Habarana: An Evening Safari at Kaudulla National Park
“Look! Look! There’s an ellie,” Nathan points his camera to the loner elephant. We are inside Kaudulla National Park. For about ten minutes, we thought we were only going to see one elephant, who were pretty much the Mister Egoistic and continued showing us his bum.
We are in the jeep with the owner of our homestay. It’s two days before Christmas, and we are staying at Sanjana Home Stay in Hiriwadunna. It’s a little village 4-5 km away from Habarana. The uncle at our homestay has his own jeep. And the best thing is, he’s very patient. We continue our safari at Kaudulla National Park as we spot a majestic peacock who is not yet seen his baby girl to dance for. Nathan goes gaga over a kingfisher-esque bird. We then spot a herd of ellies and a chain of jeeps from afar. As we inch towards the herd of elephants, Zin basically starts crying with happiness. Seeing these majestic creatures in their natural habitats was always her dream. Well…one of her dreams. We’ve now realized she has way too many dreams.
It’s one hour before the dusk falls and these majestic wild elephants are walking towards the lake filled with azure blue waters. There are about thirty jeeps, most of them in a race with each other for the “best view.” We felt that was really unethical. However, we were really glad we chose our homestay owner for this safari. He was patient and stayed there until all the jeeps were gone. In the meantime, a herd of buffalo lies on the soft, grassy land by the lake, maybe a little sad with lack of tourist attention. Maybe a lot happy that they are unattractive and not an exotic breed so they can actually live their lives without human interaction. The latter, obviously.
We parked our jeep there for about 40 minutes. There are things you’d get bored at, but never with ellies. We even spotted a tusker. The tiniest baby elephant was always with his big momma. Three baby ellies were playing with and feeding each other. We saw about 100 elephants that evening, and till date, it still is one of our most surreal experiences.
We were on our way back, and a bevy of quail rhythmically winged their way up in the skies as the clouds change into a soft cherry color. And then we spotted another flock of birds. One, two, three, four…ten more. They soared high up in the skies on the chilly December winds. We drove back to our homestay. The evening red sun appeared, disappeared, reappeared through the mountains far away. It’s as if it was a mini Africa. Maybe we are exaggerating a little, but boy, how lucky are we to call this tiny island our home?
We stayed at Sanjana Home Stay in Hiriwadunna. It was $18 a night for a double bedroom with fan. Breakfast was included in our room rate and it was superb. We even had dinner there. If you are looking for an authentic rice & curry meal, this is the best place. It’s about 4-5km from Habarana Railway Station. If you are arriving by train, make sure you call the homestay to arrange a tuk for you. We didn’t, and got cheated by a tuk driver in own country. It only costs 250LKR for a tuk to the homestay from Habarana Railway Station.
The best way to get to Habarana from Colombo is obviously by train. The journey takes about 6 hours. Other closer attractions near Habarana apart from Kaudulla National Park are Polonnaruwa Ancient City, Parakrama Samudraya, Minneriya National Park, Ritigala Forest Monastery, Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock, Pidurangala), Na Mal Uyana, and Dambulla. If you are looking for a place to stay in Sigiriya, and have a bit of cash to spend, read our reviews for Back of Beyond Pidurangala and Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela. For an authentic, off-grid experience, we recommend Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela.
You could also opt to go on a safari at Minneriya but, when we asked our homestay, they suggested us Kaudulla National Park is a better option.
If you want to make another trip from Habarana, consider moving to Batticaloa. It takes about 3 to 3.30 hours by train from Habarana. Trincomalee is also an option. You’ve to take a train to Gal Oya Junction and another connecting train from there to Trincomalee.