December 9, 2009

Day 2 – 29.11.2009 - Visit to Elephant Orphanage

This was the busiest day of the trip and the most enjoyable one! We set off in the morning after breakfast from Cinnamon Grand to the Elephant Orphanage, Pinnewala. On the sides of the roads we could see fruit vendors displaying their stock of fruits such as pineapples, mandarins etc. We passed some coconut groves and tapioca fields. Tapioca is one of the favorite foods of the Sri Lankans as well just like it is in Kerala. Again, the similarity of the lands and the lifestyle surprised us.

We then saw a property belonging to the Bandaranaike family housing the tombs of 5 dead family members. We reached a small village with huge fields of cashew trees. The village has many roadside shops selling cashews and other tidbits. The ladies selling the cashews were dressed in very colourful puffed sleeves blouses and sarongs. The entire street was made very colourful by these ladies. A beautiful lady with a very enchanting smile posed for us happily and in return she asked me to give her my bindi. I had a pack with me in the car which I handed over to her and this made her more than happy.

We were first taken by our guide to a spice garden. It was a small garden with a few herbs and plants. There was nothing new for us to see here as all the plants he showed us with great fervor have been in our back yards ever since we remember. They also sell magic products claiming to be very beneficial in curing diseases such as cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, migraines etc.

After the Spice Garden we went to the elephant orphanage. This was the trip Appu was looking forward to all along. The orphanage currently houses 84 elephants of varying ages. The elephants were seen together in herds grazing peacefully in the coconut plantation converted as the orphanage. A few elephant calves were seen suckling their mother’s breasts. We saw a huge tusker which had been blinded by the locals after killing 3-4 people and causing extensive damage to property. We also saw the three footed elephant which has become world famous after losing his foot to a landmine planted by the LTTE. The feeding of the young elephants was a pleasure to witness. The young ones are bottle fed with formula milk. At a go they take in almost 7 bottles of milk. The visitors are also allowed to feed the babies.
We then went to a small place known as the Pinnewalla Elephant Dung Paper Factory where a lot of products are made out of elephant poo. The products are varied such as papers, calendars, key chains, photo albums, photo frames, show pieces, paper cubes, book marks etc. It was here that Appu found just the right gift for her teacher. It was a red and yellow bookmark decorated with a Christmas tree. Since they are presently learning about conservation, recycling etc, this was an apt gift. I picked up a couple of souvenirs from here as well.

It was bathing time for the elephants. We saw the elephants coming out peacefully from the orphanage, crossing the road and proceeding towards the banks of the river Maha Oya where they would spend the next few hours bathing to their hearts’ desire. It was a beautiful sight. Some of the elephants were taking dips in the river in groups, some were more happy to remain on the banks and play in the mud, some wanted to bask in the sun, a few of the little ones kept following their mothers around. The picturesque location added to the beauty of the bathing elephants. A negative point here was the use of hooks by the mahouts which somehow did not go down too well with me.

The road from the orphanage to the river was lined with shops selling beautiful leather bags, straw hats and some other souvenirs. There was a guy by the side of the road having 2 snakes in crates, a python and a cobra. He coaxed us into holding one of his pets and B gathered all his guts and put the python around his neck. I was encouraged by this but could only manage to put the tail end around myself. The feel of the gigantic snake sliding over my shoulders still gives me the creeps!

After the elephant orphanage was a long drive to the Golden Temple, Dambulla to see the Rock Caves. I had been looking forward to this visit. But since the ticket counter closes at 6.00 p.m. we were unsure as to whether we would be able to make it in time. Thanks to Mr. Fernando, we managed to reach Dambulla just few minutes before the closure of the counter. The climb up to the temple was backbreaking. All we had was a feeble torch to guide us and on both side of the steps there was thick growth of trees and shrubs. But once we reached there, we realized that it was really worth the trouble.

There are 5 separate caves under an overhanging rock with 153 statues of Buddha some of them dating back to 1st century BC.. The cave paintings were astonishing for the quality and detail. There was a mystic feel to it and the cool breeze outside the caves made me want to just sit there and gaze at the stars. The climb down was equally terrifying. However, this time we were accompanied by the temple staff who were kind enough to guide us down. Thanks to God, the little boy was very well behaved through all this.

After the temple visit we proceeded for our overnight stay at Heritance Kandalamma. This again was a long drive and since this is an eco friendly hotel there was only a dirt road leading to the hotel. Mr. Fernando told us that if we were lucky we would be able to see wild boars, monkeys, or even elephants. We were not too unlucky as we atleast managed to see a wild rabbit sitting and munching on something in the middle of the road. The hotel experience was beyond words. I was impressed by the great pains taken to protect and safeguard the ecological harmony. The hotel is over 1 km long and 7 floors high. The stay at this hotel was a wonderful experience and if I ever get the visit Sri Lanka again, this is one place I want to revisit. Our room had an excellent view of the jungle, the lake and the mountains beyond. The view at night was simply breathtaking. Once the lights were switched off, the room had the silver aura of the moonlight being reflected from the lake. We felt as though we were sleeping in the open. I felt lucky being able to drift to sleep looking at the lake, the mountains, the sky and the stars.


santhosh said...

hi sandhya
read ur blog,i wonder despite having many other demands on ur day as a wife/a passionate working mother and daughter how u find time to update ur blog?
i like ur style of writing with a unique tune....keep writing


Swaram said...

Wow! Thatz ws a wonderful day indeed! N u hv really written it very well .. with all details :) Cn use this as a ready reckoner when we plan to visit Lanka :)

Luved the idea of those recycled prods made with elephant poop!