Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hiking Thotupola Kanda on a Crisp Morning

Trip Name: Nightmail Berth Train Journey to Pattipola & Hiking Thotupola Kanda

Year and Month: October 2013

Number of Days : Two Nights & Two Days

Crew : 6 (Akila, Asela, Danushka, Pranama, Samith (me), Sandun

Accommodation : Unofficial Camp site near Pattipola - HP Road (Forrest Department Resting Point)

Transport : Badulla Nightmail Sleeping Compartments, Badulla (Udaratamanike) Observation Cart

Activities : Sight Seeing, Hiking, Camping, Train Journey

Opening Hours : 7 am - 5.30 pm

Tickets : Foreign Adult  -  15 USD
              Foreign Child
  -    8 USD
Local Adult     -  60 LKR
Local Child     -   30 LKR
              visit this site for detailed info

Weather : Sunny, Cold, Drizzle, Heavy Rain(afternoon)

Route :
Colombo Fort Railway Station > Pattipola Railway Station > Pattipola Horton Plains Entrance > Thotupala Kanda Trail Head > Thotupala Kanda Summit > Pattipola Horton Plains Entrance > Camping Ground Near Pattipola

Trail/Road Info :
Pattipola to Thotupala Kanda Trail Head - 5.8 km, well paved(tarmac), 273 m elevation gain(Pattipola - 1897 m, Thotupala Kanda trailhead - 2170 m)
Thotupala Kanda Trail - 1.3 km, easy to tackle, 200 m elevation gain(trail head: 2170 m, trail end - 2361m)
Special remarks :
  • Make sure to book train tickets 14 days in advance.
  • Badulla Nightmail Sleeperette/sleeperate (2nd class) and Berths (Sleeping Compartments) are the first ones to be sold out so you need to be at the ticket counter as early as possible to increase your chance of getting tickets.
  • Regulars keep berths tightly booked during week.
  • Smalltime sellers like "Wade Uncle" or "Kiri Kopi Uncle" doesn't visit berth compartments. But if you need anything you could ask the guard to open the cart door so you can buy.
  • Berths are OK. But apart from getting a proper sleep there is nothing more.
  • Leave for HP as soon as you get to Pattipola.
  • Make sure you stay awake after 4am as you might sleep through your destination. Train usually reaches Pattipola around 4-5 am.
  • Lone travelers are not allowed in the park.
  • Bring enough water (1 ltr per person)
  • Do not litter.
Resources :

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It all started during our last camping journey to Horton Plains. Originally we wanted to do both Kirigalpoththa and Thotupala trails but we ended up doing only Kirigalpoththa. On our way back we decided to arrange a hike to Thotupala so we would have conquered major peaks in Horotn Plains. However we didn't have a proper chance to organize it until October 2013. As usual we decided to take Badulla Nightmail to reach Pattipola and  went through the usual charade of booking train tickets and arranging other camping stuff. However, from our previous experiences we knew that traveling overnight on a 2nd class sleeperette to be a tiresome experience. Therefor this time we went ahead and booked Sleeping Berths.
[travel tips] Single berth costs 1200 lkr regardless destination.

Train arrived at Colombo Fort Station around 7.30. We had heard mixed reviews about berth compartments before but never actually been on one. So we went there with mixed feelings about what we might get.
Considering SLRs current state I was kind of relieved to see a bunk bed (two berths) covered in clean looking bed sheets, small cupboard, and a private toilet (later I realized that these are shared with two berth compartments).


Single Compartment with Bunk Beds

Upper Bunk Bed

But soon I realized the horror when I saw cockroaches creeping through plywood cupboard. After an interesting session of cockroach hunting we went to sleep hoping to wake around 4am. Sleeping in berth was a different experience. Despite the rattling of  iron wheels and sudden jerks I was able to get a good night's sleep.

beep... beep....BEEP BEEP BEEP!!!!!!!!! . Danushka's (my bunk buddy that night) alarm kept screaming. But the rhythmic rocking of our carriage wanted me to stay curled up in the bed just for a few more minutes. Despite the cold, and sleepiness I got up and woke everybody else. The train arrived at Pattipola around 5 am. We had our breakfast in the station resting room and started our long walk to Thotupala Kanda trail head.

[travel tip] start the journey as soon as possible.

Checking Temperature

Vivid Colors

On the Track

Nope! Wrong Way

Click ! Click!


Majestic Sun
Starting a Long Walk
It was a scenic walk. It was cold yet rays of sunshine gave us a sensational warmth. Some places looked dull and gray while some shined with green-blue color. We did not encounter much wildlife except occasional  bear monkey. Truth be told, it was a tiresome walk (specially carrying all the camping gear in our backpacks) but the scenery and crisp weather kept it at bay, not to mention occasional jokes from Asela.


Introduction to Horton Plains Ecology

Horton Plains Pattipola Entrance

It was almost 9 am when we finally arrived at the HP entrance gate. While Danushka went to the ticket counter to buy entrance tickets we prepared a quick snack (scrambled eggs, bread with chili paste, and tea) to consume during our Thotupala hike. (Wildlife officers allowed us to use their kitchen).

[travel tip] There is a toilet at HP entrance gate but they are not in good condition.

Entrance Ticket
Finally we packed water bottles and snacks in a single bag and left all the other backpacks at entrance office and started walking toward Thotupala Kanda trail head. It took us 15 or 20 minutes arrive at the trail head.

Hurry... Dude!!

At the Trail Head

Brief Historical Info and Facts
Thotupala trail head is located some 500 m from the HP entrance gate. There was a large name board on the left side of the road marking the trail head. Thotupala mountain is considered to be the easiest way to experience montane ecology of the Horton Plains. Even though its the 3rd highest peak in Sri Lanka, it's pretty easy to tackle with minimum effort. The entire trail is only 1.3 km with on and off stretches of flat lands and occasional ascends.

