A trip to Srilanka – Part 1

Indian-peafowl or blue-peafowl

As a seaman, travelling by ship at sea is a part and parcel of my life. I did travel a lot of places and ports of the world through sea by ship, but it never felt like travelling like a tourist. While in ship on a contract, we work and live on board. We often have to face roughness of sea, wind, rain, snow and other weather adversities which is a normal part of our life.

One of the main reasons I joined this profession is to travel by sea and visit different places on earth. Even after long service at sea since my cadet life, I still love to travel by ship and also like to travel as a tourist. Travelling like tourist is not possible while at sea while on job. So, I try to take every opportunity for travelling during vacation. Being a nature lover, I love to travel different natural wonders around the world, especially forests. I am working for environmental conservation since my school years. But, I started to learn working in a structured manner when I become the member of Notre dame nature Study Club of Notre Dame College, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Even after leaving college, I still continued my effort as a life member of the club and as a Founder Member of Nature Study Society of Bangladesh. After joining at sea, I continued photography wildlife photography, which became my passion onwards as a part of documentation and enhancing knowledge on nature, wildlife and environment specified areas.

When my ship management office in Bangladesh informed that there is a fleet officers meet in Sri Lanka and officers from Bangladesh will also take part in the two days long event, they also wanted to include my name in that event. I gladly responded to their invitation and notified that I will also want to travel as a tourist in Sri Lanka after the fleet officers meeting, at least for a week and need to delay my departure from Colombo a week after the event. I did not want to miss the opportunity to visit the wonderful country again. I have visited Sri Lanka several times since my cadet life by ship as a mariner and as a tourist before. I talked to the travel agent who arranged my last trip to Sri Lanka and asked him to make a tour arrangement for me.

After completion of WFOM (Wallem Fleet Officers Meet),I started touring around Srilanka on 14th November around 0430(4:30 am) from Colombo towards Singharaja Rain forest by car. After leaving Colombo city area, I was going through beautiful scenic roads. I stopped my car near a roadside restaurant to have breakfast. There I had a local buffet breakfast and then started moving again. I stopped the car on roadside several times during the journey to take photos of birds and scenaries. At around 1400, I reached the main gate of Singharaja rain forest. Once I reached there, I got a little frustrated as the sky was overcast and it was raining lightly as well. But I did not want to waste my time for that. I took my camera out from back pack, and used the rain cover hood for both the camera and the lens. Then I took precautions against leech attacks and started walking through the forest trail with the guide. Due to overcast sky and trees, the light was not friendly for photography. Still I enjoyed the stroll through the mountainous forest trail. I observed a lot of unknown tress, herbs, orchids and other flowers. It is a wonderful walking spot where one can see waterfall and hear the sounds of the fall in an atmosphere where no other sounds will be heard except for the chirping of birds, insects and the blowing of wind through the forest trees. Though the natural light for photography was poor, still I managed to take some snaps of jumping lizard, bamboo orchid, Srilankan national bird, a couple of snakes and some wonderful birds like Sri Lankan Frog mouth, Black capped Bulbul, Legge’s flowerpecker or white-throated flowerpecker (Dicaeum vincens), within a few hours walk. As it was getting dark and I had to go back, so I left the place although I wanted to pass some more time. I missed the opportunity to take photographs of a lot of wonderful unknown bird species which I observed during the walk and listened to lovely chirping of the birds which was very relaxing. Even though I was there for a very short while, but I was happy as I was able see and photograph Srilankan frog mouth for the first time in life, a rare bird found only in Srilanka and some parts of Southern India.

From Singharaja I started to move towards a resort named “Kallu’s Hideway” near Udawalawe national park which was named and owned by ex-Srilankan national team cricketer, Mr.Rmaesh Kalluvitharana. That was a wonderful resort with lovely people who take care of the guests. In the resort, there are a lot of photos of different great cricketers. When the chef came to know that I am from Bangladesh, he came to see me. During conversation, I got to know that he spent a long time in Bangladesh as a chef. After arriving the resort around at 2100 hours, I checked in my room. Once I opened my shoe I found out my socks are full of blood. I realized that, I was attacked by leeches. I got four leeches in my both feet which sucked up the blood to full and died. I cleaned up the areas and used first aid to stop bleeding. Though I took enough precaution against leech attack during the forest trail but realized it was not enough, especially when I was walking through the bush and mud to take photographs of the Sri Lankan frog mouth. At that time, my shoe was partially soaked in mud and that is when the leeches got the chance to sneak through.

