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Witness the annual elephant gathering with hundreds of elephants grazing in the park.
After a delightful breakfast, we leave Anuradhapura to explore the birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhism. Mintale’s rocky outcrop monastery is where Buddhism was first established in the country. We travel to Sigiriya for lunch and relax by the pool or take a stroll in the nearby village to escape the midday heat. As the sun begins to fall, we transfer to Minneriya National Park for a jeep safari in search of elephants. The elusive leopard, crocodiles and a plethora of native birds come out from the jungle as the sun sets. Guests travelling in September and October may witness the annual elephant gathering with hundreds of elephants grazing in the park.
The short drive took us through the main centre of Anuradhapura which today was a little busier than the quiet Sunday visit yet still seemed quite orderly and somewhat relaxed. Parents waited outside a local school and children played cricket on a dry oval. The dry dusty fields are in contrast to the students all dressed in white uniforms, the national uniform dress in Sri Lanka. Life all seemed pretty relaxed this morning. It new parts of Anuradhapura are quite the contrast to the 2000 year old ruined city that lies just beside it.
We travel to the township of Mihintale which is known as the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as it is the location where Buddhism was first introduced to the country. A small hilly outcrop stands beside the town which we discover is home to ruins of an ancient cave monastery. The techniques used by the ancient builders are simplistic yet extremely thought out and practical; carving a slight etch in the rock so that water would never run onto the sacred paints on the walls is but one example.
Exploring the stupa’s and ruins we discover stone inscriptions of the day outlying the laws of the land and how much each function of the monastery would earn. It’s quite interesting to discover how ordered the society was and how life must have been thousands of years earlier. The hospital shows evidence of early treatment methods for skin conditions, including a stone medical bath and the water irrigation systems include fountains and an ability to move water from one tank to another.
A rock outcrop at the top of the monastery is a place of pilgrimage for many Buddhists as it is from this rock that the Buddhist teachings were brought to Sri Lanka. The path to the top is steep and the rocks are slippery however the views from the top of the surrounding countryside are worth the climb. The statue of Buddha, stupa and other ruins around the monastery can be explored at your own pace with our guide providing as much or as little insight into the history of the complex as guests are interested to learn.
We continue our tour towards Sigiriya and arrive in the village in time to check into the hotel for lunch. The middle of the day is quite warm so resting with a drink and lunch by the pool in the heat of the day on arrival ensures that we don’t burn out. Guests may venture into the village or get a quick massage before our afternoon safari.
Our afternoon commences with a drive to the edge of the Minneriya National Park where our jeep and nature guide is waiting to take us on our first safari into the Sri Lankan jungle. The line of jeeps enter the park as one before each driver branches off to their own favourite spotting locations in search of wildlife in the park. The jeep guides select the best location to ensure guests have the best opportunity of spotting wildlife in their natural habitat. If spotting is more likely in the nearby Kaudulla national park some tours will instead visit Kaudulla.
Elephants are one of the big attractions in this park, especially during the annual Elephant Gathering that occurs in September and October when the lake dries out leaving wide plains of fresh grasses for the elephants to graze on. Buffalo, deer, crocodiles and the elusive leopard are also sighted in these parks as are a wide array of local birdlife.
The first encounter with a herd of elephants is a breathtaking experience. Whether it be a small herd bathing in a stream or over a hundred elephants drinking and eating by the lakeside, every encounter is special and unique. As the day cools, more elephants venture out from the dense jungle to feed. If you’re lucky you may spot a tusked bull, a rare sight in Sri Lanka where most elephants do not have tusks.
As the sun begins to set the colours of the jungle and lakes change reflecting the warm tones of the setting sun. Our guides help guests spot wildlife and ensure that we keep a safe distance and respect that we are visiting their environment. As we complete our first safari we transfer back to Sigiriya for a relaxing dinner at our hotel we guests can reminisce on the amazing safari experience, swap photos or simply relax and rejuvenate with a quick dip in the cool pool.
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