Wild and Wonderful Uda Walawe. Baby Elephants and Breathtaking Parks.
The rains have played havoc in many parts of this country. Yet, unlike most of the places, some of these locations have benefited significantly with the abundance of rain. Uda Walawe is one of them.
All around me the landscape is lush and green. The lakes, ponds and every pothole is brimming with water and overall, this place looks absolutely beautiful. And while starved elephants and other wild animals greedily devour new shoots, one rogue elephant balances precariously on the side of the Uda Walawe bund begging for food from passersby.
Just beyond the bund is my turn off to Wild Elephus, the new and improved property belonging to the Wild Trails Group. My tented abode is by the low-lying river that is muddied due to the rains. A peacock balances precariously atop a tall tree across from the river and ever so often calls out to a mate. The echo of other peacocks pierces the quietness of this jungle.
My tent is surprisingly comfortable with a king-sized bed, fresh linen, air conditioning and en suite toilet with hot and cold showers. This is known as luxury camping, compared to the other campsites I have been to! Thankfully, there are no mosquitoes or leeches and I am quite content to walk outdoors in my bare feet.
Down the paved pathway is an inviting pool and deck, which is where I am served my dinner. Lunch and breakfast are served in the main building at the entrance, which is also very comfortably furnished. In total, there are seven tents that can accommodate up to about 25 people.
But I’m impatient to visit the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) run by Dilmah Conservation. The busy turnstile at the entrance ticketed me for Rs. 20 and I walk the 50 meters to the crowded viewing point. Sharp on time, the herd of hungry babies scamper ahead of their more patient older ‘siblings’ to the barrier that separates the herd from the milk distribution area. The younger ones are impatient and roar in frustration, nudging each other and stamping their feet for their share of five litres of milk. They wrap their trunks around the milk dispenser- a long tube, and stuff it into their mouths and guzzle the milk hungrily. All together, there are 40 elephants been cared for at this orphanage. To compensate for the trauma of being separated from mothers and herd, the employees are doing their best to rehabilitate them for release in to the jungles of the Uda Walawe National Park.
About 20 minutes from here, on the Colombo/Ratnapura Road, we alight at the Sankhapala Raja Maha Viharaya. Built into the rocky mountain terrain, the originality of this temple has been lost due to the new structures that have been built here. In my opinion, the haphazard construction does not conform to the total landscape. Yet we amble along, sidestepping impudent monkeys, young lovers on secret rendezvous, persistent fruit and flower sellers, annoying palm readers and hordes of worshipers bearing flowers for obeisance.
This temple is built around caves and boulders with narrow stone steps leading up and across. A dagoba at the very top is ringed by a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. According to folklore derived from rock inscriptions, a warrior named Pussa Deva who played a prominent role during the reign of King Dutugemunu (161-131 BC) supposedly built this temple and resided here. Pussa Deva was known for his prowess at blowing the conch shell and his fearlessness at war.
Despite the darkening skies, we decide to visit the Lunugamvehera National Park. Located on the Hambantota- Wellawaya road near Thanamalvila, this 66,000-acre park is a dry-mixed evergreen forest that includes grasslands and scrub lands, open spaces and forests, watering holes and huge lakes and is home to almost 200 different species of endemic and migratory birds.
Three minutes into the park, across an old wooden bridge that crosses the Kirindi Oya, we see a majestic tusker, a female elephant and her baby gently foraging in this lush forest. During the next few hours, we have ample opportunity to see and enjoy numerous bird species, skittish spotted deer, fearless jackal, hare and other creatures in this picturesque and verdant park.
At the furthest point of our safari, we cross the Weheragala Dam and spend some time just soaking in the beauty of the landscape and watch the setting sun create a fiery picture over the vast expanse of water.
We return to Wild Elephus to enjoy another delicious meal. It has been a good weekend.