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Preserving the mystic lure of Horton Plains

by Florence Wickramage - DN Dec 6 2004

Dusk had fallen and the thick mist was rapidly enveloping the landscape and the winding road uphill was hardly visible save for the fog lights guiding our path to Horton Plains. As we reached the plains, silhouetted against the falling dusk and peering at us through the thick mist were groups of Sambur having a last meal before retiring for the night. Our eyes feasted on this delightful spectacle as we drove along slowly to the Park Bungalow which was to be our shelter for the night.

Horton Plains has a special attraction for me, being my favourite amongst all the natural bounties mother nature has bestowed on us. A visit to Horton Plains means a visit to `heaven on earth' for its mystic and pristine beauty have no boundaries whatsoever.

Spending a night at Horton Plains in December and experiencing the birth of a new dawn is a must for a nature lover. The night was extremely cold, possibly - 15 degrees - and the trees outside in the garden were just dark shadows. The thick mist was an impenetrable shroud pierced at intervals by a distant cry of a nocturnal bird. Around 6.O'clock in the morning I decided to step outside to experience the beauty of a new day. The garden was drenched with dew glistening at the tips of the blades of grass, the skies were lighting up gradually ushering in the morn, and muffled up to my ears, I stepped on to the wet compound to inhale to the fullest the beauties of nature unfolding before my eyes. The knarled trees, the dark red Rhododendran, found only at Horton Plains, the rolling plains with their rich biodiversity were leisurely getting into focus in the rays of the morning sun slowly filtering through the branches.

My visit to Horton Plains this time with my colleagues was official - to report on the development work planned to afford more facilities for the visitor to enjoy its beauties to the fullest and in more comfortable surroundings.

Horton Plains

The title Horton Plains has more meaning than World's End, made famous by the star-crossed lovers, Monica-Britto, who leaped to their deaths long years back.

The new Visitor Entrance and Ticketing Booth under construction close to Pattipola.

Located in the Pattipola Plateau at an elevation of 7200 ft. above sea level Horton Plains is a valuable store-house of rich bio-diversity. This is the only National Park where vehicles are not allowed within and visitors have to follow nature trails by foot on self-interpreted and self-guided tours. The bio diversity is endemic to Sri Lanka where the Ceylon Arangaya and Ang Katussa are two rare varieties of fauna found only at Horton Plains. Among flora are the endemic Rhododendron and several varieties of bamboo, grass and knarled trees with high forest cover. Eleven endemic species of birds are found at Horton Plains.

Horton Plains is also the catchment for the Mahaveli, Kalu and Walawe rivers and has a rainfall of above 2500 mm. Known also as the Cloud Mountains a special variety of lichen (23%), popularly known as `Old Man's Beard' whose function is to store rainwater to feed the wetland is profusely found hanging from branches. A large number of natural pools - besides the famous Baker's Falls, Leg o'Mutton pool, the Chimney Pool, the Governor's pool, to name a few, enriches the Plain's alluring attractions.

In short, Horton Plains is a biological, hydrological and scientifically valuable nature reserve.

Developments

Recording Rs. 28.2 million as income derived from visitors last year, the figure has reached the Rs. 31.4 million mark by the end of November this year while affording minimum visitor facilities.

Farr Inn being renovated into the new Visitor Centre. 

Attention has now been focussed on the need for conservation compatible visitor facilities. Long, term objectives identified include the conservation of the bio-diversity of Horton Plains; Catchment Protection; Enhanced Visitor Facilities and the establishment of a study and research centre with epecial emphasis on Montane Conservation. Among short-term objectives identified include the elimination of invasive species such as the Ulex Europea and the enhancement of local plant-food varieties for Sambur. Already 13 ha. of the Ulex Europea have been cleared. Re-introduction of endemic species of fish in the Park's natural pools to which the old colonials introduced Trout for fishing has also been addressed. 19% of the Plains is Forest-dieback and the causes for this situation is being researched to prevent further destruction of the forest cover.

Environment and Natural Resources Minister A. H. M. Fowzie accompanied by Small Scale Rural Development Minister C. B. Ratnayake, Director General Department of Wildlife Conservation Dayananda Kariyawasam, Park Warden A. H. Sumanasena with other officials inspect a waterway at the Horton Plains National Park. 

A special visitor service area has been identified to ensure the protection of the forest-cover and grasslands. An alternate forest road from Pattipola to Ohiya covering an 8 km distance has been planned. The present ticketing office and entrance to the park is located almost in the middle of the Horton Plains.

It has been observed that visitors arriving at the present location would have travelled and enjoyed a vast expanse of the Plains without any cost. Vehicles being parked near the present entrance are causing air pollution with harmful effects on the valuable grasslands. A new visitor entrance and a ticketing office has been planned and strategic points identified to ensure protection to the Park from the periphery. The present vehicle parking area would be shifted to the Horton Plains boundary with convenient travelling conveyance to transport visitors to the Visitor Centre.

The colonially famous Farr Inn which was earlier Sir Thomas Baker's and Governor Horton's hunting lodge is being renovated and transformed into a Visitor Centre whilst conserving the colonial architecture. It is at Farr Inn that Governor Horton had discussions with the then Rate-Mahattayas regarding various matters.

Identification of new Hiking Trails is under consideration, some of which would facilitate visitors unable to trek the 4 km. distance to the World's End and back. More than 15 Observation Points will be located with Viewing Decks and protective rails constructed at the Small and Greater World's End and the Baker's Falls. Hiking Trails to Kirigalpotta, Thotupola Kande and the Red Bridge are also planned.

The services of trained tour-guides are considered as an essential component in the new development plans.

Habitat Mappings and comprehensive data compilation already completed are used as resource material for the new developments under way.

The Horton Plains National Park ensures 100% - 200% security for visitors with facilities for lodging provided in the park bungalows. Hunting and the use of flashlights have been strictly prohibited.

Polythene is completely banned and facilities have been provided within the Park for garbage disposal.

Horton Plains National Park is a national treasure, a heritage to be passed on to future generations. A final message for the visitor- "Take nothing but photographs - Leave nothing but footsteps".