The Hidden paths through the Knuckles
Situated North East to the Hill Capital Kandy is a mountain range that is more often admired from a distance. The clear outline of the Knuckles Mountains – so called due to its resemblance to a clenched fist of knuckles – can be observed from the town of Matale, North of Kandy. We however were heading along the back roads through Corbet’s Gap for 3 days of serious hiking.
Getting to most of the small access roads in the Corbetts Gap region is best by van or 4 x 4. However, the marked roads and excavators hint that the area will soon be accessible even by bus.
We stayed at Corbet’s Rest, a simple property with an amazing view of the mountains. The food at the property was also quite special as I have a thing for spicy food, and when we asked for the food to be extra spicy, the cook included two of my favourite chilli varieties (Cobra Chilli and Garden Bird) that are considered among the spiciest in the world, which he plucked fresh from the garden. The following morning after a light breakfast we set off on our first hike. I was told by Mark who was accompanying me to pack light and while I did leave behind a few stuff, my bag still weighed at least 10 kilos. I thought I’d be okay, and boy was I wrong.
Since we were walking downhill to the Meemure village, the first bit of the trek was quite easy and there was always something to keep us entertained like the numerous butterflies and wood spiders who seemed to follow us and provided perfect opportunities for the avid photographer in me.
We passed probably one of the most rural schools around where children, all in their white uniforms, rather than sitting behind books, were using their green fingers in the school’s tiny vegetable patch.We diverted off the main road to a downhill descent through the woods, and once we reached the first of many rivers we stopped to take a breather and unlatch the bloodsucking protectors of the realm – leeches!
Some may say that travelling with open shoes and shorts is the best thing through leech territory; I however was wearing a pair of hiking boots and cargo pants, with the cuffs tucked into my socks. I had also before the hike generously applied a balm rub on my feet as a failsafe and I had fewer encounters than my friend Mark who was in shorts and a pair of sandals and constantly under attack.
From the river it was a tough climb back uphill. When we passed the paddy fields of the Meemure village, we were back on the village road. The lack of trees on our route and the incessant sun beating down on us forced us to take a much cooler route through the woods. As it was close to noon, there were hardly any villagers on our route.
If you are a birder or butterfly enthusiast, the hikes will be a treat as we saw so many species of both. We also discovered overgrown routes that were built during the colonial era for planters who used to travel on horseback.
By now the effect of my heavy bag was killing me, but there was hope! We came across another stream with mini waterfalls – perfect for the odd swim – and this time we weren’t going to pass it by. I could tell that the water was icy cold by how my feet went numb, but it was probably due to how exhausted we were, that we didn’t find the waters too cold. We plunged from rocks into the cool pools created by the waterfall and watched as the fish gave our feet a free spa treatment.
The rest of the journey was all uphill and threatening rainclouds began rolling in. The bag now was really weighing down on me and all I could do was hope that the end would come soon. We had made our way back to the road we started on and continued to clamber on. I wished I hadn’t asked Mark and our guide how much longer there was to go, as even though we had a couple of hundred metres to complete our 8km hike, the last bit was the toughest.
We got to the wooden gate of Corbet’s Rest just as the heavens were beginning to open. Luckily the threat only turned out to be a drizzle, meaning that our next hike the following day was still on the cards.