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Bambarakanda Falls

 Journey to  ‘DEVIL’S STAIRCASE

Story and pix by Indika Sakalasooriya
We started our journey from Colombo on Saturday evening to reach the fairly unknown, though much glorified among trekkers, nature lovers and the like, the ‘devil’s staircase’, which is located in a tricky track between Kalupahana and Ohiya in the Sabaragamuwa Province.

Since we set off around 3.00 p.m., we knew that it was not possible for us to reach Kalupahana before dark through the Colombo-Badulla A4 highway, we settled at a rather small inn for the night in Balangoda, planning to reach Kalupahana by the dawn of the next day.

The anticipation to witness this man-made abnormality to nature woke us up early in the morning and we loaded our gear back to the car to reach Kalupahana.

From Balangoda, there is around 20 miles to Kalupahana. Though the car rumbled due to the sudden elevation, it had to tackle, it was the last thing to be heard as we were completely enraptured by the scenic beauty of the road we were travelling on.
The hills, the dew, the mist, the freshness in the air, and the children dressed in white sarongs and ‘lama sarees’ going to Dhamma Schools—what else was lacking for a perfect morning!

By about 7.30 we were able to reach Kalupahana junction and took the road to the left, which is also the route to reach Sri Lanka’s tallest waterfall, Bambarakanda, to reach our hideout, the Bambarakanda Resort, from the bustling society for the next two days.

The owner of this small eco friendly resort is Mrs. Sera Mayakaduwa, who is an ardent nature lover. Bambarakanda Resort was the starting point for our trekking adventure to the ‘devil’s staircase’ as it was situated at the beginning of the track.
We unloaded our luggage to the small cottage given to us and ate a hasty but tasty meal prepared by Mrs. Mayakaduwa, which consisted of my favorite, ‘pol rotti’ with butter. The lady was also kind enough to equip each of us with a lunch packet, probably knowing very well that the journey to ‘devil’s staircase’ might leave us with a desire to gobble a devil.

Equipped with backpacks with water, food and glucose and some first aid in case of emergency, the six of us started the journey at around 8.30 a.m. The road was rock-strewn and a prime example for soil erosion. Probably an experienced driver behind a four wheel drive might be able to pass through, we chatted.

As we walked forward, the elevation began to increase. Within the first kilometre or may be two, there were a few small houses beside the road. By the road, there was a man with a small child in his arms and we asked him as to how far the devil’s staircase was.? In response, he presented us with a blank face and said he has not heard about such a place. Of course, he was an inhabitant who lived in one of those houses beside the road!

Intrigued, we thought, are we going the wrong way? Nevertheless, we decided to trek forward and as the elevation rose, the cooler the climate became. Now we were the only one on the road and there were no houses or people to be seen.
Off guard, a drizzle started and a slight mist fell upon us. But neither the drizzle nor the mist was an obstacle for us to continue with our journey. We were going above the Bambarakanda falls.

As we trod forward, we reached a place where the people who were passing by had lit oil lamps and hung on tree boughs asking protection from some supernatural powers when entering the area. This gave us the signal that we were following the correct route.

As the drizzle ceased and the mist went away taking the dark clouds with them, the sun came out, giving us some relief.
Again we were able to witness signs of life, as we entered a large tea estate. A stream coming though the estate crossed the road we were travelling on and there we met Karupaiah, who worked as a labourer in the estate.
In incorrect Sinhalese, he told us that we have entered Udaweriya tea estate.
Then we asked him the question. “How far is devil’s staircase?”

The expression on his face proved that he had heard the remark before and told us that though the people in Colombo call it the ‘devil’s stair case’, the people around here call it the ‘double cut’.
Karupaiah said at least we have to travel another 5 kilometres, if we are to reach the ‘double cut’. What an expression was there on the faces of the guys who accompanied me!

We had already travelled not less than 6 kilometres.
Sensing the situation, Karupaiah kindly told us that instead of taking the road that goes round the estate we can take a short cut that lies through the estate.

