A Maiden in the Mist : A roadtrip to explore the wilderness of Luxapana Falls
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Luxapana is synonymous with hydro electric power in the island nation of srilanka. The name itself reflects that : Luxsha – meaning “100,000” and pahana – meaning “lamp” in Sinhalese respectively. Hence luxapana means "a hundred thousand lamps" - which is in fact a nod to the electricity generating hydro electricity complexes situated nearby.
The names is tied in with the twin hydro electric plants that are located in the periphery of the falls – Namely the Old Luxapana power station which generates 50MW of electricity and the New Luxapana power station which generates 100MW. This power generation is achieved with the help of large gravity dams that span the narrow canyons forming surreal narrow expanses of water. The power stations themselves are further down stream , and are fed by the dark waters of the dams flowing through huge penstocks, some of which can be seen as you make your way there.
Luxapana is also within the folds of the peak wilderness sanctuary or commonly known as the “Sri Padha Adaviya” .This adds to the seclusively and abundance of biodiversity as well as giving birth to some local folklore that say That the lord Buddha himself rested near the falls, mending his robes , prior to embarking on Adam’s peak .
NOT getting lost
Getting to Luxapana Falls is another story. Here google maps falls short – literally. The area is rugged and spartanly populated in places so getting lost can be a haywire experience.
A simple google location to Laxapana can be a folly , as we discovered ( we spent a goodly while going here and there getting our bearings ) it is better yet to give the destination as Norton Bridge police station and once there (Laxapana) Fallside rest – As it takes you right next to the trail leading upto the base of the falls.
This is the reason for it – When you give Luxapana falls as the location, Google maps gives you this route – and in particular the directions show you a route through the Kalugala – Laxapana road . There is also a roadside signpost showcasing the falls .( DO NOT TURN ONTO THIS ROAD.)
The route (kalugala -Laxapana road) is absolutely horrendous and only PARTLY traversable. There is a bus that operates along the route , but that too goes halfway. Avoid this route and continue on to Ginigathena .
We lucklessly fell victim and went all the way possible before turning back into the road. (There is also a Local Police checkpoint just before the junction to the road , and we didn’t ask directions and drove on ) A few miles later , with our teeth rattling and stomachs woozy with all the jarring (the road is dotted in potholes! ) we turned back .The only silver lining to our wrong turn fiasco was that we saw the Polpitiya power station .Google maps aren’t fool proof – you always need something like this to get reminded (AGAIN and AGAIN)
For transport – you NEED A PRIVATE VEHICLE. A car is viable, but something with a decent amount of ground clearance is preferable. Our trusty small compact was well versed in this kind of adventures and performed admirably ( as per usual) .
The main thing is getting past Kithulgala , passing Awissawella along the way. Kithugala is a hotspot for adventure sports , with a hair raising ( hair drenching more apt ) experience along the gushing Kelani river . The road is well paved and has cutbacks and here and there , while letting you see the stunning valley scape peeping through gaps in the foliage. And also be on the lookout for white water rafts perched on top of tuk tuks – a whimsical sight that you are sure to catch a glimpse of.
After kithulgala you pass Ginigathhena ; one of the wettest places in srilanka , with about 5000mm of rain each year.
A drizzle is unommon on the way there and we welcomed the rain as it streaked across our windscreen. Here and there we came across the visible scars of the excessive rainfall – eath embankments were under construction or repair having been washed away or given way wit all the water in the soil.
The roads are narrow but enjoyable to drive. You will be following the Nuwaraeliya – Hatton main road ; the road is spectacular – with greenery and beautiful canopied trees dotting the mountainside. Keep a lookout though , you will find a sharp turn that takes you to Luxapana ( there is a sign board on the left )
Getting to Norton bridge is a fairly straightforward. Once you cross the Norton Bridge ( or dam) be sure to take a right onto the Norton – Maskeliya road. There is a fuel staion and a few shops here .
Also be sure to take a few moments to pay respects at the memorial of Martinair Flight 138 witch crashed onto the nearby Virgin hills (Saptha Kanya) mountain range. A recoverd tire of the crashed aircraft is part of the memorial to the 191 people who lost their lives on that fateful day in 4 December 1974.
