Lonely Planet describes Horton Plains National Park as an ‘eerie, cold and bleak, but starkly beautiful highland plateau in the shadows of Sri Lanka’s second and third highest mountains’.
The park was a 90-minute drive from our hotel in Nanu Oya and, because of high daytime temperatures, we set off at 5.30am. The narrow road had lots of bends and as it was still dark and misty in places, our driver took it very slowly (in fact I’m not sure we got into top gear). As the sun rose, we stopped for photos en route.
Having paid the entrance fee (around £50 for our party and vehicle) we continued to the parking area, passing a Sambar deer with its grand antlers, and several bird watchers with huge cameras.
Tickets were checked at a hut and, having been told single use plastics weren’t allowed, we saw staff simply taking the labels off bottles, rather than confiscating: our guide said that it’s the small pieces of plastic which get easily blown away and ingested by wildlife. Paper bags were being provided for food items.
One of the main treks is to Worlds End, with the 9.5km taking 3 hours. However, in view of the hilly terrain, we thought this might be too much, and chose what was described as a simple trail to Chimney Pond. The path was wide and the walking easy and it was a joy as there was no one else around. We eventually came across some very deep, but long steps down, designed to prevent soil erosion. Eventually we reached Chimney Pond, where we jumped down a three-foot step, so we could walk along a narrow ridge between the waterfalls. Photos taken, the walk back was much easier, and the deep steps were better on the way up, than the way down.
The scenery was wide and expansive with various shades of browns and greys. Along the way were informative signboards. For example, at a stream, we spotted rainbow trout which were introduced by the English for angling. However, as the trout eat an endemic species of shrimp, this has affected stream ecology and biodiversity and so numbers are being managed. Another explained how two types of invasive plant, the yellow-flowered European Gorse and the green fern, Warella, were threatening to eliminate native species. Native plant species were also mentioned and in particular, a crimson flowered Rhododendron and the smallest bamboo in Sri Lanka, a favourite of the Sambar deer, which we could see in the distance.
Back to base, we used the free loos before looking round the information centre which told us about the various types of national parks in Sri Lanka and their birds, animals and flowers. We also learned how Major Thomas Rogers, a colonial officer, was credited with killing over 1400 elephants in Sri Lanka. However, he was struck down by a bolt of lightning which many considered a sign of the anger of the gods. His broken gravestone in Nuwara Eliya, has also been struck twice by lightening.
Our return journey was similarly slow with various stops for photographs, including a group of roadside monkeys. But it was now daylight, and we could see that many of the places we passed through had English or Scottish names like Blackpool, Edinburgh, and Inverness.
Back at the hotel, we had a late reviving breakfast.