Every day for two hours starting from noon, Yala National Park stands down, and all vehicular movements are killed. It is to give the wildlife some peace and quiet, so that they too can enjoy sunshine without any intrusion, explained Dulshan. A much-deserved break for the animals – at the first sunlight, the park already teems with rangers and tourists and jeep drivers, the noise pollution and agitation not possibly good for them. Not an inconvenience anyway, for noon was also lunchtime for us, so we retreated to the coastal area: on the periphery of Yala National Park is the Indian ocean, itself never sleeping.
Lunch was invigorating, though it did little to inspirit morale. For six hours we had been going in circles, going hither and thither on a whim, in search for the big cat. Zilch luck we had. Leopards tend to hide in their caves or on the trees in the day, hunting only at night under a canopy of dark. There was the easy way: to go to a zoo and see leopards in captivity, a shadow of their destined glory, but what thrill is there in that, not to mention the cruelty of enslaving animals for human’s entertainment.
Now, I had already reined in my expectations, for game drives are much like chasing the aurora borealis – what you want is not always what you get; much as we humans like to think we are the superior being, nature does not answer to us. But I was largely disappointed at the lack of majestic-wildlife sightings: six hours of work for just three elephants, a couple of chameleons, and the earlier-mentioned. I was beginning to dismiss Yala National Park as a tourist trap. I was informed the latter half of the afternoon would not necessarily bring more rewards, for the animals tend to retreat further into their habitats.
And so with a low morale, I soldiered on, keeping a sharp eye out for the cat of a mysterious aura. This way and that we went, ascending small hills of rock (as I held on to the handrails for my dear life, jerked around like marbles in a bag), cruising along stretches of land. Just then, as if life were throwing me a bone, we zipped past a grey behemoth, standing alone, quiet as a mouse, ingesting shrubbery. “Elephants eat up to three hundred kilograms of vegetation a day,” Dulshan volunteered the trivia. It would take only a few lumbering steps for him to reach us, if he decided to, but for now he had no cares in the world.
Not three minutes later, we spotted yet another elephant, this time out in a lake, killing two birds with a stone: eating and soaking in the water. And then again two more water buffaloes, now venturing to the edge where the vegetation ended, so that they were only a few paces from me, and their horns were terrifying to behold. I felt my heart skipped a beat. Yet these sightings greatly enheartened me, for it seemed that the animals were now on the roam.