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|Year and Month||25-26 Jun, 2016|
|Number of Days||2|
|Crew||Hasi, Gayan, and Me|
|Transport||By Car, Safari Jeep & On Foot.|
|Activities||Hiking, Photography, Sightseeing, etc…|
|Weather||Extremely windy, misty and really cold but no rain.|
|Route||Colombo->Avissawella->Hatton->Nuwara Eliya->Pattipola->HP and return on the same route.|
|Tips, Notes and Special remark||
|Comments||Discuss this trip report, provide feedback or make suggestions at Lakdasun Forum on the thread|
Hi there, hope you all are having a rock-n-roll time coz we really had one roller-coaster time at Moon Plains and HP recently. So I’m gonna tell you all about it. After our Leopard Sightings at Yala, we decided to go and experience some cool temperature. Well I guess we didn’t specify how cool we wanted it to be and the Mother Nature for once misunderstood our request. Hasi booked the Mahaeliya which made me jump with joy as I’d never before stayed there. All my HP encounters were based on the good, old and homely Ginihiriya Bungalow aka Anderson Lodge. I was yet to explore the other two options Mahaeliya and the Dormitory so this was not a chance I was gonna miss out unless it was life and death situation.
Just a brief word on HP, especially its buildings inside as most of you might not be aware of her past. Apart from the Farr Inn and the Anderson Lodge which were built by the English Planters during colonial era, all the other structures are results of the mega potato farm that saw HP lose most of her forest making it this grassy plain. Whether it was a good thing or a bad thing, well I’ll leave your capable thinking to decide. So these buildings had been used as storage for potatoes and fertilizers, staff quarters and other purposes. If you visit the Moon Plains where they still have a government-owned seed potato farm, you can get an idea what it must’ve been at HP before being named as a wildlife park.
So we planned alternative options to visit on the way and I was long overdue for a visit to Moon Plains and so was Hasi. We then planned to be there by 6.30am in order to get the best out of the morning rays. Hasi then came up with the idea of visiting Single Tree Hill aka One Tree Hill, the 10th highest mountain in SL with a height of 2100m. So that sealed the first day and we decided to reach HP afterwards. On the 25th Jun, we left home around 3am and having made excellent ground arrived at Nuwara Eliya by 6.10am.
- Moon Plains aka Sandathenna, Nuwara Eliya.
- Single Tree Hill aka One Tree Hill, Nuwara Eliya.
- Sri Swarnagiri Viharaya, Nuwara Eliya.
- Horton Plains.
- Rail Hike from Pattipola to Tunnel 18 and back.
- Galwaysland National Park, Nuwara Eliya.
My first-ever Moon Plains journey kicked off with a great disappointment. We arrived at the Seed Potato Farm run by the Agricultural Department around 6.25am, just in time for the rumored opening time at 6.30am. However as we drove in (just remember you have to drive on Nuwara Eliya-Welimada Road till the end of Gregory Lake which is Magasthota aka Mahagasthota and then turn to the left. There used to be big sign posts but after the season they’ve apparently been removed or destroyed by rains and winds. On this road, it’s less than 5 min drive to the potato farm and they have ample parking to leave your vehicle.) and parked the vehicle we notice the big difference in the weather.
The winds were strong and the temperature was around 15 degrees but add around 40-50kmph wind chill too. It was as if hundreds of needles were being thrown at us at subsonic speed which pierced through the outer layers of our clothing. We soon fished out the jackets and wore them when one of the farm workers came and spoke to us saying that the ticket counter won’t be open till 7am. Golly, we had a good half hour wait and it was not a welcome idea to stay outdoors being hammered by the wind and the cold. I could’ve murdered a cup of scalding coffee but there was nowhere to have any. The worms in my empty tummy woke up and started marching up and down the intestines carrying mega size placards against keeping them without food. One placard was saying that they’d take me to the FCID and another asking for an international intervention. One last was threatening to go complain to the Worms’ Rights Commission.
I was helpless so we walked up to the ticket counter and waited in the shelter. The farm worker too came and stayed chatting to us. According to him, the ticket counter is manned by the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council even though the Moon Plains is in the Agricultural Department area. There had been plans to build a luxury hotel with a helipad at Moon Plains but thankfully they had all changed after the elections. Even if they built a helipad, it’d have been one helluva job of landing one in the off season when the winds are so strong they can take even on a chopper.
The person said that he’d called the girl who was working at the counter (in fact there are two of them whom are both from Magasthota which is in walking distance) and she was on the way and would be here in 10 minutes. The time was 6.45am and we were hopeful to leave for this 3km journey around 7am. Oh did I tell you that you need to hire a safari-style jeep to go to the viewing point? I guess I mentioned it in the notes and very likely you’ve missed reading that part. You have to rent a Jeep from the available ones at the farm. Altogether there are 13 Jeeps operating and it wouldn’t be a big deal to find one unless you go during the peak period in Dec and Apr.
