Trip Report: Ninjas on Safari in Sri Lanka!
On 25 August 2018, Dive Ninjas ventured out on Safari! We spent an amazing 5 days exploring the wildlife and culture of beautiful Sri Lanka. Here’s Sze Wei’s trip report. This is part 1 of our 2-part series covering our recent visit to the Indian Ocean. Make sure to check out part 2 on diving in the Maldives here!
When I heard that Dive Ninjas were planning to go on safari in Sri Lanka – I leapt at the opportunity to sign up! I literally had visions of elephants and monkeys dancing around in my head, coupled with Indiana Jones like images of exploring ruined temples and palaces – and I got all that and more! Let me tell all…
Where is Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is an island nation, in South Asia, located in the Indian Ocean, just south of India. With its lush tropical climate, it is one of 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world, and has the highest biodiversity density in Asia! I can certainly vouch for that, having the amazing opportunity to explore several of its National Parks – more on this later! The country has a rich cultural heritage, with over 3,000 years of documented history, and a wealth of historical temples, palaces and monuments all ready for exploration.
My trip started off with a day in Negombo, a beach resort town near the capital city of Colombo. After a long haul flight from Europe, I was glad to get the chance for some rest and relaxation at a beachside hotel – and was happy and surprised to find out that my introduction to Sri Lankan wildlife would start immediately! Within the hotel gardens, I was vastly entertained by sneaky little palm squirrels who were both cute and greedy, maneuvering themselves into every opportunity to grab some snacks – especially sugar sachets that they seem to be addicted to! Reassured that the animals appeared to be friendly and not the least shy, I settled back to watch the most beautiful sunset over the beach, with the full colour palette of oranges, purples and pinks, before meeting the rest of the group for dinner.
To the Aggressor Tented Safari Lodge!
The next day, after a delicious Sri Lankan breakfast (curry for breakfast, it’s a thing!), we made our way to the Aggressor Tented Safari Lodge, which will be the base for our adventure. It was a four hour drive north to Wilpattu, where the lodge was located – which gave us the opportunity to drive past towns, villages, temples, jungles, fields and generally observe daily life in this beautiful South Asian country.
We got the Safari Lodge in time for lunch, and started exploring – and it is gorgeous!! The lodge is a tented safari lodge, with each chalet made of canvas walls on a sturdy wooden frame. It’s an amazing setup, and made me feel like I was getting the chance to camp in the middle of the jungle and be really close to the wildlife, while at the same time being super comfortable and secure, with air conditioning, beautiful furnishings, and all mod cons. The lodge is tucked away in 6 acres of forest, with a river running right in front of our chalet, and nature trails and walks right outside the door!
After a delicious lunch, it was time for our first Safari! A quick drive took us to Wilpattu National Park, where we got into our safari jeeps and hit the trails! In no time we were spotting a whole variety of wildlife – from birds such as bee eaters, painted storks, and wild peacocks, to huge herds of spotted and sambar deer and wild buffaloes. The jeep drivers happily paused while we ooh-ed and aah-ed to admire and photograph the animals. As the light faded, we came across a large sambar deer that stubbornly stood in the middle of the trail and refused to budge! It was amusing to see the drivers scratch their heads to figure out what to do next, and reassuring to see that it’s the animals that rule the roost here.
Sigiriya – the Palace on the Rock
The next day we were up bright and early to make our way to Sigiriya, a 5th century palace complex and UNESCO world heritage site built on top of a 600 feet/200 metre extinct volcano. As we approach the site, it was mind boggling to take it in – the rock rears up starkly from the jungle, and the thought of people hiking all the way to the top to build a palace without modern tools or machinery was hard to comprehend! We spent the morning hiking up the rock, marvelling again at the ingenuity of builders, and admiring the beautiful sculptures, inscriptions and frescoes they have left behind. The last section of the climb feature a stairway framed by carvings of huge lion claws – just wow. The Sri Lankans proudly claim this as the eighth wonder of the world, and having explored it, I find it hard to disagree.
After a morning at the rock, it was time for the highlight of the trip for me! We made our way to Minneriya National Park – which is the home of the largest Asian elephant gathering on the planet! Each year during the dry season, elephants congregate here to drink, play and snack on the lush grasses that have been exposed by the receding water. And they were there in force! We saw herds of 50 elephants!! It was such a thrill to see them, from big mature tuskers, smaller teenagers, to mothers with calves! I had a huge grin on my face the whole time!
