Leopards and more at the Yala National Park

Sometimes, the aura and sheer beauty of a place is an inspiration for people to be more adventurous and feel alive. Several visitors to the Yala National Park felt this very same elated feeling of adventure amidst the nobility of nature’s aristocracy. Consisting of five blocks, a total of 130,000 hectares of land, Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest in Sri Lanka.

What to experience…

Located on the southeastern tip of Sri Lanka, the park is home to 44 mammal varieties and 215 bird species and is world renowned for its massive leopard population. You can cruise through the park in an open-air jeep, bumping through the rough tracks while trying to spot the big ones. Amid the landscape, you will see open plains that provide grazing grass for wild elephants and buffalo, muddy waterholes for deer and wild boar, dense forest patches where monkeys reside and the big cats cool off. Crocodiles lazily bask in the late evenings and elephants use their tusks to carve out a pathway just a few feet away from you!

Leopards

While leopards are the smallest of the big cats, they are the sneakiest and shy ones. Although they may be wandering around the park, all you may end up seeing is a glimpse of their tail. The graceful Sri Lankan leopard is closely related to lions, panthers and tigers and is listed as an endangered species locally and globally. Yala National Park in the south and Wilpattu National Park in the northwest is where the most concentrations of leopards exist.

In Sri Lanka, because of the rare existence of wild predators like lions and hyenas, leopards are at the top of the food chain. In order to restrict cattle farmers in the neighboring vicinity from threatening the leopard population, several naturalist companies undertook a project to save the leopard population. They did so by uplifting the standard of living for cattle farmers.

Tips for planning your visit to Yala National Park

  • During the dry season – September to October, the park remains closed. June, July, August are the best times to visit.
  • During the rest of the months, holiday seasons attract the most number of visitors and it can get incredibly crowded.
  • Several companies offer jeep safaris – half and full day – to stroll through the park.
  • Leopard Trails is a luxury camping group that not only offers luxury tents and candle-lit dinners but English speaking guides to help find your way through the park.
  • For those who are not comfortable with tents, Jetwing Yala has hotel rooms surrounded by miles of secluded beaches.
  • In 2016, a new entrance to the Yala National Park was opened in order to reduce congestion at Block one which was the main entrance of the park. Now visitors can enter from gates located at blocks 3, 4 and 5 as well.

Exploring Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu National Park is the oldest and largest of its kind in Sri Lanka. Regular visitors of this park believe that at any time of the day, there is assurance of a leopard being visible. A few years ago, for the convenience of visitors, a new entrance was opened at the park from the Puttalam-Mannar road (32kms from Puttalam). Jeep safaris are available at the entrance so you can get yourself a comfortable and adventurous ride to explore the Wilpattu National Park.

In 1905, the area was declared a wildlife sanctuary and then in 1938, it was upgraded to national park status. This massive park is 131,693 hectares in size, consisting of about sixty lakes and tanks scattered around the park. During the civil war in Sri Lanka, the park was closed to visitors and was re-opened only in 2010.Seven circuit bungalows are built at Wilpattu National Park but only four of them are currently in operation. Four campsites are available here in which Blue Lanka Tours can arrange an exciting camping experience for you to further explore the landscapes, flora and fauna of this popular national park.

WILLUS                                                                                                                 

Willus, Sinhalese name for natural lakes, are a highlight of this park, from which it gets its name – Wilpattu. About sixty naturally formed, sand rimmed water basins are found in several parts of the park, in which rainwater gets filled. These Willus play a major role in supporting resident and migratory water fowl such as huge breeding populations of the Painted Stork and Open Billed Stork. Several reptile species also permanently reside in these Willus.

FLORA

The west of the park contains dense forestation which includes the following types of vegetation:

  • Littoral vegetation such as salt grass and low scrubs
  • Monsoon forest species like Palu and Manilkara
  • Satin (Chloroxylon)
  • Milla (Vitex)
  • Weera (Drypetes)
  • Ebony (Disopyros)
  • Wewarna (Alseodaphne)

 

FAUNA

At the Wilpattu National Park, the fauna variety shows that mammalian diversity and ecological densities are very high. 31 different mammal species have been spotted here, as well as those threatened with extinction. The threatened species living here are the elephants, sloth bear, leopards and water buffalo. Among the reptiles, the most common ones are the monitor, mugger crocodile, common cobra, rat snake, Indian python, pond turtle and the soft shelled turtle.

