In search of Solitude
I knew hard times were ahead when Nish said there was only one slab
of chocolate left to be shared among the six of us. “One?” when I asked
aghast he nodded to confirm there was no doubt about it.
‘One climbs. One sees...”Pic Nishantha Abeysinghe
“How many more hours to go?” I then asked Soundaraja, the tracker. He
raised three fingers. None of my five climbing companions groaned. None
grimaced. We had no energy to lift even an eyebrow.
As the pieces of chocolate were passed around everyone ravenously
nibbled hoping every bit of calorie hidden within the brown layer will
reach their tired muscles and recharge the dead batteries.
We were four hours into the jungle surrounding the Great Western
range. At seven in the morning, six of us, in search of adventure.
solitude, isolation, had left the predictable terrain of the
Galkandawatta Division of the Great Western Estate and begun the
‘unsavoury, unsteady’ climb upwards, crashing through thickets and
brambles, clambering over fallen trees, splashing through ice cold
creeks, and pawing up slopes like a pack of chimpanzees.
The thorns scratched and punctured. The branches whipped us in the
face and occasionally a leech tried to crawl inside our mud soaked
For the second time that week the fear of death was upon me, (having
miraculously escaped the bomb on Friday), when the exposed roots of an
old tea bush I was clutching gave way and I started to slip and slide
Had not Rad and Nish grabbed me by the arms and pulled me back onto
the ledge, I would surely have reached certain oblivion. A minute later,
though, I was gasping for breath once more. This time out of sheer joy.
The sight below me, even though I was still half way up the cliff was so
facinating, I felt this must undoubtedly be similar to the beautiful
terrain described by Sri Rahula Himi ever so many years ago.
His Salalihiniya must surely have flown over land like this; land
strewn with pollen from the flowers on the trees, “where are flowering
lakes on which the king swan alights/and thickets of creepers of full
flowering jasmine.” (as translated by H. Jayasinghe and L.C Van Geyzel).
Though not listed as one of the “must-do- sights” on any travellers
list to the hill country, (this could be because whoever makes up the
list has never been there) the Great Western range should qualify as a
must see, not simply for the view from the summit, but for the view on
every step of the way as well.
On the way up, as you pause for breath and look around you, you are
greeted with a view, difficult to describe using only words. Yet, amidst
the splendour there was also the squaler.
Discarded polythene, empty plastic bottles, trees chopped down for
fire-wood. Would it not be possible to make the Great Western range a
Breathless though we were, the discussion on how to preserve what we
were enjoying around us - nature’s pulchritude - was what one of the
scholars among us called it - kept our minds off the blisters on our
Our camp sight that night was a small cleared area no bigger than a
blanket. After dinning on Seeni Sambol and bread, with a fire crackling
close by, we fell asleep with the sky as our roof and the earth as our
mattress, dreaming of our goal tomorrow, which rose ever so many feet
directly above us.
And before ten in the morning, the thrill of success was upon us. We
had done it. There we were, on top of the world, so we thought;
listening to a sound like no other sound I have ever heard: the sound of
nothing but the wind blowing.
This was not the wind I grew up with, blowing across the sea in Galle,
this was not the wind I hear on a rainy day, dancing across the Beira
Lake...the closest I have heard this sound was when Pradeep Ratnayake’s
finger tips brush the strings of his Sitar on a Sunday evening at the
Goethe Institut - the sound of peace.
My wish to stay there on the summit, forever was not to be. But now I
know what I had not known before I went on this strenuous but
exhilarating journey. “One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no
longer, but one has seen...When one can no longer see, one can at least
Find this hard to grasp? You will know what I mean, when you get