SL Adv. Part IX: Leopard! Leopard! Leopard! [Haputale – Tissa, 16 Jun 2010]

Sri Lanka Adventure [10 – 18 June 2010]
Part I: Pre-Trip [Singapore, 10 Jun 2010]
Part II: The Long Shuttle [Singapore – Kuala Lumpur, 10 Jun 2010]
Part III: AK255 [KUL – CMB, 11 Jun 2010]
Part IV: A Slice of Cultural Triangle [CMB – Dambulla, 11 June 2010]
Part V: Temples [Dambulla – Kandy, 12 Jun 2010]
Part VI: Into the Hills [Kandy – Haputale, 13 Jun 2010]
Part VII: Trekking to World’s End [Horton’s Plains National Park, 14 Jun 2010]
Part VIII: Retracing the steps of Sir Thomas Lipton [Lipton’s Seat & Tea Factory, 15 Jun 2010]
Part IX: Leopard! Leopard! Leopard! [Haputale – Tissa, 16 Jun 2010]
Part X: Will this journey ever end? [Tissa – Negombo, 17 Jun 2010]
Part XI: Goodbye Serendib [CMB – KUL – Singapore, 18 Jun 2010]
Part XII: Epilogue

After three nights at Haputale, it was time for us to move on.

Srilakview's cozy restaurant - spent our evenings here watching World Cup

Last look from Srilakview's verandah

We settled our bill for our stay with the manager (1950 LKR per person for three nights; 1300 LKR for a double room) and headed to the bus station. While we had an enjoyable stay at Srilakview, I couldn’t help but feel that the management could spruce up the rooms and maintain them even better.

We made good our promise to the fruit seller and got his address (to send him photographs) before leaving. The 8:30am bus to Wellawaya left ahead of schedule and it meant that we had a little more time in Haputale.

Locals waiting for buses

Congregation of autorickshaws

Friendly man in passing bus

While out walking in town the previous evening, the two photographers made an acquaintance with the owner of the provision shop at the bus station. He told them that he could tell they are from Singapore from their faces.

It turned out that he had worked at a factory in Singapore for seven years and is now back in his hometown running the provision shop. We stocked up some snacks from his shop and he told us that the next bus would leave at around 10:00am.

After consulting more people, we realized that we might not be able to stick to our original plan of making the afternoon safari at Yala National Park. We would need to make two transfers (at Wellawaya and Wirawila) to reach Tissamaharama, the gateway to Yala NP. Some guy came and offered us a ride with the van driver whom we had to Horton’s Plains NP.

After some friendly banter and hard bargaining, we settled on a really good price of 4800 LKR (for us of course) and set off in the van for Tissamaharama or Tissa for short.

Route: Haputale to Tissamaharama (Tissa)
Distance: 96km
Time taken: Approx. 3h
Mode: Van
Cost: 4800 LKR

As the road winded down the hills, the lack of air-condition in the van became more apparent. We cooled off for a while at Diyaluma Falls, the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka at 220m.

Sign of Diyaluma

Diyaluma Falls

It was a slippery climb from the road to the base of the waterfall; I didn’t feel that the effort was worth it since we had seen Baker’s Falls. The terrain flattened out near Wellawaya and we declined the driver’s offer to visit Buduruvagala temple in order to reach Tissa earlier.

The van driver drove us to Travellers’ Home and the owner showed us the triples available. The owner was keen to have us and offered to negotiate the rates. Srilakview’s manager had recommended Regina Inn in Tissa and we decided to take a look there as well. After viewing both places we decided to pump for Travellers’ Home whose rooms were brighter and seemed cleaner.

Some British backpackers were leaving the guesthouse as we were checking in. They were on the morning safari and told us excitedly that they managed to spot a mother leopards with her two cubs. As time was running short, we got the guesthouse owner to organize the jeep for us. He quoted 4200 LKR for each person, an offer which we accepted.

The driver was a smiley young chap and readily accepted our request for a stop to stock up on some food and water along the way. We passed by a big lake on our way to the national park.

