Clean Up Sri Lanka: Say NO to plastic bags

Have you noticed the litter around our beautiful homeland while you travel here? The plastic bags flapping on trees and floating in the wevas? Come join us at Clean Up Sri Lanka and help us spread the word on how to stop this:
NO to Litter
NO to Plastic Bags (Please use Reusable bags)
NO to Plastic water bottles
Clean up a mess if you see one!

Our Kick off event is at Independence Square on Saturday 25th from 8.30am to 6.30pm. Come down and see how you can help keep our country beautiful.


Kung Fu Kite (Bundala 01/22/2010)

Did you do it!

Everybody who has spent time in the rural parts of Sri Lanka is accustomed to the Red-Wattled Lapwing’s accusatory call which you can hear at all times of the day and even night.

Of course the rather bewildered juvenile Brahminy Kite still looked a bit taken aback as the screaming Lapwing couple thundered in as he sat somnambulant on a branch by the tank we had parked at. We hadn’t seen any of the drama that had unfolded before. Perhaps the innocent look the Kite had on was a ruse and he had been busted trying to raid the Lapwing’s nest a few moments ago.

But the Lapwings certainly were giving it to the Kite, dive-bombing him fearlessly. The Kite responded with his best Kung Fu moves before eventually deciding discretion was the better part of valour and departing post haste.


Battling Buffalo (Bundala & Yala 01/22/2010)

It was obviously breeding season for the buffalo as all over Bundala and Yala there were grappling males and females with newly minted young, fresh and gleaming. The Sri Lankan water buffalo, though not as formidable as the African version is still quite a large and bulky beast. Having stood a few meters away from a pissed off looking wild buffalo many moons ago, I can still attest to the raw fear that one feels when looking one of these creatures eye to eye, a fear that hasn’t been dulled by time.


In the parks though the majority off the buff you see are the domestic creatures that have gone feral. Though by no means dainty, the truly massive and impressive specimens are the descendants of the true wild buffalo, Kulu-harak as these are euphemistically called in Sinhala. As to whether there are any genetically pure wild buff left in the wild is unlikely but you can see the flashes of the old, untamed beasts in some at Yala (for a rather fascinatin discussion on the wild vs. feral buffalo issue click here).

The first pair of wrestling beasts we saw in Bundala was relatively tame. They seemed to be more of the Greek wrestling tradition than anything rather more extravagant and spent most of their time seemingly rubbing heads with each other in a half-hearted manner. To be fair though it was pretty early in the morning so perhaps they hadn’t had their morning coffee just yet.


The next pair of dueling buff we saw in Yala were however quite impressive. Coming to an open plain we initially spotted two buffalo staring each other down. These were big guys as well, with a much larger curved span of horns than the ones we had seen in Bundala plus muscular, barrel like bodies.


There was a spurt of dust as one of the buffaloes started its run in. I was torn trying to decide what was more impressive; the buffalo running in, ludicrously nimble considering its bulk or the other one that just stood there, impassive as a rock while a couple of hundred weight of bovine fury galloped at it full tilt.


We could hear the impact from many meters away. A dull, meaty thud as the dust flared and horns locked. After a brief skirmish the pair separated and the buffalo who had run in went back to take his mark.


Once again the run and hit was repeated with a briefer skirmish. The buffalo that had stood his ground was obviously a notch above as when the pair separated for the second time, the runner decided enough was enough and he wandered off...possibly on the look out for an ice pack.



She’s a beauty (Yala 05/06/2010)

The jeep screeched to a halt as she materialized as if from nowhere. It had been a fruitless, dusty day in the park exacerbated by the fact that our only leopard sighting had been in the midst of a traffic jam that would have put Colombo to shame. As dusk descended over the dry wilderness we headed out of the park, jolting along as thoughts of a warm shower and the delicious bread at Tissa View occupied our thoughts.

I think Sumudhu was the most surprised out of all of us as she materialized as we passed Diganwalla. Possibly close to a year old (but then I’m no expert in aging leopards) she sat there looking mildly affronted at our hasty stop. She stared at us for awhile before getting up, stretching lithely and heading down to the water to drink.

