My sister Shannon has arrived to share our trip back to the US. Partly in honor of her and partly to get in a trip to parts of Sri Lanka we had not had a chance to see, we took a trip to Yala National Park, on the south east coast of Sri Lanka. We chose to go what I call “over the top,” across the central highlands of the island.
Going “over the top” took us through what must be the most scenic scenery of Sri Lanka. We started our trip in Kandy at an elevation of 500 m (1600 feet). From there, our rented van and driver took us to Nuwara Eliya, the heart of tea plantation country. Nuwara Eliya (pronounced roughly new RAIL ee ya) is at an elevation of 1900 m (6200 feet), so you can imagine the wind-y, twisty, slow trip up the mountain sides. But the views were spectacular. Valleys opened before us, lined with lime green paddy below and emerald green, manicured tea plantations up high. Connecting the two were waterfalls on every size scale. We stopped at a tea factory and I got my postcard shot of a tea picker.
Lunch was in the dining room of the St. Andrew’s Hotel. The dining room is known for having a decorated copper ceiling, copper being good to discourage mold. The hotel also has a small man-made wetlands area. Make that very small, notable only for some dragon flies and the hotel’s nod to ecology.
Nuwara Eliya is the “top” and for the rest of the day (and the next) it was all downhill. Before reaching our hotel in the town of Ella, we stopped at a Hindu temple. The temple is at the location of an important event depicted in the sacred Hindu text, The Ramayana. An evil god, Ravena, kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita, and hides her away near the current site of this temple. With the help of the monkey god, Hanuman, Rama locates Sita and rescues her from the clutches of Ravena. So perhaps it was appropriate that there was a troop of monkeys roaming the temple, including this one, who seemed to have elevated himself into the Hindu pantheon.
We spent the night in a small guesthouse in Ella. Ella is famous for the Ella Gap, a view down a steep valley from which you can almost see the ocean (on a good day. It wasn’t that good, but close.)
The next day found us finishing the decent to sea level and making it to our hotel, the Yala Village. Yala Village consists of separate “cabins” within a a hundred meters or so of a central registration, dining, and swimming facility. It was very nice and the food (all meals done buffet-style) was plentiful and good. Yala Village is close to the entrance to Yala National Park. To visit the park, you hire a jeep with driver and spend the next three hours tearing around the dirt roads of the park with screeching stops when an animal is sighted. For the first couple of hours, you stop a lot as you “collect” sightings of the most common park animals: samba deer, spotted deer, egrets, herons, storks, crocodiles, water buffalo, elephants. But the last hour is a hectic search for the “prize”: a leopard sighting. The leopards only come out in that last hour before closing time. We were in luck. The photo is of poor quality as the leopard in question was maybe 75-100 meters away, but in keeping with my photo standards for birds and rare animals, it is a good photo if you can tell what it is:
Eventually I will get around to posting my other photos of the trip including some nice bird pictures on my Picasa site, but I do not know when that will happen.
After spending a day at Yala, we headed from Ratnapura, the center of the gem mining region of Sri Lanka. It is said that if you want to buy gems, you are better off in Colombo. But we had some fun looking and ended up buying a few small inexpensive items. We spent the night as the only guests in a 400 room hotel just outside Ratnapura.
The next day was a six hour drive back to Kandy and back to the task of packing for our trip home. Sigh. More when I can.