Narangala – 10 essential tips for a better camping experience.
Narangala is a popular destination for the local adventure seekers today , with many traversing it’s dramatic slopes in hopes of spending the night ,camped out on the top and catching a fabulous sunrise ,come morning.
Situated in the Uva province , Narangala is some distance away from the more mainstream mountains and peaks that are readily accessible and offers a unique vantage point if you are lucky enough to scale it’s peaks.
Narangala is the 6th highest peak of the Uva province , and contrary to popular belief , even the impressive Namunukula mountain comes in second ( in terms of height) overall , overshadowed by the Udaweriya 1 peak that 2060 meters above sea level. At 1527 meters the Narangala peak may not look impressive on paper , but in reality the mountain is altogether something else ; indeed it was by far one of the few times we thought we had accidently wandered into middle earth itself , such was it’s allure and misty beauty .
Narangala lies in the heart of seemingly nowhere , although fairly well connected via road networks , the simple lives of the people whom call the footfalls of Narangala remain simple, But with the oncoming confluences of travelers and their various sub cultures and mannerisms have changed over the time and have become more in line with the travel culture and the financial rewards tourism offers.
We will be discussing in depth about Narangala and it’s current issues in an in depth article , that will follow this short piece. But needless to say Narangala has it’s fair share of troubles ,but in the whole an overnight camping trip would be done quite easily and with little trouble whatsoever. Currently (at the time of the article is being written) there is no need for permissions (to climb the mountain ) or any restriction on camping – although in the very near future we feel such restrictions will come into effect ( due to negligent behavior of some travelers)
So without any further due lets get into our top 10 tips for a better camping experience.
How to get there
Getting to Narangala is easy – and having your own set of wheels to get there helps with the time management. From Colombo it takes about 5 to 6 hours to reach there , depending on what time you depart. An early morning departure means you can reach the base of the mountain before noon, and that allows you better breathing time to reach the top and set up camp.
There isn’t a direct route given to you on Google Maps to the location itself, so we’ve given here the next best thing – a pin to the location you should drive to , and from there you make a left and follow a well paved road to the village of Keenakale. Basically you will be taking the raod towards Hali-ela and taking the road to the village of Keenakale.
At keenakale , you can ask for directions to the base of the mountain , and if you’re on a vehicle , the directions for the vehicle parking . It’s better to park the vehicle at the vehicle parking grounds since it’s by far safer. The small distance to the car park is a wee bit uneven , so you will need to have some good driving skills and a fair bit of ground clearance to get there unscathed.
The keenakale to narangala route is perhaps the most closest and direct route you can take – although there are a few others. It gives you access to the peak in about 1.2 kilometers or less , but the elevation change is abrupt and steep so some good footwork would be required on your part.
Bring sufficient water to the camping site on the top.
There in NO water source at the top of the summit – and you will be required to bring your own water – about 2.5 liters per person would suffice for an overnight camping excursion.
There are a few places you can get water and other essential supplies , including home prepared meals along the route to Narangala – You can get some basic supplies and food from the village itself ( many enterprising villagers will be more than welcome to accommodate you ) but always make sure that you stay hydrated- the climate on top can be really cold in the evenings and sweltering hot in the afternoon ; be sure to get a goodly plan on how to conserve your available water – and it’s a good idea to have some extra for a hot cuppa tea when you’re really feeling the chills.
Time and season of travel to consider when camping at Narangala
The best time to travel to Naranagala is in the drier months of the year – to avoid rain and heavy winds. The best moths to travel would be from February to April and from May to October when the danger of monsoons and inclement weather are relatively small. But it’s always a good idea the weather from one of many online weather apps such as Accuweather.com ( plus it’s always a good idea to get some feedback from someone who is relatively close to your destination to be extra sure ).