Concrete Steps at the Trail Head

The trail starts with few concrete steps and continue through a dense forest patch with thick undergrowth. Some parts of the trail were entirely covered with soggy patches of trees and bamboo shrubs. Occasionally we encountered fallen tree branches covered in greenish moss. While tackling this part of the trail I started to notice a lot of flowers. I recalled seeing them by the both sides of the main road from the entrance gate to trail head and here the trail was almost surrounded with them (pink, purple and occasionally white). At that time, I didn't know what those plants are called but later, after some research I identified them as Nelu. "Nelu" is a rare flower bearing plant that only blooms once in every twelve years and lasts for almost a month. The previous bloom happened in 2001 and expected to happen  again in 2025. I consider myself  lucky to be witness such a rare phenomenon.

Sandun Leading the Team

Laden with  Nelu flowers
White Nelu

Akila has Found himself a Hiking Pole

Green and Gray

Green Tall Trees Disappearing

And Small Bushes and Scrubs Emerge


After hiking for almost 1 km we noticed changing in vegetation. Bamboo shrubs and trees disappeared and small shrubs took their places. Around here we encountered a flat peak with a great panoramic view of the surrounding mountain range. We spent a few minutes here resting and taking photographs of the scenery.


Gazing into the Horizon

I was able to identify Kirigalpoththa yet could not find Sri Pada (misnamed named Adam's Peak). According to many Sri Pada (Samanala Mountain - Meaning Mountain of Butterflies) can be seen from Thotupala mountain. Yet I kept looking and looking with no avail.After our quick break we started hiking again. It took us another good 20 minutes to reach the peak.

It was a great view. Entire plain within your eyesight. Valleys and plains, green and gray,continues stretches of mountains, it was well worth it. We spent almost half an hour enjoying the scenery.

Final Stretch

At the Top - Sitting on the GPS point

Forest Patches and Savana of Great Horton Plains

Mountain Range

There is a radio transmission antenna here which is used by wildlife officers as a relay point between entrance offices and far-in entrance. While we were enjoying the scenery sky and air started to change. Sudden colder winds started to gaze back of our necks. Dark clouds started to form. The crisp weather went running. Sun went in to hiding. Cold became much more intense. Since already knew these telltale signs from our previous visits to Horton Plains (read my other Horton Plains travelogues here), we started to hike down and maintained a fast pace until we reached the trail head.

Hurry, Sky is turning Dark

Nelu Flowers Blooming

 Muchang!!! One of My Favorite Photos from this Journey
Reaching Entrance Gate. Notice the Color of the Sky

We reached the HP entrance gate around noon. Rain started pouring down just after we set our foot inside entrance office. Our original plan was to walk all the way down to camping ground near Pattipola and prepare a proper lunch there. But rain kept going on and on so we decided to seek permission (AGAIN!) from entrance officers to prepare our lunch in their kitchen.They kindly allowed us to do this so we prepared a proper meal and enjoyed it. Rain had almost ceased when all of us finished having lunch but it kept drizzling on. We decided to walk in the rain since it was getting late. We gave our thanks to wildlife officers at the entrance gate and started walking down towards Pattipola.

Windy Road

The Gang
We arrived at the camp ground (this is a resting place built by Forest Department and its not a official camp ground) 3.30 pm. Place seemed recently used by some other group for camping. Danushka and I started on pitching camping tents while others went to look for firewood. After pitching tents and getting a small bonfire going on we sat down for a  hot steaming cup of tea.

Pattipola Road Seen from Camping Ground

Pattipola Road Seen from Camping Ground

Collecting More Firewood for the Bonfire

Making Tea
[travel tip] There was a toilet at this place but it still has not been fully finished. So if you have to "go" I'm afraid you are going to have to go "natural". However if you don't mind walking you can go use the toilet at Pattipola station. If the washroom doors are closed kindly ask the person in charge to open it. They don't mind helping travelers.

Since we wanted to have a small barbecue, three of us decided to walk to Pattopola market and bring down the provisions.

[travel tip] Its only 800m from the camping ground to Pattipola town. You can hire a threewheel for just 100lkr to return.

Our DIY grill

The smokey aroma of the chicken, fresh delicious vegetables, bonfire trying to fight cold wind, stories about panthers, and ghost....It was a night to remember.

[travel tip] Choose foods that are easy to cook.We had Chicken, potatoes, vegetables(grilled), meatballs(fried), pre-cocked nan-bread, and sprite.

After having dinner some of us went to the nearby water stream to clean cooking utensils. I have to admit it was rather unsettling experience. It was pitch black except for our headlamps and those stories about panthers hunting humans and ghosts came swirling into my mind. While Pranama and Sandun kept cleaning pans and pots I kept pointing my headlamp into the silent misty woods hoping to see something. But nothing was there just silence. Even though I was relived not seeing anything, there was just a hint of disappointment. After returning to the camping ground we packed everything and went to sleep.

[travel tip] water stream seemed to be clean and you can use it as a source of drinking water.

This is the first part of a two day (two nights) trip. I will post the next past as soon as I finish writing it.


  1. Something growled outside our tent that night samith
    I'm pretty damn sure

    1. You should have woken me up ban. Do you remember, same thing happened during Udamliboda (off-season) visit. But it was just wild boars!! Wonder what it was this time :D

  2. Great piece of work machan..!!!

  3. Patta machan.............:D
    Loving it..............:)

  4. who made the BBQ..looks great :D ;)

    1. Akila and Pranama. Yes It was well done and delicious!

  5. wow this is really awesome. How much did it cost for the entire trip?