Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Learning in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands (Part 1): Understanding Ecology through Landscapes

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Totupola Kanda (2,360m) Sri Lanka’s third highest peak seen from the Maha Eliya bungalow. We hiked up to the summit on Day 2 of the WWW trip.

Totupola Kanda (2,360m), Sri Lanka’s third highest peak, seen from the Maha Eliya bungalow. We hiked up to the summit on Day 2 of the WWW trip.

In the last few months I have had the opportunity to lead groups of OSC students into Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands for two different learning experiences. In December we did the annual field study in Sri Pada based out of the Fishing Hut in Maskeliya plantation’s Moray Estate. As usual, my class and I focused on studying themes of vertical zonation, biodiversity, land use and forest types. We were a small group made up of seven students, one parent and OSC’s Grade 3 teacher, Erika Williams, who accompanied us as a female chaperone. At the end of January I was back in the hills again, this time with my Week Without Walls microtrip. In this second year, we focused the learning though an MYP-inspired Interdisciplinary Unit (IDU). The focus was to learn about the ecology of the highlands through photo documentation with daily hikes being a key aspect. Over five packed days we looped though the hills starting in the south at Belihuloya and ending up on Sri Lanka’s highest peak Pidurutalagala before returning to Colombo.

Learning about the landscapes, both natural and human influenced, was a key part of the WWW learning experience. We started on a hike out of Belihuloya navigating rice paddies and intermediate zone semi-evergreen forest. Later we walked through pine plantations, swam in cold mountain pools, climbed the three highest mountains in Sri Lanka and spent several nights in the high altitude Horton Plains. The weather was dry and in the plains we awoke to frost before we did a brisk hike on the World’s End trail. The group exerted themselves every day- helping to address the Action or Activity IB CAS requirement. There were gastronomical joys –in simple camp food and more lavish spreads on the last day. The 15 students developed a newfound appreciation for hot water, electricity and cell phone connectivity. They did amazingly well and, despite a few stumbles into serious mud, came through in good spirits. In this post I share some of the different landscapes in panoramic format. Part II highlights the biodiversity that we encountered.

OSC students approaching the summit of Kirigalpotta (2,388 m) Sri Lanka’s 2nd highest peak. There is a bit of drop to the north of the peak that, when wet ,can look like from milk from a distance-hence the name of the peak. We had clear, albeit hazy, views back to Totupola Kanda (left peak) and World’s End (under the clouds to the right). Virtually the whole trail to the peak and back is visible behind the group.

OSC students approaching the summit of Kirigalpotta (2,388 m) Sri Lanka’s 2nd highest peak on Day 3. There is a bit of drop to the north of the peak that, when wet ,can look like from milk from a distance-hence the name of the peak. We had clear, albeit hazy, views back to Totupola Kanda (left peak) and World’s End (under the clouds to the right). Virtually the whole trail to the peak and back is visible behind the group.

Healthy evergreen forest on the southern slopes of Horton Plains seen above Bambarakanda Falls. On the right, the land had previously been cleared for either tea or pine plantations. Grasses have now taken over the area and some patches show signs of recent burning. The altitude here is approximately 600 meters.

Healthy evergreen forest on the southern slopes of Horton Plains seen above Bambarakanda Falls. On the right, the land had previously been cleared for either tea or pine plantations. Grasses have now taken over the area and some patches show signs of recent burning. The altitude here is approximately 600 meters.

Calophyllum walkeri sentinels in a path of dieback cloud forest near the Ohiya entrance to Horton Plains National Park.

Calophyllum walkeri sentinels in a patch of dieback cloud forest near the Ohiya entrance to Horton Plains National Park.

Looking across Ambawella farms and Hakgala to Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) from the slopes of Totupola Kanda at the end of a quick hike on Day 2 of the WWW experience. This was the first time that an OSC WWW group hiked up to Totupola (the third highest peak). It is an easy gradual trail through “pygmy forest”-literally waste level, wind blown cloud forest covered in mosses and epiphytes. There was also a surprisingly high number of leopard scat on the path.

Looking across Ambawella farms and Hakgala to Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak) from the slopes of Totupola Kanda at the end of a quick hike on Day 2 of the WWW experience. This was the first time that an OSC WWW group hiked up to Totupola (the third highest peak). It is an easy gradual trail through “pygmy forest”-literally waste-level, wind-blown cloud forest covered in mosses and epiphytes. There was also a surprisingly high number of leopard scats on the path.

