Staying in a wonderful resort puts you in a comfortable lurch and yet there is this paradox of choice. Do we stay in the resort and spend every minute unaware of what is happening around and just respond to the call of the sea? Or pack your bag and hit the roads?
In the first part of this series, I told you immensely captivated we were by the resort. If you have no clue what am referring to, please read this.
The night we arrived, we had already booked a trip to Kandy that cost us 14,000 LKR for a one day tour. We really wanted the best out out of this trip in terms of going out and getting to see as much as we could as against the trip we made to Kuala Lumpur where all we did was eat, sleep, relax, fight for turns to play in the bubble bath and shop.
With the impending trip to India that would would soon prove to be very hectic owing to a family wedding, we still decided to take the plunge.
We never regretted it. And the 14000 LKR though sounded a bit on the higher range, was quite okay given the fact that R, who drove us everywhere was also a seasoned guide and very well versed with local habits.
After breakfast, we just prepped up last minute and set off with R. Even though R had showed us the luxury van from a distance and said that it had a TV inside for us, I did not really bother much. Who needs a TV when you want to gobble up all the sights in front of you?
But I saw what he meant by “luxury”. The seats were extremely comfortable, very well maintained with a good aircon given that it was extremely hot and ofcourse, there was the much popular TV. We would have enjoyed the ride in a rickety bus but it kind of helped in the scheme of things that we had a lot of travel coming up in the days ahead and going on smooth rides was a plus. A big plus.
When we started off, R played Sa Re Ga Ma Pa re-runs of the children’s challenge. I have watched every episode of it and watching it and listening to some of favourite singers amidst so much of greenery made the yester-years come alive.
One deal that K struck with R before we commenced our trip was – “You must take us through the local roads and skip highways. Even if the roads are not so roady.” And R executed that to perfection by taking us through small towns and narrow roads making a journey of 1.5 hours, a 2.5 one.
Along the way, we saw a lot of private pineapple forms. Now, I have never seen a pineapple except on my plate or a grocery store. I had never seen how a plant looked like. Frankly, I don’t think I would have noticed it keenly if R did not tell us that there were indeed pineapples undeground. Quite sad, I know.
We were overjoyed to see rows and rows of these pineapples along the way, in different private farms - like pineapple pit stops. On our way we crossed paths with little children wearing clean white and blue uniforms to go to the nearest convent, their hair oiled and pleated and white canvas shoes polished to perfection holding each others’ hands in the distant narrow kachcha road forming an ant-line.
While R went on and on about how he loved Indian music and likes Shammi Kappor and the Khans and Rishi Kapoor and the little tit-bits he knew of them, we caught a bit of movie and music outside our windows as well.
Sri Lanka has a lot of greenery. No second word about it. What held my attention was its proximity to Kerala when it came to the number of coconut trees. There were coconut trees lining the streets. And when they did not line the streets, they snuggled and some elbowed their way and grew amidst their other green friends.
You know the kind of games people play when htey udnertake long roadtrips? Like, who gets the maximum count of a red house or the number of green lamp-post etc. You could never play that with coconut trees for sure!
While churches are very popular in Negombo, because it is predominantly occupied by Christians (according to R), we surprisingly never spotted churches along the way. What we did spot was this temple!
What is a road trip without tuk-tuks? There were many of them. But what is worth noticing is that even though some parts of the journey were tricky given the narrow lanes (we chose to do it, remember), the roads in general were well maintained for the part we travelled.
I am so used to seeing black tuk-tuks with a bit of yellow/ ivory on their snooty nose that this blue guy stole my heart!
All along the way, we spotted many many of these puffed/air blown toys being sold. R said that they are usually here but given that Christmas was approaching, they stayed for longer hours and came by more consistently.
Before we knew it, we had arrived at the elephant orphanage at Pinnawela, our number 1 of the list. Deeps (who has written her experience at the orphanage here) had told me that “this place is something” and so did the resort guys. We were happy to be there finally!
The concept is simple. they adopt elephants that are orphaned unweaned elephants from the wild when they are abandoned by their family/mother. Also, sometimes, elephants get injured either by manual activity or by falling into ravines or getting infected by a parasite. So these elephants (sometimes babies) are nursed, tended to and cared for by the Govt. authorities.
