Climbing Bible Rock. And a Full Moon Campout
Pre departure plans were somewhat skewed. Ashan Seneviratne, the man behind Little Adventures was trying his utmost to get us to focus on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of the upcoming climb. We seem to be more interested in what comes next…celebrations atop the rock. Is there ice? Who’s bringing the vodka? Wet wipes? Bites? Oh…what about leeches?
I’m nervous as hell. I have decided to join nine others to climb to the very top of the Bible Rock for a Full Moon Campout. I have seen this rock standing tall, like an unread tome, and obliviously indifferent to everything and everyone. I never thought that I would get the chance to climb it. But today is the day. I have decided to put aside my worries and just YOLO it.
I meet my fellow climbers, for the first time at a restaurant at Ambanpitiya, en route to the Rock. However, we have all formed a kinship over a weeklong WhatsApp chat. A quick lunch, a de-briefing and we are off to the base of the Rock. But before that, we make a quick stop to take a photograph with the Rock in the background.
At 4:00 p.m. we reach Base Camp 2 (which is basically at the foot of the Rock), park our vehicles and prepare for the climb. I have packed light: a sleeping bag, change of clothes, toothbrush and paste, and a water bottle. I have been assured of a tent at the top.
The climb is steep, craggy and tiring. The ground is covered in fallen dried leaves and it is hard to see loose rocks and stones. Every step is a cautious one. We are spared the blazing sun because of the thick forest cover. But Ashan has the climb well paced and there is no race to the top. Finally, after almost 75 minutes of sweating profusely, panting desperately and hydrating constantly I can see the last stretch of the climb. Most of the others have already reached the top. Someone yells, “I made it!” And before long, I make it too and I am standing at the summit of this Rock.
The Bathalegala, or Bible Rock is 800 meters or 2000 feet above sea level. From afar, it looks like a closed book, and thus named after the Bible during colonial times. During the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Kandyan Kingdom was under threat from the Portuguese, the locals set up a chain of watchtowers on the most visible mountain peaks in the area. Bathalegala was the first such watch point with a clear view of the Kegalle valley and the Kadugannawa Pass below. At the sight of invaders, a bonfire was lit at the peak, which created a chain of bonfires at subsequent peaks ending at the Bahirawakanda, the hill closest to Kandy.
Another piece of trivia about this Rock is that it is directly under the world’s Magnetic Field Line, which is why it is prone to lighting strikes. According to villagers, lighting can strike the top of this Rock at least a dozen times a day and people are advised to stay away during heavy rain.
The top of the Rock is flat, long and narrow. The sides are unprotected and dangerously precipitous. Most of it is covered in tall ‘manna’ grass. However, the panoramic view from here is stunning. From the northeast corner, I can see the Knuckles Range snaking its way across the land below. The Ambuluwawa Peak is on the southeast side with the Uthuwankanda, Devanagalakanda and even Urakanda surrounding this Rock.
The evening draws nigh and the stars in the sky seem almost a fingertip away. The lights of the houses across the land below us begin to flicker on and off. Fireflies light up around us to attract their mates, adding to the ambiance. The night is crisp and cold, yet absolutely enchanting. And finally, the full moon slowly climbs up high into the dark night. We gather on the flat rock on the North end. A friendly chatter, campfire stories, sips of vodka and wine, a potful of mixed noodles and roasted marshmallows completes our day.
Back in the tent, sleep comes easy as the sounds of the night creatures lull me to sleep. My alarm wakes me up at the 5:30 am and I stumble out of the tent to catch the first rays of the morning sun. What an amazing sight as the world lights up once more.
After a delicious breakfast served on a makeshift woven table we explore the south side of the Rock, which has the remains of an old forest retreat used by reclusive monks. There is an abandoned cave under a massive overhanging rock and a temple bell, that each of us dutifully rang on the way through.
The climb downhill is more tedious and there were plenty of times when I stumbled on rocks and roots. Back at Base Camp, each of us (I’m sure) feels good about the climb and our achievement. It was worth the climb and was certainly a great way to spend a weekend.