Monday, 21 October 2013

Kaudulla National Park, Habarana

 Making tracks...

Having endured the awful sight of these majestic animals chained up and herded around for tourists at Pinnawala's Elephant Orphanage, seeing them in the wild really rams home how awful that place is.

We actually got taken to Kaudulla National Park by a guide who is a friend of Duminda's. It's a good couple of hours' drive and more away from Kandy, the other side of Dambulla on the Trincomalee road - the last section of the drive courtesy one of the best roads in Sri Lanka, recently built following the cessation of hostilities with the Tamil Tigers - this was Bandit Country and perfect it is, too, if you want to fight a guerilla war.

We met our safari car in Dambulla and hared through the country in an open-backed jeep. If you're staying in Kandy and up for a long day, set out early and visit Lion Rock at Sigiriya in the morning and Kaudulla in the afternoon.

Kaudulla is a typical Sri Lankan set-up in that the park is managed by the government, which sells concessions to 'licensed' tour guides and tickets to tourists. I can only say you're best off with an English speaking guide who has a proper four wheel drive vehicle rather than a pickup, which is liable to get stuck in the coastal mud or in wet weather.

The Kaudulla Park is based around the Kaudulla 'tank', one of sixteen man-made lakes created at the end of the C3rd AD by the then king, a visionary-seeming chap. It was restored in 1959 and preserves the waters from the rainy season to keep a year-round resource in what is, for Sri Lanka at least, an arid part of the country. The contrast between this area and the cool, wet highlands of Nuwara Eliya is quite stunning.

Elephants in the wild. The kids are kinda cute...

The ride through the park is great fun, the tracks are rutted and you'll ache the next day from standing up and getting jolted around, but that's okay. A good guide will stick to the tracks in the main - they know what the punters want and that's elephants - and lots of 'em. The park is home to a rich abundance of wildlife, including cats, buffalo, a rich variety of bird life and reptiles. But it's heffalumps wot draws the tourists and our sighting of painted pelicans (some rat has daubed all their bums with pink paint), ibis and buffalo was an incidental - elephants were the game d'jour.

 It's great seeing them in the wild; the dexterity of their trunks as they knot them around tufts of grass, knock off the sand then roll them up and pop them into those big mouths is something quite spectacular. We caught small herds, family units with ridiculously cute babies and protective mothers, old tuskers standing alone in the grasslands and all along we bounced and juddered along the side of the huge lake.

Fishermen buy licenses to net Tilapia and other freshwater fish from Kaudulla Tank.

For you, Tilapia, ze war is over...

Late afternoon in autumn is when the elephants amble down to the lakeside for a nice, cooling bath and the jeeps start gathering in anticipation but there's a been a shower of rain and the elephants are in no hurry and don't pitch for the occasion. Slowly the cars peel away en route home - others have seen but a lone elephant and we're gleeful at our own elephantine cornucopia.

Home, elated and weary, we've had tremendous fun and feel blessed to have seen something good to counter the feeling of mean dirtiness we took away from Pinnawala.

We're due to leave Kandy and make our way up to the highlands of Nuwara Eliya tomorrow. We've timed out and never did make it to the Temple of the Tooth. To be honest, that's no bad thing because it gives us an excuse to come back...
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Rootless said...

I believe the rationale for Pinnewala is that it is a place of retreat for elephants who been in work and were abandoned or mistreated. I don't know if that helps lessen the unpleasant feeling you got. I just saw the bathing and that didn't seem quite so exploitative.

I really wouldn't bother going back just to see the Temple of the Tooth. The idea behind it is compelling - that possession of the tooth was the determinant of Sinhala kingship - but it is a fairly mundane Buddhist temple and you won't see the tooth... (it's the GBS Giants' causeway thing: worth seeing, not worth going to see). The temple in Annaradhapura at the Bo tree supposedly brought to Sri Lanka from the Buddha's own tree is more distinctive and much more ancient. As the capital 2,500years ago the ruins of Annaradhapura do require some imagination to interpret though not the colossal "ponds" - huge beautifully constructed stone pools which would be impressive for any era. The successor capital of Polonnuruwa (a mere 1,500 years old) gave me a real Indiana Jones feel as the structures are much more vertically intact - though being a pleasantly cool evening with long shadows and few other visitors (civil war time) rather than a hot day with crowds probably helped that effect. Kandy, the more recent capital, is by far the least impressive of the three.

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

We struck lucky with Elephants, two working ones, with mahouts, were having an afternoon bathe in a stream, we joined in, unfortunately watching children, locals, were reacting as dogs are reacted to in Arabia!

We happily spent a couple of hours scrubbing with water and coconut shell, they seemed to enjoy.

Later we had an ox-cart ride, now we were treated to the screams from the children, as if we were first ugly caucasians to appear in that remote location.

Our driver seemed to have a good network of commission earning opportunities available, away from the Government view!

Faisal Khatib said...

These stories about Pinnewala is exactly why we avoided it last month when we were in Sri Lanka for the first time. In fact we tried to avoid any such tourist attraction brought forward by driver/guides which surely involved some commission.

We unfortunately spent more time in the mountains so didn't have an opportunity to see elephants so we've kept that for the next time we visi and Kaudulla sounds like a nice place for it instead of the more popular Yala park.

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