A group of medical undergraduates walked in single-file with their arms lifted above in ‘surrender’ fashion to avoid the inexorable cuts and bruises by shoulder-high manna and prickly grass. Below, spread a thick canopy of trees as far as the eye could see with numerous shades of green.

We had reached the summit of the Hantana mountain range off Kandy, which is among the more popular treks in Sri Lanka for the adventure-traveler. It entailed back-tracking — climbing to the peak and returning the same way; not ah end-to-end-trail, which meant starting off from one side of the mountain and ending the trek on the other.

That’s the normal route but there are others, some not very easy to climb like the trail at the back of the Hantana Shooting Club… the route we took.

Driving up the Hantana road near the Kandy Hospital, one passes several lodges, guest houses and a few boutique hotels until reaching the Tea Museum.

Joined by our guide Anthony, we drove through a tea estate on bumpy roads more suited for a four-wheeler until we reached the Shooting Club. This was the middle-path to the peak, climbing through grass that was so thick and tall that only a few steps could be seen ahead. “This is rarely used except when there are special hiking groups,” said Anthony as he cut a path with a machete.

Panting and short of breath with numerous cuts, we clambered on all fours at times, to reach the summit in 90 minutes, as against the slower three-hour trek on the usual trail.

Don’t, however, attempt this route unless accompanied by a guide. Pile, who has grown up in the Knuckles range and runs his own adventure company offering trekking and other eco-tourism activities, said when he takes a group, the climbers are assisted by ropes and if older, a harness (seat).

The reddish droppings of the deadly Russell’s viper (polonga), while passing rows of pinus trees and tackling slippery slopes, brought to mind the dangers that lie hidden in this wild terrain.

The climb, however, was worth every arduous step of the way. At the jungle path into the plains at one point, the mist was heavy, visibility almost non-existent. The guide was reluctant to proceed, fearing we would lose our way.

We returned to our original ‘arrival’ location and found some university students still trekking in pursuit of their friends. We were the only ones on the mountain.

The steep downward path was more difficult than the climb to the top. Sliding down the mountain (slowly and carefully, however) in a few places akin to a mat slide at times seemed the wisest thing to do as the leaves, particularly from pinus trees, were wet and slippery and getting a foot-grip was not easy.

For hikers a good pair of walking shoes is essential. Also useful is a cap, repellent (citronella oil or local balm Siddalepa to ward off leeches), torch, pen knife, binoculars, camera, enough drinking water and a personal medical kit. A rain coat or jacket is useful in case it rains.

A walking stick helps to gain leverage in some places — as we discovered — particularly climbing a slippery hillock.

There are plenty of birds, some 740 varieties, which include Crimson-fronted Barbet, Brahminy Kite and the White-throated Kingfisher some of which could be seen.

We came across barking deer and a hare at the foot of the Uragala mountain range but didn’t see any leopards. Naturalists say there are ‘about 15-16 leopards, which have been spotted in the vicinity of the mountains.

Leeches are aplenty, specially emerging from the undergrowth on wet days. Fortunately, I had tucked the pant-legs of the corduroy trousers into the socks before trekking up the mountain. Rubbing citronella oil or balm (Siddalepa) helps keep the leeches at a distance.

Those who were wearing three-quarters or shorts and sneakers sans socks were easy pickings for these blood-thirsty creatures.

Down at the Shooting Range, we headed by jeep to the cave at the bottom of the Uragala mountain range driving through rugged tea country roads. Earlier we couldn’t reach this cave on the public trail due to visibility reasons.

The Uragala peaks are almost a replica of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, USA. One Uragala peak has a sculptured-like face called “The Phantom’s face.”

It was almost five in the evening and we climbed a short distance from where the jeep was halted to the cave which has a concreted opening. The cave was big enough to accommodate many people but the droppings indicate the inhabitants as hordes of bats, as the dappled rays of the sun make an attempt to light up the dim interior.

The far-end of the cave was about 10­15 metres away. The interior is cold and makes one shiver, with the murmur of a stream underneath adding to the eerie experience. With no light at hand to dispel the gloom, we were unable to capture a good picture of the interior. With night throwing its dark mantle over the area, the trek was over for us, but not the memories. Back in Colombo from Hantana, the healing cuts and bruises on the arms and hands and the creaking knees were a reminder of an out-of-this­world experience. Well worth for any mountain or nature lover or wild-life enthusiast.