Ranger receives mobile call and steps on the accelerator. Minutes later we are face to face with a leopard.
It’s not interested in us, steely eyes focused on something moving in the bush to our left. The cat moves towards its target, almost certainly using two jeeps ahead of us as cover. It passes between them, crouches low in a ditch on the side of the track.
And then, all hell breaks loose. Spotted deer come flying out of the bush behind us, the leopard having made its final launch at the prey, and one young deer now making its last calls to its mother.
The mother calls back, and there’s a sorrowful exchange between them. Then silence. And the leopard can be seen dragging its kill into denser bush, away from prying eyes.
Goose bumps, irreplaceable memories for all who looked on. Raw nature in action, another day in the park.
Just one example of the wonder that is Sri Lanka.
We were on an Exodus tour, having started a week earlier from Colombo, visiting iconic Buddhist sites, rock fortresses, ancient capitals and tea plantations. An active trip too, with a 200 metre climb to the top of Sigiriya, Lion’s Rock, some rafting, trekking on the Horton Plains, and cycling through the rice paddies and jungle around Giritale. Plus, some downtime on the south coast beaches.
Sri Lanka is about the same size as Ireland, but home to 21 million people. Even in the dense inland forests, the land is dotted with a myriad of smallholdings. Colombo and other urban centres are just like any other Asian town, the modern world of Western-style clothes, food halls, and hoardings advertising high speed broadband, blended with statues of the Buddha, Hindu temples, and a smattering of mosques and Christian churches. The new port area of Colombo (helped by Chinese investment) and futuristic tower blocks contrast with the subsistence farms and rice paddies inland, the back-breaking labour involved visible to all.
|Royal Rock temple at Dambulla|
|Rankot Vihara dagoba, in Polonnaruwa (the capital city from 10th to 12th centuries)|
|Gal Vihara, with four Buddha images hewn from one long slab of granite. Polonnaruwa.|
|Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy|
|Leopard in Yala National Park © Chris Rhodes|
|Sloth bear, Yala|
|Sloth bear cubs|
|Land monitor lizard|
|Sri Lankan elephants, Kaudulla National Park|
|Toque macaque, Yala|
|Twisted Cook's pines. Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, Kandy|
|Real Sri Lankan fishermen|
|Fake Sri Lankan 'fishermen' (stilt fishing stopped many years ago when the water snakes disappeared)|
Early morning climb of Sigiriya;
|Sigiriya, fortress palace of King Kassapa (477–495 CE) and thought to have been a monastery too|
|Views from the summit of Sigiriya|
Lunch with a farming family near the Giritale Tank (the latter part of a network of man-made reservoirs constructed in the early part of the country’s history, enabling intensive cultivation of the upland areas);
Puja at the Temple of the Tooth and a visit to the
International Museum of World Buddhism in Kandy;
|Exodus group finishing their cycle tour near Giritale|
A stay at the Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya, a former ‘gentlemen’s club,’ with formal dining (jacket and ties can be borrowed for the purpose), and wonderful colonial feel;
The circular walk taking in the famous World’s End viewpoint in the montane forest of Horton Plains;
Drinking tea in the colonial opulence of Amangalla, adjacent to the historic Dutch fort at Galle…