Capturing Sri Lanka through the lens

Tuesday, 2 October 2012 00:11 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cheranka Mendis

Capturing the beauty of Sri Lanka, thrill of adventure, and the mystic splendour of the elusive leopard, Lucia Griggi – one of world’s most accomplished female photographers – was here in Sri Lanka recently, capturing the country’s wildlife at the Yala National Park.

Flown down courtesy of Wild Trails, a mobile camping operator in Yala, and SriLankan Airlines, the main aim of Griggi’s visit was to promote Sri Lanka as a wildlife destination among Western travellers.

With connections to a number of European and American media houses, Griggi will promote the country in a series of photo documentary articles in magazines such as American magazine ‘Islands’  and Australian travel magazine ‘Get Lost,’ among others.

Sharing her experience in Sri Lanka, Griggi described her stay at Yala as “Fantastic! Absolutely amazing!” Having spotted a leopard just an hour into the park, Griggi expressed that her expectations were surpassed during the twice-a-day visits to the park to capture the natural habitat of a number of animals in the best light.”

Not a first timer

“I have been coming to Sri Lanka since 2007,” she said. “I have been here many times during then and now and have travelled to most parts of Sri Lanka except for the northern side of the country.”

Her first visit to the country was to cover the surfing competitions in Arugam Bay. Her visits to Sri Lanka had been not only to cover the sport she holds closest to her heart but also to promote Sri Lanka to those who seek relaxation, adventure and culture in the Western world.

“I have seen a lot of Sri Lanka,” she acknowledged happily, and the country has not disappointed her; time and again she has been blown away by the warmth and the helpfulness of the locals and the beauty of the country in almost every nook and corner.


 A favourite haunt: Yala

Among her favourite haunts in Sri Lanka, Yala takes pride of place. “I think it is a great place to get away and to see animals in their element. They do not look too worried about the number of jeeps coming their way and seem accustomed to visitors. This makes it all the more easier for tourists and wildlife enthusiasts to spot a number of animals during a single trip to the park.”

Having promoted South African safaris some four years ago with BBC Travel, wildlife and country promotion comes naturally to her. Griggi described her South African safaris as “spectacular”. But here in Sri Lanka she saw many animals and several sightings of leopards more so than in her previous safaris outside Sri Lanka.

“I have gone on safari in a South Africa nature reserve a few years ago and it was spectacular. However, I have also gone on safaris several times in my previous visits to Sri Lanka. This time, though, was undoubtedly the best. We saw so many leopards and so many different species of animals; it was unbelievable.”

“The main idea is to push the wildlife in Sri Lanka as most people outside Sri Lanka know Africa more.”


 Leopard sightings

Travelling here with little expectation to see leopards knowing it is the end of the dry season, Griggi said she was surprised to see so many of them. “We saw four different leopards since our sighting within the first hour into the park on the first day. It is quite clearly one of the best places for people with panache for wildlife.”

“We were there for four days and within that period I believe I experienced the best of Sri Lanka’s wildlife. We spent three to four hours at each shoot, morning and evening. It was fantastic.”


 Hospitality at Wild Trails

Having received the invitation from Wild Trails, Griggi expressed that the accommodation provided was world class, with nothing to fault. “The staff was attentive. Accommodation was clean and perfect; it was five star treatment all the way. To come to a forest and get that was amazing. I have never been anywhere else like it.”

Wild Trails caters to anyone and everyone. “It caters to individual needs and accommodates any person and how they would like a getaway to be. Everyone should experience this and should try Wild Trails.”


 From surfing to clicking

Speaking of herself and her love for photography, she expressed that her love for photography was born out of her love for surfing. “Most of my family are artists. But I was never very good at art. My dad had an old Nikon camera, which he gave me when I was in school. When I started surfing and started surf instructing a few years later, I took my camera with me when we went to countries like Morocco to instruct.” Known as one of world’s most successful female photographers and one of the best female surf photographers, Griggi perfected her surf photography while on work and slowly extended her work to other areas such as lifestyle in different parts of the world.

“After some time my pictures started to get published, so travel, surfing, and waves became as much a part of my life as did photography. I mixed all together and then developed myself in this line. So that is how I started writing for international magazines,” she said. “I now do more than just surfing.” With surfing being a sport she loves best, her main line of work or her main income earner is surf photography, Griggi acknowledged, adding that she branched out into commercial work.


 Her accomplishments

Griggi has contributed to various surf-related publications, including Extreme Surf, The Surfing Handbook and The Surfing Yearbook. Her work was also published in The Skateboard, documenting the art of skateboarding from inception to now. Her most significant book contribution before The Skateboard came in the vivid and beautiful 2010 look-book, Shooting the Curl, which showcases the work of 15 top international photographers and tells the inside story on the surfers and the waves that inspire them.


 I love Sri Lanka

“I love Sri Lanka,” she said. Coming from a mixed background with her father being Italian and her mother English, she noted that the similarities between Sri Lankans and Italians were many, which made her feel more at home here.

“Italians and Sri Lankans both love their food and take pride in it. They take time to eat, whereas in England and America we eat on the move,” she said. People too share similar qualities, being hospitable, caring and welcoming. “I will definitely come back to Sri Lanka,” Griggi observed. “I would actually love to stay here.”


 Wild Trails commitment

Wild Trails General Manager Milinda de Silva speaking to Daily FT stated that the intention behind hosting Griggi and her assistant Victoria Walker was to take the word of local wildlife to the world.

“At Wild Trails we aim to give somewhat a similar safari experience you get in Africa,” de Silva said. “Sri Lankan safari camps are sold to tourists who come through travel agents, therefore making it a round tour. We at Wild Trails want to specialise in this product to guide travellers to explore the unexplored in wildlife tourism.”

He continued: “Most who travel to Africa are interested in seeing the leopard, which is a rare sighting in those countries because there are other predators. Here in Sri Lanka you can see a leopard even in broad daylight.”


 National Airline promoting the country

SriLankan Airlines, which partnered to host Griggi in Sri Lanka, noted that the airline was committed and equipped to work with industry partners in travel and tourism to promote wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka boasts wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves where discerning wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers can savour the best of fauna and flora. Getting on board SriLankan Airlines is a great way to fly into Sri Lanka to enjoy the wildlife and rich culture of the country,” SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe said. “The comfort and luxury afforded by the National Airline coupled with the warm hospitality of our on-board staff gives travellers their first taste of paradise.”