We reached our friend Bandara's house and met his newborn baby boy for the first time. I was really happy to see my friend taking the leap and now a proud dad. We headed straight towards Meegelewa to where the tusker and his herd was last seen. Reaching Bongamuwa we came across a trail where the herd has crossed into a small forest patch. From the signs it seems the herd had come out to cross the road but something has disturbed them and they had doubled back into the forest. The spoor was fresh and we knew they aren't far away. Driving along the road we came to Kathnoruwa wewa. We were told that the big guy was seen on the far corner of the lake. The issue is the whole lake is surrounded by tall reeds and there is no real path around the lake. After scanning the area we were met by Danasiri one of our field guides who works on elephant conservation with CCR a conservation organization working on finding a solution for the Human Elephant conflict. Suddenly Bandara said there was an elephant on the far corner. Getting our gear ready we headed towards this sighting hoping that the whole herd would come out for a drink. The path was not easy as the trail was littered with thorns and mud. There were elephant droppings everywhere, and there was a real danger that an elephant could charge us from anywhere. After observing we didn't see anything, and as the place was dangerous we decided to walk back to the road.
Danasiri's brother Yasaratne who lives near Kathnoruwa hosted us for lunch. We had a simple yet delicious meal of Thambapu haal (boiled rice husks rather than polished which is what the villagers in the area have), it is more nutritious and tasty. We had this along with lake fish, dhal and aguna kola mallum. Both Danasiri and Yasaratne have been very kind in hosting us and we were honored to be their guests.
We stayed at the GAlgamuwa Rest House, which in infact managed by some private owners. The rest house was an old colonial building which as been modified with air conditioning and other comforts. The place has only three rooms hence one needs to book early. The food was amazing and dinner was a treat. Tired but yet excited of the day to come we slept soundly.
Early morning the next day we were treated to a feast for breakfast of string hoppers, fish, dhal and pol sambol which was a meal fit for a king. After having our fill we left the resthouse for Bandara's house. We decided to try and locate the crossed tusker in that area who is suffering from a very bad leg injury due to a gunshot wound trigged by a trip wire. The leg has been badly swollen and the treatments over the 6 months has been very irregular. I wanted to see the tusker to guage his current situation and possible try and do something to relieve his pain.
This tusker is a regular in the village and often treated with a mild indifference and at times with fondness by the villagers. Being partially blind this old tusker spends his days wandering the forests and chena's in the village feeding on whatever he can find.
After driving along some lakes in the village, we got information that the tusker is hiding in a forest patch just beyond the lake. Bandara went ahead to check and came back with a confirmation that the tusker is there.
We walked towards Bandara and saw a massive silhouette of the tusker. We got on to a ridge which gave us a good view, and as if he knew we were coming the old tusker came out into the open and started spraying himself in mud. The back left leg of the tusker is badly infected and swollen. He is clearly in pain and this wound has made him lose his condition, now he is but a shadow of his old self. He has lost a lot of weight and his bones are sticking out in comparison to his size in my last encounter last year. After mud bathing for several minutes he slowly walked back into the bushes. his condition was very bad and its very disheartening to know that despite 6 months the responsible parties haven't done anything adequate to save his life. If we lose this majestic tusker not only will it be one less tusker in our land but also a loss of a national treasure which needs to be protected. One of the young boys told me that people come in white vans with guns looking for this tusker. Being concerned they used to give wrong directions.
With a heavy heart we left the tusker to feed in peace and headed back towards Kathnoruwa to find the big tusker.
We spent a few hours just waiting in the hot sun. The heat was unbearable but we found a miraculous remedy in the village boutique. The cool packet or ice packet also known as the bema packed in the village. These flavored packets of ice are a cheap and tasty relief from the heat. My favorite is the one branded Malki which is vanilla milk frozen in a packet. It is sheer bliss to have this during the heat of the day and best of all it is only 5 Rupees !!! Also this brought me back to childhood where we used to buy these after school.
By late afternoon we got a call from Danasiri and his brother Yasaratne that some of the elephants have come out from the other side of the lake. In haste we drove to a temple by the lakeside where we parked our jeep and needed to head on foot. The trail was dangerous and full of mana grass and reeds which deterred Raveendra from attempting. I went along with Danasiri and Samantha. This was a tough trail where there was no path but rather we had to walk through dense scrub until we reached the reeds. We saw the elephants about 50m ahead but something spooked the herd and they all ran for cover. We took cover and waited for them to come out again, but to no avail. We decided to head back to the lake bund. By this time we were starving and wanted to have lunch. But being a remote village there was no place to buy rice. Therefore we improvised and Samantha suggested we buy some bread as well as some canned fish, tomatoes, onions, green chillies and he would make something. What he came out with was absolutely delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed the salad/fish along with the bread.
By late evening we parked ourselves on the Kathnoruwa bund and waited. While dozing off suddenly Samantha spotted the big tusker appearing on the far corner of the lake, only for a moment before he disappeared into the forest again. He is very shy and easily spooked which can be the reason for his survival. We spoke to many villagers about the elephant issue and they said that their crops are raided very night by this herd and very little is done from the government to help them. We noticed the electric fences which are set up all around don't work and this is a big question mark as these villagers are left helpless. until the paddy is cut this season they are at the mercy of the elephants who are in turn left with no choice but to raid due to lack of food and habitat. A never ending problem to which there seems no end. desperate times call for desperate measures and some villagers take the law into their own hands and shoot at these elephants to protect the crops. This results in terrible wounds and at times death to these giants. But this is a problem which needs to be sorted from higher up and we cannot blame the villager for protecting his livelihood.
Saying our goodbyes we left Galgamuwa and on the way stopped at the Pol Athu Bath Kade a wayside shop for dinner in Ambanpola. The cook Raja made us the most amazing kottu which is by far the best I have had.
I hope that can be lucky next time in seeing this elephant herd and also try to persuade those responsible to take action in treating the crossed tusker.
Great trip, great time and awesome cool packets :) !!!!!