This is a hard blog to write as we’ve chosen to cut our travels short and come home.
You’d have to had to have been in a hole to not know that the WHO has declared the Coronavirus a Pandemic and with countries shutting their borders and others imposing quarterines on arrival we feel that now is the right time to head back to the UK, for the meanwhile at least. I suffer from an autoimmune condition so if I get the virus I want to be at home.
This morning we arrived in Khajuraho, which is actually the last Indian town that we wanted to visit. Our original plan had been to stay two nights and catch a train back to Varanasi and cross the border into Nepal on Wednesday. Friday morning we woke to the news that Nepal were no longer issuing visas on arrival and imposed various conditions.
So we could still go to Nepal if:
we got a visa beforehand
We flew into Kathmandu
We submitted a medical certificate declaring us free of Coronavirus
We self quarantined for 14 days.
We had a flight booked out on 16th April and had intended to get a 30 day visa so we didn’t much fancy spending half of our time in quarantine. Or incurring the extra costs of a flight.
We ummed and ahhed a lot about what to do. We considered flying to Thailand but with everything so up in the air and the situation changing hourly we made the difficult decision to fly home.
It had always been our intention to fly home for a bit in the summer anyway, so we’re just coming home a little bit sooner than planned. Once things have calmed down and travel restrictions are lifted we will be off again to continue our adventure.
It’s obviously disappointing to not be able to carry on at present, particularly as I had been looking forward to going to Nepal and seeing some places that my dad had visited. It’s not over yet though and we will make the most of our time in the UK.
So instead we’re being positive and there are loads of things I’m looking forward to:
Catching up with friends and family and seeing babies who’ve grown in the last 6 monthsCelebrating my best friend’s 40th with her in personEating cheese Drinking wine Camping Flushing my toilet roll down the toilet! Washing my clothes in a machine We’ve an overnight train booked to Delhi and whilst we are on that train we will book a flight and hopefully head straight to the airport. So we may be back as early as Tuesday! In the meantime, keep washing those hands!
Sri Lanka has two main seasons; the south west monsoon between May and November, and the North East between December and March. This means that you can always find somewhere with decent weather no matter the time of year. Bearing this in mind we still decided headed to Uppuvelli, just north of Trincomalee on the east coast. It was off season so a lot of restaurants and hotels weren’t yet open and the sea was too rough for anything more than a quick paddle. We were fortunate with the weather though and only really experienced one evening of very torrential rain. Looking out of the window it looked like a hurricane report from the BBC, it was pouring heavily with rain and palm trees were barely holding up against the wind.
We planned to chill here for a few days doing nothing more than catching some rays and relaxing. We set off just before sunrise on our first morning for a run along the beach. We haven’t really done much running since we’ve been away due to a lack of pavements and the packs of dogs which roam the streets. We’ve stuck to beaches to avoid these dogs so it was typical that morning to run into a particularly playful, boisterous dog. He kept jumping up at us and Joey was kind / brave enough to let me run on whilst he tried to distract said playful pup. Unfortunately the doggy got a little bit too excited and ended up scratching Joey. So off we headed to hospital to get a rabies jab! We were sensible and we did get all our jabs before we went away, but the rabies jab just buys you a little more time and means you only need a few post exposure jabs.
We arrived at the hospital and joined the very efficient queue. This queue was made up of rows of chairs with everyone moving one chair along as the queue moves. After a very short wait Joey got pulled out of the queue by the security guard who asked him for his passport and then quickly returned with a queue jumping number. She then ushered him to the doctors room for assessment. The doctor ummed and ahhed a bit then wrote out a card with his jab schedule on it and sent us to the drug store with a nurse. We got the price, then were accommpanied to accounts to pay and finally to the injection room. All in all it took less than hour. Two things really stood out for me and they were that white privilege is real. The amount of queue jumping that we did was insane and embarrassing and then there was the lack of patient confidentiality. People were being consulted in the same room as Joey and I was pulling faces at an old man whilst he was being injected. Not to mention everyone peeking round the curtain to get a glimpse of the white people!
The only other thing of note we did in Trincomalee was to visit their War Cemetery. It’s maintained on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and is a beautiful peaceful place to visit. The gravestones are all equal shape and size and separated by bushes.
