August 20, 2013

From Horton Plains to Bogawanthalawa

Hiking Kirigalpoththa Mountain and the Bridle Trail

This hike consisted of two trails, first one is Kirigalpoththa, the famous nature trail which is also the second highest mountain in Sri Lanka with an altitude of  2388m above mean sea level and the Bridle Trail which is also famous among hikers that has a history running to the colonial era. (Special Permission from the Department of Wildlife is needed to do the bridle trail.)

The Crew consisted of four,me and three of my friends. We left Colombo in the night mail train to Badhulla which leaves at 8.00 pm from Fort and arrived at Ohiya at 5.00 am in the morning next day hired a van to Horton Plains visitors' center. It was early in the morning, actually we were the ones who woke up the officer at Horton Plains entrance :D We knew that the earlier you go to Horton plains the more sambhar stags you get see and we did. After passing the entrance we saw hundreds of sambhar stags roaming in the plains, Even though I had visited Horton Plains before this was first time I saw that many sambhar stags in a heard.

We arrived the visitor's center around 7 am and started the hike as planned. There's a clear trail to Kirigalpoththa mountain which is 7 km long where one could hardly get lost in the trail. The bridle trail begins half way through the Kirigalpoththa trail. Our plan was to get to the peak of Kirigalpoththa first and then come back to where the bridle trail begins.
Peak of Kirigalpoththa

View from the Top
We could reach the summit of Kirigalpoththa around 10 am, It was not hard but we knew that the hardest part was awaiting for us. Then we came back o the place where the Bridle trail begins. There's a stream across the trail called the Slab Rock Falls. Coming from the direction of visitor's center if you go right it's the Kirigalpoththa trail, if you go left the it goes through the woods and disappears. That's the bridle trail. Now the trail almost doesn't exist since it's not being used. The Lakdasun trail guide and our 1:10000 map backed us up to go forward.
Slab Rock Falls- to the left Bridle Trail
It was about 11.30am when we started the hike from slab rock falls to Bogawanthalawa. After about 200 m the trail disappeared in the woods. We had no choice but to go through the woods until the next land mark, a concrete slab over a stream. It was another mountain with thick dense thorny undergrowth with creepers blocking our way. After about three hours we could get to other side of the mountain with scratches and bruises all over our bodies. Only after that we saw the vague footpath that went around the mountain which we didn't find at the other side.

However after walking about 30 to 45 minutes passing a grass land and scaring a sambhar stag, we had to come back to the place where the concrete slab was as it seemed to be the ideal place for camping since it was getting darker. There were plenty of dried wood around mainly because it was not raining those days and no rain at Horton Plains comes with a price of freezing temperatures at night. Firewood was no problem and we set up our small tent. After having a sufficient dinner we crawled inside the tent hoping to get some sleep, but it was almost impossible. The FAQ for four hours was "what is the time?" No one could sleep, it was freezing, besides the tent also seemed to be leaking.  It was midnight and we had no choice but to set a fire and sit around it till the morning. In the morning we figured out the reason for the leakage, in fact it was not a leakage or fault of our tent. It was because of the dew formed by ICE. Can you even believe it? Our tent was frozen with ICE.                              
believe it or not this is ICE on the tent

Much Anticipated Sunrise at 5.30am 
Expecting much more surprises we started the second day hike. There was no trail, we just followed according to the map and headed in the direction of Southwest where North Cove estate was located through dense undergrowth with ascents and descents passing grasslands and sometimes going along sambhar trails. Next land mark was the illegal gem pits located closer to the boundary of Horton Plains. To do gem mining it must be closer to a river or a place where there is sufficient amount of water. So as it says "Rivers are high ways in the jungle", we just followed a stream until we find a sign of gem mining.
Hard to Tackle the Trail

Dense Undergrowth

Rivers are High Ways in the Jungle
We walked more than two hours along a stream and almost incidentally found the first gem mine among the dwarf  bamboo bushes which we could not figure out the depth. For the next 2-3 km there were many gem pits in the bank of the stream. Passing them again a trail appeared across a grassland, it was a climb and when we got to the top it was one of a  kind view for the naked eye. It was a valley where several streams met. Next landmark was the turpentine forest which we had to go along the main stream of the valley to the right where we found a clear trail leading to it. Beyond the turpentine forest is the North Cove Estate.
Abandoned Gem Mine

Gem pit

The valley

The trail leading to the Turpentine Forest

The Turpentine Forest

End of the trail - Entrance to North Cove Estate

North Cove Estate
It was 2.30 pm when we arrived at the trail end, the North Cove Estate, the end of a 23 km two-day hike and we had to walk another 2 km through the tea estate to catch a bus to Bogawanthalawa and then from Bogawanthalawa to Hatton and return to Colombo.
As always this was a hike with unforgettable experiences which I take great pride in talking about.


  1. Nice writing..... Keep up the good work. guys..... watch out.... There is more to come.......

  2. Hi Kasun,
    Your trip report is amazing and information rich. I am a nature and wildlife photographer, planning to film and photograph the flora/fauna and the beautiful landscape of Horton plains and Northcove through the bridle trial. could you please advice how can I obtain a permit from the department of wild life conservation? appreciate your help on this. thanks.