After a sound sleep at night, at the following morning around 0600hrs, I started for Udawalawe National Park so that I can reach there in the very early morning for bird watching. While on the way, I saw a lot of birds and butterflies flying around as the day light coming out. Suddenly, I spotted a Indian Peafowl flying. I tried to shoot the bird in flight with my camera from the fast moving jeep along the road full of trees, but was not successful. Though I managed to get few shots, but it was not satisfactory. Once I reached the gate of the Udawalawe national park, I bought a ticket and started moving with a guide through the park. I saw a lot of birds roaming around for their morning feast. We started moving slowly along the jeep trail. I managed to take a few good photos of different birds, namely changeable hawk-eagle or crested hawk-eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus),Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), Malabar pied hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus),Black winged kite(Elanus caeruleus), Indian peafowl or blue peafowl (Pavo cristatus),Indian roller (Coracias benghalensis), Chestnut Munia or Black headed Munia(Lonchura atricapilla),Blue tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus), Lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus), Red-wattled Lapwing(Vanellus indicus) and White-Browed Fantail (Rhipidura aureola). When I saw the Malabar Pied Hornbill far from the jeep trail, I asked the guide if we could go a bit close towards the trees where the bird was, and they said it is not permitted to go outside the trail. Then I asked If I could walk a bit closer to the bird, for a shot, but still they notified me that walking or getting down from jeep other then designated area inside the national park is prohibited. I stayed there for sometimes and took some snaps of the birds. Though I got a few shots, but I was not happy at all, as the birds were very far from where I stood and I was facing the sun. Later, we moved on from there and stopped near a tree to take some photographs of changeable hawk eagle sitting on a tree which was very close to us. While taking the photo of the bird, I saw another hawk eagle sitting on the opposite side of a branch of another tree and I managed to get a wonderful photo those birds. On the way, we stopped in an area near a lake where all other tourists stopped as well. All of us got down from the jeep and spent some time there before heading back. On the way back, I was lucky to get a beautiful photo of Malabar pied Hornbill which was flying very close to my position.

After coming back from the park, I freshened myself up and had lunch before moving towards TISSAMAHARAMA, which was my next destination. I wanted to stay for a few days more in Kallu’s Inn for their wonderful hospitality and to do more field visit in the Udawalawe national  park and surrounding areas, but could not change the itinerary as all my trips and activities were pre booked and paid in full. Immediately after checking in to the hotel, I just jumped in to another jeep and started moving for Yala national park. Yala is very famous for Srilankan leopard. But during three hours of my presence before sunset at the park, I could not spot any leopard. For me, the duration was too short for a safari inside a big national park as it requires at least one full day for a full-fledged tour inside. I wish to have better touring plan for Yala during my next visit to Srilanka. Travelling through the road from Kallu’s Inn to Tissamaharama was very delightful. It felt like passing through the kingdom of butterflies. Thousands of butterflies were moving along the road side and crossing the highway as well. Though it was a wonderful feeling to see a lot of butterflies, but it was also distressing at the same time to see a lot of butterflies die while moving along the roads and getting hit by vehicles.

