Minneriya National Park is located between the cities of Habarana and Polonnaruwa in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. The area of the park is a mix of evergreen forest and scrub areas. However, the defining feature of this park is the ancient Minneriya Tank which was built in the 3rd century AD by King Mahasen. When the dry season sets in, this tank becomes a playground for all walks of animal life.
This park is a 190 km drive from Colombo and as it is in close proximity to the historic cities of Sri Lanka, it makes a great stop along the way. Once you get there, you will have to hire a local safari operator to take you inside as explorations on foot are not permitted. The best time to visit would be from June to September as this is the peak of the dry season.
Home to Sri Lanka’s favourites
Much like most other parks, Minneriya is home to some of Sri Lanka’s favourites. These include spotted deer, Sambhur, and of course, Elephas Maximus; or the Asian elephant, for you non-nature buffs. Leopards are seldom seen, so if the big cat is what you are after, it is best if you head to Yala. Look out for crocodiles as they bask in the sun along the banks of the tanks. The action overhead is also pretty amazing, 160 bird species call Minneriya home so don’t forget to take your binoculars.
Let’s get to the main reason why people visit Minneriya shall we? ‘The Gathering’ is the name given to the event that takes place every evening on the banks of the tank during the dry season. Hundreds of elephants will arrive at the reservoir to bathe, feed and socialise. While this is happening flocks of up to two thousand cormorants will be in the air. This gathering has been documented as the largest grouping of wild Asian elephants at any given time.
Even if you have to make a slight detour from your itinerary, Minneriya is a worth a visit, for the gathering is something that should not be missed. In addition, you get to brag to your friends about the time you witnessed one of the world’s ten greatest wildlife spectaculars. Now doesn’t that sound great?