After our chill time we headed north to Jaffna. Jaffna was out of bounds thanks to the civil war until little over 10 years ago and even Sri Lankan’s we have met along the way say they have never been. It was certainly different to the rest of the country – grittier and definitely more like India! Even the bus ride there involved an army roadblock. Everyone piled off the bus, we were told to stay in our seats whilst everyone else had ID and luggage checked. A soldier boarded our bus, searched it and checked our passports and before we knew it we were on our way again.
We started our city explorations at the Fort which we had pretty much to ourselves. The fort is a few centuries old and is Portuguese/Dutch origin. The literature we were given was poorly translated and wasn’t really clear on a lot of things but still better than my Tamil and Sinhalese. Then we wandered to the Clock Tower and the library. The library was destroyed in the 1980s by (some say pro government) forces but was the first thing to be rebuilt when the war ended. We took a stroll to the railway station and booked ourselves on the express train out of Jaffna the next morning to Colombo where we’d then head north to Negombo, a beach resort.
The train took 7 and half hours, far and away the longest journey we’ve had in Sri Lanka, but a blink of an eye compared to some Indian journeys. Everyone started to gather their belongings up and I took a quick glance at google maps, we were definitely almost at Colombo Fort station. So we piled out the train with everyone else. I pulled my phone out again and started looking at where we needed to go to catch our bus and it looked a bit more complicated than when I’d previously looked. I took a moment to glance at my surroundings and realised that we’d got off the train a stop too early. For a brief moment I considered not telling Joey and seeing if he’d notice the extra long walk to the bus station. Maybe I could just style this mistake out? I’d had almost 40 years of styling out my mistakes, I’m sure I could do something with this. Maybe if I said it really quickly Joey wouldn’t notice?! In the end I did confess and suggested that as it was really hot maybe we should just take a tuk tuk to the bus station? Thankfully he agreed and we didn’t get divorced. Mistake styled out.
We had a nice couple of chilled days in Negombo lying on the beach and playing in the sea. We also needed to get Joey’s third rabies jab done. Only two more to go!
We have spent the last 4 days at a yoga retreat just outside of Kandy. We thought we were signing up 4 days of being told what to do which to be honest, sounded bliss. We quite liked the idea of all decisions being taken out of our hands. We had to let the staff know an hour ahead of time when we wanted to take a shower so they could light a fire to heat the water. We thought they were joking until we actually saw the barrel of water being heated by a fire. Yoga itself is definitely harder than it looks. I’m not flexible at all and with all my joint problems I really struggled, maybe it gets easier the more you practice!
We did enjoy a cooking class and got to enjoy the fruits of a labour as well as a trek to a waterfall. We all had to participate in the cooking class, I got to play with grinding a coconut. Joey thought he had the easy job of deep frying the aubergine but he had to stand over the hot fryer for about an hour! At the waterfall there is a natural pool which is full of the fish that nibble your feet. So whilst everyone else was swimming I got to have a free pedicure! It is a very strange sensation as the fish latch onto you and I really can’t believe people pay for the privilege.
It’s hard to believe our two months here have now ended and tomorrow it’s back to India! The intention is to only spend a maximum of three weeks there. We know what we want to see so it will be a couple of weeks of focus and bashing out the sights!
The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka is a must see on any traveller’s list so off we headed. This is made up of Kandy, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. We had spent the previous day sleeping and recovering after climbing Adam’s Peak and we both woke in agony – putting one foot in front of the other for the next two days was so painful and I won’t even mentioned our attempts at stairs.
We struggled downhill from our hostel in Kandy to the Temple of the Tooth Relic. This tooth relic is reportedly the tooth of Buddha which was saved from his cremation and smuggled away in someone’s hair. A belief grew that whoever held the tooth had the right to rule the land so it has been the subject of some removal attempts and various resting places. The tooth nowadays is kept in a very elaborate gold casket, shaped like a pagoda and locked away apart from being displayed three times a day during puja. We went for the second viewing between 9.30am and 11am. It was such a scrum! There was a lot of pushing and shoving and people were acting very unBuddhist like to catch a glimpse of the casket. (There is another rumour that the casket itself does not hold the original tooth but instead a replica). All this and you don’t actually get to see the tooth in question! We then explored the temple complex which itself is quite interesting and contains lots of statues and various displays, including one with photos from when the temple was bombed during the civil war and subsequently rebuilt. By then it was approaching 11am so we decided to try and see the tooth again. As we were now at the end of Puja all the crowds had dispersed and we were lucky enough to get right in front of the casket without any pushing or shoving. So my tip would be go towards the end of Puja! Also within the temple complex is the World Buddhism Museum which was utterly fascinating. It has displays on Buddhism from various countries such as China, Malaysia and Myanmar, all on our itinerary, and as they are laid out next to each you can see the subtle differences in statues and temples from all over Asia and I’d like to say that we can tell now tell the difference between a Thai Buddha and a Sri Lankan one.
