Sri Lanka

leopards and elephants

Ayubowan from Sri Lanka,

I’ve often wondered about the concept of travel. What is the benefit, for example, of travelling great distances in order to observe a zebra or to stand in the shadow of some ancient stone building? After all, as a tourist in such scenarios, you are not actually doing anything; merely looking.

Why would anyone want to catch a glimpse of a large mammal through thick vegetation or spot a rare reptile from such a great distance that binoculars are essential? Why not simply watch a nature documentary? The views are clearer, the cost is minuscule by comparison, the danger is eliminated and the cost to the environment minimised. The question has bugged me forever.

Yala National Park

In Sri Lanka – on safari in Yala National Park – I may have stumbled on the answer; not quite an epiphany but a revelation worth recounting.

       Linda and I have been enjoying a tenting safari. Yesterday we saw a number of endemic and native animals from the back of the jeep. We saw mongooses, bea-eaters, painted storks, water buffalo, grey langurs, jackals, crocodiles and – the main quarry – the leopard. This afternoon we repeated the adventure and saw some brown monkeys (one took a banana out of my hand), Paradise flycatchers, hawk eagles, land monitors and today’s principal quarry, Asian elephants. Surprisingly, the sightings of the peacock struck the strongest chord for me, given the doubts about the point of making such a journey in person.

the peacock

      The peacock is native to Sri Lanka and numerous in Yala National Park. On several occasions we have been treated to the peacock’s spectacular dance. Here in its natural habitat the animal seems to take on a majesty denied it elsewhere. It belongs here. I’ve seen many a peacock before but never fully appreciated their unique magnificence.

Linda’s theory is that the natural habitat affords the animal a dignity denied it when it has been re-located to an alien landscape (such as a caravan park in New South Wales). That’s not a bad theory. But I’m thinking it’s more about evolution and the acceptance on our part that nature had it worked out before humans interfered. Observing a unique creature in the very surroundings which created it confers a different perspective.

real vs photographic

      As any good English teacher will tell you, it’s all about the context. The camera can’t compete with actuality. The television can’t hope to match reality. It’s more than “oh, it’s bigger than I expected” or “it’s brighter than I thought”.

The true grandeur of Angkor Wat, for example, can never be portrayed by film because the scale of the achievement – of its construction – is difficult to appreciate from such a remote appraisal, without the context. Such a remarkable achievement can never really be accurately conveyed without close proximity. Similarly, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer scale of Uluru. And just as John Williamson droned, when “it’s raining on the rock . . . [it’s] an almighty sight to see”. He has a point, one I’ve never really grasped before now. Just as a grand building or a gigantic monolith need immediacy and context, the animals such as the elephant and the leopard do, too. 

in Colombo
birding in Sri Lanka

      A few days ago we spent a pleasant few hours floating on a very picturesque lake which has been designated a bird sanctuary. Gayan was our congenial guide, piloting our small craft around the 620 hectares of pristine waterway. (Pristine except for one foreign item, relevant to one incidental aspect of the story.) On dusk, there was a big increase in activity but even before that we saw many birds. (The local expression for this activity is ‘birding’.) We saw four different types of kingfishers, quite a few colourful ducks, orioles (Linda’s favourite), cormorants, sunbirds, herons, ibises, egrets, Brahminy Kites, robins, babblers, bulbuls, coucals, yellow bitterns, hornbills and many more. The observance of the birdlife in its native environment was also well worth the effort, for the same reasons as above. (Watching Linda’s exuberance is priceless on its own.) In both places we have also spotted Sri Lanka’s national bird, the Ceylon Junglefowl. 

Boxing Day 2004

   At one point on our drift around the lake we could see a large concrete structure which was obviously out of place. Linda wondered aloud what it could have been used for. Gayan informed us that it was a water tank that had been washed inland by the tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 (now exactly ten years since). Gayan also informed us that on that day, he and his cousin were swimming in the surf, saw nothing untoward to warn them about the tsunami, and were washed (thrown/buffeted/translocated, you’d have to imagine) two and a half kilometres inland. They both survived and spent a week in hospital recuperating. Gayan vouchsafed that 12 local people lost their lives that day. Luckily, the beautiful coastline seems to have recovered quite well. Gayan has recovered, too (at least, physically). 

Felice Navidad from Greg and Linda in beautiful Sri Lanka.

Other photos from hereabouts

on the southern coast

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