WWW 2018 Highlands

Week Without Walls (WWW) is an immersive trip in which our school travels to different places in Sri Lanka to experience learning outside of school for a week. For my last WWW trip I decided to do the Highlands trip, a trip to Sri Lanka’s highlands of Horton Plains National Park focusing on the wildlife, ecosystems and photography while including a lot of walking.

Map of Our Trip

Day 1 – Belihul Oya

This trip started with a 5 hour bus ride to Belhul Oya, stopping only for a cup of tea and to relieve our (tiny) bladders. As are bus reached River Garden Restaurant, we decided to delay our lunch and head to the Belihul Oya river stream. There we had a quick crash course on refining shutter speed, aperture and ISO to be able to either create a smooth water texture or individual water droplets. I also attempted to capture dragonflies. I repeat the word attempt, after 45 minutes I only managed to get a very poor photo of that dragonfly. But at the stream, I tried to take good photos and I learnt a lot about the basics of photography. During that hour and a half, we also saw a black eagle and what we believed to be a rat snake. On the way back, we crossed by a tiny bronze backed tree snake and decided to take photos of it. It was a huge challenge to take a photos of this tiny animal without a macro lens. The snake kept ducking in and out of the photo and I couldn’t get a good focus. I was frustrated at this tiny little snake that would not cooperate. It was only until Mr. Lockwood told me to change the settings that I started to get better photos. The snake was also compliant near the end and stayed pretty still for a nice photo.

Bronzed Back Tree Snake
Bronze Backed Tree Snake

After a hefty lunch, we walked towards camp through paddy fields and dirt roads – stopping along the way to take as many photos as possible. Along the way, we saw:

  • Weaver bird nests
  • Gloriosa superbia
  • Crescent hawk eagle
  • Green garden lizard
  • Kingfishers
  • Grey hornbills
  • Peacocks
  • Monkeys
Gloriosa Superbia

Throughout this this, the weather was slightly overcast and gloomy. I found it difficult to take good photos due to the weather. Most things started to look dull and uninteresting and I was finding it very difficult to find good photos. However, Mr. Lockwood taught me how to use this to my advantage on close-up photos as the lighting would be even. I learnt to take better compositions of photos and to envision them.

Just before the campsite, we swam at a rock pool. I managed to used my learning from this morning and took photos of the water fall and the stream. I am overall very happy with this trip that I had.

Day 2 –Bambarakanda, Lanka Ella Falls and Horton Plains National Park

Today, we said goodbye to our campsite at Belihul Oya and packed our bags to go to Bambarakanda Falls. After a short bus trip and hike, we reached the waterfall. We took some nice photos with the locals near it but it was very difficult to fit most of the waterfall into the shot. I struggled with getting proper compositions and nothing seemed right but I turned out with an tolerable photo. Then we a beautiful pine field of red and brown. It was fun to play with such interesting colours. I took some pattern based photos and accented a lot of that colour. Then we started moving to a grassland ecosystem in which we saw beautiful grasshoppers. They were a lot nicer than the photos I took of dragonflies yesterday.

Finally, we reached Lanka Ella Falls. Last year’s WWW group was right, it was cold although not freezing. That didn’t stop me from screaming as I slid into the water. Living in Sri Lanka for so long, I forgot what it was like to feel this cold but it reminded me of when I used to swim over winter. After a while, I got used to it and had a lot of fun swimming at the base of the waterfall. It was a lot of fun especially as everybody picked up the courage to get in. After a long time and very blue lips, we packed up and moved on to our destination.

We went to Haputale to eat our last nice meal before staying up in Horton Plains. We also stopped by to buy some food before we left (and I bought candy!). I found it an amazing experience to see what daily life was for these locals. I loved the bustle of this tiny town and the people in in. I tried to take photos of the people there but it wasn’t as easy as wildlife photos. Hopefully as I develop my photography, I will be able to do so.

Local Haputale Shopkeeper

We then headed our way up to Horton Plains. Just before we reached our bungalow, we stopped by to take a photo of a pregnant pygmy lizard. It was difficult to do since the lizard was a bit scared and camera shy but I got an okay photo of it before it moved away.

We headed down to the Maha Eliya bungalow, had dinner and started to explore the landscape a bit. Just outside our bungalow, we tried to find constellations and playing around with timelapse shots. Needless to say, I could only find two constellations on my own which is pretty pathetic but our grade discovered much more together. We also took a fun night photo of us together which was pretty incredible.

Day 3 – Kirigalpotta

Today was one of the most painful but satisfying days of this trip.

Today started bright and early to take sunrise photos. I got out as quickly as possible only in my pyjamas and a hoodie, forgetting how cold it was. I hopped out and took some nice photos with Mr. Lockwood. We even took a photo of an abandoned telephone box (from colonial times) in the middle of a national park and the rising sun against the hills. The photos were great until my fingers became numb and I couldn’t even hold my finger on the shutter for too long. I even found a nice photo of a Sambar deer and saw some jungle fowls.

