Thursday, 10 January 2008
TAMIL TIGERS & YALA LEOPARDS!
JAN 10 2007 I said to Stuart at the outset of the new year that one of my goals in life is to be a good wife. I put this into action: for four days I endured the air-conditioning in the car, even though my body has a long history of getting incredibly ill with it since 1986. On the fifth day, I lost my voice and fever ensued. My good-wife actions stopped there and then -I made both my husband and the driver travelling without air-conditioning, and I become entirely anti-social drifting off to sleep at the back seat of the car. With my fever refusing to go down despite all the paracetamols, I had to take hot baths to sweat to force the fever down a number of times. Needless to say, we had to skip a few scenic areas including the Horton Plains National Park! Healthcare in Sri Lanka is very good and it was an interesting cultural experience. A visit to a small town doctor set me back by 3 US dollars and yielded me three kinds of antibiotics, three kinds of pain killers, one cough syrop and one sleeping pill. All the medicines were prescribed for three days though. Since I had no voice, I didn't want to argue for 5 days of presriptions, which is the norm in the West. When I fell ill with something similar during my visit to Syria, I was able to succesfully convince the village pharmacist to sell me an extra 3 more days of antibiotics.
I won't state the obvious such as one can't be mistaken this is a Buddist land- with Buddha statues everywhere. Travel guidebooks do this much better. But I must say I don't know how Sri lanka can hide this treasure island from the eyes of the world! It has incredible ancient monuments-palaces, temples, rock paintings etc and abundant wildlife-the most famous being the leopards! I regret not having come here much earlier. Sri Lanka had very developed agriculture in ancient times and the land was heavily cultivated. It now offers a fine example of nature rewilding. Natural looking reservoirs called tanks- ancient and new, dotted all over the landscape. One can hardly imagine many of the wetland are also man made.The jetwing Vil Uyana lodge where we stayed is a mini-restoration project returning rice paddies to wetland, establishing a healthy eco-system. We sighted a variety of birds, including peacocks and even crocdiles next to the hotel restaurant. Even the Yala National Park was rice paddies two thousand years ago, which was turned into hunting ground and later declared National Park/Nature Reserve, with a small section open to the public. Srilanka had its famous problems with the LTT-Tamil Tigers separatists. Although cease-fire stopped in 2002, guerrila war continues till today. However, it is not that much different from Irish terrorist movement in England in the 1990s. The LTT angers the average Tamils more than the majority Singhalese. It gives them a bad reputation and prevents them from going about their business. Thanks goodness no major activities happened to disrupt my trip, except two suicide bombs which went off in Colombo, one actually on the last day of our trip which killed a government minister. We happened to pass that road a few hours later and saw all the rubbles and on-looking crowds…. At least for me, no matter how breath-taking man made monuments are, nothing can compare the natural heritage we have inheritaed on this planet - the fresh air, the trees, plants, and of course the animals. I was very pleased that Yala was finally opened on New Years day, although the military had to do morning search for another two weeks so entry to the park started only at 7.30 instead of 6am. I could not believe how beautiful Yala is, situated right on the Indian Ocean. And call it Eden if you wish-I saw spotted deer, jungle hen (national bird of Sri Lanka), wild boar, and numerous peacocks perching on the very top of tree branches within the first ten minutes entering the park. And I am not even counting the birdlife. At the end of the morning, I had seen a bathing elephant and a leopard! The leopard view was a bit of a struggle. Our very first "sighting" turned out to be an armed solider! Then when our guide heard the coughing sound of a leopard, we patiently waited for about half an hour. After all the other vehicles had lost patience and left, the leopard came close to our jeep, albeit lied down underneath the thick bushes. We struggled to see him through the tree branchese but we did see him-stretching out his graceful limbs leisurely! this is certainly better than first time I went to Africa! The South Luwanga National Park in Zambia is reputed to have the highest naturally occuring leopard population but it pales compared to Yala which has about 50 leopard in 1000 square kilometers-an average of 1 leopard per 20 sq km. Yala's 1000 sq km is devided into 5 blocks, with only block I's 350 sq km open to the public on normal days. But due to the recent terrorist movement, > only 40 sq km of Block 1 is currently open. Yet just within this small area, we saw plenty. During our fourth and last game drive, just when I had given up hope to see any more leopards, one was spotted. It was a big male, perching on top of a huge rock overlooking the Indian Ocean. All the tourist jeeps in the park rushed over to see him, as if on a mission. The leopard was a bit far but with the aid of binoculars, one can see this magnificent work of nature. I stayed on watching him watching the ocean, wondering how much more or less he appreciates the surrounding beauty, than my admiration for him.... Reluctantly we had to leave before the park's closing time at 6pm. Luckily for the leopard, he could stay on that big rock looking ever so magnificent under the sky, now he was left undisturbed by his human admirers.