Little did I know what I was getting myself into when I asked my friend Shiyana if I could tag along on her trip to Wellawaya. She mentioned she was joining her dad and a few of his friends on a hike up a mountain called Kurullangala to see ancient cave paintings. Obviously, with an introduction like that, I was intrigued…! She then sent me a trip report that was written by a group who had done the same hike before. I skimmed through it and one line stood out; ‘not for the faint hearted’. This line, aimed at discouraging inexperienced hikers like myself, only made me think of one phrase; ‘challenge accepted’!!
We left Colombo early morning and reached Wellawaya in time to catch up with Mervyn and Doris before we had an early lunch. Mervyn and Doris are the delightful couple who run the Don Diogu Villa in Wellawaya. The property, full of interesting knick knacks, is Mervyn’s ancestral home which was known as “Dimbulamure Walauwa” and was constructed over a hundred years ago by Don Diogu Samarakoon Wijesinghe, the Korale [government agent] of Wellawaya. Mervyn has an unparalleled knowledge of the history in that area as well as of the time when Ceylon [what Sri Lanka was called back then] was a colony of the Portuguese.
That evening, we went to an ancient Temple which was located at the foot of the mountain we were going to hike up. The Rakkithakanda Temple in Karadagolla, also known as ‘Kande-Vihare’ [Mountain temple] has cave paintings as well, but they are nothing like what we were going to see on top of Kurullangala the next day. These were a mix of Buddhist and Hindu paintings, some of which bared the crucifix as well. It was a curious collection of drawings that seemed to have merged religions. The monk at the temple with a charming smile told us a lot about the drawings and their interpretations.
We started on our hike early the next morning. The group included my friend Shiyana, her father Ananda, his friends Stefan and Sri, our guide Meththananda and I. We carried water, some sandwiches and our cameras as well as two rock climbing harnesses and two strong ropes which came in handy towards the last bit of our climb. The start of the climb was easy; it was just the thick jungle that we had to worry about. As we went along however, the climb started to get steeper and more challenging, but was still enough for me to handle as we took a few breaks along the way. We then came to a point where everything changed. The rock was an 80 degree angle and any slip ups meant that we would roll down a steep hill. It was from here that the hike got to be very difficult, we had to tread carefully and make our way up without loosening any rocks or loosing grip.
Then we came to a point where we needed to use the harnesses. Meththananda our guide and the person who discovered the paintings on the rock, went up effortlessly and secured the ropes on to a tree. We then had to plan our steps and use all our concentration on climbing up. I was wrong to think that that was the only difficult part that we would face! Because it was a series of difficult and complicated parts that followed. I was able to scramble my way up even though it was rather ungraceful…! There was even one part, close to the top where we had to inch along a root of a tree sideways against a rock… To this day, I can’t believe that I actually did that!
Once we made it to the spot where the cave paintings were, I realized that the difficult climb was all worth it. It was a humbling experience, to be a part of something so historic and magnificent. The cave paintings were not like the ones you see in Dambulla or Sigiriya they were not Buddhist stories or frescoes. They were much older than that; from a different time all together, over 5000 years ago.
Another fascinating feature of these cave paintings is that they are the only ones of their kind. Most other cave paintings around Sri Lanka from this era are of stick figures. These are the only drawings of birds from this time that have been found. They were also somewhat similar to aboriginal art in Australia.
After spending some time marveling at these drawings and taking pictures, we started to head back, a task that was just as hard as going up, if not harder! We were all tired, sweaty, scratched, bruised and bleeding by the end of it. There were times where my heart skipped a beat and I thought that I was going to fall. But I kept thinking of the quote from Game of Thrones; ‘What do we say to the God of Death?” “Not today”. My palms still get sweaty when I think about it or look at the pictures and the videos! But it was an adventure and I’m glad I did it because it was worth it in the end.
That said, I don’t recommend that you take on this hike unless you are an experienced trekker. It’s a little about stamina and strength and more about guts, staying calm and keeping your balance! Most definitely not for the faint-hearted!