The Elephant Gathering at Minneriya National Park

Our first trip post lockdown was to journey 192 kms to witness the largest gathering of wild elephants in one area at the Minneriya National Park. Having visited once, ages ago when I was a wee kid, a trip to Minneriya has been long overdue – and I was in desperate need of watching one of my most favourite animals!

But travelling in a post-lockdown world came with its own set of precautionary measures.

Train to Habarana

Since Minneriya National Park is located roughly 20 minutes from Habarana, we decided to base ourselves in this resort town! At 5:30am we were at Colombo Fort railway station to start our journey to Habarana. The train was set to depart at 6:00am. While tickets and seats for this train can’t been booked ahead, we got there super early to get our seats. By 6am we were on our way, past old buildings, paddy fields, and more. Few hours and some obnoxious ‘entertainers’ later, we arrived at Habarana Railway Station just before noon.

Our Hotel in Habarana

We booked a night at Habarana Village by Cinnamon Resorts. During our 5 minute ride with a friendly tuk driver, we were informed about the dire situation the locals were in – with a lack of tourists. As we had plans to visit Sigiriya Rock Fortress as well, so we planned our tour to the rock fortress with him for 3,000 LKR.

At the hotel, we were greeted with a thermometer, an ayubowan, and sanitizer. Our luggage were escorted to the side of the hotel to be sprayed down as well.

Our ID numbers and names were taken down before we were shown to the lobby for check-in. A fresh, cold glass of watermelon juice to refresh us and we were given a declaration form to fill. This form requested for details on our recent travels, medical history, and whether we had any flu-like symptoms in the last few weeks. Luckily, our healthy immune systems hadn’t failed us in the last 7 months, so we were good to go. 20 minutes later, we settled into our rooms and got ready to wolf down lunch as we had a safari planned at 3pm!

Restaurant Safety Measures – Cinnamon Resorts

Masks need to be worn in the restaurant at all times, except when you’re at your table. After washing our hands at the entrance, the entire restaurant was abuzz with masked bandits and sneeze guards protecting aromatic rows of exotic spices and warm soups.

New safety measures dictated that we had to be served while standing a good distance away from the food. All you had to do was point and let the server know what you want – and he, would, oh so sparingly serve your desired meal. While the food wasn’t anything to write home about, the effective way all staff carried out their duties in a hygienic way was pretty commendable.

All staff wore masks and those at the restaurant wore gloves too – especially those serving food and drinks and clearing up the tables.

Minneriya National Park & the Famous Elephant Gathering

We arranged our safari after a quick call to the resort’s naturalist. The jeep was at the entrance by 3pm and we were on a 20-minute drive to the park.

Note- Unlike Yala National Park, where the best time to start your safari is at day break, it’s quite the opposite with Minneriya National Park. The best time to start your safari to Minneriya is ideally at 3pm, as the elephants make their way out of the thick jungles around this time.

Fun fact – elephants in Minneriya eat, graze and play out in the open plains from mid-afternoon until early morning. By dawn, they head back into the thick jungles to sleep and digest. They sleep all morning and make their way towards the Minneriya tank by afternoon again.

10 minutes in and we spot our first ele and her baby! The small cutie was incredibly shy and obviously scared at the sound of the jeep, so he just hid under his mom the entire time; it was THE cutest thing.

The Gathering at Minneriya National Park

We eventually made our way towards the tank and ALAS, lush open plains dotted with grey, black beasts grazing, eating and just being the most beautiful creatures on earth! My heart dropped and I realised how happy I was at that particular moment. We spent hours watching these herds living their peaceful lives in the wild.

Boy oh boy, we spotted close to 200ish elephants! They were so beautifully breath-taking to watch!

Surprisingly though it was also baby season at Minneriya National Park. Almost every grown female had a baby huddled next to her or was pregnant with one!

While peacefully watching these gentle giants, we heard a loud cry from someone in the herd. And another one. And another. Thankfully our safari driver knew exactly the reason for this. One of the moms was trying to wean her kid off milk and had apparently refused to feed him – and he had shouted in protest! HOW INCREDIBLY CUTE, RIGHT?!

By 4:30, the park started filling up with safari jeeps as more elephants started emerging from out of the thick jungles.

The Heart Wrenching Story of a Baby Elephant

While gazing at our last herd, we saw the most horrid thing.

A baby elephant’s jaw completely detached from his mouth just dangled as he tried to stuff his mouth with whatever grass he could. Except since he couldn’t close his jaw, the grass kept falling out and he was just trying to swallow sand. *cries*

Our safari driver/naturalist informed us that he had eaten a ‘hakka pattas’ while crossing from Kaudalla National Park.

A hakka pattas is a cracker that’s stuffed into a vegetable or fruit – planted with the intention to maim, injure or even kill elephants who eat crops.


Our hearts broke watching this small one try his best to eat – with no luck. His mom eventually tried to teach him to dust off the sand and pluck the grass by using his leg and trunk. But he still barely got any grass to chew.

Apparently the wildlife department tried to treat it, but it was of no use. The baby’s mouth was blown to bits because of the cracker that was hidden in the vegetable.

Completely devastated at this point, no amount of baby elephants cheered us up after that. Wrecked, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.

The Human-Elephant Conflict in Sri Lanka

The human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka is terribly sad.

When farmers destroy jungles and cultivate the land for crops, elephants that have been using that path for years are suddenly faced with a threat that never existed before.

To deter them, farmers plant crackers, electric fences, and ‘hakka pattas’ around their new lands, to prevent them from eating the crops; thereby restricting their usual movement.

A majority of the farmers and families here are unaware of the major part they play in destroying wild territories. Some of them are actually trying to improve the situation with the help of conservation groups. Project Orange Elephant for example, helps farmers plant orange or citrus trees to keep elephants at bay. This reduces the interaction between humans and the pachyderms as they apparently don’t like the smell of citrus!

More on this later. Let’s get back to the hotel!

The Human Gathering

The hotel was too crowded for my liking – almost as if they were trying to rival with Minneriya’s Gathering. We didn’t stay too long in the pool, because it was uncomfortably full of families and children. blek. So we headed back to our room to rest, relax and drink some wine.

Dinner at the hotel’s restaurant was packed too. We were seated nearer the lobby – away from the main restaurant and the food was not so great either. Most of what we had for lunch was served for dinner. Which is fine I guess, –  as the hotel was running at 100% occupancy, plus at discounted rates. So I guess I can’t complain much. They did have a live kottu and hopper station which was great!

Weirdly though, the entire floor was covered in dead wasps (harmless ones). When we asked the staff, it was because they were trampled by humans after they settled on the floor!!! How cruel are humans, honestly?!

We headed back to our room as we were completely exhausted at this point and dozed off shortly after.

The next day, we had plans to visit the ancient fortress in Sigiriya! Stay tuned for another day’s adventure.

Yours truly,

Imperfect Traveller

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