Minneriya National Park and the “Great Gathering”

Situated in the centre of Sri Lanka, just in between the popular cities of Habarana and Polonnaruwa, is the Minneriya National Park: an ideal location for eco tourism. The 8,890 hectares of land was declared as a National Park in August 1997. The landscapes here consist of evergreen forests and scrub areas that are favored by wildlife species such as sambar deer, elephants and leopards. Bird watching, camping, exploring fauna and fauna, wildlife safaris and elephant rides are popular activities at the park.

The safari camp at Minneriya National Park is located at the border, with a beautiful forest boundary atmosphere that gives you a feeling of being right in the heart of nature. Luxury camps are set up with comfortable tents, chairs, tables, hammocks, toilets, showers and equipped kitchens. A barbeque meal at night amidst the whole wildlife setting and a roaring campfire at the center is an experience that should not be missed.

Apart from these attractions, the central highlight of the park is the ancient Minneriya Tank which was built in the 3rd century AD by a ruler of the ancient Anuradhapura Kingdom – King Mahasena. From June to October every year, the tank attracts herds of elephants that come to bathe and graze while flocks of birds are also drawn here to fish in the shallow waters.

This amazing sight is known as “The Gathering” – which is also the largest meeting of Asian elephants worldwide. Over 300 elephants from around the North Central Province of Sri Lanka get together near the Minneriya Tank during the dry season to sweeten their mouth with the taste of water. The water collected in this tank provides the elephants with much needed hydration and when the tank dries up, it yields fresh grass to which the elephants feast!

Many tourists visit the Minneriya National Park simple to get a glimpse of this magical sight. A huge number of elephants lazily wade into the river for a bath while the sun glows on them. Mother elephants carefully guide their babies into the water for some play time while the male elephants trumpet loudly to announce that they are the boss!

The elephants are aware that visitors are gawking at them but they don’t seem to mind it. They simply place a protective trunk around their babies to make sure no harm is done. If they feel visitors are too close to them, a loud roar informs guests to step away. Each one of the elephants owns a different face and personality. Watching these elephant families gently interacting with each other in a loving way is a privilege indeed – one of the best natural shows on earth.

Marvels of the Galle Dutch Fort

The Dutch Fort in Galle is a perfect example of marvelous works of a departed era. The Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka in the year 1505, and in 1588, they settled in Galle and built a small fort there. About a hundred years later, the Dutch came into the picture and took over the fort after a fierce battle. The fort was improvised, modernized and expanded by the Dutch. They built 14 bastions to separate the peninsula from the mainland and they devised a grid system inside the fort with straight and narrow streets, where houses were built in a unique architectural design. Although the British took over later, much of the Dutch construction can still be identified when you stroll around the Galle fort area.

The characteristics of Dutch architecture include gabled buildings, large verandahs, rounded pillars, massive doors, iron fittings and monogrammed fan lights. The entire Fort is about 36 hectares in size, stretching 700m from North to South. The original gate to the Fort is still intact and has an inscription of the Dutch VOC and a rooster crest. The outer arch of this gate has walls that are 1.3m thick, inscribed with the British coat of arms.

Strolling around the ramparts of the Dutch Fort, you can see a strong influence of Dutch architecture along with some stunning British designs. Since majority population is Muslim here, there are also some well designed Mosques giving an Arabic touch to the area. The lighthouse built by the British on one of the Dutch bastions is also a popular landmark here. Next to the lighthouse is the beautiful white Meera Jummah Mosque which attracts Muslims at all prayer times. In addition to that there is the National Maritime Museum and some ancient Churches that remind you of the era where enemies were locked up in Churches during the battles that were fought at sea. A Buddhist temple also exists on the site where there used to be a Portuguese Roman Catholic Church. With attractions from every religion, Galle certainly classifies as a melting pot of religions and cultures.

