Kataragama Pada Yatra
Foot Pilgrimage Sri Lanka
The traditional Pada Yatra, a foot pilgrimage that is happening for 2 months from Jaffna to Kataragama held annually, May to July. It is a traditional procession of village devotees who represent the rural voice of Sri Lanka. This is not another political or any NGO rally at all, which I have misunderstood earlier.
Yatra (Voyage) tradition is an essential part of Lanka’s multi-cultural ethos. The pada Yatra begins with pilgrims moving from one sacred site to another, with their members growing as the Yatra progresses. Over 30,000 pilgrims walked the final leg through Yala National Park in 2019
Actually, we couldn’t cover the whole distance hence we joined it from Okanda. From there It is usually 4-5 days journey around 100kms, here is my story about how we nailed it within 3 days.
( Day 01 - 22km )
Kataragama Pada Yatra
Colombo to Kuda Kabilittha via Okanda
5th July 2019
2220hrs – We were lucky enough to grab the last & the least 3 unoccupied seats from the last bus for the day to Panama. After 8 hours ride, we reached Panama by 0620hrs in the morning with various kinds of back pains. Our bus fare was 950LKR pp & I think that is fair enough for the ride from the West most corner to the East most corner of Sri Lanka in an air-conditioned bus.
We walked around & bought some short eats (Vegetable rotties & few parata rotties), long enough hard polyester roll to use as our camping mat. Then we were searching for a ride because we have to travel another 14kms to reach Oknda Murugan Kovil (entrance). By chance, a kind safari cab driver shared his empty ride to Okanda for 500LKR. If not, it would cost around 3000LKR.
0730hrs – We jumped off from our ride & had a quick bath from one of the Aandiya wells nearby the Kovil. At that time there were around 1000 pilgrimages gathered around the Kovil to begin the journey. We also participate the morning chanting & observe the blessings from the God Kataragama for a safe journey. There were few colorful kolam (artworks on the floor) as well.
Okanda Murugan Kovil Entrance & their morning chanting
0815hrs – After taking a token from the entrance we began our journey. The token is only for the counting purpose. Sri Lanka Army is there to help you out in any circumstance to assure a safe journey. A pack of deer welcomed us within our first kilometer by crossing our path. Unfortunately, I forgot my memory chip and it was a sad beginning for me. All the snaps were taken by my Samsung Galaxy note 8 & Gopro hero 5. My Sony alpha buddy was hanging around me without her memory chip until the end of our trek.
Pada Yatra can be extremely challenging, both mentally & physically due to too high temperature & dehydration. The path terrain with long valleys (no shade from the sun), water crossings as well as dry zones.
Therefore, it is important to prepare yourself well enough for the critical conditions. The importance of constant hydration & taking enough salt to keep the cramps away are key factors to make your journey enjoyable.
Our first stop, around 0830hrs
0845hrs – we reached the Giant Hearth Stone (Yoda Lipa) where 3 giant rocks situated as a hearth stones across the road
0900hrs – First few miles until we pass the Kumana turtle Conservation Centre entrance it was shady & not very crowded. We only found 2 groups of people until there.
Giant Hearth stone (Yoda Lipa)
Join with a group or someone who has done the trek before. Their experience will help you to navigate through the rough terrain. I was not well experienced though because I am not familiar with dry zone treks hence this is my first one too. Asanka & Pasindu, my partners have already experienced the trail last year. I was like the annoying buddy for them, asking tons of questions to deduct my curiosity was the best part for me but not for them.
As your footwear you can take out pair of Shoes & Socks. As a backup a pair of Slippers might be desirable. Do not wear new shoes. It will cut your legs and make the rest of the journey hard as my friend Pasindu faced. You might require to take off your shoes when crossing rivers & lakes. Some legends like me 😉 tend to wear slippers throughout the journey since it is easy to take them off. But I was suffering from the burning throughout the day.
Food & Water
At-least 3 water bottles (3L) one for Jeewani (energy drink) & two for drinking water.
There are water points along the track to fill your bottles. But there were times that we ran out of water because of the massive sun burns. If you are a foreigner, it is advisable to use water purification tablets. I highly recommend jeewani (local drinking powder which can mix with water), the life saver which helps us a lot along the journey.
Enough food & clothes, not too much but not too less is preferable. Because you have to carry them until the end of the journey. I was managed to survive with 2 sets of clothing. Each day you will be able to wash your clothes & dry it before the next morning. Since you have to carry a backpack between 15-20kgs across 4 days.
We stepped into the Medical Camp in Babure Camping Site to take some bandages.
