There were many times I thought about not doing the World’s End walk at Horton Plains National Park in Sri Lanka. Not least when I was woken before my alarm by the pre-recorded chanting at the local Buddhist monastery.
The dank, cold guesthouse in Nuwara Eliya had not made for a good night’s rest. Nor had the sound of lashing wind and rain all night. It didn’t take long to get ready to hike as I was already sleeping in my clothes.
The proprietor kindly brought me a cup of tea and a breakfast packet of friend egg sandwiches and bananas. He was adamant that the weather would be good. “Look, you can see the stars” he declared. I couldn’t see a single one and it was still raining lightly but I smiled and agreed out of respect for my elders.
It is a one-and-a-half hour drive from Nuwara Eliya to the Horton Plains National Park entrance and we couldn’t see more than 10 metres ahead of the van as we climbed into the hills. Tall stands of eucalyptus (planted 50 years ago for railway sleepers) slowly give way to native jungle.
In the thick ‘cloud precipitation’ biodiversity explodes, with many endemic plant and animal species. As recently as the 1960s the only access up here was on horseback or on foot. Now we joined a convoy of vans carrying tourists up to the park gate on a road that switchbacks up the old horseback trail.
As we neared the park, our driver suddenly through to check we had funds for the park entrance fee. I hadn’t done any research on this hike and was slightly surprised to find it was 3,000 SLR each and I didn’t have enough currency. Would they accept US$? Driving through the rain, I thought about calling the whole thing off before we wasted $20 each on a view of cloud. But we decided to take our chances that they would accept US$.
We arrived at the queue of vans and eventually established that we should walk up to the ticket gate. There we found a queue of 50 people inching forward to be processed by one person in a booth. One person who would only give a criminal rate on our dollars. The look on his face as he utterly refused to negotiate was priceless.
This was the view at this point in the day:
The local guides were standing about with chattering teeth, when they weren’t jumping the queue to buy tickets for their clients.
The current costs for doing the World’s End Walk at Horton Plains are as follows: 2013 Sri Lankan Rupees for a foreign adult (day visit) plus a 250 SLR fee for the vehicle and a ‘service charge’ of 1073 SLR per single visit or foreign tourist group.
At the point of giving up, we were rescued by a short-term loan from a friend of our driver. After buying your ticket you have to drive another few kilometres into the park. Two-and-a-half hours after leaving the guesthouse we were ready to walk at 8am. A stunning Sambar deer stag wandered out of the mist to greet us.
The World’s End Walk and Baker’s Waterfall is an easy circular walk that took us two hours and twenty minutes with stops at World’s End, Mini World’s End (just a bit further away) and Baker’s Falls. The path is generally a good, level track, although in some places it was muddy and slippy.
I recommend good hiking footwear but, as always on these touristified ‘hikes’ I saw a wide selection of tourists completely unprepared for hiking, or at least only for walking in the mildest of conditions. There were jeans, cotton t-shirts, plastic ponchos and flip flops. But the mist was beginning to lift.
Reaching the plateau, montane grassland spreads out beside cloud forest, which is a descendant of one of the oldest forests on earth. The animals here are also survivors – relicts of ancient species unchanged over time here in their remote mountain home.
Horton Plains is the largest remaining tract of cloud forest in Sri Lanka. The fog precipitation can actually exceed annual rainfall up here and leads to a rich variety of mosses, lichens and ferns. There were a few red blooms hanging onto the rhododendrons. I could hear the calls of the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey in the bush.
Moisture droplets clung to introduced species such as the yellow flowering gorse and bright green ferns. At times I thought I might be back in New Zealand with the tall tree ferns and rampant gorse bushes. These invasive species are a threat to the native plants and must be strongly managed.
I had read about these misty hills and their potential for dramatic changes in weather as clouds rise from the plains and valleys below. In minutes you can go from thick mist to sunshine and this is, in fact, what happened. Yes, our perseverance was rewarded!
The view from the top of the 870m precipice at World’s End is beautiful. The vertical drop to the tea plantations on the valley floor below makes the buildings look like toys. The green hills frame the distant reservoirs – the first being the one at Uda Walawe where we were only two days before.
There was visibility for the rest of the walk but the cloud was low and the views fairly uninspiring. The waterfall is impressive:
By the time we got back to the park gate the cloud and rain had descended again, which is why it is typical to get up so early to catch the typical window of visibility around 9am.
So is the World’s End walk at Horton Plains worthwhile? It is a beautiful view but the hassle it costs to get there is not worth it in my view. If you want to join hordes of tourists stumbling through the fog after battling organised chaos, go ahead. I wouldn’t do it again.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you done the Horton Plains National Park World’s End Walk in Sri Lanka? What was your experience?
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