Friday, August 3, 2012

Burning off some calories. Horton Plains.

From Nuwara Eliya, we continued our way towards Horton Plains National Park. Earlier in our trip, Chandana had mentioned that if wanted to, he could arrange for us to climb up Adam's Peak which is located inside the park.  It would mean getting up at some ungodly hour, like 1am and hiking through the night to get to the top in time to see the sunrise. "No, thank you" was my reply. For a few minutes, my brother was interested and I didn't want to hold him back so I told him to go ahead. Either Chandana or Chami or both guys would go along with him so he should be okay and he had the proper shoes with him as well.

But, after more thought, he opted out as well so we're coming to Horton Plains just to hike some trails but not climb a peak. I was perfectly happy with that....I can burn off some calories without having to kill myself :-)

By late morning, we had left the tea plantations behind but the hills were still green and rolling and the weather still cool. I felt like I was back home on a cloudy spring day.









There were cows grazing on grass.....











 ....and windmills.






This did not look like Sri Lanka. Was I back in the US but didn't know it?'


The next surprise was where we stopped for our break. At a place called Ambewella Farms....a dairy farm! Chandana wanted to bring us here so we could enjoy some fresh mil and yogurt. First off, we're oriental Asians who are notoriously known for being lactose intolerant. Secondly, we come from the land of milk. So, neither of us was really interested in drinking or eating any dairy.....unless they have ice cream :-)








Chandana headed towards the restaurant but it was closed so the only option was to buy from the outdoor stand. There, he bought two small tubs of freshly made yogurt - one for himself and the other for Chami. While the guys enjoyed their yogurt, we took in the views of the landscape. It is pretty here.










We continued our journey. Soon, rolling green hills gave way to dry, arid plains. It's amazing how dramatically the landscape can change on this small island!









 



It was another hour's long drive before we arrived into the entrance to Horton Plains National Park. Chandana bought the entry ticket for 2 Local Adults and 2 Foreign Adults - notice the price differential between the two categories! Yikes!

We continued driving until we reached the parking lot. This is low season so there were barely any cars in the lot. Good news for us as that would mean not as many people on the trails.





My brother and I geared up and made a quick stop at the toilets before heading out. Just as we were about to walk towards a building that looked like the Visitor's Center, we bumped into the Sri Lankan wife/Australian husband that we had been seated next to last night at the Esala Perahera. It really is a small world and it's especially small on an island the size of Sri Lanka. Anyway, when they saw that we were heading in to start the hike, she advised us to take the path that led to the right versus the left because it was steep descent in the beginning and a gentle climb back. We thanked her for the advice, said our goodbyes and went on our way.

The building that looked like the Visitors Center was closed so we continued on. The adjacent building was a little restaurant and standing outside was a sambar deer though Chandana mistakenly kept calling it a reindeer. I think that's the only word he knows for a deer like animal with antlers but reindeer don't live this far south. In any event, though this was a wild animal, it was obvious that it had been hand fed by many a tourist and it knew exactly where to hang out to get the goodies. My brother had decided to bring along a few mangosteens with him and guess who the deer had his eyes on :-)




We were all a bit leary about feeding him - didn't want to be gored by those antlers so my brother did toss out a mangosteen and Chandana also fed him one. After that, we made as many gestures to try and indicate to the deer that we had no more to give and eventually, it left us.






Standing at the store, there were two paths - one leading to the left and the other to the right. Remembering what the woman told us, we headed to the right. About 50 feet into walking, we lost sign of a path. Hmmm.....where to go? We decided to play it safe and so we backtracked to the store and took the path to the left.

A short distance from where we started, we reached a checkpoint where we had to show our ticket and where they asked my brother to hand over the plastic bag that held his mangosteens as plastic is prohibited in the park. Luckily, I had my backpack on me so in to that the mangosteens went.



At the checkpoint, we had to decide whether to go left or right. We took the woman's advice and went to the right. We finally hit the trail and it was flat and paved! This first part was pretty easy....we were just passing through open fields. We did pass a large group at the beginning of our walk but after that, it was a handful of people every now and again. It was a very tranquil experience.


Soon enough, the path started to descend but it was still paved and it was a relatively gentle downhill.





I was enjoying the scenery; it reminded me very much of places I had been to in Northern California.














We passed by small streams. The water was clear and I could catch glimpses of tiny fish swimming around.







Concrete bridges spanned the larger water crossings though my ever curious brother would always check out the water's edge.
 



















To my untrained eye, this is what I saw of the landscape....green stuff.  I could recognize some of it but most....no, no clue.







 But for both Chandana and my brother, it seemed to me like they were checking out every leaf - everything was interesting to them.

Yes, Chandana has flip flops on!














It wasn't long before the paved path disappeared and we were on hard ground; the walk quickly turned into a hike. It was at this point that Chami decided to leave us. I don't think hiking is his cup of tea.

This point was also confirmation that we were indeed on a hike and it would be a 9.4km circuit. I just hoped that it would not be too difficult for me. As always, I would just take my time and let the guys go ahead of me.



The first *landmark* we arrived at was the Chimney Pool; a small pond fed by a small waterfall. Not anything spectacular but it was very pretty.

The flat landscape of the plains had given way to hills. Smooth, hard ground quickly turned to ground with huge ruts (really HUGE) or rocky ground. At this point, I really had to concentrate on where to put my feet!


 


And then hills gave way to forests.

Path? What path?


Once we were inside the forest, the path started going downhill and I had to be careful to navigate my way without tripping over the roots. Not fun. On occasion, I did grab onto a tree limb for support. I am such an uncoordinated klutz :-(  I was concentrating so hard I didn't even have a chance to see the scenery. 


We had to walk quite a distance in to the woods before we arrived at the next set of signs. We were about 2.5 km from our starting point. To the right was the path to Baker's Falls and to the left, the one to World's End.

We headed right and immediately, I was confronted with what would turn out to be the biggest challenge for me. It was a very steep, tiered path that wound its way down hill. At the edge of every tier was a row of small circular poles. Didn't help that tree roots popped in random spots along the way and some of the steps were deep enough to basically come up to my crotch. I had no idea how long the path was and I dreaded the thought of having to come back up the path but I headed down behind the guys.  One baby step at a time!


Time truly flies when you're focused on not tripping and before I knew it, I was at the bottom! Yay! I made it. I would worry about the hike back up later. In the meantime, I get to enjoy the falls....wherever they were. I could hear the water but I couldn't see the falls.

Again, the path forked. To left, the path led down to the base of the falls. To the right was a flat path that led to the top of the falls. You can guess which way the guys went and which way I went :-)


Here's my view of the falls. There was small overlook with benches. I took a spot and enjoyed the sound of the water. There was no one else around and it was just too peaceful a place to just take a photo and walk away.

Eventually, I met back up with the guys at path intersection. Here's the view of the base of the falls - photo courtesy of my brother.







While they made their way to see the upper part of the falls, I summoned my stamina and headed back up the dreaded tiered path. I took my time....so slow that I had to step aside a couple of times to let other hikers pass me by. So sad but the good news is that I made it and in retrospect, it was nowhere as difficult as I had set myself up for. Either that or I am in better physical condition than I realize - that would be a nice thought!










We continued our way towards World's End. It would be another 3 km hike through the forest to get there.

You know you've arrived at World's End when the forest path opens up and you see the ground come to an end. There is a wooden platform to stand on but no railing or edging of any sort to prevent from falling over the 840m high precipice!

The skies were hazy but the view was still amazing!  Way, way, way down, we could see the valley with a lake.  Somewhere down there was also a town....we were way to high up to see it though.


Time to snap a few photos, take in the view and catch a short break....like he needs it :-)





After our short interlude, we continued on our hike. At this point, we were about 5.6 km from our starting point and so we had about 3.8km to go. Our hike would continue through the forest and would be a gradual descent though the large ruts and loose rocks did not necessarily make it an easy hike down :-(








A short while after we left World's End, we arrived at the lookout point known as Lesser World's End - same view just 600m lower. We didn't spend much time here as the view just didn't compare to the one we had just left behind.






The rocky trail soon turned into what looked like a rocky gorge. The rocks have a very interesting strata pattern to them so I asked my brother to take a photo. The camera doesn't quite capture the beauty of the rocks but you can see what the *path* looked like - not an easy, breezy hike by any stretch of the imagination.


The rocky gorge eventually ended and we were back on hard ground. At this point, it was an easy walk.



All of sudden, Chandana stopped us in our tracks and pointed to a bird, way down the path. He said it was jungle fowl which to me can describe anything. It was so far away from us that I had to use my zoom lens to take a photo so we could see what it looked like. My brother was arguing that it was just a chicken but the picture showed a very beautiful bird....indeed Sri Lanka jungle fowl.  Chandana does know his fauna!






The path in the woods eventually led back out to the plains.  It turned out to be a far more enjoyable hike than I had anticipated.


For a while, I thought we were backtracking.  It seemed like we crossed this same stream on the way in.




Before we knew it, we were back at our starting point. My stomach was starting to growl and for a second, I was tempted to pop into the store and see if they had anything worth buying.  But at this point, the desire to get back into the van and resume our roadtrip won out. We still had to make to Ella which was where we were going to be spending the night. It was at least a two hour drive and better to get as early as start as possible.



Chami was waiting for us back at the van.  By now, another two vans, full of tourists had arrived.  The poor sambar deer had no chance to escape from the *paparazzi* though it didn't look bothered by all the shouts to have it look towards a lens or two.

Into the van, out of the park and down the road we went.



Good bye Horton Plains! Taking in a bit of Sri Lanka's nature was a nice change of pace from all the cultural activities we'd be having and it turned out to be a far better experience than I had expected!