By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Located in Ginigathhena, standing at 322 feet, Aberdeen falls is ranked the 18th highest waterfall in the island. It’s a horsetail type of a waterfall which essentially means the descending water maintains contact with the bedrock most of the time.
The waterfall does not appear too frequently on must-visit lists, considering the fact that it’s an off-the-beaten-path destination. Despite being one of the more picturesque locations, it’s still quite secluded, cloaked in a framing of high rock clusters that protects it from the outside world.
The dry season is the perfect time to visit the falls as there is less danger of quicksand and the fall is relatively mellow with the water currents being almost non-existent.
However, although it could be dangerous and near-impossible to actually get in the water during the rainy season, there is a visitors’ terrace built quite close to the waterfall for visitors to observe it from a safe distance.
Considering that rainfall isn’t too heavy this time of the year, we chose our destination and set out in search of Aberdeen falls.
From trains to treks
There are multiple ways to get to Ginigathena, but the cheapest mode of transport is easily the train, and so we made a few phone calls to the two train stations – Nawalapitiya Train Station located before the fall and Watawala Train Station located right after it. We were informed that the usual practice is to get down in Watawala – which would cost Rs. 310 – if our only goal was to visit the waterfall because the Watalwala Train Station is absolutely beautiful. The trek isn’t too bad from there too. And if you do not wish to take chances at getting seats, we suggest making reservations well ahead. Reservations are easy to make – simply go to room 17 at the Fort Station and make payments at the counter and you’re good to go.
We got on to the 5.55 a.m. express train. Having been too late to actually make reservations for seats, we resigned to stand throughout the journey. But kindness of strangers is a real thing in Sri Lanka; as the journey progressed, we were offered to share seats and eventually managed to get ourselves comfortable seating arrangements all the way to the end.
When we were inquiring into our journey past the train station, we were informed that for about Rs. 2,000, we could easily get dropped off in a tuk at Norton Junction to catch the bus leading up to the entrance to the waterfall, yet we were also enlightened to the option of simply walking down the path and trying our luck at catching one of the buses that passed by every hour or so. Choosing the more economical option, we decided to make our way down the Watawala station road by foot.
Beauty worth the journey
Little did we know that the walk would take us over three hours down a steep hill with buses going past at light speed, having no interest in stopping for roadside stragglers. Thankfully, lady luck was on our side as about an hour into our miserable descent down the hill, a sweet young couple in a van with their three children offered to drop us off at Norton Junction.
Thanking our lucky stars, we managed to cut our potentially three-hour journey into a 30-minute van ride and we started yet another hike – this time, a 2.5 km walk down the path leading up to the entrance to the waterfall. Once again, we managed to catch a tuk tuk for about Rs. 200 and the tuk uncle agreed to pick us up once we were done and drop us off at the bus stand.
Finally, we were at the entrance, but the journey had barely begun because we soon learned why the waterfall is very rarely visited – it’s all because of the steps of doom. The few hundred steps leading down are built close together and slightly slanted in a way that makes the descent a little tough on the knees, leaving you dreading the climb back up. Regardless, considering how far we’ve made, we started to climb down.
Despite all of our complaining, the moment the waterfall came into our view, everything felt absolutely worth it. Aberdeen falls is gorgeous from afar and even more beautiful as you make your way closer. During the dry season, the sand hardens enough for you to walk all the way up to the fall in only knee-deep water. Without a single soul in sight, we had the entire place to ourselves.
The way back up was taxing. Having played around in the sun for hours, it was difficult, but we made it back and there’s a house just opposite the beginning of the steps. The owner offers water and a place to sit and rest for those who make the trek.
We soon gave up all pretence of waiting for the bus and called our new friend – the tuk uncle – who arrived soon enough and dropped us off at the bus station for just Rs. 200, and we took the last bus to Awissawella which came right on time at 4.15 p.m.
Getting a three-wheeler is of no concern as the man who owns the house near the steps has a three-wheeler of his own, and there are others who park there to transport people who come to see the waterfall. There’s also a bus that drives past every hour until four in the evening.
When we first set out to go on the trip, our biggest concern was the budget: How much is this going to cost us? So we took clear precautions to prevent any unnecessary expenses, and when it was all done, we had spent exactly Rs. 720 each. However, we must mention that purchasing food was at a minimum; we mostly had tea and isso wade in the train, and the rest was brought from home.
At the end of the day, with minimal planning and a minuscule budget, we managed to tick something special and rare off of our bucket list. It was exhausting, and at times frustrating due to the lack of indicators and availability of transport. Yet, this was all part of the experience. Sri Lanka is simply beautiful. Along the way, despite our end goal being to witness Aberdeen falls, we would’ve been just as satisfied having witnessed the beauty of Watawala and the forestry that surrounded us. It’s really never too late to travel and see a bit of the island. You can do it in a day and with whatever you have – like us, you can start small.