Listening to R tell us about this itself was so moving. We were touched and strongly feel that this is a great initiative – an elephantine one at that!
When I look back and think of the elephants I saw and said hello to, I can’t help but feel a tinge of hurt and regret about this little guy you see above. There is this stable where a few elephants were chained and fed. Some were not even chained but the mahouts were all there. So, this li’l chap, he refused to come to me. There is this option to feed them and I stood there with all kinds of juicy sticks and he not only not came to me but also ran away from me. I took this pretty personally. The mahouts laughed and said he is a bit cheeky that way but I refused to be consoled. I stood there for 20 minutes in the hope he would change his mind, but all he did was -
run from one end to the other making me lose weight. And you thought you could entice them with food. Little fella, I’m going to never forget you and if needed, I will come again just to make sure you eat from my hands.
K ofcourse interpretted this in convenient ways that did not help anyway. Sighing, we moved to the next stable.
The big handsome guy above had suffered from paralysis and the left front limb was affected pretty badly. You’d think it deterred him in some way, but no! He swung his trunk, heaved and huffed and snatched some fresh leaves from his friend.
But the most beautiful part was how the mahouts handled all this. I did not see anyone being rude or hostile. While they had to be a little dominating to maintain control, they fed them, laughed with us and made fun of the elephants. I think their spirit was a big take-away for us. Apart from the wonderful gesture on part of the Govt, that is.
R then announced that we would be going to the elephant bath. It is nothing but water-play or a baby-bath, we soon realized. See these little fellows here -
These are babies. One is 7 months old and the other is 3 months old. The 3 months old guy was having one whale of a time in the water. He refused to stand up at all. He swam or did something like flap his little limbs (not so little actually) and his trunk, made bubbles, tried to grapple, made funny moves and totally lived it up in style! We loved this so much that we must have taken tens of snaps each.
And then we met the oldest elephant at the orphanage who is also blind but can sense through other modalities. When we visited, this majestic one was sick and yet I found an elegance and stature that I can’t place in words – like aging gracefully maybe.
Now we went to the actual elephant bath. You know the kinds where the elephants trumpet and then go in a line straight out a school assembly – just like that!
We followed, through the streets, blinded by the sudden rush of colours, hand-made items, leather goods, people and ofcourse the hot hot sun that gave us a permanent squint.
As soon as you go this nearby river, Maha Oya, you will see why the elephants were so excited!
It is so hot and humid that all these guys need is a water bath. And with a tub as big as a river and company for play, who wouldn’t? While some got submerged inside the river, cooling off, the rest pretended to test the waters before joining their friends.
I have no idea why they did this, but I was fascinated. It was almost like the right elephant followed suit. They were in that position for a while though. Some new form of sun-bathing, I suppose.
There is another big reason why they love the bath and seem unperturbed with so many onlookers around. If you can make your way up to one end, you get to buy bananas from an elderly genetleman there for 100 LKR a packet (had about 6-8 bananas) and feed them. They were not just fed, but over-fed (though am not sure iif such a thing exists). Everyone there wanted to feed them, take snaps and capture the right moment.
As K found it hard to position himself at a vantage point, I teased this guy with the banana (I was running short even though we had 2 packets) and finally gave in. If I had prolonged further, you would have seen the picture of me struggling to come out of his huge coiled nose.
We did the same for K and R. It was absolutely fun watching other people feed them endlessly with more and more bananas that they gladly accepted with no shyness whatsoever.
I loved looking at those two snuggling. The little one was high on pampering and attention seeking for itself.
And then when the mahouts start gathering them all up (ya right! as if they could), they go back in such orderliness that it definitely teaches us a thing or two.
K and I are very very glad that we went here. The majestic elephants, the lush greenery, goose-bump inducing line of mountains around and more than anything, the wonderful gesture of restoring the elephants to health, safety and happiness (you really should see them bathe) was awe-inspiring. I will strongly recommend this place. I have heard that Coorg has a similar elephant camp that trains captured elephants but I have never been there yet inspite of staying so close to Coorg. always happens, eh? Sigh.
Following this, we headed onwards to an extremely fun place that I cannot wait to tell you about in the next post!