Take the Norton – Maskeliya road for a few kilometers . Don’t turn on any by- roads and you will come to a juction with a few sighboard showing the waterfalss . turn onto the route and continue on until you get to the Fallside rest – a small shop with accommodation facilities.
Making your way to the base of the falls.
The Fallside rest is run by a charming and very friendly couple who are marvelous hosts and will readily provide you with directions and help. The shop is also a point to stock up on provisions or a few snacks – But keep in mind to bring back every scrap of refuse you discard . The place is very secluded and this has made it very pristine and almost devoid of trash; be sure to keep it that way.
The trail is actually a flight of concrete stairs and runs along in a series of flights – the stairs can be slippery at times due to moss but are fairly well traversable. The steps fall between charming village houses , whose occupants will flash a smile as you descend to the falls.
Halfway along the steps you will HEAR the roar of the falls and start catching glimpses of it in-between clearings. The sight is absolutely breathtaking. Be sure not to get exited and tumble down the staircase though ( easier said than done)
Luxapana is the 8th highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. A whopping 126 meters high – the fall seems higher in person. Standing at the base, with the billowing mist flowing around you – you truly feel at peace. The surrounding rocks are carpeted with a spongy green carpet of greenery and the towering stone edifice stands looming and imposing. This is what the wilderness is all about.
The waterfall is truly breathtaking; words fail to describe the flowing cascade that tumbles from the misty heights. Reminds you of Pandora in the Avatar movie.
The flow of water transforms itself into a sheet of mist before smothering the base – The whole of the falls gets inundated with mist at times, especially with rain. The fall is a fair bit away from where the staircase finishes so you can (be careful on the rocks) hop on the rocks and boulders to get a wee bit closer , but not too close.
The Icy cold waters that form the base of the pool emanates a glossy emerald hue ; I has seen this once before – as I stood flabbergasted on the river banks of the Sethi river in Nepal , it’s icy emerald waters being somewhat supernatural and mystic. It was the same here – maybe better.
If you want to go and explore the lesser trails of the wilderness – Luxapana is the place for you. There isn’t a excessive amount o footwork, but negotiating the staircase needs a fair bit of stamina . Make sure you talk to the locals and you’ve got a good mode of transportation with you; it wouldn’t do to end up stranded there with a broken car. If you are into seeing the wilderness in all its glory and don’t mind getting wet – This is the journey for you.
Important things to remember.
· Always plan ahead. Especially the route – google maps gives routes that are inaccessible. Make your way to Norton bridge and thereon to the falls.
· Drive safe. Its going to be a winding drive so be alert and aware. Make sure you doze off on your way back home (if it is going to be a one-day trip)
· The journey to the falls and back ( to and from Colombo) can be undertaken in one day but it’s going to be hectic. Start early if you plan to do so , you will arrive at the falls around mid -day.
· If you are going to spend the night , there are a few hotels nearby – recommend the (Laxapana) Fallside rest in this regard . The place is run by a lovely couple who will extend their utmost hospitality. Accommodation facilities are reasonable, and rates start at about 3000/= LKR
· It is usually going to rain. se better be prepared for it. And make sure that your cameras come out non aquatic: the spray can fog up the lenses and ruin your day.
· The steps can be daunting. you need to prep yourself for it. Also a small pocket light will come in handy if it becomes late or the skies are overcast.
· The path is RIFE with leaches. make sure you’ve got adequate protection and always check the nooks and crannies of ye feet.
· ALWAYS ask directions . make sure that you stop from time to time t ask for directions from the locals. Better this than driving around with a haywire directions from google. Use G – maps , but also get local input.
· The pool at the base is DEEP and COLD. Some guys swim there but id recommend against it.
· Ask the people before you start the trail down to the falls if there have been any warnings issued about flash floods, or gate discharges from the dams upstream. Always be on careful as the water levers can swell up with the constant rain. Don’t Take any unnecessary risks – always make it a point to come back in one piece.
· Lastly – Don’t leave anything save footprints, photographs and memories. The place is super pristine and make sure you keep it that way. If you have trouble with it butter sock it up and not set foot there. ever.