Regardless , it’s a good idea to have a rain cover for your camping tent and some insulated pads/ yoga mats to spread across the floor of the tent ; even with no rain, the summit gets a lot of mist that comes with a lot of condensation. A few hours into the night you will probably get smothered in mist and the walls of the tent will undoubtedly get soggy with dew. Make sure your electronics are kept away from any walls of the tent as the condensation can seep it
Tip – Avoid camping on a weekend / long weekend or on nay public holiday . The location is a hotspot for locals and you will find the place filled to the brim with people on such dates . The best bet is to go there on a Friday / or a weekday – this will ensure that you will be relatively alone with minimal company ( we went on a Friday and had the entire mountain for ourselves)
Mind your footing!
The trail that starts up from the village of Keenakale to the top of the Mountain is relatively a small distance , and with a decent pack you can reach the top in under 1 hour , but the trail just skims the edge of the slopes , making it at some points a nail biting assent .
At some places there are iron railings as handholds, but the trail is 100% over rocks and dirt – bet since it is so well traversed, the footpaths are readily visible and the footing is solid . Always make a point to check your footing, because a loose rock or a stumble can mean a nasty bruise or a sprained ankle.
Tip – Trim your toenails before you get into some decent trail shoes , it makes a real difference !
Get yourself some warm gear and a Beanie
The nights on the summit of Narangala can be really cold , with mist and wind coming at you from the Northern direction ( over the peak of the mountain ) The mist usually come down in the late afternoon and will be there almost until midnight , with some goodly gusts of winds .
Being outside is a sure way to get soaked and chilled to the bone if you’re without any cold weather gear. Also chances are your gear will get soaked with condensation because of the mist , if you opt to stumble outside the tent ( like I did – I ended up putting a plastic bag over my head like a bathing cap and then put on my beanie because it had gotten so wet in the mist )
Also it’s a good idea to have some woolly or thermal socks and some gloves to keep the chills away from your hands.
IMPORTANT – Have a few packets of silica or condensation absorption material so your electronics (especially your camera) won’t get cold soaked or ending up with condensation.
Getting a campfire started
There is NO Firewood on the top of the summit, so you either have to hope that there is leftover firewood from the previous campers or bring the firewood all the way from the base . There is a small wood nearby , but please DO NOT TO CHOP DOWN any trees from there for firewood , but you could possibly get some kindling for the fires .
The shops at the village of Keenakale can help you with the firewood. We went to the top with a few scavenged twigs just to put up a simple campfire , since we had our portable camping stove for all our cooking . We had the place to ourselves and fond a decent number of leftover firewood and this became our campfire – you aren’t always lucky like this – so it’s better to come prepared )
One of our most key concerns was with the high winds the roaring campfire would send embers down the mountainside – resulting in a forest fire. We piled on some rocks around the base of the fire and placed the small wire mesh we had brought along just for this, opposite the direction of the wind – this held most of the embers from flying off. But come evening the mist came rolling in and the grass became so damp, we had a hard time moving over them without getting soaked from the dew; no danger of fire – problem solved!
Tip- Place your campfire Infront of your campsite to avoid embers and smoke getting into your tent. The wind usually blows from a north to south direction (over the peak), so be sure to place your tent Infront of the campfire facing the wind, and you can se your campfire to an angle in the front, thus avoiding any mishaps if the winds suddenly change direction.
A portable camping stove is perhaps an essential piece of equipment you should have. This gives you the option to be free of setting up a campfire just for the sake of cooking.
Setting up your campsite
These are about 5 to 6 camping sites along the mountain , all with their distinct characteristics , but we chose the something in the middle so it gave us both a better view and vantage point for photographs , and also it being closer to the spur of the mountain , from where you could get a majestic view of the entire valley below.
The top camping sites do offer a far better elevation , but are more exposed to the elements and the wind – There is a stupa on the top that was clad in metal sheets , which have come apart due to the wind , and with the high winds , there is always a chance of the loose sheets coming at you in the darkness.
We opted for what was perhaps the best in terms of compromise – flat and near to the spur of the mountain, but also making it possible to trek up the trail to take pictures of the tent and night sky.
The campsite below us had a small thicket that offed better protection from the wind , but we opted to endure the wind because ours offered a somewhat better site for night photography.
