The rock of rabbits – The Trail To Hawagala
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
A complete guide - Part 01
Trekking and hiking in belihul oya , Sri Lanka – all you need to know about hiking and Camping on Hawagala
Among the noted peaks and trails in Sri Lanka , ascending the summit of Hawagala is an intrepid journey – it is for both the novice and the experienced trail trotter in equal measure ; offering a challenge that is neither hard nor easy , with just the right balance. It rewards the hiker with immersive views and clear star-studded skies if you are lucky enough to spend the night on top of the summit.
Hawagala is a massive upthrust of earth and stone , somewhat jutting out in peculiar way – almost a sheer stone cuboid half submerged, leaning on to one corner.
This in turn allows it’s unique profile – seen from far away , especially coming from Haputale , to seem as if has a gentle winding slope , and on rainy days the water streams stemming from the top reflect the sunlight , making the rock seem like a gold vein infused behemoth.
Hawagala is situated next to the village of “Laduyaya” , in Belihul oya . To reach the village you can take the Colombo – Badulla Main highway , or Route 99 and make a turn off the main road right next to the Government run Belihul oya Rest house .
The road to the village is clearly marked and is a little uphill ( there are sign boards indicating the way to Pahanthuduwa falls – this is the road you need to take , as arriving at the base of Hawagala falls in the same route) The route to the village is spectacular , with flowing paddy flield that are ringed with the immense Nonpareil estate mountains.
The road is pretty good to traversed and does not need a dedicated 4x4, although midway there are some spots that have large pot holes and require some skill to navigate. If you are relying on public transport there are busses that make regular rounds upto the village of upper Landuyaya from Balangoda, and also hiring a tuk tuk to take you there is also an option.
If you are driving , take note that the road is narrow and runs uphill with switchbacks , and it can be handful to allow the bus (using the route) passing room, so be alert and vigilant.
Almost at the end of the roadway you will come across the Landuyaya government school , and soonafter you will come to a little shop and a two story building housing the Grama Sewa Officer.
Here you can ask around for a place to park your car if need be – a friendly elderly local villager will oblige your need. ( For a small fee – 200 or so LKR ) Avoid parking next to the road next to the GS building , although there is ample room , this is where the bus makes a turn to head back down to Balangoda town.
Right next to the GS building is a small shop , with a green wall surrounding it – this is where the trail starts , and if you have need of stocking some goodies , the shop will come in handy.
Before you set off here are some things of importance to note.
There is no water on the summit. you will need to take the water with you ; Especially in the dry season , the streams along the trail dry up. But on rainy days and in the wet season there are plenty of streaming water cascades , and there are some rock pools on the camping grounds on the summit; but they may be contaminated by rabbit or buffalo dung .
Take atleast 2.5 liters per person on an overnight trek. It’s going to be heavy so best keep your pack light and take only the barest essentials.
Maintain good water and fire discipline. Use water wisely as it is a rare commodity up slope and don’t light any errant fires on top or along the way up. Especially in the dry season.
Try to Make the climb as early in the morning as possible. the late it becomes the more dehydrated and the more water you will expend on the climb.
It can take from 2 – 4 hours to complete the trail to the top. With a distance of about 4 or 5 k’s.
have decent footwear and have a first aid kit in handy ; and having a means to replenish your lost sodium and other minerals would be an added bonus.
Sometimes there is a roaming pack of semi wild buffaloes on top – they are shy but it’s best to keep away from them.
And importantly – Don’t litter or Destroy the beauty of the surroundings in any way.
Starting off from a cemented pathway in between some village houses the trail makes it’s way down a sharp switchback and over two small bridges (quite narrow) running over some small streams.
The streams feed the surrounding terraced paddy cultivations, which are rounded off in a few stout and well built stone walls , which add a seemingly rustic and add a homely feeling to the atmosphere. Add to this fronds of palm trees , lining the paddy field’s banks and you have surreal mountainside cultivation that would inevitable give sense of wonder and awe.
After this however the trail becomes challenging , and some steep steps greet you once you tackle the hurdle of the narrow foot bridges, and you enter a small wood and a steep flight of steps carved into the earth ; you probably will meet the locals along the way ; their cheery smiles and lithe bodies making quick work of the steps , as they head down to or from the village.
The trail is quite visible and you just need to follow the well worn out path , without making detours, and after the woods you will again find a stream bed and from here forth there is a steep – and relentless climb of steps , leading you up from the thicket all the way through a tea plantation. The trail can be a weary experience to the knees and you might feel short of breath ; and yet the trek has hardly began.
There are a few places you can take a breather along this steep assent – and if you are carrying a hefty pack , it’s a good idea to take a few gulps of air as you pause to take on the scenery – which is a promise of what’s to come.
