Manjula (one of our senior guides) informs me that we have a young couple checking into our Yala camp the next day, and that they have requested a hike. With the help of Preme (Preme is an operational wizard, and one of the pillars of Kulu Safaris) they will carry out a recce into the jungle behind camp to plan and check a new route on which to take the guests. It was part notice, part tentative invitation to gauge my courage I felt, so my obvious response was “What time should I be ready?”
We set off at about 10am, Manjula with a backpack and water, myself with a backpack and water, and Preme only carrying just a “keththa”, (Sri Lankan equivalent of a machete) to clear our path. The walk is approximately 6km one way.
After we veer off the main road that leads to camp, we find a game trail that leads through small shrubs and bushes. The further we walk, the shrub turns into thicker jungle and the Keththa comes in handy. Soon, we are on an incline, like intermediate rock climbing, and the recce begins to feel like jungle boot-camp. Twenty minutes in, we pause to rehydrate and catch our breath, and have a seat on a flat bit of rock. The view sinks in — a typical, rural Sri Lankan vista comprised of random paddy fields carved into the fringe of the jungle, man-made lakes, and the ever-present, brilliant white village temple. To the other side, Yala National Park stretches into a rolling green carpet and disappears into the horizon. Manjula and I drink water but Preme says “no thank you”. (I feel that that is his ex-army stamina).
Deeper into the walk, you become more aware of the nuances of the jungle, like the different bird calls, details on the trees, vibrantly coloured butterflies and small insects scuttling around. As we rest again, the view from higher up is even more magnificent. A perfect spot to look around below with binoculars, (of course Manjula has brought binoculars – if anyone catch a Kulu guide unprepared, I’ll treat them to a pint!). We spot a pair of Brown-headed Barbets; this time even the stoic Preme gives in to his thirst.
Walking again for the last time before reaching the turnaround point, we notice a fair bit of elephant dung scattered on the ground. Preme examines how old the dung is, and luckily it’s been at least a day since the elephant has traversed over our path. That’s one fit elephant to be ambling up this slope!
At the top of the hill, there is a beautiful outcrop of rock shaded by trees and we lie down and spend about an hour there. The view and tranquil feeling is a wonderful reward for the climb. It’s almost addictive. It was my “A-ha!” moment, where it all fell into place — what I want to do with my life, and how I want to live etc… maybe I’ll write about this epiphany in a different post in the near future!
Tomorrow we plan to bring a packed snack and a thermal bottle of tea for the guests. (I wish we had done that today!). There are a few trees up here good for climbing too, something fun to do if kids ever come on this walk. (I later shared my idea with Javana and his response was a terse “certainly not!”).
On the way down, as we take note of small landmarks so we remember the exact path tomorrow, we see two eagles soaring almost parallel to us; a Crested Hawk Eagle and a Black Eagle (a rare sighting in the Katagamuwa area!!). Being about 150 meters up really does make a difference to bird watching. At eye level, we could clearly see how raptors subtlely adjust the tips of their wings to control their flight! Further down, we stop to set up a camera trap. (Stay tuned for a future blog post on our first camera trap findings!). Manju was eager to show off a few tips and tricks of that he learnt while working with Steve Winter on the Camera Trap project in Yala last year. Clearing a small area and disguising the camera with foliage, we switch it on and leave with exciting anticipation of what we might see on film in a few days.
The trek down has its own challenges, but manageable by a moderately experienced trekker, and much easier than going up. Walking back to camp after about 3 hours, it struck me that we had built up a ravenous appetite — lunch was going to be good! The guests are definitely going to love this!
***The couple that did the walk have hiked and trekked in many places around the world and rated it a Level 5 hike and totally loved it. Makes me feel like a pro!***
This blog post was written by Jeana – our junior, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic naturalist who joined us recently. Jeana’s posts are her own perspective of life in the jungle and experiences with Kulu.