5.15 a.m., I hear a thud on the front of my cabana, with a slither of sunlight peeping through my batik curtain. Unaware of my surroundings I open the door to be greeted by a wild boar rummaging in the dust a few metres away. All seemed a bit dreamlike as I shut the door, threw on some old clothes and bolted for the door, tripod in hand. By this point Mr Boar had made a forage elsewhere as I jumped in to the jeep, as Jeremy my tracker and myself headed towards the vastness of Ruhunu.
The Last Piece of Tarmac
It’s difficult to not fall in love with the surroundings of this fascinating national park, located on the south east tip of Sri Lanka. Tribulation after misfortune has cursed this province from civil war to the Boxing Day tsunami of 2005, however the stillness of the air at 5.30am oozes tranquillity as we trundled across the last piece of tarmac into Ruhunu National Park.
Widely known as Yala national park, the reserve is split into three blocks or zones all patrolled by checkpoints on the borders. Almost like entering a controlled state, the military raise the barriers whilst Jeremy hands over passport details. The border crossing from ‘our’ civilisation to ‘their’ world is unlike any border crossing I’ve ever been to.
We were entering land where humans don’t belong, where muscular cats and dominant tuskers rule the plains. This is a no-human zone, and rightly so. With years of military patrol within the compounds of Yala, it’s now the time of the creatures of Yala to take back ownership. We are visitors to their land, and by no means should we settle and take advantage of the lush surroundings.
Integration of Human Life
Within minutes, four stunning peacocks peer down at us nimbly perched on a rain tree. The veracious colours of their supercharged feathers spring into action, as the remaining few fully flocked males eye out their competition. The beauty of Yala starts a few miles back where signs of elephant tracks and endemic birds litter the road from Bundulla to Yala.
The integration of human life into these ancient wildlife plains has been by no means seamless, with electric fences lining the main road to keep straying domestic cattle at bay and stories of the Human Elephant conflict (EHC) dotted across the villages.
Sense of Solitude
Venturing deeper along the single dirt track into Yala, the sense of solitude can certainly be entertained. In the shoulder season of March to June, there are significantly less jeeps trundling through the reserve, with maybe 25 or so in a 40km square area.
This is by far the best time to visit Yala, when the reeds are lush after the rains, the watering holes draw out the inhabitants for their afternoon drink. After some overnight rain, the moist grassland deters the stunning spotted Leopards to the dry abode of the trees, a sight to be held in the memory trophy cabinet.
Amongst the treelined dirt tracks, and with the aid of a trusty tracker, there is little doubt you will succumb to the charms of this rural haven. With many of the resorts bordering the south east coastline, the strong tides crash onto wide empty beaches which are perfect for relaxing after an early morning game drive. With the sumptuous Amanwella a couple of hours along the coast, the luxury safari experience in one of Asia’s hidden gems is a tantalising proposition.