How times have changed. Where once “cold turkey’’ would have had disturbing connotations of substance abuse, today it is easily applied to any minor deprivation in daily life. Such as when abandoning sugar or going caffeine-free. Or if you’re staying at the Gal Oya Lodge, going without a mobile phone signal and Wi-Fi. There are only nine bungalows spread out on the property, each made of wood with a thatched roof. Their construction looks basic, but each is spacious, with a living area, bedroom and a huge open-air bathroom that allows bugs and the occasional frog to join you while you’re doing your personal grooming. Each lodge comes with amenities like a modern toilet and electric fans – but no air-conditioning and, of course, no telephone or TV. And because you left your telco connection in the last village 20km ago, definitely no WhatsApp or Instagram to interrupt your relaxing stay.
For sure, Gal Oya Lodge appeals to a different kind of tourist, one who wants to view wildlife in its natural habitat – which he can easily do because the Gal Oya National Park is just a few kilometres away. There are over two dozen national parks in Sri Lanka and all are protected. Visitors require permits to enter, and the Lodge provides these as well as a guide and driver. Two excursions are available: a jeep safari and a boat safari. The latter takes place in a huge reservoir called Senanayake Samudra, named after the country’s first prime minister, DS Senanayake.
The national park is the reservoir’s catchment area, and has vast evergreen and savanna forests with wildlife aplenty, including elephants, bears, deer, water buffaloes, wild boars, crocodiles and birds. In fact, more than 150 bird species have been sighted in the park, which is also used by elephants as part of a corridor connecting the smaller Madura Oya National Park in the north with the bigger Yala National Park in the south. During our boat safari, our boat was caught in a thunderstorm, so the lodge’s resident naturalist, Anuradha Hareth, brought us back to shore.