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Published: September 10th 2017
The day started early (again). This one being the earliest alarm call at 4am so we could go on Safari at Kaudulla National Wildlife Park. We'd not heard of this park before as hadn't a lot of other tourists, so there were only two other jeeps to share it with all morning. Mind you, one jeep managed to bring the cream of British numptyness as it contained a Brit using a large flashgun which had no chance of lighting up the wildlife, but a good chance of annoying them.
After seeing Langur Monkeys bouncing in the trees (they have fluffy dark faces, this is how I tell them apart from Macaques who don't) we came upon an adult male elephant strolling across the plain. No visit to the zoo could ever compare to this, seeing the majestic elephant in the wild, with no sound of humans, just the enveloping sound of the jungle which surrounded us, only broken by a faraway lake. There was only myself, Glyn, the young driver with our little jeep and a huge elephant dwarfed by the wide expanse of the landscape. This will always be one of the most treasured memories of my life.
And then flashgun man turned up in his crowded jeep so it was time to go and find the herd. It didn't take long, lots of females munching their way through the edge of the jungle, followed by babies of various ages were nearby. Further along we came across the largest herd of water buffalo I've ever seen plus a jackal trotting by minding his own business.
Following the edge of the jungle, we heard a loud growling sound that turned into trumpeting; it was a juvenile male in a strop and he came crashing out of the trees towards a bunch of unimpressed adult females. The largest of which headed his way to sort him out and after a lot interaction, he calmed down. Standing in the jeep with the engine off, we could hear a lot more elephant style shouting in the jungle and some crashed out to cause a stir, then found new trees to decimate as they headed back in. You hear the sounds first, then see the tops of trees swaying, then snap and disappear. Our driver said we were very lucky as during the afternoon safaris you get more jeeps than elephants. You
can't predict the amount of elephants either as the parks are connected by the elephant corridor so they come and go as they please.
We continued, stopping to look at a few birds and deer in the distance, very occasionally seeing the other jeeps. In Sri Lanka the jeeps have to stick to the tracks, which meant the wildlife can keep its distance without worry. But the tracks did lead us through mud filled ditches, at one point I thought we were completely stuck and I thought we'd be calling for help but our driver jumped out and switched on four wheel drive mode and we were on our way again.
The jeep not containing flashgun man was ahead looking at a small herd of elephants with a baby aged around a month from a distance. Our track led us very close to them but one pregnant female had her eye on us and after a while had enough of us and starting charging at us. Our driver got the engine on and reversed just in time, pulling up a good distance away. However, the herd was meandering in our direction and I was focussing on the baby
when the jeep shot off again - I hadn't noticed that the female was charging us again! This time we landed in a deep muddy rut, it wasn't a good time to get stuck again, but we got away in time!
The end of the safari was back through the jungle where we came upon a lot more monkeys and were passed by a few jeeps full of locals entering the park. Using the loo, I was impressed that though one side of the cubicle had a door for privacy, the other side was completely open to the jungle. No monkeys joined me but I saw one of the cleaners throwing bogroll out onto the jungle floor.
We met Thuminda back at the roadside hut where we'd booked the safari where we decided to go on a village tour. This began with a short walk with Thuminda and the village tour guide, Ashan who told us about the local plants. Passing a very high treehouse by a field, it was explained that a farm worker will stay there overnight keeping an eye out for wild elephants destroying the crops. If they see one, they have to shout at
it to chase it away, if that doesn't work they also have firecrackers.
The walk led to a clearing in the jungle where there were old wooden carts parked up, one had two oxen harnessed to it. Glyn, Thuminda and I got in, whilst Ashan and the oxen driver walked. The wheels were wooden with no tyres so we felt every bump in the pot-holed track down to the river. Thankfully oxen don't go very fast but are not easy to control; the driver shouted many ignored commands and nudged them with a stick but still they often headed off in opposite directions. The river contains small crocodiles, non-poisonous water snakes and fish, so not too dangerous to fall into, but I refrained from doing that and got into the boat. Thuminda and Ashan paddled through the many lotus leaves that we were told the villagers use as plates.
We pulled up at the 'village' which is used for tourist demos and comprised of a couple of huts made of wood and mud, and thatched with woven banana plant leaves. The floor is covered with a brown mud plaster that contains some plant that repels snakes. We climbed
the two long ladders up to the top of a nearby treehouse to see the living quarters of an elephant look-out: a sleeping rug, mosquito net and oil lamp. Apparently they sing to pass the time, when one guy finishes his song the next treehouse guy begins his and so it continues.
Two ladies demonstrated how to make rotis including mashing the rice to remove the husks, grinding it to flour. It was made into dough balls with coconut and Glyn and I both had to make them into flat rounds but mine ended up the shape of Sri Lanka. The ladies cooked them and we got to eat them with coconut sambal, they were very nice. We all got to eat more then headed back to the boat and across a lake that is around 6 metres deep. I saw only one other tourist boat, so it was very peaceful. Ashan made us hats from lotus leaves that he said the fishermen wore but I suspect it's a way to make tourists look daft. The tour ended in a tuk-tuk ride; including the driver there was five of us piled in. I asked Thuminda how many people a
tuk-tuk could carry and he said three! Mind you, when we got to a hill Ashan walked as the tuk-tuk wasn't going to make it.
We didn't want to travel much further today as it's a long drive tomorrow so Thuminda suggested climbing a mountain. What he was suggesting was Pidurangala Rock and Cave Temple which because it is more difficult to climb than Sigiriya is often overlooked by tourists - it doesn't even get a mention in my guidebook. The first steps were quite steep for my short legs and they were very uneven. The air was hot and humid and I was worried that Glyn was suffering as he has bad knees but he managed. Half way up were ruins of places where monks used to meditate having been relocated here from Sigiriya Rock when that was taken over.
Around the corner was a huge partially restored reclining Buddha, here the climb became more interesting. When I say interesting I mean more difficult. The stairs gave way to rocks and rubble, now it really was a climb. The route wasn't always obvious and there was a lot of scrambling over rocks, jumping over small crevices and
squeezing through gaps,; I can see why coach trips don't come here, you couldn't do this in a wide- brimmed sun hat. The very last bit was extremely difficult, I bashed my camera a few times and I pulled myself up through a small gap and literally rolled onto the summit. But it was worth it! An amazing view of jungle spread out below with Sigiriya Rock towering out if it. The summit was large flat rock and blown with a warm wind. We sat and enjoyed it for a while. Glyn caught a Pokemon specific to the area, so he was happy.
The descent was a bit hard on the knees and I hadn't realised that Thuminda had never done this before. I asked if he enjoyed it, 'yes' he replied. I asked if he would do it again. No.
The day ended early as it had started very early. Glyn and I walked into Sigirya still unable to find beer for me so we both had a lassi topped with ice cream. Glyn had egg and tomato soup whilst I had banana roti and our upstairs table had a nice view of Sigiriya Rock. I'd managed
to completely wear myself out already and fell asleep around 7.30pm!
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