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Spotting the predator - A day in Yala National Park

The Jungle Book was a show I grew up watching, and like every little boy back then I too imagined myself in the wild, having "Bageera" and "Bahaloo" as friends. As an adult, I have been able to explore some forests, and while I may not have found "Bageera" or "Sher Khan", I have been left with more questions than answers after each visit. My trip to Sri Lanka was planned to be mix of beaches and jungles, with Yala National Park right up there in my itinerary. So after taking in the beauty of Nuwara Eliya, I headed over to the national park which is known to have the highest concentration of leopards in the world. With more than 250 species of animals calling it home I was pretty excited about this jungle Safari.

Midnight tryst with Jumbo

Sri Lanka has one of the best roads in the Indian subcontinent, which made our road trip even more interesting. After a few hours on the road it was but natural to feel a sense of boredom creep in, especially given the fact that it was pitch black outside and there was nothing we could see.But then this island is unpredictable, so you could imagine my surprise when an elephant decided to nonchalantly take a midnight stroll on the highway.While it was an excitement which I had never felt before, it was coupled with a certain sense of fear, for a small car is like a toy for an elephant, if he decided to indulge in a game.To our luck, this fella was in no mood to play, for he slowly disappeared into the thick jungle around us.

A night to remember

Getting to our accommodation proved quite challenging, for the area around the national park was devoid of lights. There was an eerie silence around, with the only sound to break the monotony was that of the car creaking as it went over a dirt road.After searching for what seemed an eternity, we finally landed at our camp for the night, a nondescript dormitory with neither doors nor windows. Combine this with the knowledge of being in a forest with leopards roaming around, and you have a perfect recipe for a sleepless night


WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE


Well after what seemed an eternity, the sun finally decided to get up, giving us the first glimpse of the park and it's surroundings, something I wouldn't mind waking up to on a daily basis. By the time we completed our tea, our jeep arrived, ready to take us within the confines of the national park.

A quick stopover to buy the tickets and we were all set for the forest, with a guide allotted to each vehicle entering the park. Yala National Park welcomed us through its gate adorned by the skull of an elephant, giving us a hint of what lies ahead. As we made our way through the rough terrain, our guide gave us a few insights about the Safari, building our expectations.But the chances of catching a leopard in action seemed to diminish with the arrival of the rain gods, who made the peacocks dance to their tune, showcasing their beauty to all of us.



Hide and seek

The safari, in my opinion, was a game of hide and seek, not just between us and the animals, but also between the sun and the clouds. The trees glistened each time the sun peeked out, with the animals quickly following suite, only for the rains to send them into hiding again.

The peacocks seemed to be the only animals in their element, with the rain making them bloom, bringing out the best in them.Not one or two, we came across three peacocks flaunting their stuff, giving the photographers out there their pic of the day (or perhaps the pic of the year).As the rains ended the elephants made their presence felt, emerging from the thicket. Entire herds grazed peacefully just feet from dozens of jeeps, as though they cared a damn about their adoring fans. As we drove deeper into the jungle, the roads became narrower and deeper. If anyone needed a wake up call all they had to do was take a drive through this terrain.

The elusive leopards

For an area which boasts of the highest concentration of leopards in the world, it was a disappointment not to come across one. As the hours went by, it was time to end our safari, and who would have ever thought of the end point being a beach. I've been on numerous safaris but this was by far the most scenic end, with the waves crashing meters from the forest. As we downed our sandwiches, there was a sense of peace on all our faces, with the allure of catching a leopard in action definitely bringing me back here.

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