A week or two ago, we decided we’d sat on our haunches being productive members of society long enough, and asked hiker-extraordinaire Kirigalpoththa if he knew any mountains we could scale.
After deciding on Allagalla, a classical mountain-shaped mound of earth topped by a large pile of rocks, we set off. Alla Galla, literally translates from Sinhalese to “Potato Rock”. On this hike, we discovered many things. Foremost among them that Sri Lanka is truly beautiful, and that Sri Lankans shouldn’t be allowed to name things.
This particular hike is not too long, and can be easily completed in a day. As such, you’ll only require a bare minimum of supplies. It is always a good idea to carry food for lunch, and always required that each person carries their own bottle of water. Or else you’ll be stuck at the top of the mountain being pelted by rays of sunshine thick enough to walk on. Yes, like the song; except you’ll be deliriously dehydrated, not happy. Other than that, footwear with a good grip, raincoat, light change of clothes, snacks and good cargo pants is more or less all you need.
The trail is fairly easy to get to. Your first waypoint is the Ihala Kotte railway station, which is about three stations after the Rambukkana station. It is not a major stop, so make sure you don’t get on an express train. Any slow train that plies the track heading uphill towards Kandy/Badulla will go past this area.
We decided to take the last train out on a Sunday, which was at 11pm from Fort. Its last stop is Rambukkana, so we got off at there at about 1am and decided to spend the night there. After going through the usual ritual of deciding on a place to sleep, then walking all over the place for an hour looking for other places to sleep, we went back to the original place. To sleep.
The original place, in this case, was the train we arrived on, which was stopped overnight in Rambukkana. The doors were open and the lights were on. Thanking the gods of wasted energy we settled in to try and get some sleep on the commuter-train type seats.
There was a train that left Rambukkana at 5am which would take us to Ihala Kotte. We took it.
When you get to Ihala Kotte, look to the left of the railway tracks. Then move your gaze upwards. That is what you are going to climb. It might look terribly daunting because it is a steep face of rock, nothing less, nothing more. Thats why you have to go around it.
Get off the train and head toward Kandy along the tracks for a few meters and you should come across a path heading upwards through the trees to your left (waypoint 2). Head into it.
This is the start of the walk to the top. This footpath will lead to Poththepitiya (waypoint 3), a small town on the other side of the mountain. Once you reach it, ask around on how to reach the top. There are a few paths that branch off, and you sometimes have to head down less obvious paths. But you can be assured of there being people in this area, who will usually be plenty helpful with directions.
After getting past the village, you will find yourself heading through some tea plantations (waypoint 4). The road will soon be winding around the mountain. There will be many great views.
Once you get past the tea plantation, you’ll head into thick jungle (waypoint 5). This is the last place you’ll see signs of human residence. Note that this is also the last place you’re likely to find water, so fill up. If you have the luxury of purification tablets, use them. But the water from many springs at this point is drinkable.
Head up the trail and depending on the weather, you might go through a stretch full of leeches. Whether or not these leeches will get to you is directly tied to your hardcoreness-quotient, we’ve found.
As you head higher, the trail will become steeper. And also harder to get through, thanks to it being slowly taken over by thorny bushes on both sides. After about an hour of pushing through all this, you end up near the top. You can see the top, and all that surrounds you is savannah-like grass. Except of course, that is not really the top.
Allagalla is a peculiar thing. Once you get to the “top” of the hill, there is yet another rock to climb. There is a massive pile of boulders that just sits there and mocks you till you claw your way up the thing.
Thankfully the rock was nice, dry, and conducive to a good grip, and didn’t give us too much trouble climbing. The view from the top is, in one word: spectacularly amazingly awesomeness condensed into a single view from the top of a big rock.
It was that good.
Getting back down should take significantly less time than the climb up. A storm was beginning to brew while we were on the rock and we decided to hightail it down before we were forced to take a ride down the big mudslide the trail was likely to become if it rained. We did get a nice bath on the way down through the tea plantation though.
In total, it took us about five hours to climb, and around three to get all the way down. The elevation at the base is about 380m, and the mountaintop is a good 700-800m up from there. After a quick change of clothes we caught the 4:45 train passing through Ihala Kotte back to Colombo. The train, unfortunately, was packed and we had to stand through most of it.
Note: The last train from Ihala Kotte leaves the station at around 6.30.
This is possibly the best experience we’ve managed to have in a one day trip, and is highly recommended. It’s mad fun.