Week Without Walls: Highlands 2018

‘Week Without Walls’ is a experiential learning program that takes place during January every school year. As an 11th grader, I got the opportunity to choose from a range of micro trips, within Sri Lanka, and I chose ‘Highlands’. This unique 5 day journey took us up to the highlands in Sri Lanka, from Hatton to Nuwara Eliya, where we explored our photography skills (the creativity component of CAS) and took part in long hikes up some of the tallest and most impressive local mountains (the activity component of CAS). 

DAY 1 (January 22nd 2018)

7:30 AM. 12 of us arrived in school, loaded up the bus with all our luggage necessary for 5 days of travel, and set off on our journey to our camp site at Kinchigune, with a short stop at the Belihul Oya Rest House to eat some well needed brunch! We then continued to drive up into Sri Lanka’s mountains and ate lunch in the intermediate zone (neither wet nor dry) at Ecoteam’s River Garden Restaurant.

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Testing out my initial camera skills.

From here, we left our luggage in the bus, and hiked around 8km to the camp. The area we hiked through was leech infested, but fortunately, we made it through without any major incidents! The hike took around 3 hours to complete, and we were able to take lots of pictures on the way. (All our hikes including this one can be seen on the map linked at the very bottom of this post). One of the main focuses of this trip was photography and how to take the best pictures. By thinking about things like, lighting, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and zoom, I was able to take some great photos of flora and fauna, with my point-and-shoot digital camera. Some of the species we were able to photograph include:

  • a blue-tail bee-eater
  • a hawk
  • weaver birds
  • a green garden lizard
  • some dragonflies
  • a Sri Lankan grey hornbill
  • Kingfishers
  • peacocks
  • monkeys
  • a serpent eagle
  • a crested-hawk eagle
  • a black eagle
  • a stripe-tailed bronze-back tree snake
  • snails
  • the flower species; Gloriosa superba (which we learned was poisonous!)
  • touch-me-nots (scientific name: Mimosa pudica)
  • dandelions
  • different pepper plants

We ended the day with dinner, a short midnight stroll where we were able to be out in nature and observe some of the plants in the area without distracting noise or lights, and finally reflecting in our journals.

DAY 2 (January 23rd 2018)

We woke up early, left our camp site in Kinchigune and headed towards the tea planting town of Haputale. On the way, we stopped to take a hike to two great waterfalls in Sri Lanka. The first one we saw, Bambarakanda Falls, is Sri Lanka’s highest (at 263 meters); we stopped here to take more pictures and catch our breath. On our way back we came across a whole group of grasshoppers, allowing for some great pictures to be taken!

 

Next, we hiked our way up to Lanka Ella Falls, which although is not as popular was just as breathtaking as Bambarakanda Falls, if not more! It was less crowded and allowed us to take well-timed and intimate pictures. Moreover, this waterfall had a great swim hole for us to dive into. After a long, sweaty hike to the two waterfalls, diving into the ice-cold, yet refreshing, water was great; and the hollow was a perfect size- just large enough for all us to fit into, but not too large to be dangerous. It was great, and definitely renewed our energy, after we got over the initial shocking cold!

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The swim hole at Lanka Ella Falls
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Lanka Ella Falls
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In the freezing water! Image credits: Mr. Lockwood

After this, we hiked our way back and headed to eat lunch at the Olympus Hotel, before driving to the local markets to buy some fruits and vegetables to bring with us to Horton Plains National Park (HPNP). This was a good way for us to bargain with the shop keepers to buy the produce at the best prices and also a great way to practice our Sinhala.

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At the market..  (Image Credits: Mr. Lockwood)

When we finally reached HPNP (at an altitude of 2100m), after a long drive, our first order of business was visiting their museum, which provided us with lots about fascinating information about flora and fauna endemic to the highlands of Sri Lanka, including some sambar deer, leopards and owls.

We were also able to see many species at HPNP including:

  • sambar deer
  • a pregnant pgymy lizard
  • a leopard (my bus, unfortunately, did not come across the leopard, although the part of our group traveling in the second bus did)
  • a black-lipped lizard
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Black Lipped Lizard- Image Credits to Ms. Kamila

Even though it was freezing cold at night, all of us decided to go out to attempt to take pictures of the beautiful landscape and stars at night. We were able to identify several constellations including, Orion’s belt, and Sirius. We also took some really cool pictures of our whole Week Without Walls (WWW) group, with some great light effects, which we were able to create by having three people wave their flashlights in the air and attempt to draw a ‘W’, to create the message, ‘WWW’, while others stood in between. This was probably one fo my most favorite memories of the trip!

