It took us 5-hours to drive to the central province of Sri Lanka, for the most anticipated activity on our itinerary. Elephant Safari through Minneriya National Park!
We met our safari driver in Habarana and after some introductions we drove to the entrance of Minneriya National Park to set off on the safari. By this stage, Izzy was jumping out of her skin with excitement. Even though we knew that wildlife is unpredictable and comes with no guarantees, we were certain we were going to see elephants that afternoon.
Minneriya is home to an abundance of wildlife. Monkeys, deers and thousands of species of birds, just to name a few. And during the dry months of the year (May to October), in the driest part of Sri Lanka, the elephants that call Minneriya home gather around an ancient water reservoir.
The drive from the entrance of the park to the where the elephants gather is about 15-20 minutes. Along the way we saw a skeleton of an elephant’s head, plenty of monkeys, pretty colourful flowers, native bushes and trees including the tallest bamboo bush that we had ever seen.
It wasn’t long when I whispered “there they are…..” to Izzy. I don’t know why I whispered. The group of six (6) elephants were still a distance away from us and in no danger of being frightened by my loud voice. I think it was a mixture of disbelief and amazement. In any case, Izzy didn’t respond. I turned to look at her and she was in awe.
I drew my attention away from the horizon to grab a hold of the camera and I heard Izzy gasp even deeper. I looked up just as we drove pass a line of trees, then I saw them. All of them! All 50 or 60 elephants! Mummies and their babies just hanging around the area peacefully eating and drinking water.
I felt Izzy grab my arm and squeeze it so tight! And I just knew her heart was as full as mine. Our driver quickly found a nice spot for us to just watch them for a while. It was truly an incredible sight.
We were one of many jeeps at the park that day so every now and again we would drive to a different spot so as to make sure we had an unobstructed view of the group. At first I was a little concerned at how many jeeps there were but I soon realised that all drivers were keeping their distances and making sure it was pleasant for everyone – humans and elephants.
I was particularly happy that our driver was wise enough to make sure we were not too close to other jeeps and turned off the engine whenever we found a nice spot. It was at those moments with the warm sun on our skin and the smell of the dirt and grass that we could feel the peaceful environment that these beautiful creatures were in.
It was during one of those moments when we had the most wonderful close encounter. We were parked by the side of the path, engines turned off and we were quite happy to just watch the elephants from a distance. Away from the water and the other jeeps.
Whilst we were all looking to our right, taking photos and videos we heard the rustling of the trees and bushes that was on our left. Just as we turned to look, an elephant came out from the bushes. We froze. We prayed. The big, brown, freckled creature stopped to look at us. Then at some point, what felt like an entire 60-seconds, it decided we were harmless and proceeded to eat.
We watched it rustle around in front of us eating. We had a wonderful few minutes just watching the elephant in peace. Its trunk gently swinging around and his rounded ears quietly flapping.
Then it wasn’t long that others noticed there was an elephant close by. As the roar of the engine came closer, Izzy was quietly begging me “Mum, ask them to be quiet! The elephant is getting scared.” But there was no need to worry as the other driver was responsible enough to approach slowly.
It was then that the elephant thought it would be safe to hide behind a tree. The only glitch in its thinking was that it was a rather skinny tree. It was the most amusing sight to see the big brown elephant trying to hide behind a rather slim tree.
It was only the beginning of our trip and already we were finishing most days with proclamations of “that was the best day ever!” And a day when you go on an Elephant Safari is most definitely THE BEST DAY EVER.