Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains National Park is a protected area in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is covered by montane grassland and cloud forest. This plateau at an altitude of around 2,100m is rich in biodiversity and many species found here are endemic to the region. This region was designated a national park in 1988. It is also a popular tourist destination and is situated 8 kilometres from Ohiya, 6 kilometres from the world-famous Ohiya Gap/Dondra Watch and 32 kilometres from Nuwara Eliya.

The Horton Plains are the headwaters of three major Sri Lankan rivers, the Mahaweli, Kelani, and Walawe. In Sinhala the plains are known as Maha Eliya Plains (මහ එළිය තැන්න). Stone tools dating back to Balangoda culture have been found here. The plains’ vegetation is grasslands interspersed with montane forest and includes many endemic woody plants.

Large herds of Sri Lankan sambar deer feature as typical mammals and the park is also an Important Bird Area with many species not only endemic to Sri Lanka but restricted to the Horton Plains. Forest dieback is one of the major threats to the park and some studies suggest that it is caused by a natural phenomenon. The sheer precipice of World’s End and Baker’s Falls are among the tourist attractions of the park. In 20th century there are some records of elephants again in the park.


The original name of the area was Maha Eliya Thenna (මහ එළිය තැන්න – “great open plain”). But in the British period the plains were renamed after Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton, the British governor of Ceylon from 1831 to 1837, who travelled to the area to meet the Ratemahatmaya of Sabaragamuwa in 1836, in 1834 by Lt William Fisher of the 78th Regiment and Lt. Albert Watson of the 58th Regiment, who ‘discovered’ the plateau. The local population who resided in the lowlands ascended the mountains to mine gems, extract iron ore, construct an irrigational canal and fell trees for timber.

Foklores about King Ravana & Dandumonara


Since Sri Lanka has a long non-written history, there is a significant and logical folk story, which also goes with the epic ‘Ramayana’ with some deviations. It is believed that Thotupala mountain in Horton plain to be the place where King Rawana landed his aircraft, ‘Dandumonaraya’. According to the story King Rawana kidnapped Sitha, who was the wife of Rama as a revenge for cutting King Rawana’s sister, Suparnika’s nose. It provoked Rama in India and he led an army that consisted of monkey like humans, whose leader was Hanuman.

In the story, Hanuman set fire to Horton plains and that fire lasted for a long time. The original name, Maha Eliya Thenna carries the meaning, ‘The hugely lighten ground’. Even now the upper layer of soil can be seem in a blackish grey colour. There had been some soil tests done by local universities, and it revealed that upper layer contains a high amount of Calcium Carbonate and Potash. For Sri Lankans, Horton Plains is very significant in their History and Culture.




Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker had advised the British Government “to leave all Montane Forests above 5000 ft. undisturbed” and that prevented clearing and felling of forests in the region. Horton Plains was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1969, and because of its biodiversity value, was elevated to a national park in 1988. The Peak Wilderness Sanctuary which lies in west is contiguous with the park. The land area covered by Horton Plains is 3,160 hectares. Horton Plains contains the most extensive area of cloud forest still existing in Sri Lanka. In 2010, the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka which incorporates Horton Plains National Park, Peak Wilderness Sanctuary and Knuckles Mountain Range was inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Flora & Fauna

The vegetation of the park is classified into two distinctive groups, 2,000 hectares of wet patana (Sinhalese for “montane grasslands”) and 1,160 hectares of subtropical montane evergreen forests.Nearly 750 species of plants belonging to 20 families have been recorded from the park. Nearly 54 woody plant species have been recorded from the park, of which 27 (50%) are endemic to Sri Lanka.

There are conflicting views on how the grasslands of the park came into being, whether man-made or natural. It is now believed that the grasslands on the dry slopes were created by forest clearance and fires while grasslands in low-lying areas were naturally created by wet conditions, frost and soil erosion.




