Features

Peacock Hill – a series of unfortunate events

By Dimithri Wijesinghe

On 11 January, a few of us set off to Peacock hill (1,518 m), a mountain situated on the side of the A5 road close to Pussellawa town.

As it’s only January, we wanted to start the first hike of the year on a mellow note; we chose a relatively easy hike as most people who climbed it said it’s a 30-minute climb.

If you do not have your own vehicle, the easiest way to get to Pussellawa is by taking the train to Gampola and getting a bus from there. However, come Saturday morning, we missed the 5.55 a.m. train from Fort Railway Station by a few minutes. It would seem the infamously inconsistent Sri Lankan railway system chose that particular day to be punctual.

The next train was set to depart at 8 a.m. and we simply could not wait, so we turned to impromptu plan B – taking a bus from the intercity bus stop in Fort. We were advised to take the Nuwara Eliya bus as it goes straight through Pussellawa town (Rs. 540).

The journey took us about four hours and we finally got to Pussellawa. However, the stop you should get off at if you want to start at the “correct” road to Peacock Hill is the paara deka junction, from where you can take a vehicle but there are plenty of tuk tuks too, all the way to the base of the hill. The road is very derelict, but most vehicles are able to make it. Once you are at the top of the road, it is only 300-400 m to the top of the hill; a nice comfortable walk surrounded by pine trees.

However, while engaged in a very intense game of charades, we missed our stop and had to get down midway, somewhere in-between Pussellawa and paara deka, leaving us with the choice of either going back to paara deka or making the 30-minute walk to Pussellawa town and taking an alternative path to Peacock Hill.

When we mentioned that we intended to go on a hike, a lovely police officer informed us that there was a trail at the edge of Pussellawa town, and so we chose to walk to the town. When you are travelling, make a note to never take the locals’ word when they say the destination is “not far”, “just a little way ahead”, or “10 minutes”, as this often translates to one hour of walking.

Regardless, after getting multiple versions of directions, we finally arrived at a three-wheel park near a petrol shed at the edge of the town. From there we got a tuk tuk to the base of the hill, down a dilapidated road that the tuk tuk magically manoeuvred through – seemingly by the power of will and fairy dust because it was defying all the laws of physics!

We then started our hike. About an hour in we soon realised it was in no way an easy hike. Later, it turned out that we had taken the long way to the top. While the trek is more challenging and definitely more scenic, it is advised that you do not venture it in the middle of the day under the glaring hot sun. The estate workers in the area suggested that if we ever decide to visit again, we should make sure to come early in the morning.

After many wrong turns, getting lost amongst the trees, encountering a den of the rusty spotted cat (kola diviya), scaling multiple rocks, and also drinking water from random water streams trickling down from unknown and suspicious origins, we finally made it to the top. This took us about six hours in total.

On the way down, however, we took the “correct”, recommended path through the tea estate. Unfortunately, by that time, the van that transports people descending Peacock Hill to paara deka junction had already left as it usually takes its last round of passengers at 4.30 p.m. – we had missed it by just a few minutes.

Considering the fact that the last bus to Colombo left at 2 p.m., we had to take a tuk (once again, one which defied gravity) to paara deka and catch a bus to Gampola in order to make the 6 p.m. express train – the last train to Fort, with the next one at 1.45 a.m., the night mail.

Unsurprisingly, after a sardine-packed bus experience, we missed the last train out of Gampola. As such, we decided to catch a bus to Kandy. By the time we arrived in Kandy it was around 7.30 p.m. Once in the city of Kandy, we started our game of tag with the many bus stops there. After many a wild-goose chase, we were finally directed to the Bogambara bus station, a massive establishment looking every bit like an airport hangar.

If you hadn’t guessed already, we had missed the very last bus to Colombo. We then resigned ourselves to our fate and decided to just sleep in the bus station. Fortunately for us, it was very swanky and quite well built with comfortable seating, so we decided to try again in the morning.

However, with some stroke of luck – something we hadn’t experienced over the entirety of this trip – an angelic soul at the station who had heard our loud panicked bickering about wanting to get back to Colombo yelled out that there was a bus making a rest stop that we might want to catch. We rushed to the bus, which turned out to be a Colombo-Galle-Matara bus, an express bus that makes only three stops. We got to Fort in record time.

Despite the consistent bad luck we experienced throughout our trip, Peacock Hill was well worth the trouble. If you plan a little better – with a lot less “let’s wing it” attitude – the trek is truly simple and easy. And if you rely on public transport, the entire journey will not cost you more than Rs. 1,500.