Sri Lanka: Wondrous Wildlife

As a cat lover (big and small), I was hell-bent on a leopard sighting. This solitary, secretive feline had eluded us on two different safari trips in Africa. Sri Lanka had to be the place.

Sloth bear

Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park is said to be home to at least 25 of these beauties. During our February tour of the island nation, we visited that park as well as two others. Sadly, no leopard showed his spots to us. We did see elephants, rabbits, a spotted deer, one wild boar, a mongoose, turtles, lots of birds including numerous peacocks. And, a sloth bear, a rare sighting according to the guide.

Mongoose

“Most tourists don’t see the leopard,” a guide later told me. However, we did learn that the day prior to our visit to Yala and the day after, lucky tourists did spot the evasive cat. We felt cheated.

No leopard, but lots of magnificent elephants. Some 4,000 Asian elephants, an endangered species, make their home in the tiny nation. Herds of 200 or more are a common sight in August and September in Minneriya National Park. The herds we saw in that park were much smaller, 25 to 30, but fascinating. The pachyderms are obviously accustomed to tourists and come very close to the safari vehicles. Guides know many of them by name.ff.41

I was intrigued, touched, with a mini-family grouping. A crippled mother and two offspring, one four years old and the other eight years old, were alone, apart from the herd. The guide explained that the mother, about 40 years old, had been hit by a train. She was left with a bad limp, forcing her to move very slowly. She could not keep up with the herd. Her two offspring stay with her to protect her, he explained.

Elephants need about five square kilometres each to support their 200 kilograms per day appetites. Deforestation and over development in Sri Lanka have diminished their habitat. As in Africa, they encroach on farmland. As in Africa, it’s elephants vs. humans, a challenging conflict.

White birds hang around the elephants we saw. We learned that the elephants, grazing on grass, shake the stuff before eating it. Worms fall out – a tasty meal for the birds.

Painted stork (I think)
Serpent Eagle?

Sir Lanka is a paradise for birders with 400 different species, 26 of which are unique to the country. We saw many on our safaris.

On a visit to a turtle hatchery we learned about the island’s sea turtles which lay their eggs along the coast. Eggs not collected by poachers (turtle egg omelettes are popular) hatch after several weeks and hundreds of baby turtles make their perilous way to the sea. Few survive. Many are devoured by fish and birds. At turtle hatcheries, eggs are collected and hatched in an incubator. After just one day, they are released into the sea at night. Even with this method, only one in 100 survive, about the same as in nature.

The conservation benefits of the hatcheries are limited, but the tiny turtles are adorable. Adult turtles of varying sizes also swim in hatchery tanks. Many have been injured and would not survive in the sea.

The hatchery we visited had been started by the owner’s father in 2000. He died shortly thereafter and his sister took over. She, another sister, their children and his mother all perished in the devastating tsunami which ravaged Sri Lanka in 2004, killing roughly 40,000 of its citizens. The owner and his surviving brother refurbished and reopened the hatchery.

No doubt more popular than its animals and safari parks are Sri Lanka’s beaches. They are grand, but the mountainous interior was my favorite. We spent two nights in the hills above Ella, a picturesque area of tea plantations with splendid views, hiking trails and cooler temperatures…a paradise.

For more on Sri Lanka, see previous post: Wonders of Sri Lanka.

Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@yahoo.com and info@dsltours.com)  chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating. We were happy with all.

More photos of Sri Lanka follow.

Unique tree in Peradeniya Botanical Garden in Kandy.
No wonder they call them street dogs,  There are not as many of these homeless dogs in Sri Lanka as in neighboring India, but still too many, and sad.
Only five percent of Asian elephants have tusks. They can live to be 65 years old.

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Sri Lankan tea is famous worldwide. Tea, first planted by the British, thrives in the hill country.

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At last, a new recipe and just in time for those summer blackberries.  Click on photo of berries, upper right, for recipe, and scroll down for more recipes.