On our last day in Kandy we took it easy and went for a gentle walk around the lake and to the British Garrison cemetery. Some of my friends know we love a good cemetery and this was no exception. The caretaker showed us around and told us stories about the ways in which people had died. There were of course the usual tropical diseases but there was also someone who had been impaled on a stick and someone who died running away from an elephant. The story goes that he ran away from the elephant and died from sunstroke/ a heart attack. The caretaker counted this by saying that the moral of the story was that fat people can’t run. Very politically incorrect!
Kandy was definitely a lot busier and more hustling than any of the other places we’ve been to in Sri Lanka and leaving the city tested our patience. Even our hostel tried to scam us by overcharging us for our laundry (unlucky for them I wasn’t born yesterday), tuk tuk drivers wouldn’t leave us alone even though we were waiting at the long distance bus stop. Then when we finally got on a bus it smashed into the back of a tuk tuk. Luckily no one was injured but it did mean stopping the bus, calling the police and all of the passengers piled out of the bus to gather round while discussions were had between the two drivers. This delayed us for an hour and when we finally got moving again the driver actually seemed to drive faster and more crazily. I guess we’ve been lucky (?) that we’ve only been on two buses which have been involved in minor collisions – one in India and one in Sri Lanka – but I hope this doesn’t mean that we’re destined to be in a crash in every country!
We made it to Polonnaruwa eventually and early the next morning borrowed bikes from our guesthouse to explore the vast ancient ruins. Polonnaruwa was established as the capital city in the late 10th century and held that accolade for three centuries, enough time to build a royal palace, various temples and carve impressive Buddha statues from a single rock. All of these now lie in ruins but are important and impressive enough to have been declared a UNESCO world heritage site almost 40 years ago.
We wanted to get an early start to avoid the worst heat of the day and because we needed to travel onwards in the afternoon, but our first problem was finding the bloody ruins in the first place! We passed one vague sign pointing up the road to the ticket counter but it seemed that was where the signage ended. We eventually found it thanks to the help of a local going the other way. Polonnaruwa’s ruins are set out in five main groups and our guesthouse told us it would take around 5 hours to see them all. We started with the Royal Palace group – not that there was much left of the palace and what was left looked like two huge teeth!
The next group was the Quadrangle and this seemed slightly more impressive with temples still holding strong. This is where we were first introduced to the concept of the Moonstone, not the precious stone, but instead a semi circular stone carved with fire, four animals (elephant, bull, lion and horse) swans and a lotus flower at the centre. Depending on what you read you get a different meaning but our understanding was that the flames represented desire, the animals the circle of life, death, decay (the bull bizarrely – such a strong animal) and disease, the swans are the distinction between good and bad and the lotus flower represents the attaining of nirvana. We saved the best group to last – the northern group. These contained the ruins of a temple with a huge headless Buddha statue but also large statues of a sitting Buddha, a standing Buddha and a reclining Buddha, all carved from the same piece of rock. The detail was breathtaking and you could see the use of the natural marbling in the stone. From here we decided we’d had enough and we didn’t have the energy to venture to the other smaller groups, entry to those was also free so we figured they may not be as impressive as what we had just seen so best to finish on a high!
We cycled back to the guesthouse where the mum of the guy who ran the place insisted on getting a photo with me. I was standing my safe distance away from her so as to avoid a repeat of the nit incidence from Rajasthan when she grabbed my head (almost in a headlock) and forced me to rub heads together. I’ve had the nit comb out a few times since just checking!
We had to take two buses to reach Sigiriya, the jewel of Sri Lanka, probably the most famous sight of the country, which towers over the town. We got up early to ensure that we did our climbing before it got too hot or too busy and it paid off. We started climbing the steps and there was hardly anyone in front of us. It seemed though that we couldn’t get enough of stairs at the moment, I’m not sure how many steps Sigiriya has but I’d read various figures between 750-1000. Luckily there are a few attractions on the way so you can take a breath. The first is a small section of frescos featuring lots of topless ladies! These were very colourful and just above these sits the mirror wall. The mirror wall is actually a strip of wall highly polished and we could kind of see a reflection from it although now it’s covered in graffiti from olden days.
Then it’s up to the famous part – the lion’s paws. They are incredibly impressive, very large and definitely leave you wondering what happened to the rest of the lion. Then it’s on up an iron staircase to the summit. This staircase felt very rickety and I was definitely struck by a bit of vertigo going up and no one seemed particularly comfortable doing this part. We reached the top and were greeted by the foundations of an old palace. You don’t really get to appreciate the scale of these ruins until you go to the museum at the bottom and view the aerial photos – it was astonishing and left us with more questions than answers. How did they scale the rock in the first place, never mind carry the material required to the top to construct the palace. It was certainly a prime location though – you could see any attacks a mile off. We headed down and spent some time by the Lion’s Paws watching some very naughty monkeys! I took some great action shots of which I’m incredibly proud. There are ample gardens and other areas to explore at the bottom meaning we spent half a day here.
Later that afternoon we decided we hadn’t quite had enough of stairs or climbing so we headed to Pidurangula rock from which you can view Sigiriya and sunset. The initial climb was straightforward, up some more steps until you reach a reclining Buddha. From here to reach the summit you must scramble over various rocks, hoisting yourself up and squeezing through gaps. The view was stunning though and sunset was worth the effort. The way down is poorly lit however and it gets dark very quickly here so as soon as the sun disappeared everyone made a getaway, meaning a large queue to squeeze back through the gap before reaching the steps, we’d also decided to walk the 4km there meaning a long walk in the dark back to our tent (we went for a really upmarket hostel this time!) but it gave us the perfect opportunity to gaze at the stars.
The next day was jammed packed too. Up early for the fourth day in a row and catching another two buses to reach Anuradhapura. Anuradhapura was the capital of the island before Polonnaruwa and is an important pilgrimage site thanks to the Sri Maya Bodhi, a sacred Bodhi tree, now documented as the oldest Bodhi tree in the world. Yep there are records for this kind of thing. There was no rest for the wicked though for as soon as we reached our guesthouse we engaged a tuk tuk and guide to drive us around some of the free / separately ticketed sites. You can hire bikes to explore but the city was large and it looked as though some of the sites were quite far apart so we decided to treat ourselves! The hot afternoon was spent visiting the tree, quite an awe inspiring sight, as well as various dagobas. Our guide was knowledgeable without being intrusive, giving us the background but leaving us to explore on our own. He dropped us at the royal park, giving us directions on where to go and a trail to follow back around the lake to Isurumuniya Vihara, a lovely rock temple. We spent the majority of our time at this particular temple throwing coins at a small ledge in the rock trying to make them land there and not in the pond! Third time lucky for me, Joey of course was far better at this than me. It was a charming afternoon and we were glad we took the easy option on this occasion – so much so that we engaged Pala the following day!
This was the big day as it was time to splash the cash on the ticket for the rest of the sites. Being cultural does not come cheap, entry to these three sites cost us $80 each! We actually missed out part of the triangle at Dambulla too as we’d seen plenty of cave temples in India! We covered palaces and temples- some more impressive than others. There was the palace with the 8 metre high door, lots more moonstones and lots of dagobas and stupas. One Stupa was constructed with approximately 90 million bricks – apparently enough to build a 3 metre high wall all the way from London to Edinburgh! There were Stupas that purportedly contain various relics of Buddha such as his right collarbone, a belt and an unnamed relic. The government have commissioned the construction of several new stupas around the city and Pala told us this was mainly to give the army a job since the war has ended.
It was an exhausting few days, so much so that I actually put off writing about it. We normally don’t do activities on days that we travel (unless it involves going to a beach) so we definitely feel in need of rest over the next couple of weeks before we have to head back to India!
