Surungamuni Point – Hells Gate in Haputale
It is a good idea before starting out on the walk to buy some provisions in the Haputale town and hire a tuk tuk (three wheel taxi) to take you to the Greenfield estate. Get your driver to ask at the main gate for the Greenfield Estate manager to get permission to go to this site and also see if they can kindly organize a guide as it’s easy to get lost. Also make sure you have plenty of water, as there are no places to stop and buy anything or even places for villagers to take pity on you along the way.
Hurdling cries from the obsessed Hindu pusari (holy man) left cold chills running down my spine and a Tamil tea picker seeing my alarm said, ‘don’t worry our holy man is possessed by a god’, something that happens yearly when he is performing the factory’s annual goat sacrifice to Rodamoni, the God of Machinery. A goat being killed early morning is not exactly what one expects on a morning trek through the tea country with a sword and then a few drips of blood are put on each area of the factory, bringing the building and the machinery inside it good fortune.
Pujas for planting new bushes
Sitting among the bushes watching the ceremony taking place, I learn that when new bushes are planted, pujas (ceremonies) are always performed with coconut smashing and other special rituals. If the coconut breaks, special wishes to the gods are made and prayers are sent asking for them to protect the new plants. At pruning time, bindi ash is put on the knives to protect against accidental cuts.
There is another worldly quality about walking in Haputale, which includes Lipton’s seat and its spectacular views, to little known Surungamuni point (meaning cave god in Tamil and in hushed whispers the locals will tell you this is the official entrance way to hell). The site is not only a Hindu shrine dedicated to the local god Surungamuni, as well as Ishvaran, but it is also a giant cave that drops deep into the mountains guts – a beautiful walk through the estate that takes about an hour from the Greenfield Organic Tea factory to the highest point where the sacred Shrine can be found.
Eagles mark this mysterious area by circling it like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. We climb even upwards, but be warned the clouds that look more like waves can sweep back in at anytime across the valley, covering the rock face completely in minutes so it’s invisible and like the sea, can be very dangerous if you are out alone trekking.
The giant white blanket of clouds according to a tea plucker can cover the huge hill top walls in minutes and make visibility for the walker almost impossible. If this happens walk slowly onto the pinnacle, where you are often above the cloud line and enjoy an ancient site that makes one feel as though you have left Greenfields Estate behind and entered into another world through a shroud of mist revealing a cave that vanishes into the belly of the earth, wild animals and very strange rituals have gone on here for centuries. Everywhere there are remnants of rituals that have taken place over the centuries.
Stairway to heaven
The walk is easy at first along the main track and a lovely way to experience a working estate first hand, however once off road the adventure really begins emerging from the tea bushes, you walk up a ‘stairway to heaven’-like path and arrive on a grassy, peaty plateau, which is dotted with strange looking granite stones and small water holes. In places there are hand paths to follow indented with rocks to stop you slipping on a rainy day and in other spots they vanish altogether and all you can do is clamber ever upwards, finding a branch or two to hold onto when the going gets rough.
As you approach Surungamuni point, the site of a Hindu shrine, large birds of prey swoop round almost directing you to the sacred area. Once there, having slipped off your shoes or walking boots and socks in respect for the God, you will have a fantastic view of the whole valley basin and hill range – the now doll’s-size Haputale town below, the forest that surrounds the ethereal Aisha Monastery, where it is said political murders have been plotted and even views of Nuwara Eliya to the east on a clear day, famous for its English buildings and horse racing.
Turning away from the view, with the smell of sudu mal (white flower) lacing the air, you will focus on the shrine. If you believe in the supernatural, it has a strange power resonating from it, as does the cave through a whole series of bushes and at the end of a very rough pathway below, which is thought to be the place where the Surungamuni God resides during the heat of the day.
The shrine itself has five components and is marked with a white flag. From left to right, there are two tridents covered in sari pieces representing individual pilgrim wishes, with cracked eggs and remnants of other Puja offerings scattered around them from the mornings pilgrims and an arch structure with a sacred stone inside, decorated with shiny bright orange fabric.
The main focus is the God himself, with a bell tower beside it is an arched white kovil structure with a statue of the blue Surungamuni God sporting long tresses and a curled black moustache. Looking like a cross between Bob Marley and an Indian sadu just back from taking the waters in the city of learning and burning Varanassi.
Offerings to the shrine
Here offerings lay strewn about in front of Surungamuni and behind the shrine, coins in colourful material had knots in them, remnants of white rice offerings on banana leaves laid scattered like confetti after a wedding, joss sticks half burnt made the air smell sweet and broken yellow coconuts caught the tropical sun light.
Heading out of the clearing and down an over-grown path to the right of the shrine you will come to the god cave, which sends up bursts of freezing cold air even on the hottest of days.
Taking pictures it seem to also send an electrical current to the camera, which sparked and almost made the flash catch fire, thinking it was a coincidence I took another shot and the same thing happened.
I did not risk shooting a third picture in fear the whole thing would burst into flames and just sat down trying to take in the site and all its peculiarities.
Dripping water can be heard inside and locals get nervous if you get too close because once people fall in, they are said to never return from hell.
It feels deeply surreal, with purple-flowered vines creeping across the entrance way, shards of sunlight illuminating huge cobwebs with giant spiders spinning them, large ferns growing from the mossy stone walls and bees and butterflies flying around.
The air, scented with incense, mingles with the earthy damp stench of the cave interiors. Yes, it’s a disturbingly enchanting place – but you definitely wouldn’t want to be lost in the area when the churning mists that rapidly descend from above covers everything in a white shroud like the one used in Turin.
As soon as the clouds moved in I headed out of the area and caught a lift with one of the tea trucks on the road back down, who took me back to the factory, where I enjoyed a nice cup of freshly picked tea.
As I looked out the tea factory window, it started to rain, cave god hells walk would now be a waterfall, but the environmental ethos of the area is a reminder to all of us that it’s up to everyone on the planet whether we make a heaven or hell, and that the best things in life such as beautiful mountain treks are still in fact free and while they are, we should put on our walking shoes and get out a bit more and enjoy them.
Map of the Surungamuni Point
The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.
Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.
Driving Directions to Surungamuni Point
Route from Haputale to Surungamuni Point ( upto the entrance of Greenfield Plantations Entrance)
|Though : Haputale – Dambethanne Road|
Distance : 3.6 km
Travel time : 8 mins
Driving directions : see on google map