Central Highlands Of Sri Lanka.
The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka were labelled as a World Heritage Site in 2010 in recognition of the site’s values within one of the world’s richest attentions of biodiversity. Sri Lanka’s highlands are situated in the south central part of the island. The property comprises the Peak Wilderness Protected area (Sri Pada Forest), the Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest. These Mountain forests, water falls, where the land rises to 2,500 meters above sea level, are home to an extraordinary range of flora and fauna, including several endangered species such as the western purple faced langur, the Horton Plains slender loris and the Sri Lankan leopard. The region is considered a super biodiversity hotspot in highlands of Sri Lanka..!
Biodiversity of Central Highlands
Central Highlands provides a microcosm of the entire variety of climatic conditions in Sri Lanka from extreme wet to nearly arid. Highland forest areas are extremely wet with an average annual rainfall of 5000 mm while lowland areas are much drier with less than 2500 mm average annual rainfall. Some areas have ground frost during January to March. The area is vulnerable to strong winds. The tropical lowland semi evergreen vegetation type is seen in the valleys and foothills. The unique grassland called Pitawalapatana is a Patana grassland with a great aesthetic appeal. The grass cover is up to 10 meters tall and occupies an area of about 10ha of a gently sloping rock slab covered with just a 10 – 15 cm deep soil layer. Scrub lands with thorny or prickly shrubs around two meters in height grown as an impregnable thicket occur around present and past settlements.
Central Highland range provides shelter to 128 bird species, 20 amphibian species, 60 butterfly species, 17 mollusk species, 31 mammal species, 53 reptile species, and 15 fish species. Among the total vertebrate animals recorded in Sri Lanka, five endemic species consisting of 3 freshwater fish species (Phillips Garra, Blotched filamented Barb, and Martenstyn Barb), one amphibian (Kirthisingha’s Rock Frog) and one lizard (Leaf nose lizard) are confined solely to the Central Highlands.
Peak Wilderness – Sri Pada Mountain Range – Sacred Footprint of Sri Lanka
(Butterfly Mountain) (Adam’s Peak) (Samanthakuta, meaning Domain of God Maha Sumana Saman)
Sri Pada is a 2,243 m (7,359 ft) tall conical mountain located in central Sri Lanka. It is well known for the Adams’peak, “sacred footprint of Sri Lanka”, a 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) rock formation near the summit, which in Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of the Buddha. It was declared as one of the “UNESCO World Heritage Sites” in 2010 for the ecological and biological diversities which need to be protected and reserved without any harm being done to the site.
The mountain is located in the southern reaches of the Central Highlands in the Rathnapura district and Nuwara Eliya district of the Sabaragamuwa province and Central province, lying about 40 km northeast of the city of Rathnapura and 32 km southwest of the city of Hatton. The surrounding region is largely forested hills, with no mountain of comparable size nearby. The region along the mountain is a wildlife reserve, housing many species varying from elephants to leopards, and including many endemic species.
Sri Pada is important as a watershed. The districts to the south and the east of Sri Pada yield precious stones Emeralds, Rubies and Sapphires, for which the island has been famous, and which earned for it the ancient name of Ratnadeepa. Interesting as the ascent is, & beautiful as the dawn is, Sri Pada saves its mesmerizing paramount show time for a few minutes after dawn. As the sun rises, the shadow of the Peak seems to be projected in from the air without lying upon the forest below as one’s eyes expect, a perfect shadow of the peak onto the misty clouds in the direction of far coast. Still more as the sun rises higher, this eerie triangular shadow on the misty clouds races back towards the peak, eventually disappearing into on to its base. This is an awesome optical phenomenon in a magnificent summit of a sacred mountain of boundless..!
History Of Sri Pada
According to the Sri Lanka’s great chronicle, Mahawansa, Buddha visited Sri Lanka three times. The last time he traveled from Kelaniya to Sri Pada, and then to Digavaphi. It is said that Buddha left his foot print on the rock at top of the mountain at the invitation of the Deity Sumana Saman (God).