We arrived in Ella on a Sunday afternoon. Sundays are the busiest day to travel in Sri Lanka and we always seem to manage to travel on them! We needed to change buses and the first bus we got on was packed to the brim and we really thought we stood no chance of boarding with our backpacks. Luckily the conductor hauled our bags into the boot and a random passenger took my day bag with our valuables on his lap for the duration whilst we stood. Ella was quite different to what we’d experienced so far – there were hills and it was noticeably cooler. The first stop was actually to a medical centre to get my face checked out following my accident in Dickwella. It was still very swollen and painful and I was actually starting to believe my jokes that I’d fractured my cheekbone. The medical centre seemed to be in a hotel lobby, there was another western couple waiting – we got the comfy seats and WiFi in the lobby and all the locals were waiting outside on plastic chairs! Thankfully a quick check over revealed that I hadn’t fractured anything and instead had a hematoma. She sent me packing with four lots of drugs and a gel to reduce pain, swelling and prevent the infection spreading to my brain (these were her parting words to me so I ensured I diligently took all my drugs!). I was just grateful I didn’t get a jab in my behind like when I was in Colombia! Thankfully the drugs did what they were supposed to and I no longer resemble a chipmunk, nor whince every time I touch my face.
The next day we set off to hike Ella Rock. This took 4 hours in total. You spend the first 45 minutes walking along the railway track and jumping out the way when the train comes. Then you climb steadily uphill through tea plantations and forests of eucalyptus trees. I found this such hard going, I realised we have barely seen hills in our time away and my hill fitness has massively diminished (if it was ever even there). I don’t mind admitting that I had a little paddy about the whole thing and was regretting all my life choices. What was really weighing on my mind though was a hike we’d planned to do a week later. We did make it to the top though and the views made it worthwhile. The descent was equally as bad as there was lots of loose gravel and everyone seemed to slip and slide their way down. We rewarded ourselves afterwards by going to a bar for a pint. Ella is definitely the most backpackery place we’ve been too and this was demonstrated by all the bars and cafes and more travellers than locals.
The next day we got up at stupid o’clock to hike up another hill, Little Adam’s Peak to catch the sunrise. It was beautiful and worth the effort. That day was Independence Day in Sri Lanka but celebrations seemed low key compared to when we had celebrated Independence Day in Chile. We also took a bus to some waterfalls and quite frankly, they were a little disappointing. They were nice enough, but honestly? Once you’ve been to Iguazu Falls anything else seems a little underwhelming. Maybe I’m becoming too well travelled?
That afternoon we set off for the famous Nine Arches Bridge. Again this was a 40 minute walk along the railway track. The bridge was a nice piece of architecture and it led to Joey and I having an interesting discussion about how many sights are must see now because of Instagram and social media? 10 years ago would we have walked to see a bridge?!
The next day we walked miles to a tea plantation. As the previous day had been a national holiday no tea had been picked so there was no production but it was still interesting to see the equipment and learn how it is produced. We also tasted some tea which even I managed to sip.
Then it was time to do the famous train ride to Nuwara Eliya. The train journey between Ella and Kandy is reported to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. It was very pleasant, through hills, clouds and tea plantations. The most amusing thing about it though were all of the people trying to get *that* shot of them hanging out of the train door. I’m sure you know the one I mean. Couples seem to do it kissing and we watched one couple spend about 20 minutes trying to get the shot, shouting to their friends getting them to take it and retake it. She was hanging on the bottom and nearly banged her head on low hanging things and walls more than once! Not for us thank you!
Nuwara Eliya is described as Little England and is certainly the coldest place we’ve been to! Even then it wasn’t as cold as I’d been led to believe. We have to confess to this being the first place in Sri Lanka that we didn’t fall in love with. I didn’t hate it, but it’s not somewhere I’d choose to come back to. We arrived and then after some discussion opted to not do the big attraction in the area- Horton Plains. After our time at Udawalawe we have been reluctant to do any more national parks as we fear they won’t be as good. Plus the cost was quite high. Instead we chilled for a few days, going to a town park and another tea factory. This tour was dialled in by our particular tour guide who was definitely more interested in flirting with the guys in the factory then showing us around. From Pedro’s tea factory you can walk to another waterfall, I actually found this one more impressive than the other one, but we did have this one to ourselves so maybe that made a difference?
From here we took three buses to reach Dalhousie. Dalhousie is one of the starting points of the hike to the summit of Adam’s Peak. Adam’s Peak is 2,243 metres high and at the summit is a footprint. Some purport that the footprint is that of Buddha, some that it is of Shiva and some that it is Adam’s footprint from when he was cast out of the Garden of Eden. To reach the summit you have to climb over 5500 steps (no one seems to know exactly how many there are) and start in the middle of the night to reach the summit for sunrise. So here we were taking three buses to get to a town which the sole purpose of visiting was to climb 5500 steps in the dark starting at 1am. If climbing Ella Rock hadn’t made me question my life choices then this was definitely making me wonder whether I was drunk when I included it in the itinerary.
