Dare to explore Udawalawe and photograph the jungle beasts…? Udawalawe National Park, one of the very famous parks especially for elephants. So, this is one of the places that you must go during your stay in Sri Lanka. Situated about 2-3 hours away from Colombo, the Udawalawe jungle spreads through a couple of provinces. Best way to go on a Udawalawe safari is that to use a four-wheel drive that are available at the park entrance along with a tour guide who knows how to maze around the park. There are two rounds of safaris per day. One in the early morning starting around 6.00am and another one in the evening starting around 2.00pm. the best times to see most animals are to go early morning or the very late trip. Animals do not come outside much during mid-day as the sun could get harsh.
This lake is the main water source that keeps the park green and provides water for animals. Apart from that it is a part of the Udawalawe dam that provides hydroelectricity to the main grid in the country. The lake contains many mini islands that surface time to time when the water level drops. Although you are not allowed to kayak in the lake, there are local villagers who would provide you the traditional boat service around the lake. If you love taking photos of crocodiles who sun bath on the river bank or the wild elephants splashing cold water at each other on a warm day, this would be the ideal way to get it done. Do not attempt to dive or swim in the lake as these lakes contain very dangerous currents and usually bring death to a person or two every year.
Elephants in Udawalawe safari
Before you enter the park, you will surely see one elephant on the road begging for food near the elephant fence. Also, you will see a board saying that not to feed that elephant. Udawalawe elephants have become somewhat accustomed to humans, that they expect food from visitors. But the authorities’ advice is to not to provide any food to these elephants as it could ruin their regular diet. The roads inside are very tricky and you could easily get lost in the maze if you go alone. Tour guides highly recommend not to get down the vehicle due to safety requirements. You will get to see elephants everywhere in the park. Some with baby elephants, some with the ranch and some alone. The most dangerous are the lone elephants also called as ‘thaniya’ and the female elephants with babies. ‘thaniya’ could get extremely wild and aggressive especially during the mating season. Mother elephants are very protective therefore will be very defensive against strangers. So, if you come face to face with one of these two, be extremely quiet, quickly take a photograph or two and stay still. Tour guides know how to get away from these wild elephants but occasionally, one or two safari jeeps get damaged due to a full frontal attack by these wild beasts.
Other animals in Udawalawe
Peacock is a symbol of Sri Lanka tourism. You will see enough peacocks in Udawalawe national park. Keep your camera ready all the time. Because it is extremely beautiful to photograph a male peacock does his mating dance showing his colourful tail. Peacock feathers are available everywhere. But be careful as these are restricted biodiversity items and could get you in to trouble at the customs. If you have powerful lenses, you might be able to spot the peacocks in far off tall trees.
Water buffaloes are a common sight near muddy water pools around the park. But do not dare to go very close to these buffaloes as they too could be extremely wild and aggressive. But it is nice to see how they immerse in water to cool of their heaty bodies.
There are couple of leopards in the park but you should be extremely lucky to capture one. Due to the high tourist level and harsh noise created by most four wheel drives, these creatures stay inside their caves and come outside only after sun-set. But if you really want to capture some superb leopard photos, go to Yala national park which is just a couple of hours away from Udawalawe. Or else, you could go to Wilpattu national park which is on the North-Western part of the country. Both parks are famous for Leopards.
Like a local
Tired and sweaty after the safari…? Have a fresh water bath in the lake. There’s a bathing place used by villagers along the road side. This place is very much safe and spacious. Get a dip in the cool water of the Udawalawe lake and refresh yourself. Do not attempt swimming but just simply take a dip and be chilled. You will be hungry as an elephant after the bath. There are many places for food. Good five star hotels with international cuisine as well as local villagers’ huts that serve typical Sri Lankan village food. These dishes are so delicious and so rare, even most Sri Lankans love to eat from these small places.
There’s one more place to visit before you head back. Udawalawe Elephant orphanage. Among one of the many s in the country, this place is famous for feeding and taking of the baby elephants. Baby elephants found without the mother at the park will be brought to this place and treated properly. The feeding time is the best time and its open to the public. Feeding time starts around 3.00 so right after lunch, you could head towards there. These baby elephants are so disciplined that that they come in a line and get fed. This area could get so crowded with local tourists so you might need to station yourself in a bit higher ground with a good lens to get very good close-up shots. It’s amazing to see the how these baby elephants play with their caretakers.
As it says, once you explore Udawalawe, you will want to come repeatedly every year. That is the nature of ‘Nature’.