- It costs Rs. 2000/- for the Jeep. I know it’s a steep price compared other wildlife parks but the sceneries are very rewarding and you won’t regret it if you go in the right time. Of course you gotta be mighty lucky too for those perfect views.
- There is space for up to 8 people (might be a tight fit depending on the size of the folks and so long as all of them are not Harinda-sized) and the Jeeps are very much like those Safari ones available at National Parks.
- The distance is about 2-3km from the farm to the observation point. It takes about 10 mins to drive there.
- You’re allowed up to 1hr (not strictly applied in less crowded days) stay at the observation point excluding the driving time to and from.
- You are not allowed to go into the farm by any other vehicle including your personal one. If you wonder why coz it’s allowed in other National Parks too, it is mainly to avoid viruses and bacteria harming the potato crops. We were told by that farm worker their crops are increasingly getting caught to various diseases since the Moon Plains was opened for public. Therefore don’t be too surprised if they closed it altogether as the Agricultural Department and the Head of See Potato Farm are vehemently against this.
- In addition to the Jeep fare, you have to buy tickets which are sold Rs. 50/- each.
We waited and waited and the time went past 7am, then 7.15am and the farm worker kept calling the girl and she said the same thing that she was on the way and would be there in no time. The same farm worker told us that in the past these working girls at the ticket counters were paid a commission on the daily income and they used to come to work earlier than the opening times. However for some god-forbidden reason, they’d been made permanent recently. Since then the downfall has started as they come late and don’t have the same enthusiasm they used to portrait because they’re paid for no matter people visited or not.
It’s just pathetic the way they offer their services to the general public even after charging exorbitant prices. The girl finally appeared just after 8am and didn’t even have the courtesy to offer apologies for being late. Instead she told the farm worker who we were talking to that she had no transport to come. Well, it was her problem, and of course has nothing to do with the visitors who travel many miles since early in the morning to witness the beauty of the Mother Nature. Instead we’re stuck between careless and irresponsible people.
Even the farm worker said that they get a lot of complaints on these people especially pertaining to the opening hours but they’re helpless to do anything as it’s out of their control. Even the Jeep drivers are very cross how this ticket counter is being operated and openly castigated them with us. So this appeal is for the Municipal Council of Nuwara Eliya. Please make sure these people do their jobs properly without harassing the visitors who pay large sums. Further these people ruin the image of our country as there are many foreigners who visit Moon Plains.
Ok, enough of bashing these inefficient people who don’t seem to learn. Let’s go and see some gorgeous views at least they’d cool down our blood and soothe our hearts and minds. Oh, almost forgot to tell you. Do you know that you can see 8 of the highest mountains in Sri Lanka from Moon Plains? Of course the weather has to be perfect without any mist. They’re in the top 15 list in terms of height.
Namely they are, Piduruthalagala, Kirigalpoththa, Thotupola, Kikiliyamana, One Tree Hill aka Single Tree Hill, Great Western, Haggala and Namunukula. They even have put up arrows with the mountain names so that it’d be easier for you to spot them.
Single Tree Hill / One Tree Hill
Ok, and I hope you guys enjoyed those breath-taking views which I managed to capture on my lens with the greatest difficulty due to the extremely violent winds gushing through the plains at ferocious pace. I’d never before experienced so strong winds and thinking about the hurricanes which can touch 100+ miles sent chills down my spine.
Just imagine those who have to undergo such natural disasters. Gosh, what a lucky country we have in terms of those. Unfortunately our folks take it for granted and don’t give the due respect to this lucky paradise. Do care for this country coz she’s kept us safe all these years from the worst of natural disasters and continues to do so despite our wicked and heartless acts towards her.
So our next destination is somewhere I’d no idea of going any time soon but Hasi’s revolutionary thinking paved the way for it and what an achievement it turned out to be at the end. If you read those mountains visible from Moon Plains, you must’ve seen the One Tree Hill aka Single Tree Hill. I wonder why it is called One Tree or Single Tree. Don’t think it was because it had only one tree or there was an unmarried tree there. She’s the 10th Highest in SL with a height of 2100m. But we need some breakfast to calm down the protest of the worms in our tummies. They’re on the verge of going on strike so we’ll get something in us first.
This is how you can reach the summit. Oh I forgot, you can’t reach the summit coz as of most of our mountains, she too has had to sacrifice her beauty for the telecommunications in this country by allowing for many tall towers to be built. So you can get as far as the gate of the towers’ premises and then luckily can walk across the range which is about 600-800m and emerge from the other side. If you wish, you may even get down to the town via those hotels built up the hill in front of Race Course.