Deity Saman is recorded as having met the Buddha on his first visit to the island when he visited Mahiyanganaya to drive away the Tribe of Yakkas. Saman became a stream-entrant (sothapanna) after listening to the Buddha. Deity Saman then requested a object of worship , and Buddha gave him a handful of hairs with which he enshrined on a Dagaba at Mahiyanganaya.
The Theravada Buddhists of Sri Lanka later made Deity Saman the guardian of their land and their religion. With the rise of Mahayana Buddhism, Saman developed into Samantabhadra, one of the four principle Bodhisattvas of Mahayana. Like his later manifestation, Samanta is usually depicted crowned and bejeweled, holding a lotus in his right hand and accompanied by a white elephant. At Weligama, an ancient port on Sri Lanka’s south coast, there is a 12 ft high statue which some believe is the figure of Samantabhadra carved out of a huge moss-covered bolder. This statue is now called Kushtarajagala. It is thought that the Pilgrims from India and northern Sri Lanka disembarking at Weligama were greeted by this Bodhisattva figure as they set out on the long trek to Sri Pada.
The summit of the mountain is a small plateau, and according to measurements made by Lieut. Malcolm (the first European to ascend the mountain in 1816),” it is 74 ft. in length and 24 ft. in breadth” the total area being 1,776 sq. ft. On the top of the Peak broad steps lead up to a walled enclosure containing the rock over which is a tower-like structure.
According to the Englishman John Davy, who visited the summit in 1817,
It is a superficial hollow, five feet three inches and three-quarters long, and between two’ feet seven inches and two feet five inches wide. It is ornamented with a margin of brass, studded with a few gems, of little value: it is covered with a roof, which is fastened to the rock by four iron chains, and supported by four pillars; and it is surrounded by a low wall. The roof was lined with colored cloths, and its margin being decked with flowers, and streamers, it made a very gay appearance. The cavity .certainly bears a coarse resemblance to the figure of the human foot: were it really ah impression, it is not a very flattering one, or the encomiums which are lavished on the beauty of the feet of Boodhoo are very improperly bestowed. ….
A similar print in Thailand is believed to have the imprint of the Buddha’s right foot, is about five feet long and two feet broad. The real footprint on Adam’s Peak is believed to be set in jewels beneath the visible rock.
The soles of the Buddha’s feet are said to be flat with all the toes of equal length. On each sole there are one hundred and eight auspicious marks (mangala lakkhana), with the wheel (chakra) the principal mark at the centre while around it are grouped figures of animals, inhabitants of various worlds and other kinds of symbols.
Buddhists knew that this mysterious footprint had been made by the Buddha long before as far as the 1st century BC any other religion was introduced to the country. But in succeeding centuries other faiths, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity were to lay claim to it. Muslims believe the footprint to be that of Adam (hence the name Adam’s Peak), Christians, that of St. Thomas, the disciple Jesus; and Hindus, that of the god Siva. The Tamil name of the rock Civan-oli-pata (the mountain path of Siva’s light) or Svargarohanam (assent to heaven).
The first historical mention about Sri Pada comes during the reign of Vijayabahu (1055-1110). Earliest historical evidence in chronicles and inscriptions It is recorded that the king having seen the difficulties undergone by the pilgrims on their way to worship the Sri Pathula (Buddha’s Foot Print) on Samanthakuta dedicated the village named ‘Gilimale’ to provide for their needs. Stone inscriptions of Vijayabahu have been found at Gilimale and Ambagamuwa confirming the statement of the chronicle. But it was King Nissanka Malla ( 1187-1196) who reigned from Poona who started the pilgrimage after he ascended the mountain with his fourfold army with great faith and devotion.
Sri Pada Travelers Season
The Sri Pada season starts from full moon of December and end on full moon of April. Generally it takes about four to five hours to climb to the top. During this season many shops pop up on the way to the mountain top offering all sorts of food and refreshments. There are first aid centers manned by volunteers on the way. Most people make the climb by night to reach the mountain top to watch the “Ira Sevaya”, the sun rise over the sea. But this time can be quite crowded specially during the weekend and towards the end of the season. Its not rare were you have spend 5-10 minutes standing on a single step until crowd moves on. The top of the mountain is quite windy and chilly.