The vertebrate fauna of the region includes 24 species of mammals, 87 species of birds, nine species of reptiles and eight species of amphibians. The Sri Lankan elephant disappeared from the region in the 1940s at the latest. At present, the largest and the most commonly seen mammal is the sambar deer. Some research findings estimate the population of sambar deer to be around 1500 to 2000, possibly more than the carrying capacity of the plains. Other mammal species found in the park include Kelaart’s long-clawed shrews, toque macaques, purple-faced langurs, rusty-spotted cat, Sri Lankan leopards, wild boars, stripe-necked mongooses, Sri Lankan spotted chevrotains, Indian muntjacs, and grizzled giant squirrels. Fishing cats and European otters visit the wetlands of the park to prey on aquatic animals. A subspecies of red slender loris, the Horton Plains slender loris is found only in highlands of Sri Lanka and is considered one of the world’s most endangered primates. In 2016, rusty-spotted cats were recorded in Horton Plains National Park for the first time.

Important Bird Area



Along with Ohiya, Pattipola and Ambewela, Horton Plains forms one of the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Together with the adjacent Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, Horton Plains contains 21 bird species which occur only on Sri Lanka. Four, Sri Lanka blue magpie, dull-blue flycatcher, Sri Lanka white-eye, and Sri Lanka wood pigeon, occur only in Horton plains, while other endemic species include Sri Lanka spurfowl, Sri Lanka junglefowl, yellow-fronted barbet, orange-billed babbler, Sri Lanka bush warbler, and Sri Lanka whistling-thrush.

Many birds migrate here in winter including swiftlets, and alpine swift. Crested serpent eagle, mountain hawk-eagle, black-winged kite, and peregrine falcon are among the birds of prey found in Horton Plains. Harriers are among the migratory raptors. This is a key wildlife area. All six highland endemic birds are found here, including dull-blue flycatcher, Sri Lanka white-eye, Sri Lanka wood pigeon, and Sri Lanka bush warbler. Yellow-eared bulbul and black-throated munia are widespread throughout the highlands.

Sri Lanka is considered a herpetological paradise



Sri Lanka is considered a herpetological paradise in the world. Possibly about 15 amphibian species inhabit the park. De Silva has observed six endemic reptiles from the plains. They are Calotes nigrilabris, rhino horn lizard, Cophotis ceylanica, Lankascincus taprobanensis, common rough-sided snake, and rat snake. Two fish species found in the park, common carp and rainbow trout; both are introduced species. Horton Plains is also home to many endemic crustaceans including Caridina singhalensis and Perbrinckia species. The endemic freshwater shrimp Caridina singhalensis is found only in streams that have a temperature of less than 15 degrees C and is now restricted to only a stretch of 10 km of one stream.


Environmental Impact


During this period lower slopes were cleared initially for coffee and then for tea plantations. As a result, Horton Plains and Peak Wilderness became isolated from other forest and grassland areas. Tourism-related issues such as plant removal, littering, fires and noise pollution are major conservation issues. Gem mining, timber logging, the collection of plants for ornamental and medicinal purposes, encroachment, poaching and vehicle traffic are the other threats. Some sambar deer have died due to eating polythene litter that blocked their food passages, and visitors are banned from bringing polythene into the park.

A recent threat is forest dieback. In some areas, especially in the peripheral region, this has been severe with nearly a 50% in vegetation. Water deficiency has been attributed as the main cause of dieback as droughts are becoming more frequent. Regrowth of forest is hindered by frost which is increasingly severe. The forest dieback has affected 22 species of plants. A study has suggested that low calcium causes soil acidification and increased toxicity caused by metallic elements such as aluminium may be causing the dieback. Leaching of nutrients and the resulting imbalance in soil micronutrients may also be contributing to the dieback.

Tourist Attraction
World’s End

Horton Plains is a popular tourist destination, with World’s End being the key attraction. The park is accessed by the Nuwara Eliya-Ambewela-Pattipola and Haputale-Boralanda roads, and there are railway stations at Ohiya and Ambewela.


World’s End is a sheer precipice with a 870 m drop. It is situated at the southern boundary of the park. Another cliff known as the Lesser World’s End of 270 m is located not far from World’s End.


Baker’s Fall

A waterfall formed by Belihul Oya, a tributary of the Walawe River is named after Sir Samuel Baker, a hunter and explorer[24] who attempted to establish a European agricultural settlement at Nuwara Eliya. The waterfall is 20 metres (66 ft) high. Slab Rock Falls is another well-known waterfall in the plains. The waterfall can be reached by walking on one of the main trails; the trail is a bit steep at the end but the difficulty level is medium to easy.

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