|Main attraction||Flora and Fauna|
Horton Plains National Park is a national park in the highlands of Sri Lanka. Known as “Maha Eliya” in ancient times, it lies about 20 kilometres south of Nuwara Eliya and 20 kilometres west of Haputale, 2000 meters above seat level among the second and third tallest mountains in Sri Lanka – Kirigalpotta and Totapola. The average temperature in this area is about 16 C. With high winds in the evening it can be quite chilly. The park covers 31.60 km², and is a mixture of highland forest and wet grassland. This is the only National Park in Sri Lanka where visitors are allowed to walk on their own on the designated tracks.
You can reach Horton plains through Bandarawela or Nuwara Eliya which is about 1 ½ hour drive. It is also possible to take the train up to the Ohiya Station and walk up to the plains which may take about 3-4 hours. But remember this is a uphill climb. There is no accommodation at the plains except two lodges and three camping sites which you must book beforehand.
Sambar is the most common animal in the plains but wild boars and leopards too can be found in this area.
“Worlds End” and Bakers Falls Trail
Other than the gorgeous weather, flora and fauna of Horton Plains, one of the most popular activity is the hike trail covering the mini worlds end point, great worlds end point and Bakers Falls. Once you reach Horton plains you can visit the “Worlds End” which is a 4000 feet straight vertical drop. This is of course a 4 kilometer hike from the trail head on a beautiful path. This drop can be covered with mist most of the time the and the best time to be up at the worlds end is towards the afternoon. Or you can just see the Bakers Falls which is about 3.3 kilometers from the trail head.
This is essentially a circular trail which ends at the trail start. Therefore you can start off from any direction and travel 9.4 km and return to trail head. The trail starts from the check point by the authorities for permits and banned items such as liquor, cigarettes and lighters. Traveling on more or less flat ground for 600 meters will bring you to the circular path which you can hike clockwise or anticlockwise.
Taking the anticlockwise path will first bring you to Bakers Fall after 2.6 kms. Then you need to move off the track and climb down a rocky and uneven path for about 700 meters to reach the viewing platform. Then you need to get back to the track and continue for further 2km to reach Worlds End, a sheer cliff, with a drop of about 4,000 feet (1,200 m).
You will go off the trail for about 100 meters to reach the viewing platform which will give a spectacular view even up to Indian Ocean which lies 81 kms away on a clear day.
Getting back to the trail and traveling another kilometer will bring you to the “Mini Worlds End” which is another viewpoint which is a smaller cliff with a 1,000 feet (300 m) drop. Walking another 1.75 kms will bring you to the beginning of the loop from where you need to take the same path back to the checkpoint.
Map of Horton Plains National Park
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.
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Travel Directions to Horton Plains National Park
Route from Colombo to Horton Plains National Park through the Ohiya Entrance
Route from Colombo to Horton Plains National Park through the Pattipola Entrance
|Through : Ratnapura – Balangoda – Haputale – Boralanda – Ohiya|
Distance : 210 km
Travel time : 5 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Awissawella – Karawanella – Ginigathena – Hatton – Thalawakele – Ambewela|
Distance : 183 km
Travel time : 4 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
Route from Bandarawela to Horton Plains National Park through the Ohiya Entrance
Route from Nuwara Eliya to Horton Plains National Park through the Pattipola Entrance
|Through : Diyathalawa – Boralanda – Ohiya|
Distance : 33 km
Travel time : 45 mins.
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Blackpool – Ambewela|
Distance : 27 km
Travel time : 45 minutes.
Driving directions : see on google map
Horton Plains  Not Just Another Name on the Map
Nestled high in the southern portion of the central hills of Sri Lanka, near the confluence of the Uva, Sabaragamuwa and Central provinces, is an ecological jewel known as Horton Plains National Park. A mere 3,160 hectares in extent, this enchanting mixture of patana (grassland) and sub-montane wet evergreen forest is part of a larger expanse which connects in the west with the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary.
