This post is not going to be a structured ‘trip report’. Because one, you will find various accounts of it on the internet soon enough; and two, Sinhalaya Travels will be giving a detailed blow by blow together with discerning advice for the even more discerning traveler etc.
But i digress, here is a first account of a trip to Knuckles to hike from Corbett’s Gap to Nitro Cave and back. Big Thanks due to the people at Lakdasun for the directions, tips etc.
Corbett’s Gap was creepy, almost creepier than LOLwatta (which is probably the most ironic name for a town in Sri Lanka). We got to Lolwatta, which is on the road to Corbett’s gap, around 3.20 a.m. We recognized the presence of a town by the few decrepit looking buildings stuck together and an old red CTB bus with the town’s name on its front card. There were no lights and we got down with a small torch to find some form of human life to get directions from.
There was a wind whistling that sounded like the stuff horror movies are made of. The forest meeting the edge of the road was ominously dread-inducing and the darkness was like a blanket. We checked around inside the bus and the small bus stand and, finding nothing and no one, eventually decided to move on down the road.
Corbett’s Gap was like a tied-up demon in throes of fury. The wind was literally strong enough to blow even Realskullzero off his feet so we prudently stayed away from the open spaces and snuck around a few times to make sense of a map scrawled along a signboard on it side.
From parents to hiking guides to commuters on trains, all we heard about from well meaning advisers was how dangerously stupid it would be to go right up to the Nitro Caves and back ‘in this kind of weather’; the wind was ‘too strong’, the rain was too mean, and the leeches were potentially murderous. And when we stopped at Corbett’s Gap, the downright malignancy of the place was enough to instill doubts even in the most steadfastly hardcore Sinhalaya heart; but we decided to stick to the plan because ‘there was no point otherwise’. And as it turned out, Corbett’s Gap was the scariest it got. Although the last bit back, with us facing a 9km uphill trek through the enveloping darkness and pouring rain, did have its spine chilling moments.
The Nitro Cave
Was freaking awesome. I’ve never actually seen a cave before i think, at least not one as big as this. It was placed at the bottom of a sheer cliff which was sporadically riddled with wasp nests on the outside. The cave was infested with bats. hundreds of thousands of bats. We were all silent in order to not scare the wasps. But none seemed to be making a show. But the bats decided to start flying out so we decided to make a move back before a Batman moment could happen.
But leaving without actually entering the cave would be sacrilege, as Realskull was quick to point out . So after the others left, four of us were still at the cave entrance pondering eternal mental torment at not having gone inside.
So we went in.
Inside the cave
Climbing upto the entrance was a bit of a challenge. But Thush managed it first and we followed. And we squatted on the egde of its mouth, waiting for the bats, who’d obviously sensed our presence by now and were chittering up a storm flying out of various crevices to circle excitedly around the roof of the main cave, to chill so that we could see the rest of what was up there.
The view from inside was breathtaking. the curved cave roof created a sort of a black circular frame through which a mass of green could be seen for miles and miles around. Bats were all over the roof. There were numerous cracks and ridges out of which we could see thousands of bat eyes staring down at as. Everytime we moved, they increased their output of noise, and more bats flew out of obscure crevices.
Inside the cave there was a sort of platform around which there was a path leading off to the right side. We couldn’t see anything beyond cos of the elevation of the platform. So eventually when we got tired of waiting for the bats to quiet down, we just snuck on up the path.
We had to use all fours because the bats were by now going (you’ll never see this coming) batshit crazy. And as mother nature’s symbolic humor would have it, there was fresh wet batshit all over the floor as well. The top of the path led us upto the level of the elevated platform and we were finally able to see what lay beyond it.
The platform turned out to be little more than a sort of varenda. Beyond it, set into the rock wall, there were three more caves, black holes about 12-15 feet in diameter, leading off into the mountain beyond. They were pitch black and gave the impression of being very deep.
Having satisfied our need to explore the Nitro cave. We followed the others down the mountain path and jumped a well deserved jump in the sweet cool water of that stream right at the beginning of the last stretch of the hike. Ah!
The Nitro caves are said to be hundreds of thousands of years old and are a home for hundreds of thousands of bats. They get their name from their deposits of potassium nitrate which is a traditional raw material for gunpowder. Ancient kings apparently mined this place for it and a semblance of human design is apparent through the gigantic, light grey trees that dominate the path right before the cave like two protective sentries. We saw no other trees like that anywhere else in the forest.
All in all, well worth the batshit.