07-Apr-2007 -- After our successful first visit to 8N 80E we had hoped to get another 'Confluence first' at 7N 81E, which lies in the Sri Lankan highlands not far from the popular tourist destination of Ella. This town is beautifully situated at the beginning of the 'Ella Gap' - a fine valley that extends all the way south onto Sri Lanka's coastal plains - and (according to the Ramayana) is where the demon king Rawana held Sita captive hidden away in a cave.
On Confluence Day, we first drove out (via Hali Ela and Ketawela) to the Bogoda Bridge - an unusual roofed bridge on the pilgrimage route from Mahiyangana to the Dowa Temple near Ella. There has been a bridge here since the twelfth century, although the present structure dates from around 1700. The bridge is just under a kilometre away from the point, and after sitting by the Galanda Oya river for a while, we returned to a small village that is situated just 600 m away from the target. Some small shops stand by a track that takes you roughly off in the direction of the point. At about 350 m away, we descended through some woodland into a valley of lush green paddy fields, and walked along a low irrigation wall until we could get no further at about 200 m from the point. We then had to climb again: a steep trudge up through thinly tracked woodland. At the top of this hill we were amused to see a (driveable) road that goes within 75 m of 7N 81E! But it's far better to take the beautiful scenic route through the woods and paddy fields in our opinion.
At this point, we met a local farmer and his wife at their house near the road. He accompanied us on the (very) steep slide down another hillside in the direction of the point. We emerged at yet another set of gorgeous paddy fields that are only a few metres away from 7N 81E, and walked along the track until reaching the slope upon which the CP lies. Claire opted to sit and read in the peaceful paddy field 25 m from the point whilst I carried out the quick scramble to finish the job. The area immediately around 7N 81E is surrounded by trees, and consists of freshly planted crops in fine soil. To the South, down the slope and just out of shot, is the bright green paddy field. Unfortunately, the fluctuating GPS accuracy made it impossible to get a set of all zeros to stay long enough on the screen for a photograph. Readers will have to take it on trust that we really did get bang on the nose, albeit briefly!
The walk back was just as pleasant, apart perhaps from a steep slide down yet another wooded hillside, and we watched local boys climbing into the heights of the coconut trees. But whilst we sat and took a last look at the paddy fields near the car, Claire had the rather nasty surprise of finding leeches in her shoes that had burst and washed her sock in blood. Lovely. After stopping to buy a coconut at the shop by the car, we carried on to the nearby Dunhinda Falls - one of Sri Lanka's most voluminous waterfalls - before returning to our guesthouse at Ella, shattered but happy.
After we made this visit, we found that we had been scooped by the Yip-Bannicq Group, who were the first to successfully reach this point. in late February, and whose report had just appeared on the DCP website. Well done to them! Although both groups made it to the point, it seems that we took different routes (theirs was more direct, I think), and we met a different set of confluence point 'owners' to them. Clearly the area is full of beautiful walks, and I'd recommend for anyone staying in the area to come this way, see the Bogoda Bridge, and have a trek around 7N 81E.
The story continues at 7N 80E.
: Phil Boyle and Claire Halperin work at the British Embassies in Ṣan`ā' and Cairo, respectively. This visit to Sri Lanka is the first confluence foray outside of Yemen for both of them.