Sunday, December 30, 2012
A great way to end the year with a safari to Yala National Park
Its post Christmas 2012, and the world didn't end like some expected. What better to do with the holiday season than to go on safari. The weekend of 29th- 30th I scheduled a quick trip to Yala National Park. I have hardly gone to the park in 2012, and felt that it was high time I paid a visit, primarily because it was raining very hard in Wilpattu.
I arranged my favorite bungalow in that area named "Back Of Beyond"- Yala which is situated close to the park entrance. For my preference there is no other place which matches, in the rustic charm, value for money, and great service. The place is very basic, but stylishly design to be a tasteful hideaway in the wilderness. The place is spotless clean, and well maintained. What I like best of all about all of "Back of Beyond" bungalows is the amazing level of service provided. The caretaker Duminda and his assistant do wonders to make our stay comfortable. His cooking is unmatched, and we relished every meal.
I was joined by my friends, Niroshan, Upendra, Pathum, Omega and my cousin Shahen. We hired a van from JK Cab Service, which offered a decent quote for a 500 km journey. We left Colombo at 4.00 am and reached the bungalow by 11.00 am. We relaxed till Amare my trusted jeep driver arrived. We entered the park at 2.00 pm and was welcomed by a slight drizzle of rain. In order to protect my camera and lens I used a garbage bag, which proved to be very useful. We drove on through Uraniya road, and headed towards Kotasiyambala area via Spill Road, Akasha Chaitya etc.
Along the way we had no urge to find leopards, and decided to simply enjoy the park for all its worth. We photographed many birds and other animals which most would simply pass by and not notice while on a "leopard craze". This is something which I try my best not to do, as this spoils the entire jungle experience. Yala is not about just leopards, and we need to open our eyes. My personal thought is that those who run after only leopards aren't genuine wildlife enthusiasts and are merely doing this for the fashion, because its the "it" thing to do. These weekend warriors run around the park urging their jeep drivers to get them a sighting of a leopard at any cost. Such reckless and irresponsible actions have led to several animals being run down and killed. This pressure has turned most of Yala jeep drivers into a bunch of "leopard spotters" only. Thankfully I do not impart such pressure on Amare, who is very knowledgeable about birds, and at times teaches me a thing or two about different species. This is the caliber of jeep driver whom all should emulate as even most tourist would appreciate such a "naturalist" like driver to a leopard crazy jockey.
Along the driver we observed a lovely sight of a family of elephants having a bath on one of the new man made tanks. Water is something cherished by these pachyderms who were swimming and wallowing in the waters. Once their bath was done they all lined up on the tank bund and started dusting themselves in red soil before walking onto the forest.
Back on the Yala main road we were heading towards the Medha para turn off when we observed a line of at least 50-70 jeeps waiting for their "turn" to view a leopard. This was a sad and pathetic sight, and I was glad to not be in it. Driving furthest up, we observed another traffic jam. Getting closer we realized what was happening. The tusker named Gemunu has turned to become a beggar and a pirate !!!!! He was walking from jeep to jeep, and putting his trunk inside in search of "goodies" he can eat like biscuits, fruits etc. This was a shocker as I have encountered this young tusker many times before but never observed such behavior. It is evident that someone has got this tusker accustomed to being fed. Despite its apparent friendliness, this was a wild elephant who can kill or main someone with a single swipe of its trunk or a push from his tusks. He slowly approached our jeep, and all of our company jumped to the right side which was opposite to where Genumu approached. I was literally sitting on my cousin Shahen, and I could hear a faint and muffled complaint that I was crushing him with my weight, but I told him to shut it and wait, as the tusker was approaching and I didnt want to be on the other side when he comes. He slowly put his massive trunk inside and sniffed around the seats for a few seconds and moved on to the next jeep. Relieved that it has passed we observed the carnage Genumu was inflicting, as he flung a few bags and handbags of some ladies in the other jeeps. This dangerous behavior is thanks to the irresponsible actions of some individuals who have trained this elephant to beg. This is an accident waiting to happen, and it would be the elephant who will get the blame and end up suffering the consequences.
Above and Below- Gemunu the Pirate
Back on the road, we headed out of the park, and back to the bungalow. We had a lovely barbecue dinner and hit the sack in anticipation for an early morning round before heading back home. The next day we drove towards Warahana area, and observed many animals along the way including birds, wild boar and buffalo. I managed to finally photograph a peacock dance which was a long time coming. Furthermore we saw an albino wild boar who seemed badly injured on its left side which was missing an eye and an ear. The boar was small, and I doubt with its color whether it would survive for long. But for now it seems to be using the mud as a camouflage because it was covered from head to toe in brown mud.
Above- Brown Shrike
We were told of a tusker sighting close to Warahana area where a massive tusker named Arjuna was sighted. But sadly it was not to be, as we didn't find anything. Observing the time, we headed back out, as we needed to check out after breakfast.
Above- Mynah hitching a ride on a large boar
Above- White Ibis with its chicks
Above- Albino Wild Boar
Above- Barn Swallow
Back in Colombo I can happily say that this was my best year with regards to wildlife trips and adventures, and I believe that 2013 will be even better.
I want to wish all my readers and their families a very happy and peaceful New Year, and may all your hopes and dreams come true in 2013.