The Horton Plains takes its name from the British Governor Sir Robert Horton. The plains served as hunting grounds for Sambar and to a lesser extent Elephants and Wild Boar. Also the British converted the lower grassy slopes into coffee cultivation and later introduced tea. During the in 1960s a large extent was terraced and used for potatoe cultivation. It was much later people realized the value of Horton Plains as catchment area feeding some of the most important rivers. The Horton Plains was designated a National Park in 1988.
The block of Montane forest found on Horton Plains along with adjacent Knuckle Mountains is considered the most important in terms of its wealth of species and protection of watersheds according to a national conservation review done in 1992-97. It is home to a wonderful array of plants and animals species, many of which are endemic and only found in this area. The park authorities said disturbances from the large number of visitors arriving, as well as other factors like air pollution and spread of invasive species is threatening habitat on the plains.
The charm of the plateau and encircling mountain ranges often concealed in the mist is enhanced by Baker’s Falls and two escarpments –Small World’s End (274 m) and World’s End (884 m). There are three trails found on Horton Plains- the Worlds’ End and Baker’s Falls circuit, Kirigalpoththa and Thotupolakanda trails.
The last of these trails which is to the peak of the third highest mountain (2,357 m) is said to be the easiest as the ascend covers just 200 meters in elevation, 1.6 kms in distance and takes around an hour. Thotupolakanda trail allows hikers to experience the unique mountain forest ecosystem, and is less crowded since most people do not know of its existence. A small board on the left hand, 400m to the park entrance, indicates the starting point to the trail.
According to Ramayan tales this location marks the landing place for king Rama’s plane ‘Dadumonara’ (a wooden flying object in shape of a peacock) as he was bringing his lady love, Princess Sita to Lanka. Thotu-pola in local language, Sinhala means landing site.
We decided to take the first of the three trails since only one of these is possible in a day. Barely visible in the thick mist we headed in the direction of Bakers Falls around 9 in the morning. The first stretch is a warming-up along the undulating paths snaking its way into higher elevation. A stream where Rainbow Trouts are said to be found, flowed crisscrossing our path. Morning dew dusted the tops of wild fern and thorny bushes that lined the stream, like tiny, shining jewels. A steep, precarious descend got us to the base of the Baker’s falls. Having got there with some difficulty we ventured further down to get a better view of the cascades This lead us to a an open clearing through a new path which connected with the route we were on. In a moment if panic we were lost, we looked-up Google maps for directions to the World’s End. Minutes later sounds of approaching visitors finally put our fears at rest.
The mist was reducing as the skies cleared and a bright sun was shining. This meant that terrific views of the valley below was awaiting those who reached the World’s End around 10 am. A tea factory and several houses were seen the size of match boxes. My legs turned into jelly as I searched for more details. Giving up – I turned my focus towards the far away mountains in shades of fading blues and greys. I worried as a bunch of youngsters were trailing the edge for a good shot. A miss of a footing will take the unfortunate hiker plummeting hundreds of feet down. We continued on the route a further 6 kms to reach the Small World’s End which been at a lower elevation was completely covered by mist. As we completed the trail we met many local families, large parties of young people and dozens of tourists who were doing the route. Some children were seen riding on the shoulders of their fathers or helped by their mothers. We reached the Farr Inn a little after 11 am, whereas heading to the canteen enjoyed some warm tea and fresh roti with spicy lunu-miris.