We were more than willing to take the shortcut and Karupaiah was suddenly transformed into a tour guide!
Then we started the journey among the tea bushes. We were not walking but climbing. The elevation was so steep that we had to climb very carefully.

As we climbed there, he told us some stories. According to Karupaiah, Udeweriya Estate is the highest living point in Sri Lanka. However, he was unable to recall the elevation.
He also told us that Udeweriya workers could probably be the estate workers who suffered the most in the country, largely due to extreme weather conditions and access difficulties.

As Karupaiah said if they were to go to a town to even to buy the essentials they either have to go to Kalupahana or Ohiya.
“There is no public transport and a vehicle travels very rarely along this road. People go to Ohiya or Kalupahana to fetch even their essentials on foot, every week.”

Through the shortcut again, we reached the road, a higher spot of the road we were travelling earlier. There was a board bearing “Udeweriya Estate” by the road. Then Karupaiha showed us a vacant area located between two mountains in the distance, as the entrance to the devil’s staircase.

If I were to say, two of our travel mates lost their temper, I was not mistaken I guess. However orange flavoured glucose with cool mountain water did the trick for them, as they got up and started to walk, rather ascend, ahead.

Along with Karupaiah, another two young Tamil boys from the nearby workers quarters, which are well known as ‘lines’, accompanied us. They told us that very rarely do visitors come along this road. However according to Karupaiah some travellers take this track to go to Horton Plains.
“By the end of this track, you can go to Horton Plains if you turn to the left and if you turn to the right you can go to Ohiya along the railway track” he said.

After another 30 minutes walk, Kaurupiah announced that we have reached the ‘double cut’ or as we call it the ‘devil’s staircase’. At the entrance to it, there was sign board, painted in white, which bore nothing.
When we asked Karupaiah whether this board is there to hold the notice ‘devil’s staircase’ to inform the travellers, he said that it was there for sometime, but no one has written anything on it.

Then we saw the ‘devil’ staircase’ and understood why it is called such. Suddenly the road disappeared into a mountain and two extremely steep bends bring down the elevation more than hundred metres. From the distance this is seen as a staircase dug into a mountain. What makes it special, is the sudden decrease of elevation and the extreme narrowness of the bends.

The people around there call this palace as ‘double cut’ because of the two bends that were cut into a mountain. According to Karupaiah, this place was baptised as ‘devil’s stair case’ by the white planters in the colonial era, who ran the Udeweriya Plantation.

Recently, only the area we call devil’s staircase has been concreted to avoid land slide.
While having lunch in the shade of a nearby tree, we saw several people carrying various goods on their heads and shoulders coming though devil’s staircase. They told us that they are workers at the Udeweriya Plantation, returning from Ohiya.
They were an acquaintance of Karupaiah and he told us that these people have gone to Ohiya to buy food and other essentials. When we met them at ‘devil staircase’ they had travelled more than 7 kilometres on foot.

Since it was getting late, we decided to head back with them. While walking they told us several years back there was a plan to construct this road from Kalupahana to Ohiya to make it suitable for public transport.

“However no one came forward to take the contract to construct the road for several years. Then one company came forward but they also abandoned the project due to the obvious difficulties” Raju, 40, one of the group of the people we were travelling with told us.

By their ‘lines’, Raju and the group and Karupaiah bade us good bye and we hurried back down to our cottage since it was getting dark and a slight mist was falling upon us. By about 6.00 p.m., we were able to reach our cottage and there was Mrs. Mayakaduwa with cups of hot coffee.

If you are planning to visit ‘devil’s staircase’ or planning to pass it through to Horton Plains via the route we took by vehicle you must have a four-wheel-drive with an experienced driver. And also it is better if you can take the journey in the early part of the year—January to April—since incessant rain and mist won’t be there at that time of the year. If the road gets wet and muddy, driving would be very tricky. If you like to trek, our advice is to take enough food, water and glucose with you. And a good pair of sports shoes would certainly come in handy.

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