It was a long weekend, which had already become longer as we had a friend’s wedding to attend on Thursday 9th February 2017. We, the office colleagues were due for a trip after last year’s visit to Sri Padaya. Kasun ayya suggested for camping at Chariots Path and guys needed no second invitation. Most of the guys had not experienced a camping experience prior, including me. We were excited to experience something new.
Chariots Path is considered as one of the most picturesque camping sites in the country. An open plain, on the mountain range behind Frotoft Estate, Pussellawa, which is known and Perattasi, which is considered to be the path on which King Ravan took Sita Devi in his chariot, Dandu Monara, to show her beauty of his kingdom which was a paradise on Earth and the plains are believed to be the launching and landing area of his Chariot. It is also believed that to date no vegetation grows on the plains except grass.
We had to rent out camping equipment and Kasun ayya took charge of it and others chipped in with other necessities. So on the 10th Friday, 10 of us left together by a hired bus with equipment and 4 were supposed to join us at Pussellawa – Ramboda road near the turn to the Frotoft Estate, who were already engaged in a bike trip. It took us more time than expected to collect necessities as it was a Poya holiday and due to the wedding on the previous day we had less time to get ready. It was around 9.00 when we left Colombo.
Our route was Kaduwela – Awissalwella – Karawanella – Kitulgala – Ginigathhena – Nawalapitiya – Ulapane – Pussallawa – Ramboda – Frotoft Estate. It was around 3.30 p.m when we arrived at the Frotoft Estate road. It was around 10 kilometers from the main road to the trail head Old Hospital, Frotoft Estate by the bus itself. For about half a kilometer or so, the route was in good condition but having travelled around 1 and half kilometers, we realized that we won’t make it by the bus as the road conditions became more and more suited for off road driving. We had to unload equipment and find a way of travelling the remaining 8 kilometers or so. It was around 4.30 p.m and we realized that we won’t make it in time.
By then we had already joined the other 4 who were there waiting for us. Kasun ayya hinted that as we won’t be able to reach to the camping site, we might have to settle for a good camping site somewhere in between the route. We found a tuk and loaded our equipment while 6 of us took a head start in their bikes, looking for a suitable site. The remaining 7 started walking, so that when a space is found the tuk and bikes will come back bring them. Having travelled further about 3 kilometers or so we found a suitable site near New Hospital, Frotoft Estate, on a small hill which lied parallel to the Chariots Path mountain range, which we later found out on the next morning.
We unloaded and bikers and tuk left for picking up the walking party and others started taking equipment up to the camping space which was around 100 – 120 meters up the hill from the road.
It was nearly golden hour when we reached there and the light was fading rapidly. Hence we had to act fast. We started setting up tents, 3 of them, one large and 2 small ones. By then it was past 6.00 p.m and we had already started feeling cooler. The rest of the guys had reached by then and all started setting up the camp. Having set up the larger tent few guys went to prepare dinner while other started setting up smaller tents.
Few of us started preparing noodles while others started a barbeque. We had not brought the barbeque grill hence we had to settle for other options, which we had decided on the way. It was a cool and misty evening. As it was the Poya day we had the luxury of moon light which added a mysterious feeling to our excitement. We had dinner which included instant noodles, barbequed chicken and sausage and murukku, a local snack and a few drinks. We had a good time in the middle of nowhere, amidst shivering cold and mist, singing and chit chatting.
The best was yet to come. We got up to a thick mist and a veil of sun rays. It is only when we realized that the camping space was parallel to the Chariots Path and we had almost had the same view from up there other than by a lower altitude. Once again it was golden hour in the morning.
We went further up the hill of the camping site and it was one of the most picturesque sights to be beheld, Chariots Path from behind, sun lit Sri Padaya mountain range, Kothmale Reservoir and Valley and Peacock Hill from front, Kikiliyamana and Pidurutalagala Mountain ranges from left and a lot of greenery along Frotoft Tea Estate from the right. The view was so breathtaking that we spent a little more than hour or so, absorbing the serenity, till the views got clearer as the mist faded away.
Then we prepared tea and fried some left over food for the breakfast. By then a few guests had joined us, a couple of boys and their dogs from the nearby village.