Known locally for generations as Mahaweli (or sometimes Mahaeliya), meaning ‘the great plain” in Sinhalese, the present moniker commemorates Sir Robert Horton who was the British governor of Ceylon from 1831-37.
The story unfolds that in January 1836 a meeting was arranged at Mahaweli between Horton, on his way to Nuwara Eliya, and the Ratemahatmaya (chief headman) of Sabaragamuwa Province. The meeting was a resounding success with much rejoicing, morphing into a night of unbridled revelry.
Sometime during the celebrations a rogue spark kissed the cadjan thatch of the Ratemahatmaya’s massive camp and when the light camp and when the light of dawn suffused the plain all that remained of the structure were still-smouldering beams and blackened ashes.
Long renowned as an excellent hunting area, where at one time the quarry included the now extinct hill country elephant, Horton Plains was gazetted as a Nature Reserve in 1969. This status was upgraded to that of a National Park – the only one in the hill country – in 1988, in recognition of the area’s unsurpassed importance as a unique ecological zone, a cradle of endemic biodiversity and the watershed for some of the country’s most important waterways.
In fact, the Agra Oya is the source stream for Sri Lanka’s longest river, the Mahaweli Gnaga, the Belihul Oya fulfils that role for the southward flowing Walawe Ganga, and the Bogawanthala Oya is reckoned to be the source of the Kelani Ganga, which meets the sea just north of Colombo.
In addition to providing the beginnings of three of Sri Lanka’s notable rivers, Horton Plains National Park also encompasses both the second and third highest mountains on the island – Kirigalpotta at 2.393 m and Totupolakanda at 2.359 m.
Undoubtedly the most famous feature of this hill country wonderland is the theatrically named World’s End. A sheer escarpment that drops a mind bending 884m. it provides a dramatic vista over the southern plains – when not shrouded in mist. The viewpoint is reached by a gentle, winding path that traverses the heart of the plains. Near the head of the trail it wanders past thickets of spiky gorse with their yellow blooms.
These were introduced by the British and are now considered invasive due to their proclivity to rapidly spread. Taking them out of the ecosystem, however, is not a simple matter as a number of endemic species including the horned lizard (Ceratophora stoddarti) have adapted to them and utilize the shade they provide from the rays of the mid-day sun.
Further along, the path threads through areas of forest rampant with nelu (Strobitanthres spp). an understorey shrub crowned with delicate pink flowers. The royal purple binara (Exacum macranthum) flower is one of a number of endemic plants that can be seen in the open areas as is the maha ratmal (Rhododendron arboretum), a tree characterized by startling red clusters of blossom.
The chances of a clear view are at their highest from December to February during the early morning as thin, misty wisps tend to transform into billowing sheets that obscure everything by noon.
Even when the mist does roll in it infuses the atmosphere with a captivating sense of mystery and there are other attractions to enthral visitors.
Crystal clear streams meander through the grasslands alive with darting small fish and scuttling freshwater crabs, while in the crisp mountain air a wide variety of birds, many endemic, flitter and glide.
These include the Sri Lanka white-eye (Zosterops ceylonensis) the yellow-eared bulbul (Pycnonotus penicilatus) and the Sri Lanka whistling thrush (Myiophonus blighi) the latter a much sought-after prize in bird-watching circles that is sometimes seen at the picturesque Arrenga Pool a few hundred metres before the entrance gate.
In the lush, richly textured forest the elevation-induced combination of cold nights, strong winds, mist and frost forces even emergent trees to bend and huddle, resulting in dwarf woodland characterized by twisted limbs protruding from gnarled trunks. Even the leaves take on an unusual character growing small and fleshy in order to reduce heat loss and thereby counteract the unforgiving elements.
Early in the morning the booming calls of purple-faced langurs (Trachypithecus vetulus monticola) echo across the stillness announcing the beginning of another day’s foraging.
