Trekking the Knuckles Mountain Range may be a bit of an arduous task because of the thick fog, unpredictable weather and the large leech population. In spite of all these, trekking the Knuckles Mountain Range will prove to be an unforgettable experience for it is one of the best places for a backpacking escapade. Imagine changing landscapes of grasslands to rugged mountain peaks with meandering streams and flowing waterfalls appearing in between – it is a trekker’s paradise.
There are a great many mountain trails which offer to trek across waterfalls, dense forests and more. Some nature trails are the Mini World’s End, Pitawala Pathana trail, Ash cave trail, Nitro cave trail and the Knuckles Summit trail.
Along with these there are some short trails such as the Last King of Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe’s hide out place, Rathna waterfall trek and the Sitakotuwa limestone cave and waterfall trek. These trails are interlinked to footpaths of toddy tappers, tea plantation workers, cardamom planters, farmers and villages.
The vegetation of the Knuckles Mountain Range changes along the way from grasslands to tropical montane evergreen forests to cloud forests. Since this mountain range is home to more than 128 species of birds, 20 species of amphibians, 15 freshwater species, 53 reptile species and 31 mammal species, you may get the opportunity to spot many of these species while trekking.
There are a few options to choose from when hiking; you could either stick to a one day hike or spend the night camping under the stars which make for a unique experience. The more adventurous souls and the more committed and experienced trekkers can even take on a three day hike accompanied with a guide who has knowledge regarding the area.
The best times to hike the Knuckles are from February to September. Please note that there are plenty of leeches but need not worry, ensure that you carry insect repellent or some lime since its juice helps encourage these little bugs to fall off.
Some popular hiking trails are the Mini World’s End trail, Dothalugala Nature Trail, Trail to Alugallena from Corbet’s Gap, trail to Nitro Caves from Corbet’s Gap and trail to Kalupahana from Meemure.
Mini World End Trail:
Mini world’s end sits towards the southern end of Knuckles mountain range. It is where a cliff drops at 1,192 metres giving views of surroundings for miles hence the name derived in resemblance to World’s End in Horton Plains. The trail starts at the Knuckles Conservation centre which is approximately 1.5 kilometres long and would take a little over an hour to complete. On a clear day, you could witness little villages in the distance in the valleys below. As you start your trail, you will proceed towards the small ‘Deanston’ lake which sits behind the conservation centre in which you would cross a bridge and walk along the bank of this lake till you reach a forest and then into an area with some pine trees. At this point you will reach a split in the trail that is circular passing by Mini worlds end and back. Take the left turn and enter into a flat area and then again pine woods, slowing ascending up the steps of the cliff and you will reach the Mini world end’s observation deck.
Dothalugala Nature Trail:
One of the popular hiking trails that leads up to the Dothalugala Mountain, one of the 34 peaks in the Knuckles mountain range and which gives stunning panoramic views of the southern end of the range. The trail is approximately 4 kilometres long. It starts at the Knuckles Conservation centre, where the first 2 kilometres is an uneven jeep track that leads to Deanston dormitory campsite.
Along this trail you would experience mild ascends up the path and witness beautiful countryside with little villages in between and entering through forest patches and then a flat surfaced trail that lead to the dormitory point. Pass this point and continue walking along the track that leads to the camp site where you would meet 4 trails. Take the trail on the left which is right in front of you and you will experience steady climbs along this trail into dense forests. You will come across a small stream that you will have to cross and climb for a further 100 metres till the trail becomes more flat and then you will see a bamboo forest. Keep going along the trail climbing up and down till you reach the Dothalugala observation point where you would see views of the pygmy forests.
When going back, you will notice another trail on your left from the trail you had climbed up, take this trail and descend downhill into an isolated tea estate and will have less forest cover making your way back much easier and completing the circle around the mountain.
Trail to Nitro caves from Corbett’s Gap:
A popular hiking trail frequented by travellers is the nature trail leading into the Nitro caves which is a large cave populated by many bats for many decades resulting in deposits of saltpeter which was used to make gunpowder, therefore this cave was used by ancient rulers.
This trail starts from Corbett’s gap that continues along for roughly 11 kilometres and would take approximately 5 hours to complete. Corbett’s gap is the highest altitude point of the area and the trail meanders downhill through the stunning ecosystem of Knuckles and then splits off the Meemure road leading towards the Kumbukgolla village. From this point, the trail narrows into a path through the Knuckles forest and ascend up to the Nitro Caves.
The Bambarella Hike of 5 peaks of Knuckles:
It is known that there are 34 identified mountains located in the Knuckles forest reserve, however, the Knuckles mountain range itself has 5 prominent peaks and is the most climbed within the forest reserve. The most popular trail to reach the summit of Knuckles is the Bambarella trail.
Arrive at Bambarella and travel about 5 kilometres to the trail head. The trail starts on the right side of the tarred road which continues on a terrain of flat surface with very little vegetation cover for about 600 metres till you come to a junction. Turn right and reach Knuckles Falls, a beautiful cascade of water that would take your breath away. Although there isn’t much of a base pool, you could enjoy a refreshing shower under the falling water. Return back to the junction and trek along the trail which would elevate upwards through low montane forests and reach a stream which feeds the Knuckles falls. Since this is the last source of water till you reach the peak and back, it is recommended to fill up your water bottles with some fresh water from this stream so that you would have plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated during the steady climb to the summit.
The trail continues through flat plains and low altitude foliage to the first campsite where on your left you would see the Knuckles peaks in the distance and on your right, you would see sloping hills of Kandy. The path continues with same vegetation till the second campsite and the elevation increases where the trek would get challenging as in rather tough till you come upon an area of woods that has a canopy with low grown trees that are in close knit to each other making you bend down to avoid getting caught against the branches which are thick in size. Keep trekking till you arrive to an area to rest a bit and catch your breath or hydrate yourselves.
Thereafter the climb to the peak is very steep and due to the dense canopy, you would not be able to see the peak very clearly. The climb is rather slippery with stones and loose soil making it quite a challenge but worth it once you reach the junction within the woods in which you have to turn left to reach the peak. From this point onwards, the climb is extremely steep, therefore be more vigilant and cautious. You would notice the vegetation changing into a mountainous forest and the surrounding scenery is stunning. There are huge rocks along the way where you could pause for a while and refuel your strength to proceed.
After about 30 minutes you would reach the first peak onto your right and then continue towards the second peak along the path that is marked, at this peak there is a viewpoint in which you will see 360 degree views of the forest reserve since this is the highest point of the whole range.
If you wish to continue to visit the other 3 peaks, then continue along the path which leads to the peaks. Also on the edge of the rock, there is an opening and you will have to be extra careful since the trek is not clearly marked and falls along the edges of the rock and if there is mist, it might hinder your vision hence the extra caution and of course there will be leeches so watch out. Since there is no dense vegetation cover for this section of the trek, you could reach the 5th peak in an hour if weather conditions are good.
The entire trek takes approximately 5 to 6 hours to complete so it is advisable to start the journey as early as possible.