Then it was time to head to Kirigalpotta, the 2nd highest peak in Sri Lanka. The hike was… rough. It was very mentally taxing as each bend and curve along the trail raised our hopes to be closer to the peak but only to be crushed as it never seemed to get closer. I considered myself to be a good athlete as I do SAISA, but my legs were dead near the end. Our group took many breaks to rest our tired minds and bodies. I was so emotionally tired by the end of it but we managed to push through with the help of some friends.

Walking to Kirigalpotta
Walking to Kirigalpotta. Photo credits: Ian Lockwood

At the peak, we took some nice photos and saw:

  • Scarlett minivet
  • Woodpeckers
  • Lichens (on trees)
  • Rhododendrons
  • Strobolanthes
  • Jungle fowl
  • Sambar deer
  • Black lipped lizard
  • Field rat

It was a much nicer trip on the way back, but we had to search for Bhavye’s camera that he dropped. It was a very long search but to no avail. A poor compact camera is lost in Horton Plains somewhere. We finally finished our walk at 3pm and after a 14km trip. We ate a very late lunch and scouted for the same pregnant lizard yesterday. We found her again and the other group saw a leopard. As the sun set, we finished our day and ready for a new start tomorrow.

Day 4 – Totupola Kanda, Victoria Park and Frogging

Bright and early, we headed to Totupola Kanda (the third highest peak in Sri Lanka). There were very few animals and points of interests (the only animal I found was a . So today I focused on landscape photos and of the sunrise. The hike was a quick and easy compared to yesterday, even though my legs were really sore. On the way up, I learnt to use a flash fill that I was really proud of as shown here:

The Use of Flash Fill in Totupola Kanda
Using Flash Fill in Totupola Kanda

As we neared the top, the boys started to climb up trees. It was hilarious to see them sitting on the tiny trees trying to find the best landscape shot. We also learnt that these trees stayed so miniscule due the harsh winds. Finally, we finished our hike and now left Horton Plains National Park. It was time to explore Nuwara Eliya.

After staying at the Maha Eliya Bungalow in Horton Plains, the hotel in Nuwara Eliya was a paradise for our last night. Our food was delicious and we had a room that had hot water and was well lit. But sadly we couldn’t stay there for long as we had to go to Victoria park for some bird watching. I went to this park before but I didn’t stop to pay attention to the small birds that resided there. I saw:

  • Pied Thrush
  • Bulbuls
  • Sri Lanka White Eye
  • Grey wagtail
  • Heron
  • Crows
  • Pigeons
  • And much more I couldn’t name

I was very frustrated though this trip as I was unable to get a good picture of a Sri Lanka White Eye. It was a beautiful bird and a great composition but focus went awry and my lens didn’t work. I was mad but I’m still happy with the photos I took.

As we rounded our trip up, our group had dinner and decided to go frogging near our hotel. Our guide Ishara was brilliant, he taught us so much about frogs. I learnt a lot about the rare Pseudophilautus, a genus of frogs that instead of going from tadpoles to frogs outside of their eggs, they grow in their eggs to small adults before hatching. This made them tiny and small to find the, but Ishara was superb and found all the local frogs in the area. We also found a rhino horned lizard there too along with the frogs. It was fun as I also learnt to take better night photos with the flash. Overall I was proud of my photos and of today’s work.

Hourglass Tree Frog

Day 5 – Pidurutalagala and Return

This was the last day. An amazing trip was coming to an end. We decided to sleep in today, one of the few days to do so. We headed to Pidurutalagala, the highest peak in Sri Lanka. However, we sadly couldn’t walk there as it was a very long hike and the military has an establishment up there. Therefore we only went up to get good photos of the landscape. From up there, we can see the peaks that we hiked up, the Knuckles range and Adam’s peak. It was really cool to see all of these places that we walked to. Through this trip, I felt much more at ease with my abilities in photography. I trusted my camera after over 1000 photos with it (even though sometimes the lens was faulty). Therefore taking photos was a lot more comfortable this time even though there weren’t many points of interest. However, we did see this really interesting lizard that caught everybody’s eye and I caught a cute photo of it with it’s mouth open.

After our trip to Pidurutalagala, we packed our bags and headed home. This trip was amazing as we managed to see the beautiful and diverse landscape of Sri Lanka (other than it’s beaches), it’s plants and animals. As well, I managed to make good use of my camera and learnt how to hone it a lot better. We also managed to get to walk through all of this and interact with the nature around us. It was fun to do this with friends. I came back home with a lot of pictures, sore legs and a greater appreciation of Sri Lanka.

Thank You For This Great Trip!!!

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