Camping at Kumana Sri Lanka
It’s not authentic camping and neither does it have the trimmings of glamping. But it has got all the coolness of tented accommodation, the buzzing of insects, the sounds of guttural sawing of a lurking leopard, the caressing of warm breezes that waft across the riverbed and the thrill of burying my toes in the sand while eating my meals under the open canopied tent.
Having driven almost seven hours from Colombo (along the newly opened expressway), we reach the entrance of the Kumana National Park by 11 a.m. to be met by Chris, the man behind the Xtreme Nature Tours and Marlon, his “grounded” sidekick and a business partner.
We transfer our luggage into the two waiting safari jeeps and off we go on a bumpy, dusty ride to the campsite at Eda Kumbukkana Two.
The campsite is on the banks of the Kumbukkan Oya, a river that traverses the southern boundary of the Kumana Park and tops up about 20 lagoons and tanks along the way. These waterholes are home to some 255 species of birds and a source of hydration for other animals, and therefore, play a huge role in the Park’s bionetworks .
Life at the campsite is pretty chilled and laid back. We have five tents and three portable toilets, a long dining table where we spend many long hours chit-chatting and reminiscing, two outdoor showers with the most refreshing water pressure, and a campfire that makes every campsite perfect.
But the most priceless moments of the trip has to be the time spent with the inimitable Shirley Perera, as he regales us with his wild and wonderful experiences . “Uncle Shirley” has served for many years as Kumana’s Park Warden during his 40 years of dedicated service to local wildlife. It is suffice to say that he pretty much knows every nook and crevice of this park. His stories are heart-stopping, funny, mind boggling, and so educative. His close encounters with leopards, bear and elephants are screen-worthy. What a lot we all learn from his experiences!
During our daily morning and afternoon safaris, we find the Kumana National Park to be hot and arid. Rains have yet to descend on this 35,664 hectare Park and most of the water holes are drying up. We see a couple of leopards lurking in the underbrush trying to stay away from the heat of the day and a nimble-footed bear that leaps across the road in front of us.
Water buffalo wallow in shallow waters, with curiosity etched on their faces as we drive past them.
Spotted deer, a couple of sambar, the persistent ruddy mongoose, and birds…
One of the Park’s best known features is the 200-hectare Kumana Villu (Wetland Cluster), the largest Ramsar Site in Sri Lanka. This ornithologically rich mangrove site has some rare species , both endemic and migratory, and we are lucky to spot the rarest and tallest bird in Sri Lanka, the Black-necked Stork.
Other species include the Lesser Adjutant, Eurasian Spoonbill, and Great Thick-knee. Waders like the Waterfowl and Pintail Snipes fly all the way from Siberia covering over 9,000kms to breed here. From the Pacific Golden Plover to the Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Grey Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Common Snipe and Pintail Snipe are the common wading birds of the park.
The Asian Openbill, Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Spot-billed Pelican, Indian Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Common Moorhen, Watercock, Purple Swamphen, White-breasted Waterhen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Black-winged Stilt, Lesser Whistling Duck are some of the bird species that migrate here in large flocks. Some of the more rarer birds that migrate to this swamp are the Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Malabar Trogon, Red-faced Malkoha and the Sirkeer Malkoha.
Meanwhile, Mugger crocodiles, and mammals like the Golden Jackal, a lone elephant and Spotted Deer share this swamp with so many other creatures of the wild.
We drive on to the coast to see another phenomenon of this Park. For miles along this sea coastline are undulating sand dunes that look like some alien landscape. These sand dunes, according to Chris, is what saved the Park from the 2004 tsunami that devastated much of Yala and the southern coast. Unfortunately, the seas are dangerously unforgiving and swimming is not an option.
Unlike other parks, Kumana is less crowded and far more enjoyable. And camping is definitely the best way to enjoy this park.
After three nights and four days of tales, travel and treks, it is time to head back home.
Good to know:
Insect repellent helps protect your legs from sandflies.
Obey camp rules and stay within the site at all times
Engage Uncle Shirley in conversation!
Wake up early to catch a sunrise or even a sunset.
Parks are not just about leopards. Look around you and enjoy the surroundings.
Do not litter. Take your trash with you.