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Our daily reflection routine. Image credits: Mr. Lockwood
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Image credits: Mr. Lockwood
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Image credits: Mr. Lockwood

DAY 3 (January 24th 2018)

A few us woke up at the crack of dawn and took a short walk, around the area we were staying. We took a few pictures of the lovely blue sky and beautiful terrains and then found an abandoned phone booth, in the middle of the HPNP, with nothing else but rolling mountains in sight. We took a few pictures here:

Then, after a quick breakfast, we hiked our way up to Kirigalpotta, Sri Lanka’s second highest peak, at 2,390 meters. The hike was arduous, sunny and definitely tested our patience. It was nearly 16 km long, and at the end, we were all exhausted! It was also a

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‘Eyeliner’- Image Credits to Ms. Kamila

scary and narrow hike to the peak, however the view at the summit was worth it! Being able to complete this hike gave me a chance to step outside my comfort zone and try something relatively new- I don’t hike a lot! During the hike we were also able to observe a lot of different animal/ plant species and work further on our photography skills. Some of the species we saw included:

  • hares
  • leopards (and leopard droppings)
  • scarlett minivett
  • woodpeckers
  • a rhino-horn lizard
  • a dull-blue flycatcher
  • a grey-headed canary flycatcher
  • a black lipped lizard
  • a Sri Lankan jungle fowl
  • lichen (an organism that grows on trees)
  • rhododendrons
  • strobalanthes (a species of flowers that were greenish-purple- did not look like flowers!)

DAY 4 (January 25th 2018)

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Sunrise- Image Credits to Sanjana Kumari

On Thursday, we work up early again, packed all our luggage and hiked up Totupola DSC03252Kanda (which is 2,360 m above ground), the 3rd highest peak in Sri Lanka. This hike was much shorter and less exhausting than the previous one; and since we climbed this mountain at the crack of the dawn, the view was very rewarding, since we were able to observe the beautiful sunrise and its effect on the landscape. Here, and at the peak, we were able to see dwarf trees, which we learned were so short, since they do not need to be tall, as they are already at such high altitudes.

We also saw a few rare montane lizards, including a rhino horn lizard, and at the peak we were offered another opportunity to practice our photography skills and take great pictures of the sunrise, using techniques like the rule of thirds, and the golden ratio rule.

We headed toward HPNP one more time, to go lizard watching and see if we would be able to spot anymore lizards. We were rewarded with being able to see and photograph clearly another rhino-horn lizard! Then we headed to Nuwara Eliya, and checked into

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Rhino-horn lizard

the Jetwing St. Andrews. This was a great place to stay the last night, and since there were only three girls on our trip, we got a luxurious suite all to ourselves! After, a bit of rest at the hotel, we drove to Victoria’s Park, a famous park in the vicinity, to take pictures of birds, plants and nature in general. On this visit, we were able to see, although not photograph a pied trush- Nuwara Eliya is the only place in the country, where this species of bird comes to. We also saw a dove, some mynah birds, and the oriental white-eye.

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Oriental white-eye

At night, right before dinner, we went ‘frogging’ at St. Andrews. The hotel’s very own environmentalist, Ishanda Senevirathna, took us on this unique journey and we were able to spot and take pictures of 7 species of frogs endemic to the Sri Lankan highlands. Unfortunately, since it was dark out, the lighting was not the best, but we tries our best to take pictures of these frogs, some of whom were endangered. This part of the trip really pushed us to think about development versus preservation of wildlife, and reminded us that we have so much to appreciate just here in Sri Lanka!

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The ‘Praying Frog’- Image Credits to Sarah Shea

DAY 5 (January 26th 2018)

On our last day, we drove up to Pidurutalagala (Sri Lanka’s highest peak at 2,524 m)- we were not allowed to hike up since Pidudrutalagala is home to one of Sri Lanka’s army bases. From the very top, we were able to get an amazing view, and take some more breath-taking pictures!

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Lizard at Pidurutalagala- Image Credits to Sanjana Kumari

Finally, we drove back and after a short stop, at one of Nuwara Eliya’s most famous strawberry restaurants, we drove back home, to Colombo.

My Main Takeaways from this Experience…

This experience not only gave me a chance to develop a deeper appreciation for nature and wildlife, but also provided me with an opportunity to get away from the distractions of daily life- like noise and the excessive use of technology. This journey was also a great bonding process, and all of us bonded so well during the trip that we did not want to go home! Moreover, we were able to get in touch with Sri Lankan culture, and experience Sri Lankan cuisine, culture and so much more!

All in all, this was an amazing trip and experience and allowed me to not only divulge myself further into Sri Lankan culture, but also become one with nature and finally learn to properly use my camera to take some phenomenal pictures! This adventure allowed me to make some great memories that I will never forget!

Here is a map that illustrates all the long hikes we took:

To see our twitter feed, click here.

 

 

 

 

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