“Everybody got out? Please check weather your friends are with you...” that was the loud voice of our organiser. Anas lead the large group of travelers into a small restaurant situated in the middle of Deniyaya town. It was a sunny day in the middle of June in the year 2014. Around 20 of us including me, Shyama, Rukshi, Thara, Uthpalavi, Poshi, Thamali, Raji, Rusiru, Eranga, Charaka, Vidula, Akila & Akila, Nadheera obeyed him and settled down around the tables, waiting for our breakfast to be ordered. A variety of short eats and a packet of milk stood there to quench our morning hunger. While we were enjoying our breakfast and chatting with the old friends whom we had met after some time, Anas, along with several others had an alternative job to do. They had gone out for shopping into a few grocery shops in the town. After several minutes they came back with some sackfuls of goods heavily hanging from their hands. Since everybody was stuffed up and good to go, we all went to the Deniyaya bus stand and waited for a bus to Pitadeniya to arrive. Since it was told that that bus won’t be available for another several hours or so, we had to take an alternative way, thus we all got into a bus to Meneripitiya. Hence we commenced the journey to one of the world’s natural heritage – the Sinharaja forest.
The roads became steeper, narrower and the surroundings grew more forest like as the bus approached the village of Meneripitiya. According to the plan, we traveled the rest portion of the journey by another bus to Pitadeniya. Then came the final part where we had to walk on foot for about 4 km up to the Pitadeniya entrance and then to our lodge. The experience was unique and awesome! The scenery, the climate and even the fragrance of nature made us feel that we had entered into another dimension earth, which was very much farther from human civilization. The main threshold which separated us from the concrete world outside was the unavailability of mobile network coverage. Thus we were going to be away from the tough chains of social media, mobile calls, voice or text messages and have a day in our lives with freedom to be much closer to Mother Nature. The thought seemed refreshing for our minds.
For about several hours we walked up and down the sandy roads and foot paths which lay between green carpets of paddy fields, small water streams which carried fresh and cold water and small bushes. Only several houses stood here and there. The sun burnt bright, but the cool atmosphere around, prevented us from being exhausted, even though each of us had a backpack on our shoulders and at least one other bag hanging from our hands. Raw food sufficient for one whole day, other ingredients to cook them, a few loaves of bread, a first aid box were some of the additional goods that we were carrying apart from our own luggage.
As we came closer to the entrance of the rain forest, we could feel a sudden change of our surrounding. From here on the environment was much cooler and small showers of rain poured time by time. Tall trees with thick treetops surrounded us. Apart from the sound of twigs and leaves cracking under our footsteps, the music of insects singing, frogs croaking, birds chirping and leaves shaking according to the rhythm of soft breeze were the only audible sounds. Ahead was a footpath which lay through the forest. Thus everybody stopped at the entrance and applied salt on their legs. This was the best remedy we had experienced to avoid leeches from hanging on our feet. Some people applied a special soap made for the same purpose. However later on they discovered that it was not as effective as salt.
The journey on foot started again. We were heading to our lodging site. Travelling through a rainforest was a brand new experience. The floor was covered by a carpet made of fallen leaves which were wet due to the little rain pours. Rain drops hung from each leaf of the trees and bushes which grew on the either side of the path. Small natural ponds could be seen here and there. Animals such as giant squirrels, monkeys, lizards, reptiles and butterflies roamed here and there. The sun peeked through the thick roof made by a network of creepers which connected every tree top. There were moments where the sun was not visible at all. Time by time we became wet with sudden miniature rain pours. But nobody dared to put on their rain coats since all of us had the intention to experience the touch of pure water drops on ourselves.
After walking for about 2kms we reached our lodging area. The "Ganga Langa Newasikagaraya" or The Hostel by the River as it was named, had to be booked previously through the Forest Department of Sri Lanka. Anas had made sure to do the official paperwork several days before the trip. At the hostel office a short registration process was done and then we were escorted to our lodge. At first glance we were satisfied and amazed by its view. It was a two stored lodge built using clay and the roof was made of straw. At least it was made to look so. Large bamboo trunks supported the walls. There were four bunk beds in both rooms situated in the upper and ground floor. Thus there was plenty of space for 16 people to sleep. We observed around and left our bags aside in our room. The girls booked the room on the up stair while the boys arranged the one in the ground floor for themselves. Each floor had a bathroom and a veranda. The view from the veranda was mesmerizing. An endless yard of forest was all around us.
“Come on guys...time is running. Have to make the best of it...” our organiser’s voice was heard from the ground floor. We all changed clothes suitable for bathing and went downstairs. Anas and Charaka led the way. Nearby our lodge there was another building with a dining area. Several cooks were there waiting to prepare our meals. The dry food that we brought with us was delivered to them so that they could prepare the dinner.
