Horton Plains, located on the southern plateau of the central highlands, are a popular tourist destination. Both local and foreign tourists visit the region regularly. Situated at an altitude of 2,100-2,300 metres (6,900-7,500 feet) it is covered by montane grassland and cloud forest. It is rich in biodiversity with many species being endemic to the region.
Situated 32 kilometres (20 miles) from Nuwara Eliya, the drive to Horton Plains is a very pleasant one. It can be reached via several routes – Nuwara Eliya, Ambewela and Pattipola (20 miles/32 km), Haputale or Welimada, Boralanda, Ohiya (24 miles/38 km) or Nuwara Eliya, Hakgala, Rendapola, Ambewela, Pattipola (24 miles/38 km). The Ohiya railway station is eight kilometres away from Horton Plains.
Horton Plains, named after British governor Sir Robert Wilmot Horton (1931-87) is described as “a world apart from rest of the tropical island.” This is the island’s highest and most isolated plain, a result of millions of years of erosion. The importance of conservation of the park lies in, among others, in its role as the catchment area of the major rivers of the island – Mahaweli, Kelani and Walawe.
The peaks of Kirigalpoththa (2,389 metres – 7,838 feet) and Thotupola Kanda (2,357 metres – 7,733 feet), the second and the third highest of Sri Lanka, are situated to the west and north respectively.
The region was declared a National Park in 1988. Spread over an area of 10,000 hectares, this is the only National Park in Sri Lanka where visitors are allowed to walk on their own on the designated tracks. No visitor misses a trek down to World’s End the sheer precipice being a wonderful sight, and Baker’s Falls.
The Philatelic Bureau picked Horton Plains for the third series of stamps depicting National Parks of Sri Lanka. They feature four popular varieties of animals and birds found there.
Just as much the animals, the Park is also an important bird area with many species not only endemic to Sri Lanka but restricted to the Horton Plains. Seen frequently is the whistling thrush – Sri Lanka Arangaya (Rs. 5 stamp) which is gradually facing extinction. It can be spotted in wet highland and thick jungle, mostly in places where water is abundant. The omnivorous bird eats small insects, small frogs, worms and other small creatures. Shaded blue in colour, its head is black.
The sounds of the Arangaya like a melodious song can be heard at dawn through the mountains of Horton plains. During the breeding season, mostly the male birds make sounds. The birds make cup-shaped cages either on trees or bushes often near watersheds to lay eggs. The female lays two eggs at a time.
The sambur (Cervus Unicolour) in herds can be seen, particularly at dusk. Dark brown in colour, a well grown sambur is around 102-160cm (40-63 inches) tall and weighs around 300 kilograms. Herds are most visible during November and December. The sambur feeds mainly on grass, rough leaves, fruits and small plants. The pregnancy period is six months and the female delivers one baby sambur at a time.
Featured on the Rs. 25 stamp is the rhinohon lizards (Ang Katussa) endemic to Horton Plains. It has earned its name because of a small horn on top of the mouth. It can be seen roaming among the branches of trees, particularly in the evening. It can either expand or contract the body which is covered with scales of varying degree. The species is fast disappearing.
The purple faced leaf monkey (Trachypithecus vetulus) is a common sight in the mornings when it roams among branches of trees making a queer sound. They are found on tops of trees usually in small groups of eight to nine. They feed on young leaves, fruits and a variety of seeds. It is another species facing extinction.