Horton Plain, 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 representatives of the country's wet and montane zones. The western slopes support the most extensive area of montane cloud forest surviving in the country.
Lies about 32 km south of Nuwara Eliya in the Central High lands of Central Province.
Horton Plains can be reached by any of these all roads;
Via Nuwara Eliya, Ambewela and Pattipola (32 km)
Via Haputale or Welimada, Boralanda, Ohiya (38 km)
Nuwara Eliya, Hakgala, Rendapola, Ambewela, Pattipola (38 km)
Adventurous visitors can trek into the park along the Thalawakele- Agarapatana-Diyagama and the Belihyloya-Nagarak trails.
Physical Features :
Horton Plains comprises a gently undulating highland plateau at the southern end of the central mountain massif of Sri Lanka. It is dominated to the north by Mount Totupolakanda (2,357 m) and to the west by Mount Kirigalpotta (2,389 m), Sri Lanka's third and second largest peaks, respectively. Tributaries of three major rivers originate from within the reserve, the Mahaweli Ganga flowing to the north, the Kelani Ganga to the west and Walawe to the south. Belihul Oya, a small stream feeding the Walawe, tumbles over a cliff as a large and spectacular waterfall. Rocks are of Archaean age, belonging to the high series of the Pre-Cambrian, and include khondalites (metasediments) and charnokites. They have been subjected to folding and implication on a vast scale in pre-Cambrian times. The red-yellow podzols are characterized by a thick, black, organic layer at the surface.
Two escarpments falling from the Horton Plains have contributed immensely to its awe inspiring physiognomy, "the small worlds end" drops by 274 meters and the "big worlds end" by 884 meters. The charm of the verdure of the mountains encircling he plains as intermittently concealed by mist is heightened by the sparkling Baker's falls.
The altitude of the Park ranges from about 1,800 in to 2,389 m at the top of Kirigalpotta. The plateau, at 2,100 m, is the highest tableland in Sri Lanka.
Annual rainfall in the region is about 2,540.mm, but for Horton Plains it may exceed 5,000 mm. Rain occurs throughout most of the year but there is a dry season from January to March. Temperatures are low, with an annual mean temperature of 15°C, and ground frost is common in December to February. These are the months with bright sunshine too, with somewhat warm outdoors. The rest of the year is rainy as both the north-east and south- west monsoon as well as the inter monsoons, all remain active in this highland.
Date and history of Establishment :
Upgraded to the national park status on 16th March 1988, having previously been created a nature reserve on 5th December 1969. Like other catchments in the hills, the area had previously received some protection under an administrative order issued in 1873, which prohibited clearing and felling of forests above 5,000 ft (1,524 m). This was based on the advice of the botanist Sir Joseph Hooker, who urged the then Colonial Government "to leave all Montane Forests above 5,000 ft. undisturbed". Traditionally this place was "Mahaelilya"; it was rechristned as Horton Plains after Sir Robert Horton, a former British Governor, who traveled to the area to meet the Ratemahatmaya of Sabaragamuwa Province in about 1836.
Cultural Heritage :
Stone tools dating back to the Balangoda culture of prehistoric times have been found in the area. The Sinhalese settled in the lowlands up to an altitude of 700 m, some times frequenting higher altitudes to dig for gems or iron ore, graze cattle, construct irrigation canals and fell trees for timber. Several patanas existed at that time in regions above 1,800m.
Horton Plains is well recognized for its rich biodiversity, its flora given to a high level of endemism.5 % of the species are found to be endemic to Sri Lanka. The plateau supports grassland fringed and interspersed with patches of dense montane cloud forest. The forest canopy grows to about 20 m and is dominated by the endemic keena, in association with varieties of Myrtaceae and Lauraceae, Wal kurundu and Polkataugaha Important shrubs are sita pera and wel-kapuru. The tree fern maha meewana dots the forest openings. Binara and Nelu. are endemic and have beautiful flowers, the former two occuring in the grasslands and the latter in the forest. Bovitiya is another plant with strikingly pretty flowers. The main grass species of the patana are tuttiri with gawara preferring the swamps. Dwarf bamboo is common along the streams. The dense nature of Strobilanthes vegetation inhibits the development of a herb layer. Rhodomyrtus tomentosa bushes characteristically grow along the forest margins and near summits of mountains.
"Patanas" or plains vegetation occurs above 1,500 m. A rich herbaceous flora flourishes on the patanas with numerous species of both temperate and tropical origin. A vast extent of the patanas was broken and brought under potato cultivation a few decades ago. After this was given up in order to restore the areas to conservation, kikuyu grass an exotic from Africa already brought in by colonists to the Central hills for cattle farms in the 19th century, colonized the potato fields.
The origin of the montane grasslands has long been debated. Some workers opining that the grassland are an artificial community created by forest clearance and maintained by periodic burning, while others considering them to the natural vegetation of these uplands.
Elephant disappeared from the region some 70 years ago, or earlier. Large mammals could seldom be seen at Horton Plains. Samber is a common sight at dusk and in the early morning hours. Mammals which still occur in reasonable numbers include Kelaart's long-clawed shrew slender loris, endemic toque macaque, purple faced langur, rusty-spotted cat, fishing cat, leopard, wild boar, otter, stripe necked mongoose, Indian spotted chevrot, barking deer and long tailed gaint Squirrel. Horned lizard and bear mqnkey are some of endemic species found here.
Horton Plains National Park habours 12 species of endemic birds. The following birds are recorded only for Horton Plains: Sri Lanka blue magpie, Sri Lanka white-eye and Sri Lanka wood pigeon. Other endemics include Sri Lanka spurfowl, Sri Lanka jungle fowl, yellow fronted barbet, rufous babler, palliser's warbler and Sri Lanka whistling thrush. Numerous birds overwinter in the highlands, migrating from Europe and northern Asia. Swiftlet and Alpine swift can be seen circling over the patanas, as can various raptors such as crested serpent eagle and mountain hawk eagle, black-winged kite, peregrine, and various species of harriers and buzzards. This park is a paradise for butterflies too.
Among reptiles are snake and the wide- spread agamid.
The only fish is the introduced rainbow trout. The distribution of the endemic fresh water shrimp is believed to be confined to a 10 km stretch of river within the park.
Information by- Department of Wildlife Conservation and Green Media Network