[Sri Lanka] Day 04 – Yala National Park

I got up around 4:30 a.m. entangled in the mosquito net which funnily I was seeing as a princess’ fortress the previous evening. I got ready for the safari. This was the first thing I was doing which had been on my ‘to-do list’ for Sri Lanka. I was a pretty excited and was looking forward to it. I was also curious to meet the other people I was going to share the ride with. A good company can make it more fun and a bad one has the potential to spoil it for you when you’re traveling in the same vehicle for good 7 hours.

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Headed off in absolute darkness
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The view was amazing from the beginning

There were 2 girls from Slovenia and two guys from France. The good thing was everyone was communicating in English. There were unexpectedly high number of vehicles at the entry point I started doubting how was it going to be. I assumed there will be vehicles everywhere we’ll go inside the park little did I know of its vastness.

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There were a lot more vehicles at the entry point

We were hardly half an hour into the safari when we got to see the black bear. We then saw a lot of animals, birds, and reptiles as well. It’s the most vibrant safaris I’ve ever been to.

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Black bear

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Bones of buffaloes that were attacked by the crocodiles

We took a break in the middle of this safari to have breakfast. We sat on a rock discussed what should be done in case we see en elephant or a leopard right now. Thankfully we didn’t see any otherwise all of us would have died going by our answers. Our breakfast was the staple food coconut chapatti and coconut sambar. After this they shared a smoke and I looked on at the family that had occupied the other rock next to ours. They ate packed food and were with two cute kids. I was wondering what an amazing exposure they’re getting at that young age.

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Our breakfast
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Group picture 🙂

We left to continue our safari and very soon we stopped where a lot of other jeeps had stopped. None of us could figure out why. We just looked in the direction where everyone was looking and soon we could see what others were seeing – a leopard.

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‘Traffic jam’ inside the park as everyone pounced to see the leopard
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The most sought after animal in the safari

After this our guide became very relaxed. He took us to same paths and asked if there was anything else we wanted to see. We had seen dancing peacocks, black bear, a leopard, land monitor, foxes, Sambhar, deers, wild buffalos, boars which we kept calling ‘Pumba’, crocodiles sunbathing, and many birds. Our last request was elephants. The place was famous for it and we got to see them from too far. Our request was heard soon enough. We got to see two elephants from up close.

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One of the many peacocks we saw
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Land monitor
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Our ‘Pumba’
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We empathized with this ‘Single’ buffalo
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Finally, the Elephants from up close
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Elephant rock

We headed back. I was a little exhausted and was thankful I opted for half day safari and not full day.

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The skull of an Elephant
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After some bad selfies asked one of the guys to click

We reached the place where I was staying first. All of us filled their guestbook with our feedback. The French guy asked me why was I not writing in my mother tongue and why in English. I explained to him that I can but I would be really slow as we stop using that script in our high school.

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not that I’m more comfortable reading and writing in English but the focus on English in our education system definitely made my trip much more easier. I do wish I had the option of taking up a foreign language when I was in school. I decided to brush up my French when I got back home.

We exchanged numbers (which was really not much use as 3 of the 4 don’t use WhatsApp). One of the female from Slovenia added me on Facebook so there was a way to keep in touch.

During the day they told me how much they enjoyed the trek to Adam’s peak and I knew I have to go for it even before I saw their pictures. They told me that this is not the season but that doesn’t stop most of the travelers from going for the hike. I returned to my room took a quick shower, charged my phone during that time, and left. The safari guide was heading for the bus stop anyway so he dropped me there. He asked me to take the bus to Wellawaya and from there a bus to Dalhousie (the closest village to Adam’s peak).

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Just before leaving Tissa

I got the bus for Wellawaya and upon reaching there started my troubles. Apparently no one knows of this village but what was shocking was no one there knew of ‘Adam’s peak’ either. (This is because it’s called ‘Sri Pada’ there which I got to know much later). I took help from other travelers all of whom knew of Adam’s peak of course. The number of people who wanted to help and who actually did help was overwhelming. Someone took out a map while almost missing his bus, someone suggested waiting with me till I find my way, another person tried to find a route in their guidebook (which was not in English so I couldn’t use it), another family offered that I tag along with them in their trip. It’s these little stories that make your trip so much more memorable. I loved all of these people at that moment without knowing their name, without knowing their language, without really knowing anything about them. They strengthened my resolve to reach Adam’s peak. The locals kept suggesting I stay there for the night and head for Adam’s peak next day. That was the last thing I wanted to do as this would have wasted one day which I couldn’t afford to do from my kitty of 3 remaining days. Eventually with the help of all these people and most importantly a couchsurfer who responded to my message just in time (I had almost taken the wrong bus), I headed for Ella in Bus. From there I had to take a train to Hatton and from there a tuk tuk to Dalhousie.

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Wellawaya bus station

Now the thing with Sri Lanka is you can’t really judge how much time it will take to reach a point by looking at the distance. It’s not only because of hilly terrain but also slow transport and minimal street lights (And for some strange reason it adds to the beauty of this place). By the time I reached Ella it was around 6:40 p.m. and I had gathered there’s a train to Hatton at 6:55 p.m.

I rushed from the bus stop to train station and in that darkness I did feel it was going to be my last walk. There was not a ray of light anywhere in sight. It was raining and I only had a cap to save myself. I kept walking to get into that train. Soon enough I saw some lights and guessed it had to be the railway station and it was. While waiting for the person who was issuing tickets to come back to his desk I met a couple from Sweden. They turned out to be my favorite people from the trip. After collecting our tickets I got to know we were travelling in the same train. They were headed for Nuwara Eliya and I had to travel another hour without them. Trains were delayed coz of bad weather.

When I came back from the washroom a quiet guy with a cap, wearing shorts, standing close to our luggage said hello to me and asked if any of us were heading for ‘Adam’s peak’. I almost screamed in happiness. I finally found company to reach a place I had no idea how was I going to reach in the middle of the night in a country where I think twice before leaving at 7 p.m. He looked a little Indian and I got to know that’s because he’s half Indian and half Russian. We discussed about the few places he knew in India from his two recent trips.

After waiting for over half an hour when we finally saw the train approaching and were getting ready to board the train, the ticket issuer told us our compartment is going to be the first one at the platform (We were standing somewhere in the middle). We ran with our luggage to reach our compartment in those few minutes and then were wondering why did he wait all this while to tell us this.

I asked my half Indian trek buddy to wait up for me at the Hatton station. He was in a different compartment as he had a reserved ticket and we were without reservation.

With the train also started our three hour long non-stop chatter. They both have a daughter my age and we discussed everything under the sun. They were in their early fifties and so much in love. We also discussed how logical it would be for me to date their son and after looking at his picture I reminded them to give him my card.

They showed me their family pictures, clicked mine and when the train stopped at their station I rushed a stranger into clicking our picture.

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My favorite people from the trip

I love them so much. It was the best 3 hours I had spent during the trip so far. Just before leaving the lady gave me her bracelet that she had got from an organization she donated money to after losing her father. It meant so much to me!

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The bracelet that she gave me as a parting gift (PC: Google)

As they left, I looked on and started looking for ways to spend the next hour and a half alone. From whatever I could see in the night, the route was really beautiful. This route happens to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world (From Ella to Kandy). I spent my time mostly reading but it was a little difficult to focus with the couple sitting in front of me was cozying up a little too much.

I looked at the dark valleys, dim lights, tiny villages, heard the sound of some waterfalls, felt the darkness of tunnels and waited for the next day to begin. I was looking forward to the trek for a lot of reasons.

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