At the water’s edge she put on what could only be described as a performance for us. Delicately, as though she didn’t want her pristine paws soiled by the mud she paced up and down and snarled at imagined threats in the water repeatedly until settling down to rapidly lap at the water.

What had seemed like a lost day suddenly turned into a perfect one, as the stunningly beautiful young leopard locked eyes with us. May she have many years of life as the supreme predator of Yala ahead of her.

Lap, lap, lapThe eyes have it


King Gemunu (Yala 05/06/2010)

As announcing sightings goes, Suren’s was a bit of a mix of anticlimax and irony, as a he turned towards us with a thoughtful expression on his face and announced he could have sworn he had just seen a tusker approaching through the bush as we whizzed past. Sumudhu and the tracker seemed a bit nonplussed by this casual announcement but we nonetheless backed up quickly to investigate.

The King

The heat hadn’t gotten to Suren’s head as he had indeed spotted a rather magnificent tusker coming towards the road. Silently one of the Kings of Yala emerged from the brush onto the road. Along with the leopard and bear, the tuskers of Yala are another iconic animal for the wildlife enthusiast. I was brought up on pictures, stories and very occasional sightings of the famous tuskers of the park such as the now dead (mostly from being killed for their ivory) behomeths such as Kublai Kahn and the Podi and Loku Pootuwas (cross-tuskers). This particular tusker was Gemunu, not a tusker with the most impressive tusks that I have seen, but an absolutely massive male with a breathtaking presence about him.

Silently and confidently he walked down the dusty, red road. The afternoon light glowed around him as we stared in awe. We appeared to far to lowly for him to take any interest in us and even when he came level and we started the engine to go forward he didn’t take much notice except to step off the road. We stared at him in awe as he walked around the road for another ten minutes before taking leave of us and stepping back into the bush.


Roadside Repairs (Yala 05/06/2010)


It was a disconcerting sound that echoed like a gunshot as the Defender 110 went over the pothole. The old jeep rattled to a stop, seemingly fatally wounded. Sumudhu turned to us and rather nonchalantly announced that the axle had broken. This seemed the worst possible news as our run of the park had just started and a broken axle seemed something that would require a tow out of the park.

Sumudhu repairing the jeep

Casually Sumudhu reached over for his phone and called Sugathe, his father, the wily old veteran jeep driver of Yala. Shortly afterwards, Sugathe came up in his Defender 110. And that’s when things became a bit surreal.

Axle for repair; Sugathe, our guardian angel in heavy disguise leaves

Casually, as if this was an everyday kind of repair, Sugathe passed Sumudhu a spare axle which was casually slotted in as if the jeep was made out of lego building blocks. The broken axle was placed in the back for repairs in Tissa, a quick wash of hands for Sumudhu and we were off!

Sumudhu cleaning up before we head off


On The Trail of the Leopard (Wilpattu, May 2010: Part 3)

Continued from here:

Of course while we were getting the full tour of the park we were also on the trail of the elusive leopard, the endless family yarns about fabulous sightings egging us on. We kept an eye out in the brush and white sand around the villus to no avail. My eyes burned as the green brush and twisted trunks flashed by the jeep and I stared out for that flash of black and gold. We frustratingly missed two leopard sightings on the jeep track by mere seconds, probably scared off into the bush by our engine, leaving only their pugmarks imprinted on the fine sand.

Pugmarks in the sand
Pug marks in the sand

The adrenaline did rush one more time when we approached a group of grey langurs that had gotten spooked by something. Some of the animals were crashing around in the trees while others craned their necks, staring at something off the road that was obviously of great interest to them. We spent a breathless, hot hour parked watching the langurs as they simultaneously kept a watch on whatever it was in the brush that excited them and us. Finally the monkeys lost interest and moved on, indicating the leopard, if it was a leopard had also move on. The whole time we had been scanning the undergrowth with binoculars but it was simply too thick for anything to be seen.

