June 2018


Mountains in the Jungle: Hiking the Dolosbage Range
June 2018




The road from the Raxawa tea factory to the Kabaragala-Rakshagala Ridge

Dolosbage, which translates literally from Sinhalese as "half dozen", is a mountain range approximately 100km east of Colombo, and 40km southeast of Kandy. Located in the middle of Sri Lanka's tea-growing region, the six mountains of Dolosbage are cloaked in thick jungle and laced with wilderness trails that provide the explorer with a variety of experiences; from a weekend of camping in the open, to a day of mountain climbing, or a few hours of hiking.


Words and Photography: David Blacker


On a map, the Dolosbage mountain range looks like a stunted ‘Y', its body and each arm made up of ridges. The two arms reach out to the northwest and northeast respectively, and each is dominated by the range's two highest mountains. Kabaragala, to the northeast, is the tallest at 1,506m. The body of the ‘Y' shape is lower and falls away to the south.


On the northwest ridge is an odd-shaped peak, the second-highest of the range, 1,438m high, that goes by several names, depending on whom you ask. Google maps calls it Kinihira Kanda, but it is its unusual shape, almost like a mesa, that has created its more memorable titles. Survey Department ordnance maps mark it as Sentry Box East, no doubt named by unimaginative British soldiers who thought it looked like a guardhouse. By area residents it is often called Vangediai Molgaha Kanda; resembling, at certain angles, the large mortar and pestle used in Sri Lankan kitchens.


From a distance, this hard caprock summit looks like an ancient fortress, built to dominate its surroundings, and it is this shape that has given the mountain its most lyrical title - Rakshagala, the "Rock of the Rakshasas". It is believed to have once been a stronghold of Ravana, the mythical Raksha king of the island who, in the Ramayana epic, kidnapped Sita, the wife of Rama. Legend claims that Ravana first hid Sita at Rakshagala, and that a bed of gold still lies hidden somewhere on the mountain.


The two ridges of the range shelter, within their arms, a broad valley. Thick with jungle on its upper slopes, and carpeted with the bushes of the Raxawa tea estate further down, this valley overlooks a magnificent vista of rolling hills that is the Ganga Ihala Korale, bisected by the Maha Oya, and stretching as far as the Ambuluwewa Mountain, close to Gampola.

It is this shape that has given the mountain its most lyrical title – Rakshagala, the “Rock of the Rakshasas”.


To enter into this area, it is best to approach from Nawalapitiya in the east. Near Dolosbage, a narrow blacktop road climbs steeply to the tea estates. It is best to leave your vehicle here and continue further on foot.


Above the cluster of plantation buildings, the road continues winding up through the tea bushes. Except for the steepness of the climb, this part is easy going on a surfaced road, the wild heights of Kabaragala and Rakshagala towering impressively ahead. The scenery below is spectacular. In the mornings, pure white mist shines like snow in the distant valleys, catching and reflecting the rising sun, which transforms every dew-weighted tea leaf by the road into an emerald.


Beyond the last ‘line houses' of the plantation workers, the road becomes a rough jeep track, several of these forking away towards Kabaragala and Rakshagala, and from here the going gets tougher. But the view is unceasing, and one often wishes to climb backwards, unwilling to turn away from its splendour.


The area is veined with streams flowing down from the heights and, for anyone planning to camp out, water is fairly plentiful though not always close to the best camping spots. Several of these camping spots are on little clearings on the very edge of the mountain, and day or night, a tent on the Dolosbage mountains must be the best room with a view imaginable.


If a relatively energetic walk is all one has in mind, a few hours hiking these jeep tracks are perfect. The trails that had been winding up the slopes turn and parallel the ridgeline. Beyond is dense, seemingly impenetrable jungle, shrouding both mountains until the clinging foliage eventually loses its grip, and Kabaragala and Rakshagala rise sheer and stony above the forest canopy. The flat top of Rakshagala, however, has its own jungle, floating like an isolated green island, cut off from the outside by the vertical cliffs, like a lost world.


For anyone attempting to explore further, it means forging into this green curtain and following narrow, barely discernible jungle trails up the steep slopes of the ridge. The route to the summit of Kabaragala is marginally easier, the trail from the Craigshead tea estate being longer, but not as steep and following the ridgeline southeast to the summit. There is, however, no easy way to the top of Rakshagala. It is simply a 150m climb straight up the jungle-covered northeast face of the mountain to the walls of Ravana's fortress.


Choose dry weather for this attempt. During the rains, the jungle is crawling with leeches, and anti-leech gaiters or pants are essential. The climb is steep, often on hands and knees, physically pushing through the thick undergrowth, and rain makes this near impossible, as the trails become slick with mud.


If you make it up into that lost world at the top, perhaps Sita's golden bed awaits and a long afternoon siesta.

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    While still broad, the trail gets steeper below Rakshagala

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    The sheer summit of Rakshagala suggests why it is called Sentry Box East on ordnance maps

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    Light creeps through the shady trail

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    A panoramic view of Raxawa Tea Estate in the Dolosbage Mountains

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    Looking northeast, the Ambuluwewa Mountain, with its distinctive tower, as seen from below Rakshagala

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