The thin man in shorts and bare feet walked swiftly on the nearly invisible beaten track through fields of six-feet tall grass. Sometimes, he would stop and look back to check if we were falling behind and wait for us to catch up.
I was getting apprehensive. There was not a soul around other than this guy who called himself Warnasooriya, me and my travel buddy, TGS. What if he was some kind of goon?
My friend and I were at a place called Ella in the middle of Sri Lanka and we were heading to the top of a hill known as Ella Rock.
We had walked quite a few kilometres along the track from Ella railway station and I was a little confused whether to call it a railway track or a highway for walkers. Yes, there was a little signboard somewhere along the tracks that said: “Trespassers on the railway will be prosecuted”. But no one took it seriously. Local residents used it like a regular thoroughfare.
We had consulted guidebooks and asked local people and figured the tracks were the best way to get to Ella Rock. So, we’d headed out in the drizzle with TGS using an umbrella and me, a windcheater that doubled as a raincoat.
The walk was beautiful amid the deep green vegetation all around us but we were always on guard since a train could emerge out of the next bend any moment! We walked for a long time and when we asked this guy where Ella Rock was, he said we’d missed the place when we had to turn left. Damn!
He signalled us to follow him (he didn’t speak much English). So we did. Along the way, once when there was a train coming and we were waiting by the tracks for it to pass, a lot of leeches got onto us. While TGS discovered around three on her feet, I pulled out three more from mine.
The guy said his name was Warnasooriya and that he was a farmer. We followed him through narrow roads by huts, over a little bridge and through the super-high grass.
Now, I was a bit unsure whether to keep following the guy or not. What if he was a crook? What if he led us to a gang of outlaws in the middle of the forest and asked ransom from our families?
Then I thought I was probably thinking too much. My travels have taught me that most people are not essentially bad. In various places, people who met me for the first time and didn’t know anything about me had given me their house keys so that I could get in and out at my convenience. I had done that as well. Till then, I hadn’t had a bad experience. But then I remembered what happened to Saif Ali Khan’s character in Goa in the movie Dil Chahta Hai. What if something happened to me this time? There was always a first for everything!
While I was deep in such thoughts, I saw two people with backpacks coming from the opposite direction. Phew! So, we were on the right track.
We went ahead towards Ella Rock and boy, was it a steep climb! We sent Warnasooriya back and decided to go ahead by ourselves. TGS had some breathing trouble and she decided not to walk up further and wait while I went up and came back.
I reached the top of Ella Rock panting like a dog but feeling really good. The view was good but with the drizzle, it was a little hazy.
When we walked back to the railway tracks, we realised Warnasooriya had just taken us through a different route. If we had walked right ahead for five minutes instead of turning back with Warnasooriya, we would have found the bend all tourists took.
But it wouldn’t have been that adventurous then, would it?