Watchful Langur

On the outlook (Courtesy PP)

Exhausted as much by the anticipation as by the heat and grueling drive, we called it quits and regretfully left the park, driving through swirls of yellow butterflies that had congregated on the road. Wilpattu, on our first visit, kept her secrets well hidden. As the animals have still not been acclimatized, Wilpattu’s wilds and wildlife deserve many visits and you will have to work hard, very hard for your sightings. Assuming of course the park survives the unplanned depredations that are being visited upon it now.

Butterflies bidding us goodbye


The Full Tour (Wilpattu, May 2010: Part 2)

 Continued from here:

This being our first time in the park for all of us, we had opted for the complete tour and Chamara obliged very gladly. The Villus of course are a characteristic highlight of the park, Tala Villu, Kali Villu, Maila Villu, Walas Villu, the names rolled of Chamara’s tongue as we passed the golden grass and pure white sands of the small lakes.  Formed by water percolating through limestone rock to the surface, the villus are famed for their birdlife, though possibly due to the park being quite dry we didn’t see too many birds.

Juvenile white bellied sea eaglePipit taking off
One of the many Villus,I cannot recall which one; Wilpattu birdlife

We didn’t see any of the legendary ‘villu elephants’ either, long touted as being the biggest elephants in Sri Lanka. In fact on our whole trip our sightings of animals were few and far between, a Monitor Lizard on its way up the evolutionary ladder, a Barking Deer standing transfixed in the road before dashing off into the undergrowth, two Sambhur watching us warily before spooking and Wild Boar trundling ahead of us. It was obvious that the animals still had a ways to go before getting used to vehicles and people.

Monitor Lizard at attention; Wary Sambhur; Wild Boar on the road

A gloom settled over our little group as we cut across the new ‘Mannar’ road that bisects the park. Chamara was subdued as well as the personnel at the Navy checkpoint were incredibly arrogant as we tried to cross over to the other side of the park. Being used to the good manners of the forces in most other places we were a bit perturbed by this treatment and Chamara seemed to withdraw into a shell as he told us in low tones about how the Navy had started acting like they owned the park. Crossing the new road we came across more brush cleared along the track as we moved towards Kudiramale. Then we hit it, the new coastal road that the Navy had cut along the westward edge of the park. The fresh red earth gleamed like newly drawn blood across an immense expanse that stretched on either side of us. I’m not even sure how to describe what I felt then, just nausea that after all this time, the crown jewel of our parks was finally open but being pillaged at the same time.

Cleared brush; The road cut by the Navy

Our mood was slightly lifted as we stopped at little bay from where we had to disembark and walk to Kudiramale Point, where Vijaya is supposed to have landed presumably in search of somewhere to party. The red soil of the area is linked with the name given to Lanka by Vijaya of Thambapanni. From the bay we walked into the shallow sea and hugged the shore to where we could ascend up the hill. The waters lapped warm and brown against our feet as fossilized coral showed just under the surface. The silence and the immobility of the small bay was a bit unnerving as we picked our way through the water and the twisted trees and we were somewhat relieved to leave the sea and start up the hill.

Walking in the bay; Strange driftwood

Of course by this time it was close to noon and soon our relief was overcome by exhaustion and a general unwillingness to go on. Of course Chamara egged us on up the cliff and we entered an eerie landscape of black heaps of stone that to me looked again like fossilized coral, though others didn’t agree. It was a fascinating experience though and I was as usual drawn to the sea. From the cliffs the waters looked at once quite shallow but a bit unnerving with Ghar fish swimming in throngs in the milky water and rocks appearing and disappearing in the murk.

The sea from the cliffs; Black rock formations

A flash of bright blue alerted us to a rather incongruously new board put up by the Navy explaining the historical significance of the area with laviscous details of Kuveni’s affair with Vijaya. Well I jest but the board was somewhat interesting and I glanced at it for a few seconds before I realized the jeep was nearby along with a much needed bottle of water. And thirst trumped interest in history.

