Nature will reveal all its splendour graciously to those who have the heart to seek it. Wander far and wide enough, you will find yourself privy to Sri Lanka’s natural beauty. Replete with natural resources, a tantalising array of endemic flora and flora, prepossessing heritage destinations, this beautiful country has an uncanny ability to awaken the wanderlust in anyone.
Among all the allure that Sri Lanka possesses, from its beaches to temples and the many landscapes in between, its national parks with its incredible array of accommodation types and wildlife experiences captivated me the most. So it followed that I visited one of the parks, Gal Oya, beautiful yet unassuming, and stayed at its eponymous lodge whereupon I was rewarded with glimpses of the many facets of nature in the coming two days.
Upon our arrival at Gal Lodge, the staff greeted us with open arms and a few drinks before inviting us to our bungalow ensconced in the midst of the forest. The floor-to-ceiling windows and open-air bathrooms gave us a comprehensive view of the trees and lush vegetation that surrounds us. The absence of WiFi only served to enhance our experience by prompting mindfulness in the duration of our stay.
After settling into our living quarters, the amiable staff introduced us to one of the naturalists at the lodge, and together we took a stroll to a local waterhole. We wended our way down country lanes and through farming fields as we marvelled at the local villagers toiling away in the afternoon sun.
Before long, we found ourselves at a luscious green plateau where our tour guide expounded information on the resident wildlife—30 endemic bird species and 32 mammal species, such as the common langur, endemic toque macaque, leopard, sloth bear, elephant, wild boar, and water buffalo. We were regaled with fascinating details of wildlife that sets Gal Oya National Park from all the rest as the sun gracefully slipped in its reverie and eventually the horizon. We toasted to the beautiful sight and the chants of the local temple as the sun went down.
The ensuing day bought on more wonder and adventure. We had arranged to have a rendezvous with the local Veda chief, who represents a minority indigenous tribe at risk of extinction. He showed us the caves where his people inhabited until around 30 years ago. Damien, our naturalist of the day, translated numerous questions to the Veda chief on our behalf. We learned the vicissitudes of his people’s lives in recent years and he explained to us how the indigenous people use the forest for healing and medicine as well as food. We bade him farewell, filled to the brim with awe and wonder at another day.
We headed back to the lodge for lunch and a refreshing dip in the pool. Then we embarked on a boat safari. We jumped into the jeep with Damien in tow, and he told us about the park, local communities, and wildlife. The plastic rib was driven by a local fisherman, who nodded and smiled appreciatively when I greeted him with my much-practised “Ayubowan.”
The vast landscape that manifested the moment I glanced its way showed us the many wildlife it harbours, including monkeys, eagles, crocodiles, and a non-tusked solo male elephant. We ventured quietly on the lake in search for the ultimate sighting: a herd of elephants. We caught a glimpse of them through a forest of submerged trees. We knew we were very close so we moored the boat and wended our way surreptitiously up a mound of boulders.
Finally, nine Asian elephants not more than 200 metres ahead swam into view. It was the most majestic sight! We rested on the boulders, each taking in a scrumptious scone and warm tea while we watched the baby elephants frolic playfully in the grassland. The sky changed colours as the night advanced. We could not have asked for a more perfect end to our day like this—the elephants still roaming in my repose that night and etched in my reverie.