Enchanting Horagolla. A trek through a low country forest.
Sri Lanka is blessed with natural diversity made up of fauna and flora, rivers and mountains, valleys and views, and so much more.
Across this island are an abundance of national parks, sanctuaries and forest reserves that are home to endemic and non-native birds and butterflies, animals and plants, marine life and land creatures, great and small.
Some 16 national parks are located in the Dry Zone, while the Wet Zone is home to three along with two marine parks. Whilst Yala, Udawalawe and Wilpattu are the most popular, the other sites have their own inimitable beauty that can be enjoyed by anyone who has the time and passion to wander and wade.
Galway’s Land, Horagolla and Horton Plains in the Wet Zone are better known as ‘walking’ parks as visitors are permitted to trek inside. Having gained national park status in 2004, Horagolla is the only urban park in the Western Province and is known as a low country evergreen forest.
Just past the Horagolla town, about 1 km off the Veyangoda turn off to Nittambuwa is the entrance to the Horagolla National Park. We park on the main road and walk a short distance through a narrow path and come to an embankment with a delightful large water canal. Just across this is the entrance to the Horagolla National Park.
Spread out across 32 acres, the Park is a veritable arboretum. Accompanied by a well-informed guide, Sanjaya, we begin our walk through winding leafy nature trails. Despite the lack of animals at this hour, we are given a good description of the various trees and plants that make this into a delightful afternoon.
The Horagolla National Park is replete with endemic trees like the Dipterocarpus zeylanicus (Hora), Canarium zeylanicus (Kekuna) Mangifera zeylanicus (Atamba) and nonnative plants such as Dillenia retusa (Godapara) Caryota urens (Kitul) Pericopsis mooniana (Nedun), Alstonia scholaris (Ruk Attana) Acronychia pedunculata (Ankenda), Vitex pinnata (Milla) Mimusops elengi (Moonamal) Pterospermum canescens (Velang) etc.
Sanjaya points out to tall and tenuous lianas- stemmed woody vines that have used other trees as vertical supports to climb to the top of the canopy. A magnificent giant 250-year old ‘pus wela’ rises up to the top like a thick, coiled rope. Other imposing creepers like the healthy herbal Veniwel, Korassa-wel, Garadia-wel, Sudu-wel and Bambara-wel are found here whilst the wet ground is covered with plenty of Watassa plants.
Also to be found are various epiphyte plants that have attached themselves onto other host trees high in the forest canopy as an advantage over herbs restricted to the ground where there is less sunlight. Epiphytic plants are also important to certain animals that may live in their water reservoirs, such as some types of frogs and arthropods. Many of these trees and plants have been identified and marked for easy reference. The gorgeous profusion of the Golden Shower Tree (Ehela) is like a fireworks display in this Park. Mahogany and Teak are plenty.
The trails are easy and the walk is a pleasurable exercise. Park benches and tables are available for picnickers. Although we do not see any of the animals, there is plenty of birdcall. Sanjaya says that the best time for bird watching is earlier on in the morning.
Amongst the 64 bird species seen and recorded here are the endemic Jungle Fowl, the Grey Hornbill as well as the Brown-headed Barbet, White browed Bulbul and the snippy Blue-tailed Bee eater. More common would be the Layards Parakeet, the Black-crested bulbul, and the Asian Brown flycatcher.
We catch a glimpse of the Ceylon Bird wing and the Blue Mormon butterflies as they skim through the air. Playing in the canopy are a couple of Giant Squirrels and the littler Palm Squirrels, all enjoying this beautiful habitat.
The Horagolla National Park is a transit home for sick, injured and orphaned wild animals. A brother and sister pair of fishing cats languishes in a cage. The male plays with his meal of fish caught in the canal whilst the female waits patiently to grab her share. Once fed, they can be let out to roam the area and we are informed that they will eventually return to their cage.
An injured Rusty-Spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus) paces its cage impatiently. This is a smallest member of the cat family and is nocturnal and partly arboreal and hence very difficult to spot in the wild. A pair of Indian Hog Deer shares their cage with a large Grey-headed Fish Eagle.
We end our walk at a summerhouse by the edge of the clearing beside the canal, an ideal place to sit back and enjoy some quiet time before heading back to the entrance.
Despite the lack of funds for bigger and better cages (the current ones are in urgent need of repair), the caregivers work hard to ensure these wild creatures are rehabilitated quickly. It is important that like for other popular national parks in our island, funds are generated for the upkeep of the Horagolla National Park. Corporate houses, for instance, could recognize conservation projects like this and lend a helping hand towards preserving Sri Lanka’s natural heritage.