History of the site

Part 3


A Tragic Park (Wilpattu, May 2010: Part 1)

Wilpattu. The name has always evoked bittersweet excitement for me. All my life it has been my Shangri La for wildlife. I grew up with the tales of family trips of generations and the almost mystical leopard sightings, shining gold and black on the white sands of the Villu’s. Wilpattu is the country’s largest park and arguably the most untouched, its bungalows (when in operation many years ago) were rated the best in the land, all in addition to its reputation for being the top site for leopard sightings in Lanka. As if this wasn’t enough value for money, the park also plays host to sites that are writ large in Sri Lanka’s storied past, including Kudrimalai point where Prince Vijaya is said to have landed and a palace that was supposed to have belonged to Kuveni, the tribal princess.

Wilpattu Jungles

Despite its many wonders, in 29 years I had never been to Wilpattu save for when I was a mere toddler. It didn’t take too much enticement when S called asking if I wanted to accompany them on quick weekend jaunt to Wilpattu. Leaving from Colombo on the midnight run via the A3, we reached our base, the Governor’s Camp bungalow in Wilpattu as a grey morning dawned. Quite a charming bungalow offering good value for money minutes from the park, the lodge can accommodate eight people in four double rooms for the price of Rs.10,000 a night. You can bring your own food or pay extra for food, we opted for the latter and the fare was quite good. The options for accommodation appeared a bit thin at the time with other bases ranging from hotels in Anuradhapura and Kalpitiya. I personally would not advise staying at places that are this far away, simply because it means you need more time to get to the park entrance. And you want to get to the park at the first hint of daylight to get the best wildlife sightings.

The road to the entrance

Things seemed quiet around the park entrance where we rendezvoused with our jeep driver, Sunil for our whole day safari, which set us back a grand total of Rs.7,000. A half day safari would set you back Rs. 4,000 but given the size of the park, unless you are really short of time you want to go for the full days safari. The lines of Safari jeeps you see in Yala were absent and it looked like, despite the park having been open for over two and a half months, it was still not heavily visited. In fact we were to see a grand total of three other jeeps, all venerable old Willis jeeps, during our time in the park over the weekend.

Entrance to Wilpattu

Packing into our jeep we drove to the park office at Hunuvilagama to get the formalities of our visit, purchasing tickets and having a ‘tracker’ (i.e. guide) assigned. Wandering around the office, the neglected state of the jewel in the crown of Sri Lanka’s dry zone parks was apparent. The infrastructure was dilapidated and the exhibits looked forlorn and dusty. Noting a roster of park wardens in the corner I went over for a closer look. I felt an eerie chill as I noted that the list stopped at Wasantha Pushpananda, the warden of the park who was killed by the LTTE in 2007. The board seemed oddly matter of fact, Park Warden, 2003. There was no indication of the violent end this dedicated man had come to in an ambush at Kokkare Villu.

Wardens of Wilpattu

Shaking these morbid thoughts off, we loaded our Chamara, our tracker, a most pleasant and enthusiastic guide and headed off into the park. The drive into the park led through Wilpattu’s signature monsoon forest, venerable Pallu and Weera trees clustered up on either side of the road while sunlight filtered through the canopy which met overhead. Our first sighting of the day was a relatively common Serpent Eagle which decided to fly along the road in front of our jeep. Sunil cut the engine and we coasted along in silence with the eagle escorting us and the sounds of the jungle around us, cicadas shimmering and the musical chiok, chaw-choik calls of the Jungle Fowl.

Chamara, our tracker

Breaking into an open plain we came to the dilapidated buildings at Maradanmaduwa. As we ate a hasty breakfast, Chamara told us about the fateful day on May 15, 1985 when the LTTE massacred a 120 people in Anuradhapura and made their escape through the park, killing a further 19 people in the park. Apparently one of the staff at the park was a survivor of this event and got off relatively lightly with gunshot wounds to the leg. We were later to have another reminder of the park’s grim past as we saw the remains of the jeep that had been ripped apart in May 2006 killing amongst six others, the renowned author Nihal De Silva. Hopefully as the park continues to gain popularity and returns to its former majesty, Wilpattu’s sheen of past violence will wear off. 

Maradanmaduwa buildings

Continued here