Sri Lanka has a surprisingly large number of national parks – 22 in total according to Wikipedia. We visited two of the most popular ones – Yala and Horton Plains National Parks, and they could not be more different.

Yala is undoubtedly the most famous and most visited national park in Sri Lanka. I could not find any official statistics on the number of visitors in recent years, but some people quoted numbers as high as 900,000 in 2012, a third of which are foreigners. And that’s the number of visitors to a national park in a country of ~20 million people. Crazy, isn’t it? The overwhelming demand has created a ludicrous safari business for shrewd locals like the Senevirathna brothers. Everyday, more than 250 jeeps (some even say 500) roam the park at sunrise and sunset in pursuit of its most famous resident animal – the elusive leopard. While the large and rapidly increasing number of tourists, both locals and foreigners alike, generates a huge annual revenue for the park, it is having tremendous negative impact on the wildlife. The noise and pollution generated by large fleets of vehicles were almost unbearable to me as a tourist, let alone to the wild animals living inside the park. Imagine if you were an elephant, a crocodile, a peacock, or a bird – wouldn’t you hate those human beings for turning your home into their own racing tracks? Would you want to live in such a place? I know I wouldn’t…

France has the famous Paris syndrome, now Sri Lanka can have its own Yala syndrome. The leopard-centric publicity has made a name for the park as the place with the highest leopard density in the world. So after paying a hefty fee, driving around for hours, suffocating with exhaust fume, spotting some animals few and far in between, suffering traffic jams in the most unlikely place called a national park, and squinting their eyes so hard to see one single leopard lying on top of a rock hundreds of meter away (if lucky), everyone just throws up their hands and calls it a scam. Sri Lanka is by no means Kenya, its national parks are by no means zoos, but false expectations make the disappointment so colossal for so many people. So unless the Sri Lanka government can limit visitations (like what the Philippines is doing to the Puerto Princesa Underground River), figure out a mechanism for strictly enforcing the park rules, downplay their leopard card, and divert public attentions to other national parks, Yala will very likely to be ‘ruined by its own popularity’.

Horton Plains National Park on the other hand is wonderfully quiet. It has its fair share of tourists, but the long hiking routes help space out everyone. Sometimes you may feel like the whole place is yours. The park authority has done a good job of keeping out vehicles, limiting plastic waste, and promoting awareness of its fragile ecosystem. So even though I only saw a squirrel, one or two birds, a few sambar deers, and absolutely nothing from the two World’s Ends, I was happy when I left. It was the perfect ending to our 10-day journey on the Island of Serendipity. My last cup of tea in Sri Lanka 🙂

King coconut - Sri Lanka

King coconut cut and arranged into the shape of a mouse

On the way to Yala National Park

Driving to the park entrance

Jeeps queuing to get tickets into Yala National Park

Jeeps queuing to get entrance tickets to Yala National Park

Waran lizard - Yala National Park

A large Waran lizard – Yala

Monkey - Yala National Park

Monkey

Peacock - Yala National Park

Peacock

Little bird - Yala National Park

A small but colorful bird

Wild elephant - Yala National Park

We encountered this aggressive elephant twice that afternoon. But who can blame him for being aggressive when being surrounded by noisy jeeps?

A wild elephant walking among safari jeeps - Yala National Park

Here’s the second encounter at sunset

Yala National Park

Pelicans perching on tree branches at sunset - Yala National Park

Pelicans perching a tree at sunset

Sunset - Yala National Park

I love this blurred photo for some weird reasons.

Sunset clouds, Yala National Park

The clouds looked like they were on fire that late afternoon

Sunset - Yala National Park

Sunset - Yala National Park

Driving fast at sunset

Sunset - Yala National Park

Driving during sunset, Yala National Park

An abstract photo of sunset

Sunrise, Yala National Park

Sunrise – Yala National Park

Sunrise viewed from our tree house

Sunrise as viewed from our treehouse windows

Treehouse - Diviya Safari Camping, Yala National Park

Treehouse – Diviya Safari Camping, Yala

Diviya Safari Camping - Yala National Park

Driving out of Yala National Park

Driving out of Yala National Park in a 31-year old jeep

On the way to Ohiya

On the way to Ohiya

Hill Safari Ecolodge - Ohiya, Sri Lanka

Hill Safari Ecolodge – Ohiya

On the way to Horton Plains National Park- Sri Lanka

Fairy tale landscape again 🙂

Sambhur in the morning fog

Sambar deers in the early morning – Horton Plains National Park

On the way to Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Welcome to Horton Plains National Park!

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

This looks very much like the moors in England

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Big World's End

The Big World’s End. The view is supposed to be amazing, but all we could see was dense fog.

Big World's End

The Gang dangling our feet over the edge of the Big World’s End

Wild Flower

Wild flowers

Grass

Dew drops on glass blades

Horton Plains National Park

Small World's End

Small World's End

The Small World’s End

Flora of Horton Plains National Park

Colorful rocks - Horton Plains National Park

Colorful rocks

Horton Plains National Park

Sambhur - Horton Plains National Park

Sambhur - Horton Plains National Park

A gorgeous sambar stag – my last sight of Horton Plains National Park

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