Horton Plains National Park & Worlds End
Horton Plains and Worlds End is a National park in the highlands of Sri Lanka. Known as “Maha Eliya” in ancient times, it lies about 20 kilometers south of Nuwara Eliya and 20 kilometers west of Haputale, 2000 meters above seat level among the second and third tallest mountains in Sri Lanka – Kirigalpotta and Totapola. The mean annual temperature for the area is about 13C . One can expect temperatures as high as 27C during day and 5C during nights. The distance to Horton Plains from Nuwara Eliya is 32 km. . The park covers 31.60 km², and is a mixture of highland forest and wet grassland. This is the only National Park in Sri Lanka where visitors are allowed to walk on their own on the designated tracks. This Horton Plains National Park is ” Mixed Cultural and Natural World Heritage Site” since 2nd August 2010.
History Of Horton Plains
Prior to the British rule in the country, this area was called Maha Eliya. Around 1820 the British came to know about this unique nature resource. It was later renamed as Horton Plains after the then British Governor Sir Robert Horton (Governor from 1832-1837). Sir Samuel Baker made this area popularized during his hunting encounters. Two other British planters, namely Tomas Farr and H.Anderson who had estates near to Horton Plains had lodges built to facilitate their hunting episodes .During the British era, this area was under protection from the Administration Order of 1873, which prohibited cutting of forests above the altitude of 5000 feet in the island. Horton Place received the status of a National Park on 16th March 1988. Prior to that from 5th Dec. 1969 it had been a Nature Reserve . The Central Highland of Sri Lanka, which Horton Plains National Park is a part of it, received the status of a ” Mixed Cultural and Natural World Heritage Site” on 2nd August 2010.
The Small World’s End
The time taken to reach Small worlds End was about 25 minutes from the brick sign post at trail division and 37 minutes from the Park Entrance Watch Post. The nature had been exceptionally kind for this fascinating tour and the Small World’s End view was fabulous as can be seen above.The escarpment at Small Worlds End drops 274 m at this point.
The Big World’s End
It takes about another 30 minutes to reach the Big World’s End from the Small World’s End. It had taken 1 hour 10 minutes to reach here from Park Entrance Watch Post with observations of surroundings and photographing the landscape.The obstructiveness view from Big World’s End made it possible to photograph Udawalawa reservoir and beyond with a shear drop of 2000 meters from the point of observation and the plains of Dry Zone.The escarpment at Big Worlds End drops 884 meters at this point.Though the three dimensional effect one see in real life by standing at an edge of these escarpments cannot be reproduced in these photographs ,it still gives a fair idea on the thrilling and awesome surrounding landscaping in these two places.
The 22 meters Baker’s Falls (sinhalese original name Gonagala Ella) is noted for the tremendous noise created by water pounding the large rock formation at its foot. Forming part of the Belihul Oya, it is surrounded by copious giant ferns. Baker’s Falls derives its name from Sir Samuel Baker, a British man who discovered it in 1845. However, Baker is also credited with the short-sighted achievement of having shot 50 elephant, five deer and two buffaloes nearby. Despite the presence of warning signs (that are often removed by confident bathers), the fall, and more specifically the 12 meters death trap of a plunge pool, has claimed numerous lives.
Baker’s Falls is accessible from Pattipola or Ohiya town. From Pattipola take the well-signed footpath and either follow it to World’s End and loop back to Baker’s Falls or take the right fork at the beginning of the path straight there. Immediately before the fall, there is a steep, root-strewn bank, which can be difficult to negotiate, especially in wet weather.
The Chimney Pool
The Chimney Pool is situated between Baker’s Fall and the brick sign post at Y junction which had been mentioned earlier. This man made bunt using granite has created a water mass in an elevation above the pool below and flows into the pool as a kind of a waterfall. The pool is in abundance with Kekatiya plants ( Aponogeton jacobsenii) which also can be seen in the stream running along side of the trail at some places.