In Yala national park I spotted plenty of birds like green imperial pigeon (Ducula aenea),Green bee eater (Merops orientalis), Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala), grey heron (Ardea cinerea), paddyfield pipit or Oriental pipit (Anthus rufulus),other wild animals like wild boar (Sus scrofa),Sambar dear(Rusa unicolor),Spotted deer (Axis axis)tufted gray langur (Semnopithecus priam), Indian hare (Lepus nigricollis) or the Black-naped Hare and a couple of elephants but no leopards. After sunset, I came back to the hotel at night. While coming back, we came through a different road which was under construction. I had a very rough journey and even I hit my head once with the roof of the jeep and one of my cameras fell over. Luckily, the camera and the lenses were okay and I was not injured either. In order to get a good natural light and enough time for photography, I wanted to arrive at Bundala National park very early in the morning. As I was touring alone, I had the freedom to adjust my schedule every now and then for travelling. I asked the Safari Jeep Driver to pick me up very early in the morning so that I could reach at Bundala and get to tour during the first daylight hours and that will also enable me more time to roam around the forest. After coming back to the hotel, I prepared the gears for next morning. I got freshened up and moved out to the town nearby for dinner and purchased some dry food for next morning. The Hotel in TISSAMAHARAMA was not so elegant as  Kallu’s Inn but was not that bad either.

Next morning at around 0430 hrs, I started for Bundala, and went there through a small sleepy town. I noticed that there were no other vehicles on the road except for a few tourist jeeps which were moving out from different hotels and resorts and joining through the highway. Unlike Bangladesh, there are very few vehicles on the highway. Roads were well constructed too, covered with green trees on the both sides. Daylight started to appear through the beautiful green roadside. Once we were out of the main highway towards Bundala, I saw one side of the road was full of small bushes and green fields and on the other side there were water bodies. I was excited already, as there were a lot of birds flying around the water bodies and bushes for their morning feast. I told my guide I don’t need to go inside the park, and can pass my time there on the side of the roads for Bird watching. Once I reached at the ticketing gate of the Bundala national park, I found out that the office was not opened yet. Apart from me, there was one tourist couple arrived at the same time. We had to wait for 15 minutes for tickets. During the waiting time, I already started using my camera to get some photographs of birds. After the ticket was issued, I jumped onto the jeep again and started moving towards the main gate. I saw some fishermen moving with their bikes towards the sea through the road of the park. I was there in the National park for about 5/6 hrs. I managed to photograph a few birds like Oriental darter  (Anhinga melanogaster),Little egret (Egretta garzetta), Eurasian spoonbill or common spoonbill (latalea leucorodia),blue tail bee-eater (Merops philippinus), Rose ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri),Spottd dove(Spilopelia chinensis), Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), grey heron (Ardea cinerea), black winged stilt, Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala), and barn swallow. Among other animals, I spotted wild elephants, spotted deer and monkeys.

After returning to the hotel, I checked out from there and started proceeding towards Nuwara Elyia, which was a magnificent hill station. On the way, I bought fruits from the roadside. In Srilanka, one can find fruits like banana,papaya, coconut and wood apple piled up on roadside on makeshift stores. In some place store attendant waits, and in some places don’t. So, any customer comes by, then they need to call people from a nearby house to conduct the purchase. Nuwara Elyia is a very famous hill station in Srilanka. They call it little England. The temperature is low and weather changes frequently. Rain and sunshine plays daily over the hill. During my last Srilanka trip, I passed through Nuwara Elyia from Kandy on my way back to Colombo. That was time when I decided that, if I visit Srilanka again, I will stay at Nuwara Elyia. This time, I took the chance to make a stop there for two nights. The route from Kandy to Nuwara Elyia is more beautiful than the route that we chose this time, because last time I needed to pass through a lot of magnificent tea estate. This time, though I passed through the beautiful country side, tea estate, and hill side roads but to me, the road trip from Kandy to Nuwara eliya was more ecstatic as per scenic attire and beauty. I enjoyed it last time so much, that it reminded me every now and then about that journey. The nostalgic feeling is similar to my first short visit to Kandy during my Cadet life in 1992.I still remember that day. It had a lasting impact in my mind. During my second visit to Kandy, I spent two days there but my first visit seemed more euphoric in memories. This time, Kandy was not in my touring plan. On way to Nuwara elyia, we made a few stops on road in different towns to have local snacks, tea and coffee. When we were close to Nuwara elyia, the weather started to change from sunshine to rainy. It was raining all along the road and in Nuwara elyia. I had a plan to visit the Gregory’s park and lake side area but had to abandon the program due to rain and decided to stay inside the hotel and rest.