After the strenuous hike op the slope you will come to a relatively flat stretch of trail , making it’s way across another part of the tea plantation. The trail is lined with colorful ornamental plants that add a bit of impromptu elegance ; here too you are probably bound to meet the locals – a friendly greeting was answered by us as we made the way up the mountain. The people are curious and friendly – and a shy waving hand accompanied by a “hello” is the norm.
After traversing the tea plantation, you come upon the edge of a small woodland / thicket – here the trail splits into two parts . You should go on the lower trail that takes you down and over a small creek bed , rather than the trail leading up to the forest .
If you are an experienced hiker , and if you have an accurate GPS , the top trail will make it challenging for you ( as it is less traversed and the trail almost disappears ) but the lower trail ensures a smooth hike along the gentle slope of the mountain. We chose the lower trail , and it seems a better choice.
The trail follows the woods in twisty tervy path, and the mosaic of mountain forest with it’s entwining trees and undergrowth is laid before you . Mind your footing as you admire the surroundings: a sprained ankle is bad news and you’ve just truly started the assent up the slope.
From here on in you make your way across patches of lime grass or “Manag” as it is known locally. The grassy slope is also populated with a good growth of pine trees; and line the trail with pine cones and needles ( at times making it slippery ) The swaying pines and the wind preening through their needles ad a surreal aura and sound , soothing the soul and taking your mind over the strain of the uphill climb.
We stopped frequently along this stretch, both to admire the view and listen to the singing of the pines; a gentle salsa with the winds that play in eddies and swirls on the slopes.
Also there are a few water cascades you will need to cross along this part of the trail. The water is only a small runoff and can be traversed without much difficulty, but be mindful of the footing. an errant step can lead to disaster on these slippery exposed rock faces.
The danger is much prevalent in the rainy seasons and after a shower ; in the dry moths there water is almost entirely dried up.
These water cascades can be a source of water to restock your reserves and is generally good to be consumed.
Halfway up the mountain and still yet to go, you come across a small scrub / small wood – with overhanging creepers and dense undergrowth.
Make sure you stay on the trail and together as you round over and come across a sloped bare rock face: here is a perfect place to take off your pack and rest for bit before taking the next part of the trail.
Making your way past here you are almost at the summit; and the trail becomes less steep and gradually becomes horizontal. You will be able to see the valley and the road you took to come to base of the mountain far below you.
You will also be rewarded with the sight of a faraway waterfall – the “Kathi Gahana Ella” cascading down from the slopes ringing the Hortain plains national Park. The sight is truly breathtaking.
Now you would be on the “spine” of the mountain and the terrain would be noticeably flat . you would be able to see the summit from here – with only a small forest between you and your final goal.
The trail gradually takes a slight right turn- ish route as it nears the forest edge , the grass and shrubbery gradually rise up and it can be a handful to navigate here : there are a few brach off trails – some leading off to a nearby camping ground ( this camping ground is surrounded by the forest and high undergrowth , and is not the choicest places to pitch tent) Keep to your Left at every intersection on the trail and you will find yourself Inside a forest.
There would be a small Concrete maker on the side of the trail – And don’t worry: almost at regular intervals fellow travelers have marked the trail with small scraps of cloth or rope to show the trail and it would be next to impossible to miss them. But stay together and cohesive, and always engage in communication with your fellow trek mate to ensure safety.
The hike through the forest is mesmerizing and surreal, the high canopy and leaf coved forest floor is a joy to travel through, and offers shade and a stretch to cool off the body after a brisk stomp up he mountain. He heard calls of serpent eagles and saw a few monkeys along our walk across this part of the trail.
Emerging from the forest you will find yourself is a slight uphill grassy plain. And hiking over this is the last step to reaching the campsite. The views from here are exquisite, with the rays if the sun threading their way through dark clouds hugging the mountains around you.
The last hop over the rolling hill is essentially the summit - from here you can continue onwards to the edge of the mountain , which stretches out to a small plateau with a rock outcropping in the end.
This offers a pristine view over the surrounding mountains and the rolling landscape below. With the wind howling overhead and the great vista unfurling ahead of you – it would a great moment indeed.
The snaking route 99 and the turquoise Samanala wewa reservoir to the front , the sprawling Balangoda town to the Right, Nonperial estate, Hortain plains national park rimmed on by the Lovers mountain (Aadara kanda) , Wangedigala and Gon Molliya Mountain are simply amazing to be seen.
Also on top of Hawagala – true to name (rabbits rock) you will find ample evidence of a plethora of rabbit activity ( if you know what I mean )
So that would be it for the trail description and I would conclude part one here. I would add descriptions on about camping spending a night under the stars on top of Hawagala on my next blog post.
Hope you liked it so far and found it helpful!
Happy trails and Till next time!