Looking down from the peak of Alagalle, takes your breath away | Sunday Observer

Looking down from the peak of Alagalle, takes your breath away

5 August, 2018
Mahagala (Alagalle)
Mahagala (Alagalle)

Situated in the border of the Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces, the mighty Alagalle is ranked the 69th highest mountain in the country. Kadugannawa mountain range is another name for Alagalle. This mountain range consists of three peaks, namely, Kodigala or Mahagala (the highest point) 1,148m.(3,766 ft)) above sea level, Katusu Konda Gala and Poojagala.

The village folk relate interesting rumours about this mountain. When Sri Lanka received independence from the British and the first independence ceremony was held in Colombo, a group of people, under the belief that they could see the ceremony from this mountain top, climbed the peak to watch the ceremony.

Thereafter, the villagers around this mountain used to climb the mountain top every year on February 4 as a custom to celebrate National Day. However, people who we met on our way, rejected such rumours. There are two ways to the Alagalle hike. One is to take a bus to Pilimathalawa, and then proceed by another bus to Poththapitiya. The other route is to travel by train up to the Ihalakotte Station and hike along the railway track through the tunnel to reach Gangoda Station, and then begin the trek. We took the easiest way to climb, via Poththapitiya.

Alagalle is an exciting adventure destination. Though we planned our hike eight months ago, it was invariably delayed due to unavoidable circumstances. Recently, we were able to arrange the journey with success, though we missed a regular member, we were joined by two newcomers. The seven-member group left the Central Bus Stand, Pettah at 4.15 a.m to Kandy.

Two hours and twenty minutes later we reached the Pilimathalawa town where we had our morning tea, keeping a close eye on the road looking out for the next bus to Poththapitiya.

After twenty minutes of travel, bouncing and shaking in the bus, we got down at the Poththapitiya town, exactly at 7.20 am. Soon after breakfast we started the Alagalle hike, at 7.55 am. On our way, we could catch the first glimpse of the top of the Alagalle peak, over the tea factory. The first phase of the trek is through the green carpet Tea Estate. The hiking group marched forward through the tea bushes, in the thick forest at the end of the tea estate.

We were advised by the village folk to hang a branch of leaves for God Gambara, before entering the forest, as was the custom. We followed the traditional observance, as advised by the villagers.

The Alagalle forest reservoir has a rich biodiversity, and a strong wide forest canopy blocking the sunbeam from kissing the Earth. The trek winds further up through huge trees, and we followed in single file, walking as fast as possible, without taking a break. The leeches were the main obstacles to our pace. The ‘blood sucking residents’ of the area suddenly woke up and raised their heads, looking out for the taste of fresh blood. Most of the time, on previous occasions I was the main target of the leeches. But, in this tour, the other members were attacked more by the blood sucking army. A few hours later we caught a glimpse of the Alagalle mountain top, through the canopy. As soon as we reached the end of the forest, we entered an oval shaped open area, in the lower section of the Alagalle range.

It was filled with Mana bushes among the hidden rock debris. The warm weather was taking its toll on us, and the direct sun rays made us damp with sweat. One or two lonely trees that stood on the hills could not provide the shade to protect us from the burning sun. So we took a break and sat on the heated rock surface enjoying the sight of the infinite beauty of the surroundings. Kodigala or Mahagala, the highest part of Alagalle, which is solid granite, gently stood a few metres away from us. We had to creep through the 4-5 feet high Mana bushes to approach the basement of the rock. And then, it turned out to be a most exciting and adventure filled climb. Before the last lap to the summit, the trek was a line with a 40-45 degree slant on the rock. We had to crawl on the rock surface to reach the final phase. The rest of the few metres of the steep climb of 90 degrees seemed a risky challenge, but, we managed it by hanging on the rock, using the rope. At the top of the summit there is a hole, which is called the lion mouth (sinha kata). To get on to the Mahagala (Alagalle) one must go through the lion mouth. Some in our crew climbed without the rope, while the rest used the rope. Our blood pressure swelled looking down from the steep climb and members were warned not to look back while climbing because the cliff runs about 1,500 feet to the bottom and one missed step would land you on a wing-less glide.

Finally, we managed to summit the high mountain range, after a few hard attempts. It was noon and we were lucky to have a bright sunny day.

There were no white clouds to mar the blue, blue sky. Looking down we saw the picturesque landscapes of the Hanthana mountain range, the Knuckles, Bathalega mountain and Uthuwankanda.

The Colombo-Kandy road runs through the centre of the Mawanella town, at the bottom of Alagalle, while the railway line runs through Ihalakotte station. No words could describe the spectacular panoramic view around the Alagalle range. It is an ideal spot to change the monotonous city life, and to feel free, even just for a moment. By now the temperature rose high, with no signs of a wind and our bodies began to sweat. We kept walking along the extensive rock surface. The 70-80 degree slant rock named Katusukondagala and another drop about 50-60 feet high runs up to the next stage. Descending this risky area, travellers have to seek the support of huge iron nuts fixed to the rock wall with tightened ropes.

We entered the Mana patch. Not only Mana but thorny trees blocked our path and none could escape from injury. As we passed the open area trek which goes into a small forest, we found signs in some places where wild boar had dug for yam. Spending more than half an hour on the 1.5 km journey on Katusukonda, we reached the other end of the mountain’s third topmost point Poojagala. On our way to Poojagala we came across ruins of an abandoned building and a mould for a Buddha statue which had gone to the wilds. On the corner of the rock surface was a dagoba and next to it, a more than five feet tall oil lamp post. Signs of footprints could be seen, but no evidence was to be found about the history of the footprint signs.

After relaxing for a few minutes with some refreshments, we started to descend through the difficult route at 1.15 pm. The slope was nearly 60-70 degrees, reminding us of ‘Ahas gawwa’ of Adam’s Peak. On both sides of the trek we were exposed to unique creations of mother Nature.

The picturesque surrounding was amazing. We climbed down, sometimes slipping on the path due to the wet soil. In several places there were man made concrete stairs with iron handles which made our descent safe. Suddenly we lost our way and entered a rubber estate. A man who we met on the way told us that on every poya day devotees from the villages climbed Poojagala to observe sil. He said a labourer was paid Rs. 2,000 to carry a cement bag to the top. As planned we managed to reach Gangoda station to catch the return train to Colombo. But the two hours and forty minute delay of the train gave us time to memorize the experience we had today.