Devil’s Staircase | Sunday Observer

Devil’s Staircase

In hopes of making an adventure out of an otherwise mundane weekend spent in Colombo, a few Lake House journalists decided to venture out to Devil’s Staircase — a hiking (or driving) trail that spans from Ohiya to Kalupahana and is considered one of the most scenic routes in Sri Lanka.

We arrived in Ohiya early on a Saturday morning, after taking the night mail train destined for Badulla from the Colombo Fort Station. Our exhaustion upon our arrival was palpable. The ride took ten hours — a good two hours longer than it was supposed to. But, pulling into the foggy train station, just as the sun was beginning to shine, our excitement outweighed anything else we might have been feeling.

Our group of six stepped off the train and made the first stop of our journey: the bathroom at the station. A light shriek emanated from the squat toilet stall — one of us had dropped her phone inside of it. She was able to fish it out with a few tissues, though, and luckily that was the only setback of our day.

Before starting our journey, we had breakfast at a small hotel across from the station: warm roti, spicy lunu miris sambol, and steaming cups of tea with milk. A litter of puppies scampered around the foot of the table as we ate, brushing against our legs, but we didn’t mind.

By this point it had started to drizzle outside. Bundled up in hooded sweaters and rain jackets, we piled into two tuk tuks, which we rode for five kilometres up the mountain. The wind and rain that blew on us while we rode felt frozen, like ice cubes hitting our bare skin. At the top, we pulled to a halt as the road slowly ended. And just like that, we hopped out of the tuks and began our descent.

The views from the top of Devil’s Staircase were exquisite, with more green in our lines of vision than most of us see in weeks, in Colombo. The “staircase” was not that, in fact, but instead a long, winding path that spans over 15 kilometers. Sloping mainly downward, but occasionally up, the terrain was lush with grass, flowers, trees, and clouds that hung so low as to seem palpable. Though we didn’t see any during our time on the Devil’s Staircase, we had been told that white leopards could be found in the area as well.

We traversed our way down the path, stopping every few minutes to take photos and capture the beauty surrounding us. At one point, while we were walking through the tallest of weeds, a member of our group thought a snake had crawled up her leg. In reality, it was just a loose branch.

Then we reached the line houses of plantation workers, who lived high up in the hills. That day, their whole village was getting ready to celebrate the annual Hindu festival of Thiruwila at the temple. The main lane cutting through the village was decorated using small paper wrappers, hung from the trees. The villagers insisted that we take part in the festival, but due to time constraints we couldn’t stay long. While making our way through the village, we came across two young boys, their eyes filled with curiosity. They wanted to know more about us, and we wanted to know more about them. The first was named Ajith, who told us he’d left school after his O/Ls. The second was named Senthu, who said he was still going to school in Hatton. They explained that once the village children finish the fifth grade, only those with parents who could afford the price of boarding school continue their education, for the closest school otherwise is only reached by four hours of travel. Ajith told us that he doesn’t have a proper job at the estate and asked us if we could find him a job in Colombo. Senthu explained that he wants to enter the field of sports, but is a bit reluctant. He fears his chances are low because he comes from the plantation community.

Despite it all, both were very determined and told us that they would make an attempt to change the future for themselves and for those who came after them. But, they said, maintaining optimism is not always easy. As Ajith pointed out, while the world is progressing fast in terms of various technological advances, plantation workers still struggle to attain electricity.We expected to see many people approaching us to ask for money. But no one did. Instead, a small boy of about five years simply asked us for a pen. Luckily, this was something we could provide him. He beamed while holding it in his hand and showing it off to his friends. We then continued our journey downward, pushing our way through weeds and shrubs that came up to our waists, trusting our feet to find the path forward when our eyes could not see it. It was around noon by this time, and the sun was out in full force, beaming down at us. We took a pitstop at the top of Lanka Ella Falls, a waterfall that gets its name from the shape of the rock pool at its base: a teardrop, the shape of Sri Lanka. Walking across a somewhat sturdy bridge made of branches, splashing cool water on our faces, and lounging on the rocks for a few minutes, we felt refreshed and ready to finish our hike off strong.

The rest of our journey felt like a breeze — mainly downhill and under the shade of abundant trees. Before we knew it, we had reached the highlight of our journey: Bambarakanda Falls, the tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka. With a height of 263 meters, it’s almost difficult to see the top from where we were standing at the base. But the scene around us put a smile on our face nonetheless. There were families and groups of friends bathing in the water, all taking in the beauty of the same natural wonder as us.

As we left Bambarakanda Falls, and completed our journey along the Devil’s Staircase, all we could think of was how eager we were to return there once again.