I always hated visiting the zoo. It is quite depressing to see caged animals, who otherwise would be freely wondering in their favourite habitats. Once Chamindra also mentioned that he doesn't visit the zoo for the same reason, so I am not alone nor sick... ;-) And there are better alternatives to see `real' animals, if watching National Geographic or Discovery channels is not what one wants.
Last month I realized that I had greatly underestimated those jungle trips that are commonly known as `safaris' when I was a part of four safaris during a trip to Yala organized by Virtusa's Global Enterprise Business Unit.
More than fifty Virtusans and their family members joined the trip. Punctuality was remarkable, and we could start early on the 24th as planned. Except for a few who joined later at Yala, everyone traveled together in a huge Fuso bus whose phenomenal pulling power came at the expense of one liter of Diesel every couple of kilometers.
We had the lunch at Tissamaharama Rest House. The weather was quite good for photography, and the camera in my Nokia 6020 phone proved to be quite handy.
Yala Villege Hotel. Managed by John Keells Holdings, Yala Villege Hotel is very nicely maintained as an eco friendly dwelling. It was not physically seperated from the National Park, and we were advised not to wonder alone as wild animals sometimes used to come closer. The top floor of the three story restaurant had a great view of the area, the great jungle on all sides and the sea far away.
The tusker. Although it feels great to talk about it later, being in the front seat of a window-less jeep when a huge tusker is coming towards you during your first safari is not a very comfortable feeling... ;-) Obviously, the driver, who was sitting by a window-less door himself, knew what he was doing. Going towards a wild animal instead of running away, something against conventional wisdom, was something I took some time to get used to.
The hunt. Crocodiles were plenty throughout the Park. Either quietly floating on the water, or motionlessly waiting with open mouth for someone to come closer. Once we saw a floating crocodile slowly moving towards some feeding deer. However, its hunt didn't work out, as there was no good place to come out of the water.
The single elephant. Saturday's morning safari ended with another interesting encounter. This time we saw this huge single elephant on the road. Our driver did the right `safari' thing, to stop and turn off the engine. The elephant slowly moved towards us, closer, closer and closer, until it was standing right in front of our Defender. However, after some serious though, it decided to move into the jungle rather than continue to walk by us.
The leopard. Seeing a leopard was considered by most to be the ultimate `thing' of a safari at Yala. This turned out to be statistically rare, as we saw leopards only during my third safari.
While slowly traveling on one by road, one of our group suddenly bursted: `it's there, it's there'. And there it was, a big and beautiful leopard, less than five meters away. Unfortunately, it stayed there only for few seconds although we turned off the engine and kept quiet.
After wondering few more kilometers watchfully, we saw a big group of jeeps moving slowly with people looking towards something. This time it was another leopard, which slowly moved to an open area and didn't want to leave any time soon. Although it was too far for my not-so-good camera to take a good picture, we did have a good view of the beautiful creature moving here and there and finally settling down comfortably on the top of a short hill.
The desert rally. Being an off-roading fan, notably the Dakar Rally, I greatly enjoyed the last part of Saturday evening safari. We got late after watching the leopard, and not leaving the Park by 6:45 risked a penalty of our Driver's safari license being temporally suspended. During the next 45 minutes, our Land Rover roared through the bumpy and dusty main road through the Yala National Park. There were so many other jeeps doing the same, and it eventually became a `desert rally'. Finally we managed to leave the Park just a little later than the timeout without a penalty.
Elephant family, friendly deer and dancing peacock. The last safari on Sunday morning was quite eventful, too. Although we didn't see a leopard or a bear, there was a big elephant family that crossed the road few meters away, a group of deer who didn't run away when we passed them by very closely, and a peacock dancing with fully expanded feathers.
The beach. The beach in the Park is massive and very scenic. This area had been severely damaged by the Indian Ocean Tsunami. The forest had recovered very fast. Except for few fallen trees here and there, it was difficult to find traces of destruction. In fact, it is well known that none of wild animals at Yala had been killed by this massive natural disaster. A sixth sense seem to exist, although it is lost to humans once they started `leaving' mother nature.
A selected set of photos I captured during the trip can be found here.