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Jetwing Kandy Gallery Gonagala Cliff Climb  

Jetwing Kandy Gallery Gonagala Cliff Climb  

By Juliet Coombe

It’s pitch black outside when I receive my wake-up call, and from my Jetwing Kandy Gallery room balcony through the mist and darkness, I can just make out fishermen from Gurudenya village, silhouetted in dug-out catamaran boats made from Diyalabu trees. They are fishing on Victoria Dam reservoir, using either nets or rods to catch food for breakfast. With the breeze on my face, I grab a glass bottle of water and head out to meet the team, who will climb Gonagala Cliff mountain with me, to deer rock look-out, opposite the hotel, which is situated near the 2,000 year old temple, where the monks of Anuradhapura, and later the Kings Of Kandy, meditated. Some people believe there are 14 kilometres of secret tunnels from Kandy to this idyllic spot, but it has never been proven,  despite being much talked about, like the treasure hidden inside the mountain area, marked by rocks with snake drawings etched into them.

As I start the climb I know I am in good hands, as I am with the Indiana Jones of naturalists, Bandara, or at least I think I am, as he hangs off a cliff made of granite rock, looking for a Spectacled Cobra for photographing, one of the forest’s five-foot beauties. He is most disappointed by my reticence about putting my head down a hole or exploring one of the dark-looking rock caves at the start of our trek, which is relaxing and fun at the beginning, if you are not carrying a rice and curry banquet breakfast on your back to the summit and all the little treats that go with this five star meal. I am reminded, as I stop to photograph some brown headed barbets through long grass, that the delicious food prepared early morning is only for those who reach the top. As we twisted and turned through a secondary forest, we went past rain trees that were good for shade, planted by British Planters, now spreading everywhere. The plants growing underneath, I learn, sniffing and smelling the leaves as we pass, are Kaha Kona plants with pretty yellow flowers, which help fix nitrogen in the soil. As we climb higher up the the mountain side, we go through arches of Hinguru vine, known as Hingur -Wal, a prickly grass type of plant that grows everywhere and gets stuck to our clothes. The leafy pathways turn into a series of narrow steps that cling to the mountain side, allowing us to discover yet more plants and bushes as we walk ever higher. Then, one has to negotiate a sheer rock face, with only a tiny place to squeeze through and escarpments that, at one wrong move, will have you plummeting into the abyss below, and if the fall does not get you, the prickly plants will.

The view from the rock edge at the top is well worth the trek, revealing the incredible vistas of Hunus Giriya, which means Geko; the Knuckles Range to the right; and behind, the Hantana Mountains-Katusu Konda, used in Spielberg’s film Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. I learn, during breakfast, that the treasures, which Harrison Ford was seeking, are only too real and there are many treasure-seekers always on a quest to find the hidden jewels buried by their regal ancestors to protect them from invading forces. As breakfast is laid out on a woven mat from Dumbara- Knuckles, with traditional Kandyan clay pots and plates covered in banana leaves, I am amazed by the divine selection of Sri Lankan food that the team have brought with them. I sit and contemplate life, as breakfast is decorated with wild jasmine flowers and fresh fruit, cut up on another green leaf. Sitting on the edge of the cliff feels as good as life can get, and I marvel about how much history has passed this way. I take pictures of the mountain ranges and the Mahaweli River Valley, as the early morning curtain of mist slowly clears revealing yet more scenic views. On the other side of the bank, I can see many varieties of birds, some 84 species of birds  with 08 endemics can be spotted in the area on a good day.