Why Sri Lanka?

I returned from a three-week holiday in Sri Lanka and friends asked the same barrage of questions. “Why Sri Lanka? What’s the attraction? Are you planning on moving there? How many times have you been there now?”

I’ve holidayed there ten times in the past four years, so I suppose they’re fair questions. I have no intention of moving there. Bali is my home, has been for 17 years and this is not about to change, but I work in Bali so escaping is essential at times. Sri Lanka is one of my favoured vacation destinations.

“So what’s the attraction?”
When I answer, I mention the people, the friends I’ve made, the landscape, history, civil conflict that’s now over, architecture, heritage, shopping and of course, the food. Sometimes I discuss Sri Lankan writers, the inspiration I receive on holidays and the fact I’m writing a book about Sri Lanka, so continue to do research.

Today’s answer is different. This last holiday I went in search of huge, grey, wrinkly things. This will come as no surprise to my friends.
Elephants. I went in search of elephants. I wanted an adventure that would become a short story.

Janet, my sister, Bayu and I holidayed together in Sri Lanka. Janet asked to include the Yala National Park  in the south of the island so we added a safari to our itinerary. Day eight of our trip we piled into the back of a jeep. Sitting on bench seats 1.5 metres above the ground, the open sides and front gave us clear views while the canopy above offered shade.  Over rutted dirt tracks our driver and guide manoeuvred for four hours, stopping every time nature raised its magnificent head. In and around water holes we spotted crocodiles, water buffalos, and deer. Open scrub land revealed a few elephants, wild boars, monkeys, more deer and even a mongoose, but the Sri Lankan leopard remained elusive. Yala was a bird watchers paradise. We spied peacocks, hornbills, jungle fowls, herons, storks, pelicans, ibis, and dozens more. But it was the elephants that impressed us the most. We didn’t care that leopards hid, we had seen five elephants in their natural habitat.

The safari over, we headed for home, only to reach a traffic jam on the edge of the national park. A rogue tusker was holding up the convoy of jeeps, searching for food. This large male had been moved to the park from a busy main road where he’d blocked trucks until their drivers fed him bananas or watermelons. Old habits persisted when he moved to Yala. One by one he let vehicles pass, until he came to us, the last in the line. IMG_7745 His trunk snaked through the open side of our jeep, sniffing for treats. My backpack seemed a possibility and a tug-a-war ensued. I won. He moved down the truck and this time he maneuvered his trunk, head and tusks inside. He took a liking to Bayu and sniffed and sucked him as Bayu climbed into Janet’s lap trying to escape. His squawks were not sounds of pleasure. Bayu didn’t smell like food and when the tusker repositioned himself to the front of the vehicle, Bayu made his escape to the outside of the truck behind me. Unrewarded, our huge, grey, wrinkly friend withdrew his head, and we made our escape. Looking at each other the tension broke with laughter and the retelling of our adventure.
“That was exciting,” I said.
Bayu did not agree.

But we were hooked. Seeing five elephants in the wild and one rogue tusker up close, we wanted to see more.

Two days later our driver took us to Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage where they have the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. This refuge opened in 1975 to look after a handful of orphaned elephants. It has grown to accommodate about 100 elephants and has become an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding centre. They also care for blind elephants and those maimed in land mine explosions.

We toured the park, hand fed elephants and finally walked a few hundred metres to the Oya River. Here we waited for the elephants to parade from the grounds to the river for their daily bath.IMG_7782IMG_7781IMG_7806




IMG_7789 Accompanied by a dedicated group of mahouts, the elephants herded their way to the river where they spent an hour drinking, wandering and enjoying the water. Bayu and Janet took hundreds of photos.

Driving back to our hotel in Kandy, our driver commented on our interest in elephants and asked if we wanted to go to the Minneriya National Park near Sigiriya, the next stop on our Sri Lankan adventure. “You’ll see a hundred elephants – in the wild,” he assured us. With the Sri Lankan 2011 census  showing a population of almost 6,000 elephants, we wanted to believe him.

Two days later we were jolting and rocking our way across a new set of dirt tracks conducting our own census. We only spotted 50 elephants, but this was more than enough. Mothers and calves, lone tuskers and elephants of every possible size ignored us as they ate in their own habitat. IMG_7821 IMG_7827 IMG_7832Every bone-shaking sway of the jeep was worth the experience of seeing herds of elephants in their natural home.

So why do I holiday in Sri Lanka? There are many reasons, but this last time I went in search of huge, grey, wrinkly things and I found hundreds of elephants.

Living the life – that’s what I’m doing.

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