Ultimate guide To Safari At Udawalawe National Park
Where is Udawalawe located?
Udawalawe national park nestled in the cradle of the Ruhuna Rata and epic Sabaragamuwa Province filled with abundance of antiquity from relics of Dagobas, stone anicuts (sluice), carved motifs on pillars and Brahmi inscriptions, ancient rock cave hermitage (like those in Madunagala, Karambagala, Bambaragala, Sankapala) and finally interlaced with nature’s bounty of scenic mountain frontiers. The ancient concept of the Dagoba, weva (Tabk), keth yaya (rice field) has been well portrayed in this historic region.
History of Udawalawe
The Udawalawe region sits on an ancient seat of a bubbling civilization that was the grandeur that was Ruhunu Rata of over 2000 years of history. Relics of these souvenirs of a forgotten heritage lay in the form of dagobas, tanks, stone sluices, stone pillars, Rock cave hermitage, Brahmi inscriptions, sculptures, Moon Stones, cobra stones, and a host of other priceless archaeological artefacts. The very earliest remains of this ancient civilization date back to the 3rd century B.C of king Mahanaga’s epic reign in the ancient kingdom of Magama in Ruhunu rata. Such relics are those of the Uru Sita Weva ancient stone sluice and it’s Biso Kotuwa. Among the other kings mentioned in the chronicles of Sri Lanka in whose reigns some of these Dagobas and tanks were built are those of King Kavantissa of the 2nd century B.C and Prince Dutugemunu.
In the heart of the Embilipitiya Bazaar, lies the historic site called Kavan Tissa Raja Maha Vihara. The Dagoba is in utter ruins and in the folds of the shrub jungle. Stone and dwarf pillars are scattered here and there. A Nissankamalla’s partly broken inscription slab lies at the site. The remains of the ancient feature of the Dagoba, weva and keth yaya are still retained, though in ruins. The other dagoba that was significant to Kavantissa temple is the Panamure Raja Maha Vihara on the road to Kolonne about ten miles away from Udawalawe. The next significant one is the well known Sankapala Raja Maha Vihara about 12 km away from Udawalawe by the side of the main road of Pelamadulla- Nonagama near its 24th-milepost.
Sankapala Raja Maha Vihara is reminiscent of the famed giant called Pussadeva of Prince Dutugemunu of the 3rd Century B.C. the rock cave hermitage harbours Buddha statues and its murals are dotted with paintings have vanished into oblivion during the passage of time. There is a shrine room dedicated to the three shrines of Gods, Kataragama, Vishnu, and Goddess Pattini.
One of the greatest assets of the region is the Walawe Ganga (River), which touches this prosperous region, on its way to the Indian Ocean. The Walawe River rising in the Horton Plains, the Haputale and the Kaltota ranges roared down its mighty way through the tortuous jungles infested with wild beasts, cascade down the Haputale slopes and the Kaltota – Balangoda escarpment and finally joins the sea at Ambalantota.
The second biggest Multi-Purpose Irrigation-Power-Agriculture Project that transgressed into this area was the Udawalawe Project in 1964. It commenced its vast construction works in 1964. The Gal Oya Development board and later the River Valleys Development Board were entrusted with its works. The Udawalawe project envisioned to irrigate about 81,000 acres of dry, uncultivated lands into useful lands by constructing irrigation channels and a reservoir. Resettlement program was launched in the developed lands by the government of Sri Lanka. Today Udawalawe is an important contributor to the agricultural products for the country.
Being an important region with historical background and natural wealth such as Udawalawe national park, it helps the country to earn much needed hard currencies with tourism. Today it has become a popular tourist attraction in southern Sri Lanka. There are many tourist hotels in the region and several development projects have launched targeting more foreigners. A lot of tourists are anchoring for few days in Udawalawe while it provides easy access to many important places in Sri Lanka such as Yala, Kataragama, Embilipititya, Tissamaharama, Hambantota.
Udawalawe national park
The Udawalawe national park is one of the popular wildlife reserves in Sri Lanka and included in many Sri Lanka Sri Lanka beach and safari packages. The park can be easily reached from any beach hotel located in west and southern sea border, therefore Udawalwe national park popular wildlife reserve for short tours starting from western and southern Sri Lankan beach resorts. Due to its convenient location in the Sabaragamuwa province, it is the closest national park for most beach hotels providing easy access to travellers, who spend their holiday in the west coast. The national park is located in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, and it has a picturesque majestic mountain range in the background.
Udawalawe reservoir is another important part of the national park. It provides the water for the wild animals throughout the year. The combination of Udawalawe reservoir, national park and the mountain range in the background makes an awe-inspiring sight that you will not find anywhere else in Sri Lanka. You encounter the huge Udawalawe reservoir even before you step in into the national park. Today reservoir is the lifeblood of the region since it is the main source of water for agriculture. There is a good chance of spotting many species of aquatic birds around the reservoir.
The best period to visit the national park is from November to April in parallel to peak holiday season on the west coast. During this time the national park is relatively dry and has a good chance of spotting animals. During the raining, the terrain is very difficult to drive due to the muddy and slippery surface. During the peak-season be prepared to encounter a considerable number of foreign travellers, who spend their winter holiday in Sri Lanka. During the off-peak, the park is visited a very limited number of travellers.
If you wish to spend a day or two in the park, it will be possible with the permission of the wildlife department. You have to make the advanced booking for the accommodation within the park. It is very difficult to grab a chance to have an overnight stay in the park, due to the huge demand. Therefore you have to reserve the rooms at wildlife bungalow, several months ahead of the holiday. There are several good hotels and other types of accommodation around the park as an alternative for the wildlife bungalows. If you wish to find good accommodation in Udawalawe, you can contact Serendipity tours and they are prepared to help you with your accommodation requirement.