We got close enough to them to hear the swishing sounds their trunks made as they grazed on the grass. One mature female was curious enough to come up really close to us in the safari jeep, and I felt deeply privileged to have an amazing eye to eye encounter as we both silently looked at each other. The elephants seemed extremely unconcerned and relaxed by our presence, with one couple being comfortable enough to go on to show us how baby elephants are made! Yes, we saw a mating!!
The baby elephants were a lot shyer and keep close to mom’s legs – almost tripping them up sometimes! One little baby was only 2 months old, and it was sweet to see how protective the herd was around the little one, constantly shielding him from us strangers. I was definitely flying high on elephants after these encounters!
Buddhist Culture in Anuradhapura
The next day we were up again bright and early to visit the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Built in the 3rd century BC, it is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, and was the centre of Buddhism for many centuries. Now a World Heritage site, we spent the morning exploring various temple complexes and stupas, admiring the beautiful buildings, sculptures and monuments.
The temples are still very actively used by the community, and the complexes were full of the devotees with offerings of flowers and incense sticks, and priests praying and chanting Buddhist sutras. It was fascinating to observe – we were made to feel really welcomed, and were fortunate enough to receive blessings from a Buddhist priest at one of the temples.
Wilpattu Safari – Take Two
In the afternoon, we headed back to Wilpattu National Park, and had a safari style picnic lunch in the park, next to a lake, where we were distracted by crocodiles floating placidly in the water. Then it was back onto the jeeps! This time round we saw falcons, eagles, herds of sambar and spotted deers, as well as wild buffaloes. But the highlight for me was when we suddenly saw some jackals slinking around in the distance! These animals are super shy, and I was really not expecting to see them! It was a thrill to see them hang around for a while, seeming to check out a herd of spotted deer, before disappearing back into the landscape!
The guides on the safari were determinedly trying to find a leopard for us, but unfortunately it was a rainy day, and with cats notoriously not liking to get their paws wet, the leopards stayed well hidden. They did their best though, but with the light fading, we finally had to call it a day and left the park. But Sri Lankan wildlife wasn’t quite done with us yet! On the way back to the lodge, we rescued a star tortoise who had wandered into the middle of the road. These tortoises have amazingly beautiful and complex shells, and I was really happy to be able to see one close up, never mind rescue it! Made my day!
A new day and one for monkeying around! We made our way to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, yet another World Heritage site. The monumental ruins are justly famous for being home to a large population of monkeys – and they were up to monkey business as soon as we arrived! We got up close with grey langur, purple faced langur and macaque families, and they were literally all over us, with the babies and adults bouncing up and down branches right next to us. We saw quieter moments as well, with adults grooming each other, and mothers nursing their little babies. I definitely got a sense of the family bonds and group dynamics as the monkeys played and interacted with each other. And yes, they also showed us how baby monkeys were made!
Two macaques in particular were real characters and made a game of trying to grab our water bottles. They were also super curious about our phones and cameras, and it was hilarious to see them peering into the lens trying to figure out what their reflections were. I got them to take video selfies of themselves on my phone, and it’s still one of my best memories! It was definitely a great way to end trip.
It was an awesome couple of days spent getting to know Sri Lanka and its wildlife, and I’d like to give a big shout to Aggressor Tented Safari Lodge for their great hospitality. A huge thank you to our amazing guide, Pradeep – he was the fount of all knowledge for us, and managed to keep us out of trouble!! Our stewart Marlon worked tirelessly to make sure everything ran smoothly for us. David was an amazingly gracious host, and deserves big congratulations for the opening of his new lodge. And kudos to Tom for organising the trip and making it all happen to begin with. And of course a massive thank you to Dive Ninjas and Jay Clue for putting together yet another awesome trip!
And… we had further adventures! Be sure to check out part 2 of our trip – here’s Jay’s trip report on diving in the Maldives. Yes, we hopped from a tented safari lodge in Sri Lanka straight onto a liveaboard in the Maldives for some underwater exploration!
Want to know more about safari in Sri Lanka? Or better yet organise a trip to check it out yourself? Contact us today! Or add it on it the the Dive Ninjas Maldives February 2020 trip! The elephants are waiting…
Ninja Family Guest Writer:
Lover of all marine animals big and small – and ok, yes, I like diving a lot! When not underwater, I can be found in London with my goldfish.
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