Shades of Eravikulam and the high Western Ghats? Actually, the landscapes of Horton Plains are both similar and yet very different than their cousins across the Palk Straits. Here south of the World’s End trials patanas and cloud forest highlight the unique aspects of Sri Lanka’s high altitude landscapes. Note that cloud forest dominates ridge tops while the patanas (grasslands) fill the valleys. This is opposite to what is found in the shola/grassland mosaic vegetation of the high altitude Western Ghats ranges. Similar to the Nilgiri Hills the patanas have healthy populations of fire and frost-resistant Rhododendron arboreum trees.

Shades of Eravikulam and the high Western Ghats? Actually, the landscapes of Horton Plains are both similar and yet very different than their cousins across the Palk Straits. Here, south of the World’s End trail, patanas (grasslands) and cloud forest highlight the unique aspects of Sri Lanka’s high altitude landscapes. The cloud forest dominates ridge tops while the patanas fill the valleys. This is opposite to what is found in the shola/grassland mosaic vegetation of the high altitude Western Ghats ranges. Similar to the Nilgiri Hills, the patanas have healthy populations of fire and frost-resistant Rhododendron arboreum trees.

Cloud forest and frosty valleys of patanas in Horton Plains National Park.

View 1: Cloud forest and frosty valleys of patanas in Horton Plains National Park.

View 2: Cloud forest and frosty valleys of patanas in Horton Plains National Park. Kirigalpotta (2,388 m) Sri Lanka’s 2nd highest peak is undistinguished high point in the middle of the image. It has a more prominent, pyramid profile when see from the west.

View 2: Cloud forest and frosty valleys of patanas in Horton Plains National Park. Kirigalpotta (2,388 m) Sri Lanka’s 2nd highest peak is undistinguished high point in the center-right of the image. It has a more prominent, pyramid profile when seen from the west.

Tree ferns (Cyathea crinita) seen from the road to Pidurutalagala with Sri Pada - out of focus - in the back ground.

Tree ferns (Cyathea crinita) seen from the road to Pidurutalagala with Sri Pada – out of focus – in the back ground.

Sri Pada seen from the summit of Pidurutalagala Sri Lanka’s highest point at 2,524 m. We experienced a spectacularly clear day with crisp views looking at the Central Highlands to the south of the peak.

Sri Pada seen from the summit of Pidurutalagala Sri Lanka’s highest point at 2,524 m. We experienced a spectacularly clear day with crisp views looking at the Central Highlands to the south of the peak. Most of the foreground was once cloud forest and has now been converted to vegetable gardens, timber plantations and tea estates.

Looking down at Nuwara Eliya’s Gregory Lake (altitude @ 1,868 meters) seen from Pidurutalagala, Sri Lanka’s highest point (2,524 m). The area in and around Sri Lanka’s premier hill station is well known for its tea, tourism and productive vegetable plots.

Looking down at Nuwara Eliya’s Gregory Lake (altitude @ 1,868 meters) seen from Pidurutalagala, Sri Lanka’s highest point (2,524 m). The area in and around Sri Lanka’s premier hill station is well known for its tea, tourism and productive vegetable plots.

View south from the lower slopes of Pidurutalagala. The panorama is snitched together from nine different images and greatly reduced in size in order to upload it here. Key mountains are labeled on the image.

View south from the lower slopes of Pidurutalagala. The panorama is stitched together from nine different images and greatly reduced in size in order to upload it here. Key mountains are labeled on the image.

OSC Highlands microtrip group on Pidurutalagala, 29 January 2016.

OSC’s Highlands microtrip group on Pidurutalagala on Day 5 (29 January 2016). Back Row from left to right: Rosanne, Shenali, Leoni, Aryaman, Sanoj, Khalis, Ifane, Jamaal, Mohamed & Amir. Front Row: Kamila, Alejandra, Diana, Malaika, Maya, Yoon Hwan, Anindo & Ian

 

The 2016 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW route map. Click on the link below for it to open in ArGIS online.

The 2016 Sri Lanka Highlands WWW route map. Click on the link below for it to open in ArGIS online.

MAP LINK

References provided in Part II:

Written by ianlockwood

2016-02-20 at 2:48 am

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