Take the Single Tree Road which can be found as soon as you turn towards Nuwara Eliya when coming from Nanu Oya about 75m from the turn off. There’s a shop called Imaduwa Hotel and the road is just before that. This will also lead to the Sri Swarnagiri Viharaya and you can even leave the vehicle at the temple and walk towards the summit which we did as it’d give you more chances of getting those panoramic views of the surrounding including Gregory Lake, Piduruthalagala Range, Race Course and Haggala too.
We got the permission from the temple and left the car there and started to walk towards the summit. You don’t need any permission to go up there and foreigners seem to go there more often than Sri Lankans. It’s about 1-1.5km to the temple from the main road and you have to walk another 1-1.5km to the summit. Ok, I’ll let you enjoy the pictures on our walk up to the summit first. It’d be better than me trying to explain all that.
So how did you like our walk? Do you think it’s worth making that effort? Well if you are that lazy, you can drive up to the point but don’t recommend doing so in a car. However, it’d be tricky for you to park and then turn around so it’s best you stop at the temple and go for a walkie and trust me, you won’t be disappointed whether you have a camera or not.
When you’re at the gate, please look to the left and you’ll find a footpath that goes downhill. It’d lead to another tower complex which harbors Dialog Tower. Just before you get there, you’ll see the footpath extending further towards the forest. We were hesitant to take it but the caretaker at the Dialog Tower informed us that it was the path they take to go to their houses and for supplies as it’s closer. So we took his advice and got to the path. It was a nice walk among the forest patch and we soon arrived at the other end of the mountain which leads to a tea patch and then down below towards hotels and other houses. If you wish, you can get down from here but as our vehicle was at the temple, we decided to walk back. Here are the rest of the pictures of our Single Tree Journey.
We then visited the Sri Swarnagiri Temple. It’s still under construction and the views from its premises are simply breath-taking too. The Pagoda looks unbelievably beautiful and the majestic and mysterious Haggala can also be seen from here. Here are those pictures.
Ok guys, time we went to HP coz it’s getting late and we need to get there soon coz the weather is looking very bad too with grim clouds threatening us with heavy downpours and the winds too trying to chase us back to Colombo.
We arrived at the HP around 3pm but already it looked as if it was early evening. The mist covered the ground while charcoal grey clouds looked down on us from above menacingly. We reached Maha Eliya in no time and found the winds so strong and the mist so thick. There was nothing to do but snuggle into our rooms and stay away from the biting cold.
You must be ready for these merciless winds and cold if you are travelling in the off season to HP, like from May till Nov. otherwise it’d be a very painful experience. We were to climb the KGP on the following day but I knew as soon as we entered into HP, it’d be a no show. We however took a drive towards the Ginihiriya Bungalow but the twilight conditions wouldn’t allow any grand pictures. However there were many herds of Sambar grazing on the lush green grass despite the foul weather.
Our bungalow keeper, Wijerathna was a very gentle and supportive soul, very much like Abeysinghe at Ginihiriya. He said that the number of leopards at HP has increased coz the sightings have become more frequent. If you go into the bungalow, you’d see two framed pictures of beautiful looking leopards taken on 21 Mar 2016 by some photographer whose name I can’t recall unfortunately. Wijerathna says he very often sees the crossing the open grass fields in front of the bungalow so if you wanna have a better chance of seeing a leopard, stay at Mahaeliya.
However in terms of the bungalow, I would still prefer the Ginihiriya. Naturally Ginihiriya has to be better as it was the home for a planter called Anderson. All the other buildings inside HP belong to the potato farm and are not built for comfort and visitors. According to Wijerathna most of the buildings house only one or two wildlife officers as there is more accommodation for them than the number of people. I wonder why they don’t utilize at least couple of more bungalows for visitors as the demand is always very high. Well it’s something for the powers that be to decide.
We had coffee many times and then had a very delicious pasta dinner. The wind kept howling threatening to shred the bungalow into ribbons. The cold was getting bitter as the night came on. Nevertheless we kept flashing our torches onto the front lawn searching for a stray leopard but the mist kept it covered most of the time. So, we gonna get some sleep and you folks enjoy these pictures. Tomorrow, we’ll be getting up around 6.30am to see how the weather behaves coz we don’t wanna go see KGP in this foul weather. Fingers crossed!
Good morning folks and as predicted the winds and mist were relentless as they kept us awake most of the night, well not all of us. The cold was so intense and going to the washroom was simply not a very pleasing thought. Coming to contact with water was nerve-racking. We got up and there went our plans for KGP and decided to instead take a drive towards Ohiya just to kill time and discuss our options for the day. The breakfast was nice and warm so while we go for a ride and have the cabinet meeting, you folks go through these pics. Hopefully we’ll come up with something worthwhile doing.