There are several tracks for safari tours in Udawalawe national park. Having a well-experienced jeep driver is large helps you to select the best trails, thereby having a better chance of spotting more animals. The vegetation of the national park is mainly consisting of various types of grass providing ample foods for Elephants. You will encounter many numbers of wild elephants even before you enter the national park, due to the large concentration of jumbos in Udawalawe. Udawalawe is considered to be one of the best places to spot elephants in Sri Lanka.
If you go deep into the jungle the vegetations changes dramatically and huge trees with irregular upper canopy are dominating the deeper areas. A number of elephants are also very low in the deep jungle due to the lack of grass and another type of vegetation that elephants love. Here you have the opportunity to spot other animals such as deer, monkey, sambhur, crocodile, leopard and bear instead of elephants.
There are two places to stop your jeep during the safari. There you can get off the vehicle and have a walk in the immediate surroundings. Te travellers are not allowed to get off the vehicles in any other places, during the safari due to the wild animal attacks. There had been several incidents in the past, in which many travellers were killed by wild animals, as they have got off the vehicles during the safari.
The elephant transit camp
The Elephant Transit Camp was started in 1995 in a plot of land bordering the Udawalawa national park Sri Lanka. The Elephant Transit Camp was a project initiated by Department of Wild Life conservation and it was patronized by Born Free Federation of UK, who is also funding the project run by the University of Colombo, in which released elephants are being monitors for their behaviour. Orphan elephants are monitored with a special collar, which produces radio signals.
Elephant Transit camp Vs Pinnawala elephant orphanage
Even though the Elephant Transit Camp is similar to the elephant orphanage in Pinnawala, Transit Camp was introduced to overcome the major disadvantages of the elephant orphanage Pinnawala. Unlike orphanage in Pinnawala, transit camp allows the grown-up elephants to go to the jungle, upon reaching the proper age. It is one of the major setbacks of elephant orphanage Pinnawala, not being able to release the animal to the natural habitat even they are matured. Different lifestyle and feeding habits in the Pinnawala elephant orphanage make it difficult for them to survive in the jungle. Unlike earlier the elephants were brought to the orphanage in Pinnawala, now the orphan animals are found in the jungle are being brought to the Elephant transit camp Udawalawa.
The calves were brought to the Elephant Transit Camp have very limited contact with human and furthermore, the young animals are given freedom to roam in the jungle when they are fit to walk. Thereby enabling them to be familiar with the natural habitat in the jungle, where they live once they make social contact with a group. Elephants of the Elephant transit camp are freed in various places in the national park, in small groups. The members of these small groups get separated after a few months and live with the wild animal once they get acquainted the wild herds. Some of the animals carrying the radio-collared enabling to monitor their integration with wild animals.
Feeding of the babies
Orphan calves of the Elephants transit camp can be seen only during the feeding hours when they are fed with milk bottles; 9 AM, 12 Noon, 3 PM and 6 PM. Orphan babies can be viewed from the viewing gallery that is a specially built platform for the visitors. Duration of the feeding is 20 minutes and the animal leave the Elephant transit camp after the feeding.
Sankapala monastery was in high activity till Valagambahu’s reign in the 1st century BC, when the infamous famine called Baminitiya Saya struck this place. But later in the late 19th century, Sankapala temple was restored during the incumbency of the famous scholar and erudite Buddhist monk Ven. Karatota Dhammarama Thera around whom is woven a tragic story. During the reign of Rajadhi Rajasinghe of Kandy (1782-1798), scandal-mongers had sneaked to the king that this learned Buddhist priest was in secret league with the Dutch.
The king flew into a wild rage and imprisoned the priest in Kandy. While languishing in prison, this learned monk is said to have composed some puzzling Sinhalese verses. The puzzles were written in an intricating way that the lines could be read from many sides. The king sent this set of puzzling verses to all the learned scholars of the time, but none could interpret them. Only Ven. Karatota Dhammarama (monk) was able to tell the meaning of those puzzles. The puzzles were comprised of the noble teaching of Buddha. The king was convinced of the innocence of the priest. As a reward, he gifted the Sankapala Temple and its lands to this priest. This square type of verses is termed as Barsa poems which are depicted on the door of the shrine room in Sankapala Temple.
A little distance away from the temple, on a rock outcrop is said to contain the hallowed tomb of this great warrior conch blower cum archer Phussadeva. Over his tomb, a stupa was said to have been built. Treasure hunters have destroyed this historical place as they were looking for hidden treasures. On one occasion some foreigners had destroyed an image of Buddha which had been there was pillaged and dragged it to the nearby river.
The other temple of historic importance is the Gothabaya Raja Maha Vihara, Padalangala about eight miles from the Sankapala Temple. This ancient temple perched on a rock outcrop with its restored dagoba is indeed an imposing sight. There are many artefacts were found at the site during the excavation such as moonstones, Asanagaras, an inscription written in Brahmi letters, stone pillars, stone baths etc. On a rock, the slab is the fast-fading Brahmi inscriptions which say that the ancient name of this place was Padangala which corrupted to present name Padalangala.
Temple houses valuable Buddhist Ola leaf inscription with great value in its library. An old sun-dial horawa denoting time is also can be seen in the temple. This dagoba and its other treasures are dating back to the reign of King Gotabhaya of the Ruhunu kingdom of the 2nd century BC. Hence it is named as Gotabhaya Raja Maha Vihara. The temple has a beautiful surrounding with mountains, rice fields, streams and patches of forests.