Sunday, September 11, 2016

Leopard Safari in Wilpattu

Sri Lanka has several national parks that are home to leopards. The most popular one is Yala in the south, but it closes for September and part of October. So, we went north to Wilpattu National park and went on safari to see some leopards there. Like this one drinking from a water hole!


We departed from the Aegle Hotel in Negombo where we recovered from our late night arrival into Sri Lanka from Abu Dhabi. The homemade breakfast consisted of eggs, toast, and tea. The melody of "Für Elise" drifted in through the window from the bread truck truck outside. We had to pay our hotel bill in USD and rupee because I didn't exchange enough...I was only able to exchange our leftover dirhams into rupee because the currency exchange place at the Abu Dhabi airport ran out and I forgot to try again when we arrived at the Colombo airport last night. Paying in two forms of cash reminded me of a similar event back in Amsterdam.
On our drive up north, we saw lots of tuk-tuks, scooters, dogs, and even a bull cart. Also lots of farmers markets and roadside vendors.

Finally found an ATM. The pulled out the max limit, but it will probably only cover a couple of days if we pay for all the food, hotels, and safaris. It's a cash-based economy, so don't expect your credit cards to be accepted.

One of the more fascinating things about staring out the window was seeing the variety of Buddhist, Hindu, and even Christian shrines.

We stopped into a Hindu temple, where peacocks roamed freely around the various gods that sat in silence under a large canopy surrounded by banyan trees. Our driver said that the Hindu temples are mostly for the Tamil people. But dress codes still apply, as one western tourist couple was turned away by guard because her shorts were super short. Fortunately, mine cover my knees. No photos allowed inside the temple. Our girls were fascinated by woman praying and smashing coconut for offering. just outside the entrance to the shrine.

On road again, we passed an ice cream tuk-tuk that was also learning how to drive.
Outside Puttalem, which is famous for its salt and salt factories, we saw our first elephant crossing signs!
While the photos might convey the dryness of the area, you'll just have to close your eyes and imagine the soft scent of smoldering grasses that hung in the open air like incense.
Another "never seen that before" was when we passed lanes covered in grains. The farmers used the hot asphalt to dry out the stuff, then swept them into piles before bagging them up.

We had lunch at the "Leopard den", which featured a Sri Lankan buffet (that our girls didn't really want to try) and "pizza" which was more like naan with cheese slices on top (that our girls didn't really like either). That ran 4,994 rupee.

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Wildlife Safari at Wilpathu
We went to Wilpaththu because the other famous one (Yala) is closed for the dry season from 1 September to 15 October. While there is a lower chance of seeing leopards in Wilpaththu than Yala, it's still a much higher chance than not going somewhere to see one at all. Even before we got to the main office, we saw big lizard that our driver called a "salamander".

Our safari cost about 20,000 rupee for two adults and two young kids. I think there is a price break around 6-8 years of age, not exactly sure. We gave our money to the guide and he reappeared with tickets. Our safari started at 2pm, and the park closes at 6:30 pm.
  With the green tree cover, silver gray trees/fog, and Orange earth, it was like Indian flag?
Once inside the park, we saw a mongoose, several macaques, another kind of monkey, and jungle fowl (which is the Sri Lankan national bird).


We also saw several deer, including one Samba deer that was darting away from road and even a rabbit that had distracted us from seeing the Samba deer. Oh, and crazy large ant hills (or were they termite mounds?) that looked like castles.

From the forest area, we diverted toward the water where we saw peacocks, frogs, and crocodiles!

After seeing the croc, we decided it was a good idea to let the kids out of the truck and walk around...very far away.

Leaving the marsh area, we cut through sandy roads and came across other wet areas that were drawing the animals out for a drink.


It wasn't until around 5:50 pm when the sun started to set that it finally cooled off enough for the key animals to come out. It was easy to find them because all the other Jeeps were gathered there too.

Then, out of nowhere, we saw an elephant just meandering thru the jungle with herds of deer between two of the nearby watering holes.
But the biggest sightings were the leopards. We saw two leopards hiding on a path near the road, and another at a watering hole.
Ugh. crowds.

See the leopard?

How about now?

A leopard drinking at a watering hole!
After seeing the leopard at the watering hole. our driver was racing to get back out of the park before closing time. I'm told that staying late earns a fine and maybe even a one day penalty on tour access. The dust in the air looked like fog. Our eyes stung a bit from the dusty breeze, and the tree branches whipped the sides and top of our vehicle as it tore down the red dirt road.
Yeeeeeeeee Haaaaawwwww!
From Wilpattu, we drove to the Liyana Holiday resort in Anuradhapura where we spent the night. It ran us only 8144 rupee room and included breakfast and dinner.
So, yeah, a long and very fun day! But we need to get our rest, because tomorrow we head over to Minneriya for another safari to see dozens of elephants!


More posts from this trip:
           
 Yesterday         Tomorrow


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