Having cleared the camping site we got off the hill and decided to hike to the Chariots Path and come back to take the bus from the trail head which was to be left at around 1.30 p.m. 5 guys from left us by bikes and we, having kept our luggage in a nearby shop, left for the trail head near Old Hospital, Frotoft Estate, which was another 6-7 kilometers away.
We started the long walk at around 9.00 a.m in the morning through the village. Our walk was through Frotoft Estate for the most part what we realized was how simple and hard the lives of these people were. Most of the people work in the tea factories and people are innocent and friendly who live in an isolated place from the modernity. For the most part of the walk we were able to see Kothmale Reservoir and valley and Sri Padaya mountain range and highlands of Sri Lanka as the route was ascending and kept winding around tea estates producing some breathtaking scenery. The sun was out, but the breeze was cold, hence you had a perfect weather, apart from the uneasiness of not having sweat.
At around 11.00 a.m we reached the Old Hospital, Frotoft Estate, where the small buses start their turns and there was a small shop and the shop owner asked one of his little sons to take us to the trail head and two little fellas came to our help. They were Tamil and the little boy knew no Sinhala and we knew no Tamil!
It was around another 30-40 minutes of walk through tea estate to the trail head at the border of the estate and after that we had to take our own way to the top. During the walk to the trail head, we felt like we were at the top of the world as what we saw was tea and sky while the Chariots Path Mountain was in front of us.The path was clear almost all the way to the top. The initial stretch of the path was almost flat and ran through the bushes which gradually became a continuous ascend. We met few friends of one of our colleagues and they gave us leads of how to find the correct path as there were a couple of turns in between, which were very helpful.
Soon the path became narrower and the forest became thicker and for the most part one person could barely walk through with his hands aside. We had breaks along the way and a few snacks. The last bit of the hike was challenging since we had to climb continuously up in zig zag manner and finally when the slope was less we realized we were almost there. It took around an hour or so for us under the mid-day sun to get to the top of the Chariots Path, our initially intended destination.
The plain was covered with thick grass and not large trees were found on the plains, instead it was surrounded by short trees and mountainous forest. We saw a few camping sites on the plains. To the Western sides of the plains, we could again see the Sri Padaya Mountain range and the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. To the other side of the plains we could see Pidurutalagala Mountain range, which is the summit of Sri Lanka and Kikiliyamana Mountain range while ascending.
While roaming on the plains, the surface was so soft that the area was not scarce of water as we came across few ponds made of natural water sources soon. The water was so clear and cool and adding that to the plains, Chariots Path makes an ideal place to camp.
We spent almost an hour at the top and as we had to get the last bus to Pussallawa town, we started hiking down. It didn’t take much time to get down and as we get to the bus parking area we came across a couple of men travelling down by a canter and they offered us a ride. It was a bumpy ride as expected and there was not enough room for all 9 of us to get hold of the front bar, 2 or 3 of our guys had to jump in the back and it was hard as well as funny most of the times. As we reached the shop at last night’s camping site, we collected our equipment and loaded them to the cante. The driver didn’t accept money for the ride, which was a surprise to us, but for the people living in such simple lifestyle, it might not be a big deal for offering a helping hand in need and we thanked and appreciated them.
We were very hungry, as we had consumed only cream cracker with fruit jam for the morning, and tired by now and loaded our bus with equipment and started journey back to Colombo via the same route.
On a further note, Chariots Path is one of the most beautiful places I’ve travelled in Sri Lanka and if you visit or camp there please make sure not to throw away anything on the plains or the path. Also, people of the nearby villages, we came across are very simple and innocent and live in demanding conditions and be nice to them and treat them well.
Kasun De Silva, Asitha Perera, Chanuka Gunathilake, Kasun Rangana, Shermin Fernandpulle, Pramuka Poorna, Arvin Jayanake, Yeshan Jayasinghe, Rahul Satheesh, Chamara Tennakoon, Dimuthu Hemakumara, Roshane de Silva, Manjula Mahesh, Vidula Wijesirinarayana
Special thanks to Kasun De Silva ayya who corrected the names of the places and sequence of events as well as appending some valuable information and photo credits should go to him, Chanuka Gunathilake and Arvin Jayanake.