A Guide to Camping in Horton Plains

After more than 3 years of working and trying to promote glamping properties in Sri Lanka, my first Camping experience didn’t fall short of what I expected with my Digital Marketing team. Although a glamping site offered basic essentials of a glamping site like hot, running water, a warm, comfortable bed and hot meals, this was not an expectation I had when camping in Horton Plains National Park for the first time with a bunch of ‘virgin campers’. But with a good tent, a good meal / alcohol plan, you can just as well be ‘glamping on a budget’.

Horton Hears a Who?

Allright Disney Fans, sit tight. Although we didn’t come across Horton. Horton Plains National Park is located in Sri Lanka (read about my first experience trekking through the plains here ) and is a cloud forest that traps a myriad of wildlife beneath its varying climates. What exactly is a cloud forest? Expect blazing hot sun change to freezing cold winds with bouts of rain within a span of 20 minutes (more on this crucial pattern later!) Horton Plains is a protected reserve on the island, home to exotic wildlife, from sambar deer to leopards. Yes, that’s right, my first camping experience was in a wild landscape that was home to those majestic slender felines!

Planning a Camping Trip

We were a group of 9 from work, ready to set out on our first adventure – together! Here’s the scenario as I see it today; less than a year later, a bunch of us assumed it was a great idea to combine 9 of us from the same team at work and force us into a tent in the middle of a protected nature reserve to see how well we do. Taking a step back, I feel it was pretty sadistic but since all of us almost always got along, we agreed. Adventure awaits, yeah? Once all the budgets were finalised, my closest friend at work and I took care of the shopping list, which included –

  • 3-minute Mac & Cheese
  • Instant chicken & mushroom soup
  • Tons of snacks
  • Loaves of bread
  • sausages
  • Essentials like salt, sugar, butter, coffee, jam
  • water bottles
  • alcohol & chasers

Enroute to Horton Plains

After packing the van with what seemed like a million bags for each of us, we were on our way to Horton Plains – roughly 5 hours away. A quick breakfast stop and 2 hours later, we were at Horton Plains, bags strung to every limb, trying to shelter from rain and winds, we purchased our tickets and on our way to the main entrance.

Horton Plains National Park

You need to pre book your campsite in Horton Plains a month in advance, exactly a month, no sooner, no less. Once you’re at the entrance, you’ll go through the mandatory security check. The guy will usually check to see whether you have any cigarettes,  alcohol and lighter fluid – list of Dos and Don’ts of camping at Horton Plains BELOW. We were able to convince the guy who checked us to allow 2 bottles as compared to our four inside the park, since we were staying the night over. Along with the two bottles, they took out cigarettes and lighters, so as to avoid the risk of a forest fire. So, DON’T BRING THOSE – unless you want them confiscated at the gate.

On the Hunt for Campsite 2

 We booked Campsite 2, and with our baggages and essentials strapped to our limbs and various body parts, we set forth looking for our home for the night. 30 minutes later, we set our bags down and started pitching our 10-man tent before we were blessed with rains. Considering how complicated a tent is, no matter how small the packing is, allow yourself atleast 1 hour to get it right  – because you’d rather die fixing a tent than getting soaked in the midnight rains because you didn’t nail one side down correctly – which ended up happening to us anyway.

Once we had our tent and a smaller one set up,  it was a little after 2pm, by which point we were famished and thirsty.

Lunch at Horton Plains consisted of hot chicken soup, mac & cheese on the side and bread. Followed by wine and rum.

Next round of business? Showering and Peeing.

Luckily, Campsite 2 is located near a stream. A 2 minute trek and you’re in this beautiful stream of freezing cold water – which we ended up showering in and peeing in. The key, you may ask? You gotta look for ‘the window’

The Window

Looking for THE WINDOW while camping at Horton Plains is a crucial element of camping. Why you may wonder? The temperature at Horton Plains varies between 10 degrees to 20 degrees. Rains are almost certain and bouts of sunshine only occur through small ‘windows’. So, to shower, amidst the freezing cold winds, we had to wait for the 10 minutes of blazing hot sunshine to sink ourselves in the freezing water for a quick dip. Strategy is definitely the key here. Make sure you’re changed and ready to jump in before the weather swings to the opposite spectrum again!

Dinner at Horton Plains

With glamping expectations in mind, we set forth to prepare dinner –  by 6pm, we were almost done cooking our pasta and sausages. A hurried meal later, everyone was in the 10 person tent, safely bundled inside sleeping bags and layers of thick quilt. Few minutes later, everyone was sound asleep thanks to the several sleeping aids that ranged from hot boxing the tent with herbs and farts.

By 1am, a gust of wind and a sleepless camper later, we were all awake. My bladder was on the verge of busting open and half the tent was ready to have their second dinner. This would have all been fine and dandy, had we not have to scan the landscape for LEOPARDS! 10 mins of shining the torch through the plains and our campsite, we ate our leftover dinner – before I hurriedly ushered everyone back in the tent in order to relieve myself.

Did I think about those majestic leopards prowling the landscape at 1am? Ofcourse not. I looked for a safe spot away from the tent but not far off and let go. At this point, even a leopard would not scare me – only later did I realise just how dangerous it was!

Breakfast at Horton Plains

Everyone was up and ready before sunrise. We watched the sun peek over the horizon, painting the sky in luscious vibrant tones of blood orange and grey. Was this what love looked like? Being utterly mesmerized by this natural phenomenon that made you feel so insignificant?  Perhaps.

For breakfast, we cooked more sausages, left over pasta and soup, served with bread, jam and some other knick knacks.

Hiking through Horton Plains

After breakfast, we set forth on our trek to Baker’s Falls. After a mini history lesson of the waterfall and Mr.Baker the previous night, needless to say, everyone was ready to meet this great waterfall. The path from our campsite to the waterfall was a trek – i.e. barren landscape that was more like an arduous  walk and less of a hike. But we made it and after a quick break and some pictures, we were on the way back to our campsite for our last refreshing iced water dip before ‘check-out’.

Camping Tips in Horton Plains

  • Don’t carry any plastic / polythene
  • Don’t carry too many things with you – we had excessive bread loaves.
  • Don’t carry any open fire tools; i.e. matches, burners, etc.
  • Alcohol is prohibited. If you’re camping, you can try to get away with 1-2 bottles, with a bit of a side bribe!
  • Cigarettes and lighters are prohibited; only because it can set off forest fires.
  • Bring a small bucket, cause you will need to fetch water from the stream to use for cooking.
  • Look for that window of sunshine when you’re trying to shower in the strean.
  • Avoid peeing in the wilderness at 1 am. Remember you’re in the wild with leopards.
  • Don’t eat too much; there’s nowhere to poop.
  • There are insects in the water; make sure to inspect yourself carefully after a shower.
  • There’s a 100% chance of thunderstorms in the night. Take the time to nail and get your tent down perfectly during setup to prevent leaks!
  • Quick hot meals are the best option. Don’t waste money and energy packing unnecessary shit, like salt.
  • Get everyone to pitch in, whether it’s washing the dishes or cleaning the campsite.
  • Take all your garbage back with you.
  • Don’t feed any animals.
  • Don’t be a nuisance. Humans as a species are annoying enough, don’t add to it with loud music and screaming. Be considerate to the inhabitants of the park.
  • Raincoats, sleeping bags and thick blankets will be a blessing at 2am. Raincoats were a blessing from the time we started trekking to our camp site.
  • Most of all, have fun – but be a responsible human too.

Your truly,

Imperfect Traveller

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