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 Wonders of Sri Lanka

 

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Mihinthale

The treacherous climb to the top of Sigiriya, Lion Rock, is a tourist must.  We had told Nimal, our first-rate Sri Lankan driver and mentor, that we were reasonably fit and up for moderate hiking.  That was before I viewed this massive monolith of stone with steep vertiginous metal staircases attached to its walls: definitely more than moderate. I wanted to wimp out. My courage and determination dissolved.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was hot, very hot. There were no trees to provide shade en route to the top.  It was crowded, a single file of slowly moving bodies inching upwards on those dreadful stairs. This did not look like fun.  Was it worth it?  Could I make it?  After the Chinese disaster (See previous post:  “China II:  The Fall”) I could not risk another crash.

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Nimal

“You can do it,” Nimal assured us.  He arranged a local guide.   I let him carry my camera and water and concentrated carefully on every step. Fortunately a landing with a gallery of remarkable frescoes provided a welcome break en route up.  The reward, stunning vistas atop, was well deserved.  It is generally believed that Sigiriya was a royal citadel during the fifth century, although another theory maintains that it was a monastery and religious site.   Our guide adhered to the citadel theory and told us that King Kassapa had 500 concubines, for whom he built swimming pools with diving boards.

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Superb views atop Sigiriya

There are many more astonishing sights in Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of India.  Although not much bigger than Wales, Sri Lanka packs a lot into a small area: glorious beaches, ancient temples, hillside tea plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, rain forested peaks, more challenging climbs.

The country’s 30-year civil war, which ended in 2009, kept visitors away. That has changed dramatically. At Sigiriya, and just about everywhere we went during our two week tour of the country in late February, we encountered lots of tourists.

We visited many other sites, temples and ruins.  The city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital, is a complex of archaeological and architectural treasures.  We followed a parade of worshipers walking along a giant piece of orange cloth, 300 meters long according to Nimal.  It symbolizes Buddha’s skin, he told us, and was to be wrapped around Ruvanvelisaya, a magnificent white dagoba or shrine for sacred relics.

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Devotees help carry  the orange cloth which will be wrapped around Ruvanvelisaya (below).

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The climb at Mihinthale, another temple complex, was beyond us:  1,843 granite slab steps with the sun blazing down on them. No shoes allowed –you had to ascend barefoot.  No way.

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Tough feet, as well as stamina, required for this climb.

Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka’s medieval capital from the 11th to the 13th centuries before it was abandoned to invaders from South India.  We – and many others — toured the area by bike with stops to admire and photograph.  The major attraction is the site with colossal Buddhas carved out of rock.

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Reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa

At Dambulla Royal Rock Temple, some 150 different Buddhas are enshrined in five  caves.  The Disney-like entrance to the site, with a monstrous Golden Temple and

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Cave Buddhas

mammoth concrete Buddha, seems out of place, but the gentle climb along a wooded path to this hilltop temple complex is easy and pleasant.  Entrance to the caves is controlled with a certain number admitted for each visit. It is well worth the wait to see these remarkable statues in this dimly lit, mystical ambience.

srpart1.nBoth tourists and worshipers flock to Kandy, a lovely hill town whose magnet is the Sacred Tooth Temple where one of Buddha’s teeth is said to be hidden inside a golden shrine or casket which in turn contains six more caskets, much like a Russian box.   We joined a large crowd and patiently waited in line for a night time opening of the heavily guarded room containing the tooth shrine, and our turn to file by the relic casket.   Although there was little to see, the holy ritual and huge temple complex are intriguing.   According to Lonely Planet, Sri Lankan Buddhists believe they must complete at least one pilgrimage to the tooth temple.

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Worshiping at the Sacred Tooth Temple

Nimal De Silva, (ndsilva67@yahoo.com and dsltours.com)  chauffeured us around his country, made hotel arrangements, arranged local guides at many places — and taught us much about this fabulous country.  He is a delight, very patient and accommodating. We were happy with all.

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Gaudy entrance to Dambulla complex

More on Sri Lanka in coming posts:  flora and fauna;  food, markets and produce, beaches and hilltop retreats.  Don’t miss it.  If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right). Your address is kept private and never shared. 

Please feel free to comment – just scroll down, below following photos,  click, scroll down again and add your thoughts.  

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Ruins at Polonnaruwa
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Cave Buddha at Dambulla
The concrete Buddha surveys the landscape
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Polonnaruwa

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