Leopard (Panthera pardus) in the Horton Plains
It’s considered a big cat in the cat family. Leopards are mostly solitary beings, but they do get together for mating purposes and also in the case of mothers and cubs. They also communicate among themselves a lot, so they know what’s happening on the landscape even though we call them solitary.
They are extremely adaptable which means that they can live in different habitats from almost deserted areas in the world to dense rain forests and even higher up in mountainous areas. Another reason for this change is that they are adaptable in their diet as well. Therefore they can eat prey that is larger and also smaller in size. According to our research, it shows that their diet vary across different habitats. Adaptability also allows them to live in close proximity to humans, without people knowing about their whereabouts.
Sambar Deer at Horton Plains
Sri Lankan sambar deer (Rusa unicolor unicolor) is a sub-species of sambar deer that lives in Sri Lanka. This subspecies is one of the largest sambar deer species with the largest antlers both in size and in body proportions. Large males weight up to 270–280 kg. Sri Lankan sambar live in lowland dry forests and mountain forests. Large herds of sambar deer roam the Horton Plains National Park, where it is the most common large mammal.
The sky often gleams in crimson colors on clear days. The silhouette of a male or a female sambar deer set amidst the wide open grass- lands against the setting sun is indeed a rewarding site to watch at the end of a day.
Flora of Horton Plains
The vegetation of Horton Plains areas is partly of Upper Mountain Rain Forests or a Cloud Forests and Wet Patana Grasslands. There are narrow transition zones called Eco tones in between the two, comprising of shrubs and herbs. The lower elevations of Horton Plains comprises with areas of Grasslands and hills of upper elevation with Cloud Forests.
Of the total area of Horton Plains, healthy Cloud Forests cover about 39% or 1236 ha. Cloud Forests that are identified as die -back covers about 30% of the area or about 956 ha. The transition area or the Eco tone comprises about 45 ha or 1.5% of total area. The Wet Grassland can mainly be divided into three categories that are Dwarf Bamboo, Tussock Grass and Carpet Grass. Dwarf Bamboo which is endemic to Sri Lanka grows only in the Horton Plains and covers an area of 168 ha or 5.4% of hp. 18.4% or 574 ha of area is under Tussock Grass, is native to the area. The 64 ha or 2% coverage of land is under Carpet grass which had encroached the abandoned Potato cultivated land, from the seeding came with manure for potato cultivation in between 1960-1977.
Around 188 varieties of Plant species had been identified at Horton Plains of which 63 are endemic to Sri Lanka. Though the lowland rain forests have much higher multifariousness of flora verities, Horton Plains is unique due to its scarcity ecosystem not to be found anywhere else in the island. The Forest area of Horton Plains has around 57 tree species belonging to 31 families. There are some 101 flowering plant species in these high altitudes out of which 14 are endemic .These flowering plants belongs to around 20 families of species. Overall there are about 188 Plant species,1 Fish specie,14 Amphibian species, 64 Bird species and 19 Mammal species at Horton Plains.
Knuckles Mountain Range
In the central and southern parts of Sri Lanka there are several peaks that are highly ecological and rich in bio diversity. These mountains are preserved as forests and are the starting points of many rivers. Knuckles is one the most important bio diversity environments with range of mountains and a great water and wild life resource. Loved by travelers for it’s beauty Knuckles mountains has become a hot spot in Eco tourism in Sri Lanka.
The Knuckles Mountain Range is part of the hill country of Sri Lanka which is also above 3000 Ft or 915 meters. from sea level and covers an area of about 90 Sq.Miles or 234 Sq.Km of land extent. This is also called as Knuckles Range or Knuckles Peaks or simply as Knuckles. The reason to call it Knuckles is because,there is a mountain with five peaks in itself, that looks like the knuckles of a clenched fist when seen from Kandy area ( or the SW direction of that mountain named as Knuckles with a height of 6112 Feet ). The Sri Lankan name for this mountainous area is ” Dumbara Mitiyawatha ” which means ” The Misty Vally “. Since this inner mountainous area is off the motoring roads, it remains as an unspoiled nature reserve even today.
