Last minute planning for a solo hike is very tricky, especially during the rainy season. But nevertheless, I set my sights on conquering Alagalla (also known as Potato Range). So, I packed my bag and got on-board the Podi Menike. I was told there were 2 routes to get to the top of the mountain. One was through the Ihala Kotte/Gangoda Railway station. The other was through the Poththapitiya Tea Factory in Pilimathalawa. Pilimathalawa was evidently the easier path. So I decided to get off at the Pilimathalawa station and start the journey from there.
Finding the tea factory and entering the unknown
I got off the Pilimathalawa station at around 8.30 AM. From here, I was to get to the Poththapitiya Tea Factory. There’s a bus that goes right past the factory. But as it was Sinhala and Tamil new year, public transportation was a rarity. Luckily, I was able to get a tuk tuk with no hassle and comfortably made my way towards the factory. The journey cost me exactly LKR 600 for approximately 11km. A tad bit on the expensive side. But then again that’s the rate taxi rides cost in these parts.
As I got down, there was a small sign that read Alagalla Hike. I began walking along the muddy road. But not a single person was in sight. I thought maybe this was the wrong road. But the factory and that sign told me otherwise. A few minutes later, this road took me to a small village of sorts. So along the way, I kept asking the villagers if I was taking the correct path. One of the villagers was even kind enough to walk me through the entire hike (figuratively speaking), including an alternate route on the way back.
Once through the village, the path leads through to the tea plantations. From here, it gets pretty narrow as you enter the forest. You know its the forest just by listening to how quiet and peaceful things are around you. The only sound you’ll hear is probably the odd bird chirping on a tree.
The climb had gotten a bit steep. As I drew closer to the peak, the scenery changed from trees and gravel roads, to paths covered with savannah like bushes, or better known as maana trees. From here on, almost the entire journey is maana. There is so much of maana around that some parts of the trail are entirely covered with it.
Just a few 10-15 minutes away from reaching the peak and you’ll come across a viewpoint. Although I started the hike solo, by now I had a 4 legged companion join me. There’s just something weird and wonderful about hiking with dogs in Sri Lanka.
Rock climbing to the top
You almost forget that you’re only halfway there. The viewpoint offered an amazing glimpse of what to expect at the top. The cool breeze and the shade of a tree made the spot a perfect resting place for me and my friend.
After a good 15 minutes later I started climbing again. I knew I was very close since I could see the peak quite close. As I made my way near the top, suddenly the maana trees have disappeared. All I could see is a gigantic set of rocks resting on top of each other. This is where the path ended.
The only way to the top involved a bit of rock climbing. There’s no clear cut pathway or steps of any kind here. I had to lean in through the small cracks and sneak through openings. This is the part where I was advised to climb as slowly as possible. Why? One misstep and I would have fallen off the mountain, right on to the railway tracks. I’m not even kidding. Of course, this would have been relatively easier if there was a group with me. I relied on myself and my bare hands.
It was all worth it though. 2 hours of hiking through forests and thick bushes, I finally arrived at the top. The view was just majestic. I’ve been to places like Ella and Great Western before. But this by far was the best view I’ve ever come across.
Alternate route: descending through the thick jungle
I had about an hour to kill before heading back. My plan was to get back to the station by 4.00 PM. I was told there was an alternate route to the mountain. So I thought of taking that path on my way down. This route is at the other side of the rock. I wasn’t sure at first either but I kept walking until I reached there.
At the end there were a set of ropes tied down to the rock. The descent is pretty steep. So its almost impossible to head down without these ropes. Afterwards, depending on your speed, then its about a good hour or two through the thick forest. This path might get a bit confusing every now and then as its not as clear as the other route. But you’ll know you’re on the right track once you find the stairs. Yes, some blessed soul(s) thought of putting up concrete steps along the way.
So far, everything was going to plan. But then it started raining, and it rained heavy. I had my raincoat with me, so I was covered. But at the same time it meant that my way back just became extremely dangerous. Fortunately, I made it back safely.
In case you’re wondering, this alternate route gets you all the way to Gangoda Railway Station. Here, you can easily take the train back to Colombo. There’s a train that leaves Gangoda at 4.35 PM. Assuming the whole hike will take you 4 hours total, chances are you won’t miss this.
If you’re planning to make it to Alagalla, there are few things you need to know
Before you think of heading to Alagalla, there are few things you need to keep note of before deciding to do the hike.
First and foremost, don’t travel alone. One thing that I don’t recommend is doing this by yourself. Certain parts of the hike can get pretty dangerous if you’re not careful. Particularly, the rock climbing part. So, always travel in groups. After all, better safe than sorry.
Second, be sure you pack everything you need. While I took a one day hike, Alagalla is the ideal camping ground. So if you and your friends decide to camp here, remember to grab all the camping essentials. The weather can be a bit unpredictable as well. So don’t forget your raincoats.
Also, for the love of god, please don’t litter! Take back everything you came with. Don’t leave anything behind. Alagalla is a beautiful place, with immaculate views. But none of this will matter if people keep leaving trash.
Remember, there are 2 routes. The Pilimathalawa route is relatively easier to climb. But if you want the hike to be more challenging, you could always try the Gangoda Station route.
Last, but not least, do your research. Fortunately, I was able to find a number of blog posts of people who’ve hiked to Alagalla before. Personally, I found all that reading quite helpful. For those of you curious, I recommend checking out Dayan Sameera’s write up about Alagalla. One can never be too prepared after all.