Our lodging area was somewhat separated from the forest by a stream. The bridge which stood above it made a perfect location for photography. Thus a certain amount of time was spent on it while posing for photographs. Before the trail proceeded everybody applied salt on their legs. One after another we walked through the jungle.
Walking along the footpath between high trees and keeping an eye for leeches was a different kind of experience. We passed small streams, tall trees, shady bushes and even small animals, untill we finally reached our perfect spot for bathing. It was a safe location of a river with such clear water that we could see our feet through it. The water was so cold yet refreshing - So refreshing that our bodies felt like being reborn. We bathed, played, floated and swam in that heavenly water bed. The time spent enjoying in the water, nobody had an idea. It was our stomachs which warned us to come out of the heavenly pool. Some bread and ‘pol sambal’ came out of the blue. Someone in the gang must have brought it here. Thanking whoever did that good work, we gobbled up the pieces of bread along with the ‘pol sambal’. If somebody asks how food in heaven must have tasted, I guess I have the idea of that taste!
We all returned to our lodging place and changed our clothes. Tea was served with biscuits. All of us quenched our throats, chatted along, took some photos and finally it was time for dinner. Thus one beside another, everybody sat around the large table in the dining area, with impatient stomachs, waiting for the buffet to be opened. The dinner was ready at last. After that lengthy bath and the long walk back to the premises, the severity of hunger was unimaginable. Thus we greedily stuffed ourselves up with the food.
After dinner, all of us settled down in our lodge and started our musical night. The air filled with songs, claps and beats of musical tempo. Here the electricity provision usually stops at 10 o’clock at night. Thus we had to light several candles in order to proceed with our program. This made the atmosphere more like a musical show. In the dim candle light, under the stars, deep in the thick jungle, with the chilled breeze hitting our bodies, the 20 of us sang like it was the last day we could sing on earth! There was no argument that that night was recorded in our hearts as one of the best and enjoyable nights in our lives.
Early on the next day we woke up to find our morning tea delivered to our doorstep. On this day our plan was to explore several waterfalls and return home. Sad it was to leave this marvellous place behind. However, after having our breakfast, we started our trail. Our first crossing was the beautiful bridge which connected our lodging premises and the thick forest. We kept on walking one after another along the small footpaths. Then we had to cross another small bridge which connected the part of the forest and a small village - Lankagama - situated somewhat in the middle of Sinharaja. There was a primary school. Around this area, there was a weak but somewhat stabilized mobile connection. Thus every one of us stopped for a while to give a call to our homes and ensure them that we are fine. Afterwards the walk started again.
We had to pass several streams, cross several miniature bridges, even cross several rivers. Because of the slippery rocks on the river bed, we had to form a line by holding hands, one after another and cross the rivers barefooted. The water was cold and refreshing. Finally we came face to face with our first waterfall, the Brahmana Fall. With a height of 100m, the Brahmana falls’ naming convention are described in several ways. One folklore narrates that during the rein of King Walagamba, a Brahmin who had stolen a golden melon, intended to be enshrined in the Batuwangala. The King sent his army to apprehend him, while fleeing, he slipped down the fall to his death at this location.
The water was ice-like. The surroundings were refreshing. We spent a reasonable time posing for photographs and feeling the freshness caused by the dew drops of the waterfall. Then we started our journey again. We walked under gigantic trees, again crossed a river and finally reached our next spot. The Thattu Fall. This fall, much higher than the previous one is said to be 350m high. The waterfall visualized a series of steps (Thattu), thus the name has been given. Water flown from one step to another created a combination of several water falls. Since the white waters hit the hard surfaces of the rocks designed as steps, the surroundings happened to be much mistier than the previous one. Some time was spent at this location also. Some of us applied salt on our legs again. Then all of us set course to the other destination. But at this point something dangerous happened.
About 5 of the team, including me, lost track of the others who were traveling in the front. We quickly walked along the single path and eventually came to a fork with two paths extending to two directions. We called out loud to the others. A reply call was heard, thus without any doubt we took one path and moved on. After walking for some time we noticed that the path became slightly steeper and steeper. The course was extending upwards the mountain. The floor was wet and slippery. I couldn’t move upwards due to the slippery of my slippers. Although I removed them, I was struggling unsuccessfully when Akila (Lux) came to my aid by pulling me up the steep path with all his might. Up and up we climbed while hanging on the branches and trees which grew here and there and finally we made to the top, and found to our dismay, that we were at the top of the waterfall! We had taken the wrong path at the fork and actually climbed the 525 m high Duwili Fall instead of traveling to the bottom of it. All other members of our team were below us and resting at the foot of the fall. Duwili or sometimes pronounced as Duuli Fall has got it's name due to dust (Duwili) like view of the water fall. An interesting aspect about this fall is the hidden cave at the base of the waterfall. Believes exists that a Brahmin was hidden in this cave in the ancient days. Snorting and grunting but feeling amazed at the same time, we who were at the top of the fall rested a bit and descended slowly to the bottom.