The sub-species particular to these ratified heights is known locally as the bear monkey because of its unusually dense coat evolved in order to ward off the persistent night chill. Jet black giant squirrels (Ratufa macrours) also inhabit this realm as do barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), fishing cats (Felis viverrinus) and wild boar (Sus scrofa).
Much of the vast plains were utilized for potato cultivation early in the previous century. thus destroying naturally occurring patana species such as tuttiri (Chrysopogon zeylanicum). When protective measures were introduced these areas were colonized by the opportunistic and exotic kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum) earlier introduced from Africa by cattle farming colonials in the 19th century.
The large herds of sambhur (Cervus unicolor) that dwell in these highland forests appreciate the succulent nature of this grass and sizeable numbers can often be seen browsing the verdant hillsides.
The Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) also calls this park home. On occasion, one of these predators can be met with after dark, on the roadside, as it stalks cautiously towards the feeding sambhur. On my last visit to the area, I came across fresh spoor on the path leading to World’s End and then some slightly older scat on the rock overlooking the drop itself.
Another old British colonial whose name is forever linked with the area is Sir Samuel Baker, a keen sportsman of the day when “sport” meant the wanton destruction of wildlife through hunting. Before earning fame and glory for “discovering” one of the sources of the Nile in East Africa, Baker spent eight years in Ceylon.
Despite being partly responsible for the elimination of the elephant from these habitats he is commemorated through the attachment of his name to a small partly concealed waterfall in the midst of the forest. Today, Baker’s Falls is a highlight of the World’s End trek where weary walkers can frolic in the shallows below the shimmering cascade refreshing aching limbs and revitalizing sagging spirits.
Most frequently approached from Nuwara Eliya via the sprawling paturelands of Ambewela and rail stop at Pattipola, Horton Plains can also be accessed by road from Haputale via Ohiya to the east and with a four-wheel drive from Agrapatana via Diyagama to the west. The main route involves a series of steep hairpin bends that challenge most vehicles with their sharpness and intensity.
This ensures that anyone interested in visiting the Park must make a concerted effort. Once accessed however the reward is a magical world of stunted multi-hued forest interspersed with the undulating plains.
Unlike anywhere else in the country, Horton Plains is of tremendous significance for its extraordinary natural splendour, its ecological importance and its aura of other worldliness that makes it once visited much more than just another quaint name on a crowded map.
Horton Plains  : Forest ‘die-back’ hits Horton Plains
The Island – March 31, 2007
More than 50 per cent of the flora species are affected due to the forest die-back phenomenon at the Horton Plains National Park, says Sri Lanka’s leading herpetologist Anslem de Silva.
In fact, earlier this year he completed an extensive study on the park. He was well supported by Botanical Gardens Director Dr. D. S. A. Wijesundara, who studied the flowering plants in the park.
Anslem says that his study clearly indicates that a staggering number of fauna species, especially reptiles, are killed due to road accidents. This trend is increasing day by day and it is high time action is taken to prevent further killings.
He also says that there is evidence that there had been large scale gemming in the last century.
His recent study on Horton Plains National Park is included in his latest book The Diversity of Horton Plains National Park that will be on bookshelves today (31).
Last year Anslem successfully published a large monograph on the Dumbara mountains.
The Island received the first copy of The Diversity of Horton Plains National Park from the publisher Vijitha Yapa.
This very well produced book with nine informative chapters covers perhaps all what one wants to know about this unique ecosystem where one finds forest grassland and marsh land. Horton Plains, along with the Dumbara mountains, is in the process of being upgraded to World Heritage Site status.
The comprehensiveness of the book is enhanced with the addition of a bibliography on published literature on Horton Plains National Park. This would be useful for all researchers and managers of this ecosystem. Furthermore the chapter on flowering plants of the Horton Plains National Park by Dr. D. S. A. Wijesundara, Director, Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya is a bonus. There are 143 colour plates, most of them photographed by Anslem. It also has excellent photographs by Gehan de Silva Wijeratne, Siril Wijesundara, Rathnasiri Premathilake and Gehan Chandrawansa
Anslem carried out his research project at Horton Plains in 1997, 1998 and from January to December 2000 as the team leader of the National Zoological Survey of Sri Lanka, funded by the National Science Foundation, Colombo.
Anslem as the current Chair of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force of the SSC/IUCN working group, Sri Lanka, has identified in the Saddle tree-frog (Polypedates eques, Mukalan Pahimbu Gasmadiya in Sinhalese) an endemic frog a new species of Cestode.
Work is in progress at present to identify the species and its life cycle.
Anslem also produced and directed a documentary on Horton Plains National Park titled “Mahaeliya: Horton Plains”. This video won a special award during the Tokyo International Video Contest in the year 2000.
Horton Plains was earlier known as Mahaeliya (big light) possibly due to the vast open grasslands. It was first declared a Nature Reserve under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance in December 1969, and on March 16, 1988. Horton Plains was upgraded to a National Park by Gazette No. 497/10. At present it is known as the Horton Plains National Park.
The Horton Plains is the highest tableland in Sri Lanka, situated 2,100 to 2,300 metres above the mean sea level. Horton Plains was formed during the Archaean (5000-2500 million years ago) and uplifted in Post-Jurassic times (150-136 million years ago). It is an important wetland site (Ramsar Convention) in the country.
The water from constant rain and mist is drained by streams which in turn form tributaries that feed some major rivers, Mahaweli, Walawe and Kelani. Horton Plains also feeds Belihuloya, Agra Oya, Kiriketi Oya, Uma Oya and Bogawantalawa Oya.
Several species of arthropods and insects can be observed in this ecosystem. Several species of butterflies and a number of moths can also be observed at Horton Plains. This includes some rare endemic butterflies as well.
There are also appreciable populations of the rare relict shrimp Mahaeliya Lanka shrimp (Lancaris singhalensis).
For the field ornithologist, Horton Plains National Park offers good opportunities to see 17 of the 23 endemic birds in Sri Lanka. In fact Horton Plains is regarded as one of the best birding sites in the country.
The park is the home to nearly 20 species of mammals. The presence of elephants was recorded at Horton Plains National Park over a century ago. At present, the largest and most commonly seen mammal is the sambhur (Cervus unicolor).
This stag can weigh up to 300 to 350 kg. According to Anslem, the sambhur was the main game species that was hunted with rifle and hound by sportsmen during British rule. Present day visitors to Horton Plains could observe small herds of sambhur grazing in the grasslands in the evenings.
During the day they were observed resting inside the forest. At presentthe leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) is the largest carnivore in the park and the main predator of sambhur.
Possibly about 15 species of amphibians inhabit Horton Plains. Most frogs lay their eggs in the humus under leaf-litter in a cavity made by the females or are leaf-nesting species.
“These frogs are known as direct developers as they do not pass the well known aquatic tadpole stage and metamorphose into frog-lets,” Anslem said.
During their studies at the Park Anslem and his team observed and identified only six endemic species of reptiles, comprising three agamid lizards, one skink and two species of snakes.
Studies indicate that the first human impact on the fauna, flora and landscape at the park such as hunting and deforestation for Mesolithic pre-farming commenced with the onset of warmer and wetter climatic conditions at Horton Plains 18,500 years ago.
In the past three centuries, including the British period (1815-1948), the park was a popular hunting ground for sambhur deer and the Ceylon jungle fowl (Gallus lafayetti) by early European sportsmen.
The forest die-back phenomenon had first been observed in Totupola kanda in late 1970s Anslem said. While a study in 1978 described the loss of two dominant tree species: Kina (Calphyllum sp) and Damba (Syzygium sp), now it appears that over 50 per cent of the species is affected.
The Diversity of Horton Plains National Park with 275 pages and 143 colour plates is priced at Rs. 1500 and is available at all Vijitha Yapa outlets.