Breathtaking views and beautiful creatures: Horton Plains in Sri Lanka
Horton Plains in Sri Lanka, is the coldest and windiest location in the country. It consists of ecosystems such as Montane evergreen forests, grasslands, marshy lands and aquatic ecosystem. At an altitude of 2,100 meters above sea level, Horton Plains spreads across over 3,169 hectares of the highest tableland of the island. In view of the large number of endemic flora and fauna species, Horton Plains was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 30th July 2010.
Ecological importance of Horton Plains
Horton Plains, its surroundings, forests and the adjoining Peak Wilderness constitute Sri Lanka’s most important catchment area of almost all major rivers. The plains are also of outstanding scenic beauty and conservation importance, containing most of the habitats and endemic plants and animals representative of the country’s wet and Montane zones. The western slopes support the most extensive area of Montane cloud forest surviving in the island. Horton Plains is not merely a destination for nature tourists. Since the rich biodiversity of Horton Plains is still grossly underexplored, it affords invaluable opportunities to those engaged on educational and research activities. Protecting Horton Plains is a call of duty for all Sri Lankans.
Climate of Horton Plains
The Climate of Horton Plains is that of a wet Montane forest. The average annual temperature of 14-16⁰ Centigrade while the humidity is relatively low at 65%. Though annual rainfall of the highlands is about 2540mm, Horton Plains records over 5000 mm of rainfall annually.
Location of Horton Plains
During the dry season, the temperature drops to around 5⁰ Centigrade in the day time. Swept with strong gale force winds at times, over-night frost is fairly common.
Terrain of Horton Plains
The gently rolling plateau of Horton Plains at the southern end of the central Montane massif of Sri Lanka is interspersed with net work of streams and channels. The Montane forest is also the source of three major rivers of Sri Lanka: River Mahaweli-the longest river of Sri Lanka, River Walave and River Kelani. Still more, Horton Plains is bounded by the country’s second and third highest mountain peaks of Sri Lanka: Mount Kirigalpotta Kanda (2389 m) and Mount Thotupola Kanda (2357 m). The escarpment with a depth of 900 meters called World’s End and Baker’s Falls is one of the highlights of the Horton Plains.
History of Horton Plains
The great plains of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka was discovered by the planter Thomas Farr in the early 19th century. In 1834 it was named Horton Plains in honor of then Governor of Ceylon (1831-1837) Sir Robert Wilmot Horton. In the year 1969, Horton Plains was declared a nature reserve.In 1988, the reserve was elevated to the status of a National Park.
Location of Horton Plains
Horton Plains is spread over the southern ridge of the central highlands in between Nuwara Eliya and Haputale. The tourists approaching Horton Plains from Nuwara Eliya find an entrance point at Pattipola while those approaching from Haputale find an entrance point at Ohiya. Three kilometers drive from either entrance leads to the newly built visitors center. Visitors center exhibits interesting displays on the history of flora and fauna of Horton Plains.
Circular trek in Horton Plains in Sri Lanka
The visitors center is significant in the sense, it has become the starting point for the 9km main trek of the Horton Plains. The main trek taking a circular route can be enjoyed within 3 hours. The trail opens up with an expansive view of flora: bare patina grassland here; densely wooded cloud forest over there. Once the grasslands are passed, the trek leads for about 2km through a fine expanse of cloud forest. Grown in the forest amidst nellu shrubs and keena trees are spices grown in the wild: pepper, cinnamon and cardamom.
World’s End in Horton Plains in Sri Lanka
On the southern edge of the Horton Plains at an altitude of 2140m is famous World’s End, an escarpment that fall sheer 900 meters. The man-made modern irrigation reservoir contained within the national park of Udawalawe brings in a lovely view of the low lying plains of the southern Sri Lanka. On a clear morning the World’s End affords the view running to the southern coast of Sri Lanka. The panoramic and distant views are bound to get obscured by the mist from around 10am onwards. As such an early morning arrival at the escarpment would stand in good stead. Especially in the rainy months of May to July, the mist is particularly thick.
Circular trek past the World’s End
At a distance of mere 200m beyond World’s End, the trek turn off the ridge inland to another lovely attraction: Baker’s Falls named after Samuel Baker. If the scramble down to the waterfall is easy though slippery and steep, scrambling up the waterfall back to the trek would find you short of breath in the high altitude.
Past Baker’s Falls, the track runs through open patina grassland of which stillness is broken only by the resonant croaking of thousands of frogs in the trees and grasses.
Wildlife in Horton Plains
The most frequent site of wildlife at Horton Plains are herds of Sambar Deer. Among the other mammals in the park are Strip-necked Mongoose, Long-tailed Giant Squirrel Wild Boar, the endemic Bear Monkey and Toque Monkey, Fishing cat, Otter and
All of the Montane endemics of Sri Lanka are found in Horton Plains. Sri Lanka bush warbler, Dull-Blue flycatcher, Sri Lanka whistling thrush and the yellow-eared bulbul, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Sri Lanka White-eye, Spot-winged Thrush, Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Bush Warbler, Scaly Thrush, Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, Brown-capped Babbler, Sri Lanka Spur-fowl and Sri Lanka Jungle-fowl. Other highlights are the Himalayan migrants Pied Thrush, Kashmir Flycatcher Indian Pitta. Black Bird, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Black Eagle, Jerdon’s Baza, Pied Bushchat, Hill Swallow and Hill Munia.
Now the Horton Plains has become a happy field of herds of Sambar Deer. However the growth population of Sambar Deer has resulted in the increase of number of Leopards. Wild Boar, the endemic Bear Monkey and Toque Monkey, Slender Loris, Fishing cat, Otter, Barking deer, Strip-necked Mongoose, Long-tailed Giant Squirrel are some of the other mammals found here.
Until a century ago, Horton Plains was rich with Elephants. Then the whole population was hunted down to extinction by the British colonialists in Sri Lanka then called Ceylon. Today Horton Plains is the only national park in Sri Lanka where elephants aren’t seen at all.
A Whole New Species: Horton Plains slender loris
Horton Plains slender loris was discovered in 1937. However since then there haven’t been recorded sightings at all in Horton Plains. The diminutive primate has been presumed extinct. In 2002 a fleeting nighttime sighting of something looking like the elusive tree-dweller, however, gave conservationists hope. Follow-up surveys led by the Zoological Society of London finally confirmed the lorises are alive-if not exactly well-in 2009, when two individuals were photographed and examined. The Horton Plains slender loris is generally classified as a subspecies of Sri Lanka’s red slender loris. But, thanks in part to the first ever pictures, researchers now believe the Horton Plains slender loris could be a whole new species!
- Stratification: Wet grasslands Sub-Montane and Montane forest
- Area: 3,160ha
- Status: UNESCO World Heritage Site (nature), National Park
- Altitude: 2100 – 2200mm
- Temperature: 15 C°
- Annual Rainfall: 2500 – 5000mm
- Best time of year to visit: November to March
- Optimum duration of stay: 1 to 3 nights
- One day excursion: From Nuwara Eliya
- Most convenient accommodation option: Nuwara Eliya
- Nature Highlights: The escarpment (900m) called World’s End, Barker’s falls
- Wildlife – regular sight: Herds of Sambar Deer
- Location: Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
Other National Parks
Yala National Park, Udawalawe National Park, Minneriya National Park, Wilpattu National Park, Wasgamuwa National Park, Kumana National Park, Bundala National Park, Kaudulla National Park, Gal Oya National Park, Lunugamvehera National Park