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Solitude in the hills

Ratnapura is blessed with beautiful settings surrounded by fertile greenery. The Batadombalena forest reserve is a journey of discovery amidst shallow streams and moss covered rocks. The surroundings are so peaceful that one could spend time in reflection listening to the gurgling sounds of flowing water. Since the Batadombalena forest is set away from human habitation, it retains the beauty of Nature’s generous blessings.

Anyone who has visited the Sinharaja forest which comes under the UNESCO World Heritage status, one of the last few remaining patches of Wet Zone rainforests just 30 kilometres from Ratnapura, would know the feeling. Just the thought of resting your eyes on that brilliant shade of green, found outside the concrete jungles and the gentle touch of raindrops falling unrestrained on your body, liberate you from all worries.

Located west of Ratnapura in the Batadombalena hills near Kuruwita, the patch of rainforest is comparatively unexplored and less visited. It is one of the biodiversity hot-spots in the country.

A winding road through forested cultivation of tea and rubber, takes you to the village of Waladura, close to the Batadombalena forest.

Armed with my Nikon camera and umbrella, we set out to the Batadombalena forest reserve, a trekker’s heaven. We started our trek from the village of Waladura, at the foot of the hill. A few villagers in roadside boutiques sell beverages and food to visitors to the Batadombalena forest reserve which is named as a protected forest reserve and an archaeological monument by the Department of Archaeology.

The steep footpath leading to the forest clad mountain peak goes through tea and rubber estates to a robust full grown forest, to rock patches without support railing and finally to the historic Batadombalena cave. It had rained heavily a few hours before our arrival. The constant rumble of the numerous small waterfalls that dot the path pave the way for solitude. It is only during the rainy season that these wonders come alive, forming little streams that wind through the trees and creepers found all over the forest.

This is the perfect time for travelling into the forest for a hike. With grey clouds playing hide-and-seek over fabulous viewpoints, and wooded trekking paths, the hills of Batadombalena are just the place you could be looking for to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

From slippery to challenging forest trails for the adventurous, there is something for everyone. One could see miles and miles of wilderness stretching in a soothing display of green grandeur.

There are possibly numerous undiscovered species of insects and amphibians in this mythical forest. As you walk through one of the many trails that lead you in and around the rainforests (the whole area is declared protected) you come across myriads of insects, frogs, birds, snakes, caterpillars, cobwebs, colourful mushrooms and medicinal plants, many of which are unique to the area.

The climb becomes steep in the middle of the hill that runs through the dense evergreen forests. The reserved forest patch harbours unique biodiversity. The green of the vegetation is sprinkled with colourful wild flowers. Large native purple orchids known as ‘Vesak Mal’ bloom on tree tops during the month of May when many insects can leave you awe-stricken.

A gust of wind may clear your path momentarily, presenting you with a brief view of undulating green, rainforest clad mountain peaks and valleys. There is an abundance of moss, ferns and fungi on the hanging, overlapping vegetation and rocks. Also, an abundance of leeches in the forest during the rainy season, so that one has to be clad in supportive, protective sneakers or boots.

An equally beautiful natural rock cave formation on the summit is called Batadombalena. Here, every step you take on the narrow curving footpath unfolds a landscape. This was once home to pre-historic man and a cave shelter for monastic Bhikkus in the recent past.

From the very top of the rock a thin sheet of water falls into an abyss directly in front of the ledge. It was like a flimsy silver curtain shielding the entrance to the cave, blowing softly in the wind.

The waterfall curves off into a gurgling stream and meanders over moss covered rocks and pebbles beneath the luxuriant vegetation. The plentiful small waterfalls are great attractions during the rainy season as the cool streams cascading down the rocky cliffs, swollen to its limits, join the river below.

The journey to the forest clad peak is somewhat arduous but the short trek to these portions of the rocky surface, especially, during the rainy days, can be risky, as the rocks get slippery and are hard to get a grip on.Thanks to our patience, we finally reached the summit, and were more than well rewarded for our efforts. We glimpsed the view of a valley, a vast green ocean, which is absolutely breathtaking.

The one kilometre arduous trek to the Batadombalena cave was filled with a green carpet infested with leeches and mosquitoes. The Batadombalena forest reserve is still not polluted by visitors, and is in immaculate condition. Everybody who visits this pristine forest reserve should protect its beauty.

No matter where you are in Batadombalena, the hills are like a magnet for walkers. The only thing you need to do is know your limits and trust your body’s ability. And yes, beware of the leeches during the rainy season.

Its vastness and isolation from city life- (mobile phones work only at some points) – makes you feel at peace. As long as the weather is cooperative, you can let go of all your real world tensions. Go ahead and discover something new about yourself. It is good for the mind, body and soul.

(Sunday Observer)

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