Pedro Camp

From M.C.A. Hassan

Former Rover Scout Leader, 28th Colombo (Don   Bosco) Scout Group and Secretary, Colombo District Boy Scouts Local Association writing from Auckland, New Zealand


Pedro Camp


Sri Lanka is well known for its tropical forests and hills.  Mostly they are rough, green and bushy.  Within Nuwara Eliya nestles the Pidurutalagala, a steep mountain which is the tallest in Sri Lanka.


It has an elevation of 6,230 feet above sea level. The average rain fall is 90 inches per annum.  The temperature varies, it is from 57 to 62 degrees.


Since Nuwara Eliya has become a topic of discussion in the Gene Base Forum, as a long-standing scout – 50 years – I like to describe a camp which is maintained by the Sri Lanka Boy Scouts Association.  It is a training camp and it is called “Pedro Camp”.


I must say I have not gone camping there for the last 25 years or so, but I recall with nostalgic yearning my boyhood years spent year after year in that camp.  It is a spacious camp site, an area of 5-6 acres, with plenty of tree growth within the wooded area. 


Rhododendrons, Acacia melanoxylon, Red Gums and Eucalyptus trees abound in camp area enhancing the beauty of this camp site.  A large Red Gum tree which grew had a girth of nearly seven feet at breast height within 20 years.  The jungle atmosphere within the Sita Eliya Forest Reserve is a necessary pre-requisite for outdoor camping.


The rustling Bulu-Ela (Trout Lake) which goes round the camp for about two acres added to the beauty of the surroundings.  The Ela was stocked with Trout by the Ceylon Fishing Club and fishing was allowed only upon the payment of the usual licence fee to the Club.


There is also a natural swimming pool at a corner of the Camp site where the stream cuts sharply at a bend.  Our afternoon swim programmes were never without fun.


The jungle surrounding the camp site had luscious trees and animals.  One of the stories we often heard from our Camp Chief, Col. C.P. Jayawardana was how a leopard carried his dog away.  He used to tell us all that he saw one morning were leopard tracks near his hut and the dog missing.


There were also wild boars in the jungle surrounding the camp.  We had seen wild boar diggings immediately after early rain.  We got the boys to search for these tracks if they were to earn their tracker badge.  Then there were elks which were chased by estate dogs.  The elks used to stealthily creep into the Bulu-Ela waters and remain there to deflect the scent and slowly move away after the dogs had gone.  The other animals we encountered were the black monkey which is a protected specie and the commoner brown monkeys.


No doubt, having camped in Sri Lanka and in Pakistan, I am of the opinion it is one of the finest camp sites I have come across.


We had plenty of encounters with vipers and leeches.  There was a kind of viper which used to lurk near the Bulu-Ela waters hunting for frogs.  As the saying goes, “where there is cattle, there will be leeches”.  It was high fun trying to keep the leeches away from our bodies on our long hikes.  We experimented with salt water, soap and even fresh cut pieces of onion. 


One of our most interesting and eagerly looked forward to activity when in camp was a hike to the peak of Pidurutalagala.


We divided the group into small patrols and sent them up under a troop leader.  They had to carry all the equipment for cooking on the way and on our return.  The instruction we received before departure was to look out for foxes.  If we encounter any we were to halt dead.  No movement until the fox decided to make a retreat.


In my experience, I heard the hooting of the foxes at night on our route, but never set eyes on one.  We used to leave the camp site at sunset, after an early dinner, and walk to the peak arriving there in time to see the sunrise.  When the sun rises, we were to look out for the image of the Adams Peak against its backdrop.  I did see this image and it is in my memory to this day.


Our return journey took almost eight hours, this after stopping to prepare our breakfast and our lunch.  We generally got to the camp site by 4.30 or 5p.m. the next day.


The camp had plenty of fresh water collected in a large cement tank within the Sita Eliya Forest Reserve.  A good system of pipes took the water to the buildings within the main camp.  The drainage system too was good in the camp.


When the topmost branch of the Red Gum tree was broken by strong winds, the Scout Association felled the tree and used its planks to build a bridge spanning the Bulu-Ela  which led to the Camp Chief’s hut.


In the olden days we did not have electricity, we used to carry or hire Tilly lamps and Hurricane lamps from the camp.


The place we loved most was the campfire circle, which we used as an assembly ground and for singing campfire songs at night.  For our ceremonial gathering we had a flag post.


This luscious, environment friendly camp site was discovered almost by accident by Mr. C. Brooke-Elliot, K.C., a former Chief Scout Commissioner.  Prior to its discovery, camping used to be done on the rolling Patanas below Pedro Estate, which is about 3 miles away on the Kandapola Road from Nuwara Eliya.


The earlier access to this camp site was through a foot-path from Pedro Estate.  Later a motorable road was constructed by the estate to the Tea and Red Gum nurseries very close to the present camp site.


The camp site has two approaches.  The first one is through Pedro Estate.  We did this journey by bus, got off at the end of the road near the estate labourers’ lines, and carried our haversacks and journeyed on foot into the camp.


There was a better approach along the moon plains road, down by Perawela ride on to the camp.  From Perawela ride a road was cut leading to the Camp.  There was safe parking space for several cars.  We had to negotiate several hairpin bends on this short drive.


At first we used to camp under canvas with tarpaulins spread on the ground for sleeping.  This gave protection from dampness, particularly in wet weather.


As this was not considered suitable, the Scout Association erected several buildings with the help of donors.  Doresamy Reddiar of Uda Pussellawa donated a building to accommodate about 30-40 boys.


There is a log cabin donated by the Camp Chief (Col. C.P. Jayawardana) and his wife in memory of their son, Christopher, which was used by the staff during training periods.


The gateway to the camp is very attractive and eye-catching.  It was also donated by the Jayawardanas.  It had the words : “The Scout Law is the Law of this Camp” etched on it.


There was a Quartermaster’s hut which was donated by Mr. Paul Cosmas and then a new house was constructed which was named after Mr. John Thurman who was a Training the Team Leader for the Far East.


The home of Scouting in England is the Gilwell Park.  Pedro Camp compares favourably with the Gilwell Park and we call it “our local Gilwell”.  This camp is primarily used for Wood Badge Training.  Its ideal jungle atmosphere is salubrious for outdoor camping.  When not required for training, the scouts were allowed to use the camp site on payment of a small fee.


I will not be able to describe the present condition of the camp site, this is only a memory sparker of 25 years.  Those interested in spending a couple of days there would be well advised to contact the Sri Lanka Boy Scouts Association on Cyril Gardiner Mawatha, Colombo 2.