Saturday, November 26, 2016

My first exprience at Yala National Park in year 2000

Yala or Ruhunu National Park is the most famous Safari destination in Sri Lanka. The park was out of bounds for a few years due to a terrorist attack in 1996, therefore even after Yala was re opened to the public the school did not want take any risks by taking young school children into a place with another possible terrorist threat. I had heard so many stories about Yala, and had seen many old black and white photographs of my mother’s trip to the park. Finally during the April holidays of 2000, I was able to go to park which I have heard so much about. For me, this was a big step up from what I was used to. 

At the park museum with my friend Virantha

The parks I used to visit at the time, Wasgamuwa, Udawalawe and Bundala all had elephants, but we hardly saw other animals. Even the deer were very shy in these other parks, thus it was a big surprise for me to see so many spotted deer in such close proximity, and being so used to vehicles. It was also the first time I saw wild boar.  We camped at Jamburagala Camp Site, which had a small cement structure, thus not requiring tents. Water was supplied by a well some distance away for water. We were strictly instructed not to go to the well alone as the place was next to some rocky outcrops which were frequented by bears. I remember the well being very stale and the water was very brackish with small shrimp like crustaceans floating on the surface. That evening at around 10.00 PM we heard the unmistakable rumble of an elephant very close to the camp site. Mr. Rohan one of our school masters who joined us on the trip was sleeping in the jeep closest to the elephant. Nirmal Sir had warned us of the phobia Mr Rohan had of elephants. I slowly woke him and whispered that there is an elephant close by. He yelped in fright and scrambled from the back seat into the front seat of the jeep, and from there made a hasty retreat towards the building. The elephant clearly frightened by the noise went on it way. We were in fits of laughter, as Mr. Rohan on other occasions was a very tough individual.

Boiling the kettle for a cup of tea at Jamburagala

The next day morning we were driving along Uraniya road, and while taking a bend came face to face with a tusker. This was my first tusker in the wild and I was extremely excited. This tusker was named Kublai Khan and I couldn’t believe my luck, a tusker on my first park round in Yala. We had a face off for a few minutes, and then the tusker went on its way into the bush. 
Kublai Khan

Still buzzing with excitement from the encounter I had a hearty breakfast and worked on the camp chores till evening. In the evening round while heading back to the campsite from an uneventful safari I encountered my first leopard on the middle of the road in Jaburagala. It was a large male, and after snarling at the lights of the jeep (it was pitch dark), it started walking along the road, and we followed it, for some distance before it slunk into the darkness of the forest. I was beyond words by then a tusker and leopard in one day was something I could never have imagined back then.  That night we were all in a jubilant mood, and Nirmal sir seemed to be a little at ease as well, and allowed us to bathe at the well for a little longer than normally allowed. I was given a small camp bed by my friend Bimantha, and I remember it being so flimsy that it would collapse down if I moved too much, and I slept very carefully because Rohan Uncle was sleeping on the floor next to me and as he was very irritable I did not want to upset him. I slept soundly and in the morning I tried to slowly get off the bed and quietly step over the sleeping Rohan Uncle, but suddenly the bed gave way and it collapsed with Rohan Uncle underneath. I believe he would have had the shock of his life and the bed with all my weight fell on top of him. I swiftly jumped off him and darted out to the open before he could catch me. I heard him loudly cursing back at the scene of the incident, and I hid from him for the rest of the trip.

The boys near the well, Lakmal, Virantha, Rukshan and myself

The next few days we saw the same tusker on the main road. It gave a small mock charge and thereafter remained on the road for more than 30 minutes, so we turned back and headed the other direction. We also took part in a small project where we put up sign boards along the Palatupana road warning vehicles of crossing animals and urging them to slow down. This was due to a request made by the park warden as many animals, especially small ones such as monitor lizards and black naped hare, were being run down. We were also given a lecture about the park by one of the senior rangers who visited our campsite. Back then I maintained a field book with notes on all my sightings, and learning’s from each trip.

Nirmal Sir nailing down a warning board we made

My first visit to Yala will never be forgotten and will be the first of many visits to this amazing park. 

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