06 February 2015

The magic of the road less-traveled

This is the nineteenth article in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children. Adults consider yourselves warned...you might re-discover a child within you! Scroll down for other articles in this series. 

Horton Plains is a popular place to visit during the Nuwara Eliya Season.  There are many ways to get there.  If you are going in a vehicle, you could go through Ohiya or Pattipola.  If you take the train you can get off at either place too.  You can take the long, winding roads right up to the plains, enjoying the splendid views (especially if you start climbing from Pattipola).  There’s another route.  You can get off at Ohiya, walk along the track towards Pattipola until you reach a tunnel.  On your left, just before you get to the entrance of the tunnel, there’s a small footpath leading up the hill.  It’s a short-cut that takes you through the jungle but gets you to your destination much faster.

You see different things.  You might encounter more birdlife and you might even see a hali-vandura or bear-monkey.  You might slip if there’s been rain, you might fall, but you’ll be ok for the most part.  Once you reach the plateau, you can rest by a stream, dip your feet in the ice cold water, bask in the young sun and when you’ve recharged your batteries, can take a quiet stroll towards Farr Inn and the office of the Wild Life Department.  

Most people who go to Horton Plains know of and go to see ‘World’s End’ and ‘Baker’s Falls’.  They are both worth a visit of course.  There are other things to see in Horton Plains. You could climb up Kirigalpotta or Thotupola Kanda.  You could follow the stream you’ll find about 100m on the road to World’s End and it will take you through some lovely pools to the top of Baker’s Falls. If you are brave you can actually climb down the falls.  Similarly, you can either take the path from World’s End to Baker’s Falls or cut across to the left when you see a stream and climb up.  It will take you to Baker’s Falls from the opposite direction.  These detours will yield as much or more magic perhaps because they are les known and therefore less traveled. 

You don’t have to go to Ohiya or Pattipola to test this less-travelled-road theory.   It happens sometimes when we get lost.  It can happen inside a school too, when you are still new to the place.  A wrong turn and you suddenly find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings.  It might scare you a bit, but if you tell yourself, ‘I might as well explore,’ you’ll be fine and might even end up happy that you got lost in the first place. 

In Colombo, for example, there are more than 500 areas designated as areas where ‘low income communities’ lives.  That’s a polite way of saying ‘slums and shanties’.  People live in these places. They too have their ups and downs, joys and sorrows, reasons to smile and tears they can’t stop from welling in their eyes.  Each individual living in these communities is a ‘by road’ you can easily choose not to explore. 

Every novel that is not prescribed in your Sinhala, Tamil or English syllabus is a by-road.  Every single time you stop reacting fast to something that someone says and ask yourself what made him or her say it, you are talking on one of these by-roads. 

You won’t always hear unfamiliar birdsong.  You might never encounter a bear-monkey.  Still, years later, you might think to yourself that there is something beautiful and timeless in the words of the much celebrated poet Robert Frost:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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