Horton Plains is one of the best side trips from the tea hill station of Nuwara Eliya and it is also one of Sri Lanka’s most intrepid spots. A beautiful silent moor like area, Horton Plains National Park is a part of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka, which is Unesco World Heritage Site and is in reality a plateau. An important catchment area of almost all major Sri Lankan rivers, Horton Plains are of outstanding natural beauty and has many excellent hikes. Being a bio diversity hotspot, a commendable wealth of endemic flora and fauna exist there along with nearly all varieties of landscapes. Located in the shadows of Kirigalpotta and Totapola mountains (Sri Lanka’s 2nd and 3rd highest), Horton Plains gently undulate at a height of 2000 meters above sea level and are topped by rich wild grass, occasional forest patches, rocky outcrops, tinkling waterfalls and lovely misty pools. Beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers grow there and it is home to some very interesting wildlife.
Being in the heart of Sri Lanka’s hill country, Horton Plains is sandwiched between the lovely Nuwara Eliya and Haputale and the wild stretch of bleak, high-altitude grassland at its southern edge drop dramatically into plunging cliffs that create a distinct precipice known as the famous World’s End. The sheer drop to the lowlands is breathtaking and on clear days, the views stretch all the way to the blue coastline. It is one of the most impressive miradors (viewpoints) I have ever seen and to see this very end of the world, I had woken up very early. A very misty drive in a shared tour jeep had taken me and a few other visitors to the gate of Horton Plains National Park from Nuwara Eliya. The dawn had not yet stained the Sri Lankan sky with light and stars had glittered on a dark blue night. Being in the hill country, it had been a cold start of the day and we had watched the mesmerizing sight of mist lifting off from the dreamy terraced landscape. A beautiful land had slowly revealed small obscure villages, rolling meadows, flower farms and lanky windmills as the young sun had burned off veils of mists. The mist had risen in smoky wisps, mingling with the picturesque old fashioned train tracks when forested stretches had shadowed the road. The early morning forest had been a busy place full of activities, sounds and sights and alert families of purple faced langurs had watched us pass by.
The langurs had been one of the rare fauna found at and around the Horton Plains and they along with Kelaart’s long-clawed shrews,toque macaques, rusty-spotted cat, wild boars, stripe-necked mongooses, Sri Lankan spotted chevrotains, Indian muntjacs, grizzled giant squirrels, fishing cats and European otters make up for the park’s exotic wild life. In the olden days, elephants and Sri Lankan leopards had also roamed the wild stretches freely, though none of them had existed anymore. The Sri Lankan elephants had disappeared from the area in 1940 and one of the most endangered primates in the world, the Horton Plains slender loris had also seemed to be on the way to extinction. At present, the sambar deer had been the most commonly spotted wildlife at the Hortons Plains and the park had been a bird watcher’s paradise. Nearly 21 species of rare endemic birds had called it home and the bleak moors had some very exotic lizards and snakes too. I had been lucky enough to spot quite a few birds, animals and lizards during my long hike around the park and it had been a walk to remember.
A nearly 3 hours guided hike across the Hortons Plains National Park had shown off its unique beauty and I had watched in wonder as the misty and rainswept landscape had changed dramatically at every few kilometers. It had been a cool and wet morning, when we had started our hike from the park’s tourist office and by the time, the sheer precipice of the World’s End had arrived, the sun had kissed the sky boldly. Bright sunshine had thrown shadows on the surrounding green mountains and a deep blue sky had smiled overhead. The huge blanket of mist which had folded over the vista had cleared off completely and from my vantage point, I had been able to look down at the sheer drop of around 1,200 meters to the bottom. With no guard rails or fences, there had been only air between me and the rolling lowlands below and a few clouds had floated underneath. A wide belt of emerald green that is the island of Sri Lanka had unfolded ahead and the ocean, though nearly 80 kilometers away had ruffled lovely blue in the distance. Strangely, it had been a rare place on earth, where the horizon had been difficult to demarcate and the World End’s had been one experience of a life time. Needless to say, it had been the most important attraction at the Horton Plains National Park and the beautiful isolated land had indeed been a world apart from the rest of Sri Lanka.
…..to be contd.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE