The Trails of Indiana Jones - Hiking in Hanthana
By Shabna Cader
My friends happen to think I’m adventurous and those that I’ve mentioned hiking believe I’m a pro hiker. I’m nowhere close to being a pro but hey, I am a bit adventurous and I love the idea of getting away from the city, even if it’s just for the weekend and to do some trekking across a mountain range.
The Hanthana Mountain Range lies in the central part of the island, south-west of the city of Kandy, and consists of seven mountainous peaks. The drive is about four to five hours at a decent time of day but there’s plenty to see even as you come into the range of the upcountry. Hanthana was declared an environmentally protected area in February of 2010, under the National Environmental Act, and has somehow continued to remain a serene and picturesque little town.
I’d made it a personal travel goal of mine to get out of Colombo at least once a month, even if it were for a day, and took my chances when a hike and camping expedition was organised by Jetwing Travels just over a week ago. With transportation, food, lodging, and excursions all sorted, all I had to do was say I was in on it and be there early Saturday morning to head to our destination.
I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy being outdoors and in nature more so than ever before since COVID. Rising early is no problem for me, and I ensured I stayed awake all the way just to get a sweeping glance of the curvy roads and tea estates as we made our way towards Hanthana. Getting into Kandy hasn’t seemed to have changed even with COVID, and the traffic can be a bit tedious but a couple of minutes here and there, and then its picturesque views.
The diverse flora and fauna, fresh mountain air, and panoramic sights of the surrounding will stay ingrained in my mind. We arrived at Dome Hanthana, our recreation and adventure camp home for the next 24 hours. Our group was greeted by Suranjith Wewita who runs the camp with a team of passionate and dedicated team of staff. Since we’d already stopped for breakfast along the way and had our tummies full, we took a few minutes to stretch our legs and then prepare for our first hike of the expedition to Sherwood Forest, just above and beyond the campground. The peak of the forestry offers a lovely view of what is perhaps knows as the world’s purest white quartz pit.
Now, in all honesty, I’ve been on just three other hikes. I don’t wear crazy hiking gear nor do I even own the proper shoes for it. I don my usual running shoes and they’ve worked just fine thus far. I also only own three-quarter length leggings - my biggest mistake for this particular hike. The majority of this particular trek runs through the forest that happens to be home to overgrown guinea grass and other bushy and sharp leaves and is also dry, dusty, and dirty. In a matter of minutes of walking through the path, I had multiple cuts all along with the exposed parts of my legs. No biggie, however, they weren’t deep cuts, more like scratches really, but lesson learned, will attempt to wear longer leggings next time or higher socks.
Coming into the subject of a particular Indiana Jones, this was actually a movie location for the Steven Spielberg 1984 blockbuster ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.’ I’ve heard not too many nice things about the movie and some thoughts on racisms and language mix-ups as in the movie, the village people who said to have been Indian and had to have spoken Hindi, but alas Spielberg seemed to have made the biggest blunder and also included some scenes in which the villages and Harrison Ford himself say a couple of Sinhalese words. Yowzer!
Coming back, the heat was a bit unbearable so we were quite thankful to take shade under a little hut by the campsite and dig into a hearty Sri Lankan meal of rice and curry. Most of us avoided heading over to our individual camps as they can also tend to be heaty mid-day. We also avoided showers for the time being as next on our itinerary was a natural pool bath at a branch of the Nillamba Oya only a few kilometres away.
I’d never been a cold or even cool water shower kind of person, but something is intriguing and rejuvenating about a natural pool or river bath. I love it. On my camping and hiking trip to Riverston, I had the glorious opportunity of dipping into one for the first time and fell in love so I was looking forward to this part of the entire trip the most. It’s not a wide branch but there was an ample stretch of water flow and a couple of natural pool areas thrown about the stream to sink into. Mind you, there’s fish that like to nip at your skin much like those at fish pedicures. I don’t like the feeling at all but found the cool water to be refreshing and just what I needed after trekking and getting my legs scratched up.
Like most campsites you’ll see in movies, this one too had a campfire and bbq set-up ready to go by dusk. As much as the group tends to bond during hikes, this is also a particular experience that allows everyone to unwind, relax and enjoy the soft glow of the fire as the sky turns to darkness and the air begins to cool. Temperatures tend to drop to about 17 degrees on some nights so if you’re thinking about camping out in the wilderness, best be prepared.
It’s always a good idea to catch the sunrise especially when you’re camped atop a hill so I was up by 5.30 a.m. ready for some nourishing rays of lights and spectacular views of the mountain range. I do think that when you’re sat on a slab of rock simply waiting for the sun to rise, it tends to take its time more so than ever so I was sat there for a good hour or wondering when I’ll get to see the sun come up. Truth be told, I didn’t see it. I saw the light shine atop the mountain peaks and that was it until I had got ready for our last hike of the trip, which was to Uru Gala.
At 1,350m it is the second-highest peak in the Hanthana Mountain Range and also rated a moderately difficult trek. I’d say it was challenging at certain levels but definitely an adventurous experience. The peak offers expansive views of all the highest peaks of the island including Piduruthalagala, Adam’s Peak, Knuckles Mountain Range as well many little towns and sites. Uru Ketu Gala which is adjoining the first peak is known for its knife-edge and narrow peak.
I have to admit this was one of the most thrilling hikes I’ve experienced yet. Our hike guide Ayesh Waran was a pal as always and the service throughout even by Dome Hanthana was efficient, friendly, and charming.