Biodiversity of Knuckles Range
It has an amazing diversity of plants, and species that makes it stand out as one of the most amazing places to visit in Sri Lanka. A unique feature here is that the Knuckles seems to have its own climatic microcosm and is home to a higher percentage of the island’s biodiversity – despite its small size. The vegetation found at Knuckles is divided into five types, these are semi-evergreen, sub mountain, river, forests and the pathana and savannah grasslands.
31 species of mammals have been recorded in the Knuckles, four of which are endemic. Wild Buffalo, Wild boar, Black-napes Hare, Jackal, the endemic Toque Macaque & Purple-faced Leaf Monkey are commonplace. Fishing cats and mouse deer have also been seen.
20 species of amphibians have been recorded in the Knuckles wilderness of which 12 are both endemic and endangered. Rock Frog which is found nowhere else in the world. 53 species of reptiles have been identified here of which 23 are endemic. Most commonly spotted of a nature trek are small geckos, pythons and monitor lizards. Among the endemic lizard species found at Knuckles range are Crestless Lizard (Calotes Leocephalus), Pigmy Lizard (Cophotis ceylonica) and Kangaroo Lizard (Otocryptus Wiegmanni) and the leaf nose lizard (Ceretophora Tennennti) is only found in this forest. There are 25 species of freshwater fish as well.
Over 130 species of birds inhabit the Knuckles Mountain Range and 20 of these are endangered. The endemics are represented by the Sri Lankan white eye, Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot, Layard’s Parakeet, Sri Lanka Spur Fowl, Sri Lanka Spot Wing Thrush, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon and the rare Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush. Migrants include Asian Paradise Flycatchers, Kashmir Flycatcher (which is endangered) Indian Pitta, Common Sandpiper, Gray and Forest Wagtails, Greenish Warbler and the Indian Blue Chat.
The weather is influenced by both locality and the influence of the dry and rainy seasons. Usually the mornings tend to be chilly and as the day progresses, the warmth sets in with a boldness. The temperature can range anywhere from 5 to 35 degrees Celsius while humidity is generally quite high. The rainy season makes its presence from late October and lasts for some months. Strong, gusty winds and sudden, enveloping mists are known to take over without invitation – naturally, Knuckles gives you diversity in climate too. Come evening, the inevitable chill of the night makes you want to gather around the campfire with a warm drink in hand…!
History of Knuckles Range
Knuckles Mountain Range is important due to the historical value it carries and therefore it can be categorized as one of the valuable heritages in Sri Lanka. The story of Knuckles (Dumbara Hill) goes back into prehistoric periods. It is said that in ancient times it was referred to as Giri Divaina and as Malaya Rata and there is archaeological evidence that speaks of ancient Yaksha (Devils) settlement in the area.
People believe that the name Lanka is derived which much folklore has gathered over the centuries. The Knuckles Mountain Range is an invariable referent in any salutary appreciation of the last kingdom of the Sinhala Kanda Udarata.
The importance of the Knuckles Mountain Range is obtained from several factors. It has a quality to it because of the mountain peaks, the crystal clear and perennial waterways, cloud forests and exquisite fauna and flora. Pregnant with history running into several millennial and a veritable treasure house of cultural heritage, the Knuckles Mountain Range can be considered a as a mirror to the past.
Access to Knuckles Range
The trekkers’ favorite approach to Knuckles ranges begins on A26 main motor way running east of Kandy to Hunnsgiriya. At Hunnasiriya, B grade road leads to the Corbett’s Gap which opens up magnificent views of Knuckles range. From Corbett’s Gap the road that leads to the village of Meemure too can be traveled by a vehicle having good ground clearance.
The trekkers also have options in two more entry roads: from Matale via Raththota and Riversten, from Wattegama via Panwila.
The rugged peaks of the Knuckles (Dumbara Hills) named by the British for their resemblance to the knuckles of a clenched fist. The steeply shelving mountain terrain reaches 1863 m the summit of the main Knuckles peak itself (the sixth highest in Sri Lanka) and included stand of rare dwarf cloud forest.
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