0945hrs – So we stepped another 45mins & a half to take a rest. After that we crossed our first lake & walked along the bank to reach Babura camping site.
1030hrs – It was fully occupied & crowded around the lake. Most of the pilgrimages stop there to prepare their lunch while take some rest. The rising noon sun slow down our trek little by little.
Don’t forget to bring your shades, fully covered hat (mask) & to wear a long sleeves t-shirt. It was like burning to ashes when I realized the value of them. Btw I covered my head with a t-shirt & that helped me to protect my glorious head.
1100hrs – Another break on the bank of an Alligator tank. After crossing another lake, we laid under a huge shady tree on the river bank. While looking into the waves we could count around 15 alligators mocking the muddy water here & there.
1200hrs – Trekked another 7-8 kilometers ahead & reach our lunch preparing spot as my colleges planned. It was nearby a lake. A water tank & two tamarind trees were there. We tasted the fresh tamarind before our lunch & lay down there for 30 minutes like dead. We were the only people who cooked there at that time.
1300hrs – We were like hangover after our quick nap. I think you can imagine the situation under a fully burning sun in Summer. Dhal & soya curry filled our bellies and force us into another 30 minutes rest. We ideally spent 3 & half hours there under shadows to avoid the mighty sun to be frank.
1430hrs – Left the lunch taken area & trek over an hour to reach the bird watching tower. It is situated nearby a lagoon & thousands of birds were there for food & rest. Most of them were migratory wild birds. We were treated there by a young Tamil group & we also treated them back with some biscuits. We have to walk another 8 kilometers from there to our camping site (Kuda Kabilittha). Without taking any extra time we left there to reach Kuda Kabilittha because the rest is an elephant crossing area. Luckily we didn’t find any wild elephant there.
1635hrs – It was fully crowded under the Kumbuk trees around Kumbukkan Oya (river), Madame Thota (මඩමෙ තොට). We laid down our mat & waited until the sun set, Another kind family nearby treated us with sweet rice, a rice made by adding sugar, hakuru & lotus seeds (හකුරු සහ නෙලුම් අල). After enjoying the meal we took a bath around 1800hrs. It was pleasure to floating on the water & watching the sunset over the Kumana sky.
The group we met nearby the bird watching tower invited us to join them to have dinner & that was a kind invitation which we couldn’t reject. They were camping nearby us too. We took our dinner sharing our experiences & life stories. It was glad to realized that two of them were Sinhalese & one was my Instagram follower with a great photography maniac. That is the mentality we need to build within religions, to respect each other
Our shelter, where we spent our night & the dinner which we swallowed
1730hrs – Have you ever felt the taste of curd, mango & sugar mixed together with rice? (අඹ, සීනි, මීකිරි) We were also suppressed at a glance. The method is to mix them all & eat them together. As they told us the main reason behind this meal is nutrition. However, it was an unforgettable night for us with that amazing rice.
So, we made our mat a comfortable zone & call it a day
( Day 02 - 30km )
Kataragama Pada Yatra
Kuda Kabilittha to Kumbukkana
We Began the day by worshiping Kuda Kabilittha kovil
0640hrs – By worshipping Kuda Kabilittha kovil, we began the journey. After crossing Manik ganga we entered Yala Block II. Until 0830hrs we didn’t halt ourselves. We planned to cover 4 days journey within 3 days. Within our second day we must cover 2 days journey to accomplish. So we covered most of it in the morning hours to escape the burning sunduring noon. Until 1000hrs we drag the journey without jeewani & halt to refresh beside a lake. That was the final lake we found before Lin Thuna ලිo තුන (3 wells) camping site, Navaladi. We passed that lake & crossed another lake. By the time the water level was around our waist.
First of all we have to cross Manik ganga & some other lakes later on
1110hrs – We were so dull when we reached Lin Thuna because the sun was directing above our shoulders. We were served by herbal tea and 2 loaves of bread. That herbal tea was an ideal refreshment for the pada yatra which was prepared by an ayurvedic doctor using 40+ herbal plants. We were fully freshened up with the help of that tea and spent so we spent another 40 minutes near the 3 wells. A Medical camp which was done from an NGO is also situated in this place to help out with our medical needs.
One well from the three wells (Lin thuna) & that magical tea which energized at Navaladi
Lunch at Dansela
1600hrs – Until 1600hrs we walked along to take our lunch from the Dansela (where food is distributed free of charge). This is conducted annually by Sri Dalanda Maligawa. (The Temple of the Tooth Relic Kandy) Since we were getting only 4 breaks before the lunch while we were trekking. I just filled my belly by serving twice, but that was not enough at all by that time.