Lake

Before reaching the park entrance, our driver drove us off the road to point out a baby crocodile nesting near the lake. It was really hard to spot. Buffaloes were all over the grassland surrounding the water body.

Jeep ahead of us

Buffaloes

We reached the visitors’ center and our guide went to settle the fees while we took a look at the small museum. There were interesting exhibits and short information about the species present in the park but we were more interested to see the wildlife in flesh instead of specimens.

No. of visitors to Yala NP

Our jeep

We stopped shortly after leaving the visitors’ center. Our driver had spotted yet another crocodile.

Can you spot the crocodile too?

A world of wild animals await us beyond the checkpoint

Our driver was really sharp in spotting animals.

Pelican

Land monitor

It’s digging for something…

Wild hare

Monkey

Then we came into contact with some giants.

Elephant

Pair of elephants

The pair of elephants were actually of a bigger herd who wanted to cross the track to the water body. However, the horde of jeeps scared them and they didn’t dare to cross.

Another elephant

It put on a show for us.

We moved on and as usual our driver was on alert for moving objects.

Driving and spotting at the same time

Deers - plenty of them in the park

We were driven to the river bank and told by our driver that we could walk around the area for pictures.

Bones

They are left behind by predators.

Until now, we had pretty much seen what we expected to see except for the biggest prize: leopards.

Our driver received a phone call from a fellow guide who had news of leopard sighting and we were off in the jeep again. Our jeep was stationary at a spot in anticipation of any sighting of the big cat but no luck there.

We drove away from the jeeps into one of the deserted tracks and suddenly a leopard appeared right in front of us sitting on the side of the track. The driver was shocked as well but quickly reacted by reversing and then cutting the engine. The leopard strolled leisurely back into the vegetation again.

Blink and you may miss it

What a lucky sighting! The driver drove us to a nearby water body as he estimated that the leopard was heading to one. Alas it didn’t mean to and we left disappointed after waiting for another 10 minutes there.

Just as we thought that the highlight of the trip was behind us and were discussing the animals at the back of the jeep, Feijie suddenly let out a cry.

“Leopard! Leopard! Leopard!”

His sharp eyes had spotted a huge cat to our right as the jeep drove pass. Our driver was looking the other way and were equally surprised as the rest of us. He pulled over and reversed; our view of this big cat was finally unobstructed.

What a beauty.

Big cat in its full glory

It moved inside the vegetation after a while but our driver correctly predicted that it would cross the track behind us.

Why does leopard cross the road?

You could tell that it didn’t give a damn about the approaching vehicle at all.

Our luck didn’t run out there as we spotted an elephant with tusks walking towards us on the track minutes later.

Elephant with tusks

The driver remarked that we were really lucky; there were only a total of 35 leopards on record in the national park and the last elephant that we saw was one of the only nine with tusks. Safari was definitely money well spent.

It was getting dark as we made our way out of the park. We could tell that the place was about to come alive with all the sounds from nature.

Goodbye animals

We asked our driver if there were any good eating places in town but he was under instruction from his boss to bring us back to the guesthouse. Tissa town was quiet with most of the shops closed when we drove past.

The food at the guesthouse were more than expensive than what we were used to in Haputale. We ordered our dinner and told to return in an hour’s time. In the meantime we went back to our rooms where things were to get slightly more interesting.

The guys in the other room found two bed bugs on their beds and complained to the owner. The owner insisted that there were no bed bugs and told them, “This is Asia.” We were already irritated with his hard-sell tactics with the dinner and his response riled us even more. In the end we couldn’t do much except to stay on since it was already quite late and it was for only one night.

The dinner was forgettable and overpriced for what was served. The owner’s wife redeemed themselves a little by allowing us to watch the World Cup game between Spain and Switzerland in her living room. I observed that their own living quarter was more spartan than the rest of the guesthouse. Switzerland produced the first real upset of the tournament by winning against Spain.

And we watched it from a random living room in Tissa, Sri Lanka. How interesting.

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