Apologies, I know I wrote a blog yesterday and I’m really not intending to spam you all but today was such an incredible day I needed to share it whilst it’s still fresh in the mind.
We caught the bus direct to Udawalawe from Tangalle, there’s one direct bus a day run by the government and it was amazing – we were the last remaining passengers on board and the driver diverted to drop us pretty much outside our hotel. Have I mentioned how much I love the buses here?! So cheap and helpful. I looked at my spending stats earlier today and in the four weeks we’ve been here we’ve spent less than £13 between us on transportation. In four months in India we spent over £600. That’s probably partly because towns are smaller so we don’t need to take tuk tuks around, but even in India we very rarely took tuk tuks unless we really had to!
Anyway I digress. Udawalawe is home to a national park. There are a couple of national parks in the south, with Yala being really famous and popular which is part of the reason why we opted for Udawalawe. Our hotel just happened to be opposite the Elephant Transit Home, which is basically an orphanage for elephants where they prepare them for life in the wild and release them into the park when they are ready. They feed the elephants four times a day and you can go and watch. There is no audience participation and you just sit and watch which was beautiful. They let the elephants into the feeding areas in small groups where they are given milk and then they go to another area to feed on leaves before going off into another area for the evening. It was so sweet to watch them drinking their milk and waiting for each other to finish before going off together. There is also an adult elephant housed there who is missing part of a leg so they have given them an artificial leg. Who thought that I needed to see an elephant with an artificial leg?! They even removed the leg during feeding and gave it a wash.
Then this morning we got up at 4.45am to go on safari in the park. We were picked up at 5.30am and driven to the park entrance in a jeep. The jeep is a separate cost to the entrance fee. We were lucky enough to be the only ones in ours. It was surprisingly chilly at that time in the morning, particularly as the jeep was open top and driving quite quickly so I would definitely recommend taking a shirt for the first part of the day. It will soon warm up though!
You join the queue to buy your ticket (I’d definitely recommend using the washroom here as your only other option is a bush!) then head back to your jeep and go off in search of elephants and anything else you may find. The sunrise was stunning and we watched it accompanied by a couple of peacocks. It wasn’t long before we spotted our first elephants in the distance. Seeing elephants in the wild is something I’d wanted to do for a while and it really didn’t disappoint. It’s hard to describe how bizarre it is. They are so big and at times it looked almost like CGI because it was so surreal. Up close they are really wrinkly and leathery (who knew my twin was an elephant!) and their tails have almost feathers on the bottom to bat away the flies.
We headed on further and saw so many birds – I noted them all down and counted 17 species, including peacocks, kingfishers, eagles, owls and the pied kingfisher which our guide told us are only found in Udawalawe. We saw several peacocks putting on very impressive displays for their peahens and the way one of them was shaking himself – well I definitely would!
We saw loads of buffalos basking in the reservoir. We learnt from our guide that water bufffalo have short and curly horns and normal buffalo long and straight horns. They were just standing in the reservoir which they do during the day and they eat grass at night. I asked our guide if they just stand there all day and he replied with a completely straight face ‘no, no, no. Sometimes they lie down’ then he told me they have four stomachs so consider this my request to come back as a buffalo.
As we moved on I was impressed at how few jeeps there were in the areas we were in. There was never once when there were more than four jeeps in an area which meant that elephants weren’t boxed in or anything which we had heard happened in Yala. We stopped for a group of four elephants in the bushes and they got closer and closer to us, eventually crossing right in front of the jeep. At this point we were less than 5 metres from them and they stared us in the eyes. They weren’t in the least bit bothered by us. We saw lots of young elephants and discovered that females travel in packs and the males were lone. We saw a few lone males including this fella who insisted on showing us what he had before putting it away!
We moved on again and saw a couple of crocodiles basking in the sun with their mouths open. I was glad we weren’t any closer. Apparently freshwater ones only eat fish and birds, it’s the saltwater ones you need to watch out for.
Most people seem to opt for the 3 hour tour which you can do either between 6am-9am or between 2pm-5pm but we opted for 8 hours. I’m glad we did as it meant we could take our time going round the park and spend longer at the stops we did make. The last stop we made was at a different part of the reservoir where there were 4 elephants, including a baby one who was barely 2 months old At first they were just eating grass with the baby one trying to join in. Then they moved to the edge of the reservoir and started dousing themselves with water. What a magnificent sight that was! To see the water being sprayed out of the spout was breathtaking and I have a video of this on my Instagram page (@meandering_maxwells) Then they all got in the reservoir to have a little wade and walk to the other side. It was amazing! We were so close to them and they were so passive and so breathtakingly beautiful!
I think the Sri Lanka tourist board should give me a job as I have been waxing lyrical to everyone about how they should immediately book a holiday here! If you want to see elephants in the wild then I would definitely definitely recommend Sri Lanka and Udawalawe. I would even go as far to say that this ranks as my top travel thing ever!