Udawalawe’s dream landscapes | Sunday Observer

Udawalawe’s dream landscapes

21 November, 2021
A herd of elephants
A herd of elephants

For a keen photographer, the Udawalawe National Park offers an experience like no other with its abundant wildlife, herds of elephants, endless landscapes and adventurous safaris.

The mighty reservoir of Udawalawe looks absolutely stunning, wearing a fresh coat of colours and shining in the twilight. The waters of the reservoir sparkled as I captured the picture in silhouettes of a mountain range which is dream destination for photographers, given the large herds of elephants that dominate the region.

Having driven half an hour on a dusty safari route in the park, our guide cum driver drove us to the flat rocky point of Gonaviddagala where the scenic beauty of the Udawalawe reservoir nestles in the backdrop of a blue horizon. This affords a generous view of the mountain ranges of the central highlands and the Kuragala mountain range close to the park.

Haven for elephants

Located in the South East of the island, the park occupies parts of the Ratnapura and Moneragala districts. Udawalawe evolved from shrub jungles and vast grasslands to a deep forest. Opened as a National Park in the early 1970s, the park has an expanse of 30,800 hectares – a haven for its primary occupants, elephants.

As we rode along, the arid landscape gave way to shrub vegetation and shallow waters on either side of the road. An amazing range of water birds appeared all around, each busy, searching for its breakfast in the shallow waters. A lonely Painted Stork emerged in front of us, but its neck painstakingly drooped into the water to catch fish.

Peacocks are ubiquitous in the park. In the early morning, they are on the tree tops. Indeed, it may be a fascinating sight to spot them on lifeless tree-tops showing their long feathers. I captured a lonely peacock standing on an ant hill in the park.

Another highlight we encountered was the Green Bee-eaters swirling in the bushes and flying low in the park to catch something for breakfast. I tried to photograph this vibrant Green Bee-eater from a safari jeep. The park is home to hundreds of elephants as well as many birds, especially a variety of eagles such as crescent hawk eagle and serpent eagle.

An elusive Malabar Pied Hornbill that proved a challenge appearing in the distance perched on a lifeless trunk of a long-dead tree in the forest. When they flock together, they are boisterous. Driving on a dusty road towards the reservoir, I photographed the lonely Hornbill that looks around in the park.

A herd of wild buffaloes was sunbathing and mud bathing at the same time, in a muddy waterhole in the park. Small birds were around buffaloes feeding on insects on the buffalo’s skin, creating a mutually beneficial relationship between them.

Open grassland

We spotted an eagle nest on the lone tree-top while driving to the Gonaviddagala camp site. It was a delightful sight to us as we never saw such a massive nest outside a National Park. I photographed the nest without any disturbance because the landscape in Udawalawe is an open grassland.

The lone trees offer a visual treat to the surroundings of the park – a typical dry forest where much of the vegetation consists of lonely Palu trees (Manilkarahexandra) amid a terrain of vast open lands.

In the park, we soon discovered a herd of elephants, females, young males and a baby elephant that just came out from a muddy pit and walked towards us in the safari route. We stopped at an advantageous viewing distance to watch them communicate with one another. Having seen our presence, the baby elephant scrawled under the belly of his mother for protection.

At one point, we caught sight of a family of elephants, probably mother, father and a playful baby walking in quietly, while glancing furtively. Without the trained eyes of our guide, we would have missed many of them. Besides elephants, other mammal species in the park include deer, jackal, wild boar and hare.

The Udawalawe National Park is, perhaps, one of the best places for a wildlife photographer to capture the large herds of elephants approaching the reservoir silhouetted against the setting sun, creating an aura of unspeakable beauty.