Tip – Get some strong tent pegs and cords to secure your tent against the wind. If not the tent can warp or in the wort case – the supporting poles can snap due to the wind.
Tips for better night photographs
Bring along a tripod – this is a must!
A wide-angle lens is an impeccable tool to use, especially for the morning and night shots
For great Milky way photos , it's better to prep your photos beforehand . You can use apps such as Stellarium , Starwalk and GoSkywatch to plan and compose better photographs - and you get the opportunity get some shuteye in the process without the fear of missing a shooting window.
Make sure you have a proper night light or better yet – a headlamp so you can find your way in the darkness while setting up your camera.
Cold soaking equipment is a major concern – with moisture seeping in. the most basic principle is keep it all zippered in while not in use. This applies to all manner of electrical appliances , from a camera to a Phone. Also after using your camera, don’t turn it off and allow the electronics to cool down in the naked air – make sure you have it wrapped up or in the camera bag to avoid moisture building up.
Don’t wipe the lens with any other cloth when it’s misted up, chances are any streaks or spots left behind will pop up on your photos afterward. Better to have a proper wiping cloth or a tissue at and to do the job properly
Changing the lenses must be don’t quick and if possible, not at all in mist / in the mist.
Pack extra batteries – the cold will get the most of your power, and if you are taking some good night exposure shots, this would be imperative.
Get yourself a good remote shooting application that allows you to be in the frame of your own photos, rather than setting the timer and running for it!
Planning to get some good milky way shots? Avoid poya days!! And get yourself a good app that gives you details on where and what to lookout for.
Pep for the shots while it’s still daylight. this will make stumbling in the dark minimal.
Always keep an idea of where you are, and where the edges and slopes are at. it’s easy to get disoriented – so always stay sharp and have some else looking out for you or with you for added safety.
Gearing up for an epic sunrise
The sunrise from Narangala starts really early, with the first tendrils of dawn coming up as early as 5.30 am, so you should be ready from there on it to make the best of it. If you are really lucky the re would be low hanging clouds covering the entire valley, with only the peaks of the mountains visible – but this always comes down to luck.
There will always be a surreal veil of mist that disappears with the coming light, and it is a delight to watch the mist that swirls in the eddies and valleys of the landscape down below.
The sunrise is spectacular and condensed, with the entire spectacle will be over by 6.45 and the light will become really harsh, and it will really begin to get warm and hot.
The spur of the mountain is one of the best places to experience the sunrise, but be sure to mind your footing and be conscious of where you are (especially when you’re high up on a jutting cliff)
Hygiene and how to least impact the surrounding area.
On the trail, or when camping for that matter, Hygiene can be a relative matter. If you are expecting the comforts of home and the same amenities, boy are you in for a huge disappointment. Camping is in a bare sense a comprise between comfort and practicality, so in such terms you should be willing to compromise on what “clean” means in the normal sense.
If you have the call of nature - make sure that you move away a respectable distance from your campsite and other camping sites while you get your priorities sorted out. Make sure you dig out a hole ( a small camping shovel is very helpful) and be about your business, and cover it up afterwards , making sure that the area around it gets less contaminated - Also only bury toilet paper and NOT the wet wipes , since the wet wipes are (Probably ) not bio degradable.
Hand sanitizer and wet wipes are indispensable, but make sure you don’t discard any haphazardly.
It’s important to note that the mountain acts as a catchment area for rainfall and is an important aspect in its water catchment process. Contaminating the mountain with not only refuse, but with your own poop, poses a huge problem in the long run. Keeping it in can be hard, but not impossible – it’s better for everyone concerned ( we take the do not pollute police to heart , literally)
Also make sure that you leave a minimal footprint after you camp there – bring back your refuse, clear the camping grounds , and make sure to pull your weight and go a lite extra. If you see some trash on top , make an effort to bring it off the mountain. Remember – Make sure such places remain as clean as possible so others can enjoy the moments you will come to cherish.
“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods