Ever so sweetly, the family got out of bed to farewell us at 5 am as we piled into the tuk-tuk with all our bags. It was actually a bit sad as we’d nurtured a brief but warm relationship with these people in our time there. We gave Sonia a little Koala bear, and as shy as she is, she loved it. It was a bittersweet goodbye to Haputale.
The first hour of the trip we were virtually by ourselves driving along in a complete blanket of fog. The road was good but we couldn’t see more than 20m ahead of us. Stray dogs and people would appear as if out of nowhere and we’d somehow veer out of each other’s way.
Then, at a small village roundabout, we turned left up a small bumpy road and began an hour and a half of slow, gruelling climbing through a dense, dark rainforest. By this time our host/driver was getting a bit sleepy. He’d had a pretty big day yesterday driving Raphael to Mirissa and returning and now he had another big day with us. His head started bobbing from side to side and he’d occasionally wander over close to the edge of the road, which by now, had a huge drop off down to the dark valley floor way below. All was deadly quite except the groan of the tuk-tuk as it heaved us up ever steeper sections of the narrow road. Another bob of his head took us perilously close to the edge, so I decided to start talking with him to waken him up a bit. This only resulted in him turning around to answer me each time and taking his eyes completely away from the twisting road, heading back over to the edge and closer to a fall that we’d never recover from. I decided to just let him drive!
We stopped at a viewpoint (just a break in the trees at the edge of the road) and got out to take a picture. I figured this would be a good break for our exhausted driver too. We took our time as we soaked in the view in front of us. A sea of thick, white cloud spread out below us with scattered mountain peaks high enough to pierce its layers and appear like a dreamy archipelago. It was sunrise and the familiar golden orb appeared to be opaque as it tried to glow through the thick canopy of cloud and lighten the sky above us. It was an almost surreal sight that a photograph couldn’t really do justice. We just sat a while and tried to take it all in.
We kept climbing, seemingly endlessly up and up. The damp, musty morning air and the welcome appearance of dappled sunlight through the thick roof of forest trees, easing our fear of plummeting over the edge of the track somewhat, and appearing to jolt our weary driver back into life again.
The gates of the park seemed to appear out of nowhere, a welcome sight, although the smile was swiftly wiped from my face as I forked out the 6,700Rps entrance fee! (about AUD55). It’s about another 5kms into the park office and starting point of the 9km circuit which loops through the park and takes in the famous “World’s End” viewpoint.
We were more than a little surprised to find out that the carpark was already full of vans and smaller buses. It was only 7am and already there were around 150 walkers there. To our dismay, most of the tourists were Chinese tour groups. Unfortunately, we’ve had some bad experiences in the past with these roving bands of banshees that seemingly have no respect for nature or for other visitors. It’s just a problem when any large groups of people travel together, regardless of their nationality. Sadly, the Chinese tend to only travel in large groups and cause concern wherever they go. Surprisingly, a lot of the women were dressed as if going out to dinner, with shiny dresses overlayed with chiffon and sequins. I had to look around to make sure where I was!
We set off quickly as a large group of about 20 got their things ready. We figured on putting a reasonable gap between us and avoiding the cacophony of shouting which was shattering the peace and quiet of the early morning. Sadly any birds or animals hanging around would be well gone before we got the chance to encounter them.
Frustratingly, staying well ahead of one group only meant running into the previous group ahead of us. Trying to pass them on the narrow, water-etched tracks was almost impossible as they wouldn’t acknowledge you behind them and let you pass. The whole experience was turned into a circus as they showed a complete disregard for others and little interest for anything other than ranting wildly and taking pictures of themselves!
The 2 viewpoints at World’s End and Little World’s End were turned into a raucous picnic that began with the customary “Selfie-a-Thon”. Other hikers were visibly upset and holding their fingers to their ears in a futile gesture. At World’s End one mother let her young child just squat down and pee, right there on the platform! A couple of tissues discarded right there on the spot. Another guy, a little further down the track, just stopped and lit up a cigarette, finished it, and with no surprise to ourselves, just butted it out under foot. Their complete ignorance of acceptable behaviour in other countries is astounding.
Chinese tour groups aside, the park is quite nice and the view spectacular. But it’s hard to understand where all the money from the steep entry fees are spent.
It took us 3hrs to hike the 9kms, and contrary to what you may hear, it doesn’t really matter which way you walk the circuit, you’ll run into and be held up by large groups at some stage or other.
At the carpark we got straight into our tuk-tuk and headed out through the park in the direction of Nuwara Eliya and some peace and quiet. The 2 and a half hour drive was fantastic, and downhill all the way. The rainforest eventually gave way to tea plantations and small villages with neat and tidy market gardens and rolling, hillside pastures with milking cows grazing silently in the sun. It might be one of the world’s most scenic train rides, but the road trip is equally as good, if not better!
After a few gloomy days of rain and fog, the sun shining made everything seem so much better.
Plan to get to the park before 6.30am.
It really doesn’t matter which way you hike the circuit, you’ll run into the tour groups eventually.
Try not to go during Chinese national holidays!
Wear good hiking shoes. The track can be slippery underfoot in some sections.