Walking is the best way to explore the Galle Dutch Fort. While doing so, peep into the houses on the narrow streets and someone is sure to invite you in to show you some antique ornaments or floor tiles that came from South India centuries ago. The multicultural environment here has both locals and foreigners because several foreigners have invested in houses in this area. Leyn Baan Street is the most popular area in the Galle Dutch Fort and here you will find children playing cricket on the center of the street while the side pathways have a collection of shops such as art and crafts, museums, wood carvings and so on.

Blue Lanka Tours recommends Galle as a must visit historic city when touring the Southern coast of Sri Lanka. With several hotels ranging from super luxury to standard budgets, you will never run out of options for accommodation in Galle. In fact it is a good place to begin your exploration of the south since Galle is very easily accessible by rail, and also by road through the Southern Expressway.

Horton Plains National Park

Its Origin…

With over 3100 hectares of land space, Horton Plains is where you can find some unique and rich biodiversity. In December 1969, the park was declared a nature reserve and then promoted to being a national park in 1988. Surrounding the plateaus lie some of the highest mountains in Sri Lanka, and adding to the view are beautiful streams that source from the country’s major rivers such as Mahaweli and Kelani rivers.

Experience…

A walk along the nature trail on Horton Plains will show you a collection of misty grasslands, tree ferns, dwarf trees, chilly river streams and waterfalls, making the Plains an awesome natural attraction in Sri Lanka. The World’s End trail is a 5km path where designated tracks are marked out. Park rules should be strictly followed: do not walk anywhere else except for on the specified trail, do not leave trash behind and do not pluck out plants. Such delicate ecosystems need to be maintained well so that our future generations can also enjoy these unique treasures. This is one national park where no vehicles are allowed. The return walk of the World’s End nature trail passes through the beautiful Bakers Falls and Galagama Falls.

World’s End: best timings…

Once you get to the World’s End point, a clear morning will give you a view of the Indian Ocean like a stunning silver crescent. Dawn is the best time to be there as the mountains are free from the mist, hence giving you a breathtaking view. The coolest months in this area are from November to February, while there is also bright sunshine during these months. Rain is expected on random days throughout the rest of the year due to the monsoons affecting the country. Blue Lanka Tours makes sure to schedule a visit to this exclusive natural attraction on all tours covering the hill country of Sri Lanka.

Facts…

Horton Plains consists of:

  • Grasslands
  • Forest areas
  • Unusual Vegetation
  • 52 species of endemic birds
  • 11 species of migrants
  • Sambar can be seen at dusk
  • Big Cat Panther, Bear Monkeys, Giant Squirrels, Barking Deer and Fishing Cats are sighted at dawn
  • Leopards are a rare sight
  • 24 mammal, 9 reptile and 8 amphibian species have been recorded here
  • 57 species of vascular plants, 29 of which are endemic to Sri Lanka
  • Rich flora such as lichens, tree ferns and mosses
  • 87 bird species recorded in the area, 14 of which are endemic

 

The most prominent trees seen in Horton Plains National Park are the Binara, Dwarf, Bamboo, Patana grass and the Maha Meemana. Elephants were said to have been existent before the 1930s but are not to be seen recently. The unusual vegetation that grows here is unique because these grow only at high altitudes and in cold weather.

The average temperatures here remain between 14-16 degrees Celsius, with a very low humidity of 65%. Frost is quite common during the nights of the cold months. Horton Plains is said to be the coldest and windiest place in all of Sri Lanka. Fog cover occurs during most nights throughout the year and this makes evaporation much slower. Hence the forest does not require a lot of rain to nourish its lush vegetation.

Experiencing a visit to the Temple of the Tooth – Kandy

During your visit to Kandy, Sri Lanka, there are several interesting things that you can do. In addition to the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage and strolling around the Kandy Lake, there is also the very popular Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa), which is a must visit attraction. Located just north of the Kandy Lake, the golden-roofed Temple is hard to miss, even from miles away. This site is an important place of worship for Buddhists all over the world as it houses the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha.

During your visit to the Sri Dalada Maligawa, you will notice that the building is very well preserved, almost like it was built just a few years ago, rather than centuries ago. Because this temple has continuously attracted visitors for centuries, its maintenance has been good. According to Buddhists, Lord Buddha’s canine teeth were preserved from the ashes and are respected as the most holy relics of the religion. While touring the complex, one should note the brilliant architectural effort put towards making it a work of art.

