Sri Lanka is nature’s best-kept secret when it comes to wildlife. While most of us would associate animal safaris with Africa but Sri Lanka does boast of some great safaris in the spectacular national parks spread across the island. Sri Lanka has the highest density of wild Asian elephants worldwide and each national park has its own set of frequently spotted animals and birds. If you are considering the southern part of Sri Lanka and want to enjoy watching elephants in the wild without too many tourists around, then Udawalawe National Park is where you should be heading.
Being the third most visited national park in Sri Lanka, Udawalawe National Park is located about 200 kilometers from Colombo. The park was initially constructed as a refuge for elephants who were displaced when the Udawalawe reservoir was constructed. It is believed that about 300-400 elephants live in and around this National Park making it one of the best parks to observe herds of elephants. The park is also home to many endemic species of birds and the reservoir attracts a lot of migratory birds and migratory birds.
The heart of this national park is the reservoir that not only creates a beautiful backdrop along with the distant mountains but is also the meeting point for the animals and birds, early morning and in the evening. Rustic dusty tracks from the entrance led us to the sudden calming view of the reservoir as we were driven in our mighty safari jeep. The unsteady roads are surrounded by bushes and trees and are perfect hiding spots to avoid the heat of the day.
We saw quite a few peacocks, snakes, eagles along the road before spotted our first herd of the day. An elephant family with two large animals and two baby ones just crossed the road in front of us to reach a small puddle of water. While we were awed by their magnanimity and beauty, they seemed to be quite indifferent to us, carrying on with their usual business. Realizing the sheer fact that we were surrounded by such large and some very dangerous animals suddenly made the journey even more thrilling.
Our next stop was the reservoir where we saw a group of crocodiles basking in the sun. A treasure trove of wildlife wonders, we could see flocks of cormorants, the Spot-billed Pelican, Asian open-bill, Black-headed Ibis and Eurasian spoonbill in and around the water. There were a variety of eagles flying overhead the large herd of water buffalos that was grazing near the waterbody. The sight looked right out of an animal documentary except that we did not get to see any leopard chases. We were, however, lucky to see another herd of elephants coming out of the nearby bushes to drink water at the lake.
The safari in Udawalawe National Park is short and sweet. The best time to visit is early morning or early evening when you should be able to see herds of animals coming out to the reservoir. Apart from elephants, the park is also famous for leopards, deer, jackals, wild boars and monkeys.