve climbed it twice.

We trekked the Thotapola kanda starting at about 10.30 am. We were greeted by a group of 50 from the Nationa Photographic club. Serious SLR cameras with telecopic lenses hung from their necks. They were decked in layers of clothing and gasping for breath, told us it’s bound to rain (as it has done the past few days) and without jackets we would be drenched. More worry was regarding the expensive camera I was carrying and I hadn’t brought the casing… oops. I thought it best I leave it behind in the car, I was having a far from good time getting awesome photos from it like my son. (Obviously needed more coaching on this, I should actually be joining the Photographic Club, only it scares me to be that serious!) So off we set in plain clothes, simple Casio digital camera + a bottle of water.

What’s interesting about the trail is that it starts to ascend right from the start and very gradually with stretches of flat land on and off. The total ascent is about 250 meters and the trail is about 1.5 kms. There were tunnels of trees and bamboo shrubs and soggy stretches, as well as parts that were strewn with stones with hardly any follaige except for grass. When the trail cleared we were able to enjoy the superb panoramic view of the mountain ranges, valleys and the plains. Amazing was the diversity of the terrain. Mean while I was able to catch my breath, this was due to poor fitness and not entirely the elevation (We should be around 2200 meters above sea level). My partner tried a fast one by calling the first real flat land we reached the peak. It did look like the highest point but the trail continued and thankfully I had read the trail report on Lakdasun website and it said there was a small Radio Transmission Antenna at the peak. He was carrying a long stick and thrashing the shrubs along the way. The intention was to ward off serpants but in the end way may have scared other spiecies as well. Though an encounter with a serpant is a bit scary, the whole purpose of trekking is the adventure and the possibility of sighting wild life. Sigh!

After trekking further along the trail we arrived at the afore mention spot. We were rewarded by splendid views of Horton Plains. The road was winding, spilling out through valleys and cars and vans (possibly buses too) driving towards the Visitor Center dotted the this ribbon. While the sun blazed on patches of grass the mountains cast long shadows on the plain, it was an amazing combinations of greens and yellows. We couldn’t spot any fauna except for a lone Brahminy Kite enjoying itself with it’s favourite sport of Gliding!

Upon our descend we drove across the plains and approached the Visitor Center for info on the other trail. The Wildlife Dept folks were very helpful. Apparantly they have a lodge and dormentory that could accomodate groups of 10 to 50. Though they don’t provide any camping gear, they have safe camping sites for the adventurous ones. They were willing to joing the Kirigalpoththa trail but insisted that we have an early take off around 7 am. Unlike the Thotupola trail we need to cover more terrain (4.5 km) to get to the point where the ascend starts. You can find a detailed report for the Kirigalpoththa trail on Lakdasun website. My memories go back to hiking days when we were Girl Guides. O Boy! we were a discipline lot pretty scared of our Guide Instructor, Miss Kanthi Fernando. Being scared was a good thing, it halped us get through most trails without a fuss. We climbed all three peaks: Piduruthalagala the highest mountain (2,524 m) Kirigalpoththa and thotupola Kanda in 1986 when we were competing for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. I remember visiting the Far Inn after the Kirigalpoththa and Worlds End trails. The place looked alot like how it’s pictured on the left.

I was determined to understand the varying folliage in this area. We managed to ganer some  info from the Visitor Center. The vegetation is a patchwork of Cloud Forest and Wet Patana with a narrow transission zone or ecotone of shrubs and herbs between the two. While Cloud Forest generally tend to be on the upper slopes, the grasslands (including dwarf bamboo) tend to occur in the lower slopes and the valleys. In the 60s the Dept of Agriculture had carried out a Seed- Potatoe farm on the plains. When this effort flopped the authorities replaced the Potatoes with carpet grass.

On our way back to Kandy we ventured to find Ramboda falls. Soon we found out that there were two water falls above and below the bridge and were known as Meda Ella. A flight of stairs from the left of this waterfall is a trail leading to the Upper Ramboda falls. The climb was steep like most water fall trails we’ve followed. ( about 750 meters) In addition to the Upper Ramboda falls we could see the Kotmale resevoir from the peak.  We then drove a little further towards the  tunnel (which incidently is the longest in SL – 200m) and went to Ramboda Falls hotel (inn) to view the Ramboda Lower falls. It is there that we saw another one at a far distance. This is called Puna falls. So I was wrong when I said that there were not many water falls along  Kandy-Nuwara Eliya road. When I checked up with Waterfalls of A5 Highway and The Valley of Kothmale on Lakdasun website there was a total of seven water falls in the Kotmale valley. They are Delta falls, Helboda falls, Gerandi falls, Devathura falls, Ramboda cascades, Puna falls and Palagolla falls. Not many are visible from the road, they need to be explored.