In addition to the main shrine, the complex includes many other temples and museums. Beautiful shrines of Buddha are made from marble, along with painted murals reciting the story of Buddhism. There is an ancient saying that whoever holds the Tooth relic is in charge of the country’s governance. Monks reside in this temple, making it an active place. They perform rituals three times a day: sunrise, noon and sunset. Every Wednesday a symbolic bathing of the relic is held with flowers and herbal scented water. This ceremony is known as ‘Nanumara Mangallaya’. The water used turns into holy water which is believed to contain healing powers. Visitors present during the ritual hours every Wednesday are blessed with this holy water. Strong believers stand in queues for their turn to get a few drops of the holy water.

Plan your Sri Lanka holiday with Blue Lanka Tours; all our tour packages include a visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic as a mandatory tourist attraction, due to the great religious significance it holds. When entering the Temple of the Tooth, you must wear conservative clothing and make sure your legs and shoulders are covered. Shoes are not allowed inside the premises. Photographs are not allowed inside the temple. When prayers take place, the room that keeps the tooth is open for locals and tourists. Try to time your visit during these times so that you do not miss the most important part of this attraction. Do keep in mind that the tooth cannot be seen with the naked eye. It is carefully protected in a golden casket in the shape of a Stupa.

Within the temple complex but outside the main temple, there is a World Buddhism Museum, located inside the buildings that were once the former High Court. In this museum you will see a lot of photographs, models and exhibits showing the spread of Buddhism across the world. There are guides available at the entrance of the museum who are willing to show you around for about LKR 500/-, and audio guides are also available for free at the ticket office.

Interesting statistics about the Dambulla Caves Temple

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, also known as the Dambulla Caves Temple, is a prestigious landmark of the ancient city. Any traveler along the Kandy-Jaffna highway will be able to see the scenic Dambulla rock and the neighboring cave temple. This beautiful Sri Lankan heritage has remained in Dambulla majestically for centuries, depicting the culture of Buddhism to its visitors.

  • Area: From Dambulla, the complex stretches out 148 square kms towards east of Colombo and 72 square kms towards North of Kandy.
  • Dambulla Caves Temple is a massive and very well preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka.
  • The Dambulla rock is 160m high and is surrounded by more than 80 documented caves.
  • Five popular caves contain the major attractions, with several statues and paintings that are related to Buddha’s life. These caves vary in sizes and magnificence.
  • What do you find in these caves?
    1. 153 Buddha Statues
    2. 3 statues of Sri Lankan Kings
    3. 4 statues of Gods and Goddesses, including one of Vishnu and Ganesha.
  • The murals take up an area of 2100 square meters.
  • The walls of the caves depict things such as Buddha’s first ever sermon and the temptation by demon Mara.
  • Archaeologists have found burial sites of human skeletons about 2700 years old near the cave temple complex. Hence it can be assumed that pre-historic Sri Lankans lived in the cave complexes before Buddhism came into Sri Lanka.
  • Upon standing on the slope of the Dambulla Rock, one has a clear, panoramic view of the surrounding lands, including the Lion’s Rock (Sigiriya).
  • During sunset, thousands of swallows come swooping to the cave entrance; a rare sight indeed.
  • The biggest cave is 52m from east to west, 23m from front to back and 7m in height.
  • Along with Buddha’s most devoted followers such as Kings Ananda, Nissankamalla and Valagamba, Hindu deities are also represented in these caves.
  • King Valagamba turned these caves into a temple during the first century BC. Other kings contributed to this temple and by the 11th century, the complex became a popular religious center, as it is today.
  • In the 18th century, the Kingdom of Kandy restored and painted the caves.

As we have read above, ancient Sinhalese Kings have worked hard to preserve the pride and beauty of the cultural heritage in Sri Lanka. The cave temple in Dambulla exhibits the beauty of Buddhism, its teachings and how the religion has compassion towards all living beings. Hence this is a popular tourist attraction in Sri Lanka and Blue Lanka Tours makes sure this site is included in all our Sri Lanka holiday itineraries that cover the Sigiriya/Dambulla area.