Aliya, Aliya, Aliya!

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Did someone say Safari?!

“Elephant, Elephant, Elephant!” in Sinhala is the call you hear repeatedly while on an safari in Udawalawe National Park.  Just a 3 hour drive south of Kandy, up in the “hill country”, you come down towards the southern coast of Sri Lanka into the dry zone.  In these southern areas, you find two major national parks, Udawalawe and Yala, and a bird sanctuary, Bundala.

 

Both national parks are known for their large herds of wild elephants, with Yala adding an extra treat of wild leopards. In fact, Yala is said to have the highest density of leopards in the world.

Elephant getting some water
  Unfortunately I still haven’t had the chance to go to Yala, I’ll save that for my next trip.  This time around it was Udawalawe and an Elephant Safari.

 

The day started with two land rovers picking up all the family members (all 20 of us!) to make the quick ride from our safari-style cabin into the park.  Once at the park, the big timber gates at the main entrance reminded me of that scene in Jurassic Park when everyone entered the park. Maybe that was the effect they were trying to go for, whatever the case, it worked!

 

Soon after we passed through the gates to the park we had our first elephant sighting, Aliya, Aliya the tracker shouted! There he was, a sole elephant bathing in one of the ponds near the entrance, while a bunch of water buffalo swam a short distance away.

A little too close for comfort!
  As with any safari, the jeep stops, turns off its engine, and everyone grabs there camera and starts to take pictures.  For the most part the elephants keep their distance and are not alarmed by the jeeps and tourists, as I’m sure they have become somewhat habituated to the non-elephant traffic.  Nevertheless, its always good to remember that they are wild elephants and not Dumbo the Elephant, so they are still potentially dangerous!

 

Last time my father visited the park he told us of an encounter down some back road with a rogue elephant.  Seems like the elephant blocked the path of their jeep and stood in their way for at least 10 minutes, keeping its ground with ears flared forward.  Then at one point, I guess it got agitated and started to rampage at the jeep! So the driver had to haul ass in reverse to get away! Talk about adrenaline rush.

Elephant herd
  Another story I’ve heard about elephants in the park, was a tracker who in a failed attempt to scare away an elephant got stomped on and killed! Whatever the stories may be, you get a rush every time you see an elephant come close to the jeep, and they do come very close sometimes! As you can see from the picture at the side, one elephant was about a foot from pushing back this jeep ahead of us.  There were two of them blocking the road with one coming very close to the jeep.  In the end nothing happened, I think they were just warning us that this what their house!

 

As the safari went on and the further we got into the park the more elephants we saw.  Generally we would see them alone (rogues) or in large herds of at least 20 or 30, all with babies in tow, munching on grass and the other flora in the area.

I see you!
  Now remember this is a dry zone, so you see a lot of shrubs and bushes everywhere, it’s a bit like I picture the Africa savannah to be.  One of the thrilling moments was slowly crossing a little bridge over a semi-dried up creek, as we crossed over, someone happened to look to the left and saw a elephant just standing there looking at us!  You could barely see it standing there, all you could really make out were his tusks and a bit of his ears, he was well concealed beneath some trees, hiding from the heat of the day and chilling in the shade I guess.

 

Elephants were not the only highlight in this park, the scenery itself is stunning.  The one thing that always amazes me when I come to Sri Lanka is the various different climate zones and terrain this little island has.  From the beaches surrounding the island, up into the mountains where the tea plantations are, to the rainforests in the southwest in Sinharaja, down here to the far south (and far north) where you find the dry zone.

Beautiful scenary
Wherever you may be on this island, the scenery is always beautiful (biased? Yes :) ).  Here in Udawalawe, many of the vistas you see are north towards the central mountains, looking out over barely-filled reservoirs of water, where dried up tree stumps jut out from everywhere. It really feels like you are in another world!

A little further south of Udawalawe, is the Bundala National Bird Sanctuary. The wetlands and estuaries found at Bundala lie at the south end of the migratory path of at least 200 species of resident and migrant birds from across Asia. In the right season this place is full of birds of every kind, including flamingos.  Unfortunately for us, we were just there before the season started! So there wasn’t much to see other than a bunch of peacocks. Peacocks you say! That’s exciting right?!.  Well not that exciting considering you see peacocks everywhere in it seems in Sri Lanka, they aren’t as exotic as we see them back home.  Just another bird, but still beautiful to see nonetheless.

Birds in Bundalla

 

One note to anyone that plans to visit here, or for that matter any safari park, have a camera with a long zoom lens! My digital zoom is 200mm, I suggest a 300 or 400mm zoom lens for the best pictures.  Sometimes the animals are a bit far and sometimes they are well hidden. So hopefully before I get to Africa for my safari there I can snag a good zoom lens! :)

 

 

 

nadjad says:
Hello,

i am planning to travel with my husband (family is from Sri Lanka) and two young children (by then 4,5 years and 5 months) in Sri Lanka. As we have both been to the country several times i would like to do some more exploring and was wondering whether you could give us some more ideas about the roads from Kandy to Uda Walawe -how long is the drive, is there accommodation at the park for an overnights stay you could recommend/ is suitable for young children or would you recommend to maybe spend a night in nuraya eliya and only do it as a day trip (if at all?)- i would then like to drive from uda walawe down to the south coast (how is this drive/ how are roads and duration?) thank you so much for your help/ feedback and comments any thoughts are really appreciated! (I prefer to have an opinion from someone who has travelled rather than family....) thank you!!!
Nadja
Posted on: Feb 26, 2010
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Did someone say Safari?!
Did someone say Safari?!
Elephant getting some water
Elephant getting some water
A little too close for comfort!
A little too close for comfort!
Elephant herd
Elephant herd
I see you!
I see you!
Beautiful scenary
Beautiful scenary
Birds in Bundalla
Birds in Bundalla
Hambantota
photo by: Vlindeke