As we came out of the bungalow, there was this nice and hefty Sambar that had come to welcome us. He was the leader of the herd and had a nice little photo-shoot with us.
Rail Hike to Tunnel 18
Well, we’ve come to a decision and I’m sure you know it. Now that the KGP is out of our reach and we’ve a full day to wander around, we then decided to do a very short and quick rail hike as Hasi hadn’t been able to go across the Tunnel 18 in his last attempt as he was not ready with a flashlight. So we decided to go indulge him and Gayan on this and even I didn’t mind another crack at this coz Rail Hikes are one of my favorite pastimes.
So bidding farewell to Wijerathna, we left for Pattipola and managed to find a parking place for our reliable Vitz. Then we went and sought permission from the station master who was very willingly consented to these crazy buggers. Please always inform and seek permission before you venture into the railway tracks because the rules are very strict and you’ll be arrested by either the police or railway protection force and be produced at the courts. However the station masters along upcountry lines are very nice people and they’d be more than happy to help you in any way they can provided you ask them nicely.
When you inform, a message is being sent to the next railway stations and anyone working on the tracks so that they’d be aware of your presence. It’s less than 2km from the Pattipola Station to the Tunnel 18 and shouldn’t take more than 45mins for you to get there. Here is a Video from Summit Level and the pictures I clicked for you.
Note: I wonder if you’ve noticed the number of abandoned Railway Buildings, mainly staff quarters, either side of the railway line especially in the upcountry. I’ve always been wondering why the CGR don’t convert these into guest houses or visitor bungalows which I’m sure would become very popular among both locals and foreigners. They could even turn some of those abandoned carriages into caravan-like accommodation options which would yield much needed revenue for them and can allocate those extra manpower (we all keep hearing how many people are extra in the government sector especially in CTB and CGR due to political appointments) to these duties. They’d be a unique travelling experience to everyone. So if you’re one of the powers-that-be in CGR or similar capacity, do consider this wild idea.
Well it was very nice and refreshing walk. The winds through the tunnel going from Central Province to the Uva Province were cool on our bare skin and this tunnel is a very unique experience for any railway lover. Well it’s time to go to Nuwara Eliya and look for something else to do. Our packed lunch is also getting cold and having to eat cold food in this weather is not very appealing.
Galwaysland National Park
We hovered around wondering what to do. Shanthipura was one option but the clouds and mist kept coming wave after wave obscuring the view thus making it not so worthwhile to go up there. Finally I suggested Galwaysland mainly none of Hasi or Gayan had been there before and I always wouldn’t mind going to a calm and soothing place like that.
So the decision was made and we drove there along the Hawa Eliya Road. It’s about 4-5km from Nuwara Eliya Town and easy to access. If not sure, do refer to Google Maps. Here are the pictures but we were not so lucky to see any of the birds there due to the bad weather and the lighting. Enjoy these while we prepare for the long drive home.
Well folks, I hope this journey was of some interest to you and you too enjoyed these beautiful settings as much as we did. That weather was something unique for us as we’d never experienced something like that before.
This is Sri signing off for now and do take care and keep travelling.
P.S. Just wanted to add this as an afterthought. Please don’t ever feed the wild animals be it elephants, monkeys, birds or any other specie no matter how innocent, starving or vulnerable they look. I know we Sri Lankans have very kind hearts and are extremely generous. All you have to look at is the donations that flooded more than the floods in the recent flooding after the Kelani River spat out all the garbage dumped in her ferociously. There was this very appropriate saying which was shared on social media that went like this. “Sri Lankans have 999 Problems but Compassion is not one of them”
However, may I beg you to keep that compassion and generosity to fellow human beings and not to extend it to the wildlife? Those wild animals are quite capable of finding their own food without our help. Remember, it’s illegal to feed the wild animals. Therefore please refrain from doing so no matter wherever you go. You can also discourage people who’re trying to do so, especially these crazy Chinese travelers who don’t seem to care much for the Sri Lankan Wildlife Rules & Regulations. Most of the foreigners especially the Europeans and Americans don’t go into these lengths but I’ve seen many Chinese (could even be Korean as they all look the same) behaving in unlawful manners.
If you’re a tour operator, a guide or someone who takes tourists on journeys, please educate them of the repercussions on things like these. If you act responsibly, they too will learn the same thing. I’m sharing one of the most appropriate pictures designed by the Nature Science Initiative (their website is http://www.naturescienceinitiative.org/publications) to educate our fellow folks.
Ideally we can put these up at the National Parks such as Horton Plains but as you all know it costs money. So here’s something you can do to educate the general public. If you’re willing to sponsor for these placards to be displayed, or distribute some of these leaflets among school children, you can send a personal message to me and I’ll get you in touch with the people who would do this. However please note that they might not be able to put up the sponsoring people’s name or organisations as this would be done anonymously.