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Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary

As Claire and I have been busy from the word go, jetlag never really got a chance to hit us. Day three and we were up for another early morning adventure. Destination: Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary. Situated some 20-odd kilometres away from Kandy on the Colombo-Kandy Road, we made it there in time for the door to open for the day at 8.30am so we could participate in the morning (9.15am) feeding and to also not lose further time from our schedule. At this stage, we had a pretty good idea how the remainder of the week would roll but subject to plenty of flexibility.

Even though it was early, a small crowd was already waiting by the gate when we arrived. And perhaps precisely for the early hour, we didn’t see too many foreign tourists there either, the most obvious being a group of French tourists who were bantering among themselves (yes, I occasionally eavesdropped shamelessly but some of the things they said were too funny for me to disregard). Nilan made life easier for us by purchasing tickets on our behalf (we gave him the money and stood aside to wait) and with our (foreigner price) entry plus supplementary feeding (Rs 2,000 + Rs 250) tickets we made our way in.

Perhaps jetlag may have took hold of me mentally if not physically because I did not enjoy this excursion very much. While I understood well the purpose of the sanctuary (taking in and caring for orphaned elephants) and the money they made from opening their door to visitors kept their operation going, I felt like we’ve been given a “set menu” of what was taking place. We were ushered from one spot to another to view the different activities prescribed, not unlike the elephants they were trying to herd.

We started at the general feeding site. Dozens of elephants waited within designated area (visitors to stand behind the boundaries marked by rocks and boulders please) till a couple of trucks came by, unloading bundles of palm leaves rapidly, while the elephants started to feed using their trunks and chewed, chewed, chewed. A few men tried to keep the herds in place, using this stick-with-hook device and some of them were not beyond hitting the animals every now and then too.

Immediately adjacent to us, a tusked elephant was heavily chained, so visitors could pose close by and had their photographs taken. If that wasn’t enough, the herders also hooked a couple of the smaller elephants aside, encouraging the visitors to touch the elephants and grab another photo-op. Of course, not without a small tips, or the herders would turned crabby too. I half-heartedly went along to give the (unchained but guarded) animal a pet – it looked like it could use a hug too but even I knew it was not a done thing to go that crazy.

For reasons unknown, I was starting to feel sorry and a bit sad for the elephants. It was not helped with the presence of a nearly-three-legged elephants. Claire christened it Gammy, for it hobbled slowly to get to the feed. One of the herders, impatient at its lack of natural speed, delivered a soft blow using a stick to get Gammy to move along. I just could not watch that. At this point, I nearly wished I never came here…

While I pulled myself together, it was time to head towards the milk feeding area. 10am sessions for a couple of baby elephants. Drat, I had a ticket for one of the feedings. What seemed like a good idea when we arrived earlier now became a wee bit of dread for me. While waiting though, one of the babies started to entertain the crowd by doing little dance moves. That cheered me up a little. I still wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t feeling quite as down as earlier either. Then came along the Frenchies and their conversations further made me chuckled inside. I did eventually claim my spot to feed the milk from a huge milk bottle that the baby guzzled down within seconds. Hungry baby! Not that I did much, mind. I was just a glorified (and paying) milk bottle holder. :p

See, such a riot of emotions in a short space of time. Can only be jetlag-induced emotional instability, right? Luckily things did improve from then on. I believe it was really the chaining and the hitting that got to me most, but none of these were re-observed further along the morning. Good. Let’s keep it this way.

One eats and one bathes. Same for the elephants. They were herded to the Ma Oya river nearby where they could frolicked in the water for a bit. However, us humans would first be herded through a couple of rows of souvenir-filled shops as well as herb gardens where the garden guides would fed us some fantastical stories of the amazing properties of such and such herb. Claire and I just looked at each other and smiled with bemusement. Look at us – a trained nurse and a science researcher being told the cancer-curing properties of some garden variety herbs. We declined to buy some bottled remedies home with us.

By the river, a few barefooted vendors tried to peddle small packets of bananas and such to tourists while we waited. The elephants had also been accustomed to such little treats I guess, for when they spotted someone with the small packet in his/her hand, they closed in without hesitation to look for their snacks. A family on holiday standing next to me did offer some nice bananas to the elephants and while one elephant tried to sniff out for hidden treats, it decided to run its trunk all over my cargo. Muddy souvenir ;)

Gammy came to the river too. He was unsurprisingly the last in the line, movingly gingerly as it approached the down-river slope. Such determination and such bravery to get through its day, making its way like all its friends. The herder guarding it this time was a lot kinder too, patiently steering it down the path to water and not pushing it unnecessarily by way of punishment. Much better now.

Before we left, Nilan asked us if we would like to go for a spot of elephant riding not far from the orphanage. However, as I had had enough of the feeling akin to being put through an emotional wringer for the morning, I declined. Claire also agreed we should make a move in the direction of Nuwara Eliya and the famous Ceylonese tea plantations. With that, we hopped back into our van and continued our journey.


All posts in this series:
Sri Lanka: Ceylonese Tales
Sri Lanka: Trekking Sigiriya | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cave temples of Dambulla | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cultural evening in Kandy | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: We sort of saw Nuwara Eliya… | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Morning hike at Horton Plains | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: A room with a view in Ella | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Tissa, Yala and safari | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The southern coast | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The old fort of Galle | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Roadtrip ended in Colombo | Flickr Photoset

Category: Asia, Sri Lanka, Travel

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2 scribbles & notes

  1. m3dca says:

    yeah….the good and bad of an animal sanctuary ;)

    pity the 3 legged Gammy though

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