Dansela by Sri Dalanda Maligawa Kandy & our lunch
1655 – We left there heading towards our camping site Manik river bank. At 1730hrs we were able to reach there. We could smell the human poopy smell before miles we reached there. (no proper toilet facilities) There were around 2000 people gathered beside the river bank. It was amazed to see some teenagers were playing volleyball on the river inside a properly built volleyball court. Even some groups were caring their portable solar panels with them. We chose a relaxing place on the river to stretch our legs. The magical view of the sunset was the best painkiller for us.
Lay down on the camping site Kumbukkana
We spent another hour memorizing our journey throughout the day, then had our bath & refreshed ourselves. Just as our previous night today also we were treated by another family with soya curry & rice. That was more than enough to fill our starving bellies. We counted 13 falling stars (satellites) on the sky while we were chatting on our mat staring at the night sky. Some groups were singing throughout the night. We closed our eyes while listening to their songs and that was my first ever camping night on a river with house full of memories.
(Day 03 - 28km)
Kataragama Pada Yatra
Kumbukkana to Kataragama
07th July 2019
06.00hrs – Woke up & enjoyed the sunrise for a while. That was an unforgettable because the first ever morning I woke up on a doughty river. As the day 2, we received our morning tea from the neighboring family who shared their dinner with us on the previous day. We offered them back some food as a thanks giving. Each & everyone were really kind & helpful while this pilgrimage. Mouth full of smile helped us to forget our tired for a while.
Pada Yatra Day 03 – Morning Tea & We found an ant hill where people used to worship
0700hrs – We began to come back to the track & half of the campers were already left the site at that moment. We have to walk along the river & it was well shaded. We walked as much as we can quickly like hungry dogs, even without drinking a drop of water. Then took our first halt at 0820hrs. While walking towards Warahana we didn’t forget to enjoy the serene beauty of the Manik river.
0855hrs – Reached Warahana camp & until that we didn’t find out any water refilling point. There was a long queue & we decided to move forward. Continue until next water refilling point was the best option we had to choose.
Warahana Camping Site – In the border of Uva & Southern Province
0927hrs – Reached Warahana Wala & that was the first water drop we enjoyed for the day. We spent over 30 minutes there sharing our experience with a soldier we met. Even it was difficult to find a shelter there. We left around 1000hrs & the rising sun beat us well.
11.40hrs – Manage to reach Yala block III entrance after 1hr & 40 minutes. Even the water couldn’t provide us a refreshment. We continued our walk along the gravel road through Katagamuwa sanctuary on Sithulpauwa road towards Kochchipatana (7 km from Katagamuwa entrance).
12.10hrs – The sun was on top of our heads & it was very difficult to walk through. So we decided to lay down for a while & rest another 30 minutes nearby a lake to escape the sun.
On the way – This family offered us a tea break
1250hrs – Left there & reached Katagamuwa entrance by 1330hrs. There was another dansela (free food offering place) there but we didn’t stop to take our lunch. But the 60LKR ice-cream helped us to forget our hunger for a while & we continued the journey because we had to walk another 12 kilometers to reach Kataragama town (Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya)
1400hrs – We filled our bellies with watermelon after trekking another few kilometers. To be frank that was a massive boost for us. After that the road was laid through the villages. There were lots of places to rest & have a decent meal.
1420hrs – We reached the biggest 24/7 dansela (free food) along the journey & had our lunch. This one is held annually for over 3 weeks continuously by Wikramaratne group of companies. We filled our hungry bellies there & began the journey after 30 minutes. On our way back from there we found another 2 dansals, cool drinks & tea which was provided by some villagers & by a temple.
1645hrs – We proudly reached Kataragama around two hours of walking after getting lunch. I couldn’t feel my legs at that time & it still vibrates when I flashback that moment until today.
Kataragama Manik River
1700hrs – We jumped into the fully crowded Manik ganga to cool down ourselves. It was a perahera day & all the pilgrimages were busy to capture a perfect location to see the perahera after bath.
1800hrs – We worshiped the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya & came out from there before the perahera began. We had to catch a Colombo bus to make our way back home. After taking a quick snack we got into a bus around 1845hrs. We call it a day by stretching our legs & close the eyes with a pocket full of unforgettable memories.
Entrance – Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya
Well, who is going to join with me next year? Let me know in the comments below, & don’t forget to share my tips with your friends, family & fellow travelers!
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Long live travelers…. Cheers !