So we went to bed at 6pm as our alarms were set for midnight. Our guesthouse had very thin walls and you could hear all the comings and goings and when I’m trying to sleep before a big event I start to think very irrationally and was getting annoyed at all the noises. How dare they have a conversation outside my room at 7.30pm! We did eventually get some sleep before the bizarre act of getting up at midnight and trying to eat something and drink some coffee before leaving. It was a Poya Day (full moon) a couple of days before which had caused me all sorts of angst. Climbing Adam’s Peak is a pilgrimage for Buddhists, often to be undertaken on Poya days and we’d heard story after story of people almost making it to the top but not being able to reach the summit as there was an hour long queue to climb one step! I was fearful of it being too big a challenge for me and fearful that even if I did make it to the top I wouldn’t even get to see the footprint. I spent the nights leading up to it having lots of anxiety dreams.
We left our guesthouse just before 1am and started the slow ascent. According to the Lonely Planet it takes between 2 and 4 hours to ascend and 1-2 to descend depending on fitness and crowds. I definitely expected it to take me nearer 4. The first hour was quite easy. You start off very gently, going through a small temple and receive a blessing (in exchange for a small donation of course!), then you ring a bell to mark your start and off you go! As I say, it starts gently at first and there are flat patches. There are also tea houses and benches all the way up so you can rest regularly. We had our first rest after about an hour, stopping first for a bite to eat then about 5 minutes later when we spotted the first tea house selling coffee rather than tea. Then we ploughed onwards, passing pilgrims on their way up and on the way down as well. Our guesthouse has told us that Sri Lankan’s climb with the intention of performing Pooja at the top so don’t really worry about when they climb. They also do the climb in flip flops! We saw one guy with his leg in plaster and wearing flip flops so this definitely spurred me on. We stopped about 40 minutes later for another coffee break. As we went further up the hill the refreshments got more expensive – I guess someone’s got to carry the supplies up!
As we continued on the steps got narrower and steeper. It was impossible to get into any rhythm. We had a quick bathroom break and then we realised that we weren’t that far from the top which lifted our spirits. The last hour had been tough but honestly? It wasn’t as bad as thought it was going to be. Ella Rock had felt tougher. It took us 3 hours to ascend which was way better than I expected. Upon reaching the top there’s another bell to ring to signal that you made it. You are supposed to ring it once for every ascent. We heard one person ring it 16 times. Then we queued for the temple to see the footprint. The actual footprint is covered in gold and it’s massive!! I obviously hadn’t done my research properly as I was surprised at how large it was. It’s over 5 foot long so I guess it’s not often that something’s bigger than you expect! Then it was time to wait for sunrise. It is cold at the top and there’s quite the wind but it was fun to watch the first blue of the sky gradually appear before the sun came up. Was it the best sunrise we’ve ever seen? Probably not. The best part was Actually once the sun was up seeing the perfect triangle shadow cast from the mountain appear on the other side. This is quite the phenomenon as it’s not the shape of the mountain!
Then it was time to make our way down. The first hour was hard going, everyone was leaving at the same time so it was busy and the steps that were steep on the way up were steeper on the way down. We had borrowed sticks from our guesthouse and were so grateful to have something to lean on. We breaked once on the way down and it took over 2 hours to reach the bottom. It was hard, hard going.
We reached our guesthouse just after 9am and were greeted with a huge breakfast! We spent the morning catching up on sleep and then went for a gentle walk around the town. As the day went on we could feel the aches and pains gradually creeping in but at that point it was manageable. It was enjoyable and quite the achievement, particularly for me with my lupus and arthritis. Would I do it again so I can ring the bell twice? Definitely not!!!
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!
This is the very first post of our travel blog. We’ve chosen the name Meandering Maxwells as meandering means ‘to wander aimlessly’ which is exactly what we are likely to end up doing over the next couple of years through South and South East Asia and we’d love to share our adventures, diversions and detours with you.
The main aim of the blog is to do just that, but we’d also like it to be a resource and inspiration to others who may be about to embark on the same thing. So for that reason we have included tips on packing, money and planning – all the things that we get asked about all the time.
We have also included some stories and itineraries from our last travels five years ago which we hope you will find amusing and helpful, or just relieved that it’s not you who’s going through this!
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