Sri Lanka is renowned for its many national parks where elephants roam in the wild. My life-long fascination for these creatures is spiked, but with our limited time I must be content with a day-trip to
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, 90 km (56mi) northeast of the capital.
What we consider an hour's drive translates into three hours on the congested two-lane highway. Our seasoned driver Rajah operates with an insect's compound eye capabilities as he skims past motor-rickshaws rattling along the outer edges of the roadway. Trucks, buses, and cars vie for space in between, and motorcycles weave in and out of all-of-the-above.
Established at another location in 1975, we arrive at the orphanage's current location near the Maha Oya River. A staff supervisor tells us, "it is currently home to 88 pachyderms (37 males, 51 females) spanning three generations. As well as taking in new orphans, the older elephants are retained here as they've become dependent on the food supply, or
have special needs."
It is riveting to witness the whole herd thunder past us on their way to the Oya River where they escape the heat of the day in the refreshing fast-running water, with much socializing going on. The babies are particularly cute. Among the elders, the blind tusker named Raja is gleefully submerged in the swirling flow, and Sama stands tall on three legs, her left front leg, lost in an accident.
We drive onward to Kandy, a town nestled in a valley with its deep blue lake in contrast to the variegated greens of forested hills.
Our focus is the ancient Royal Complex, once a part of the last residence of
Kingdom of Kandy royalty; now a UNESCO site. This kingdom was founded in the 15th century and continued its rule into the 19th, finally succumbing to British forces with the aid of Kandian chieftains.
The Temple of the Tooth (so named for its tooth relic of Gautama Buddha) is a part of the complex. Upon entering the temple, a sizable painting of legendary
Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamali draws attention. It is said the Princess carried Buddha's tooth relic hidden in her hair when bringing it from India to Sri Lanka in the 4th century. It was moved to different repositories for safety, until it was brought to the temple in Kandy in the late 1500's, where it remains to this day.
Although the tooth is not in plain sight, worshippers in the relic room fill the space before a golden Buddha; some standing, some sitting, others adding to the already thick mat of flowers on the long altar table. The scent is intoxicating; the air is stifling. I watch a child barely able to reach the top of the table add marigolds with great solemnity.
Monks conduct daily worship in the temple - at dawn, noon and evening with drummers and chanting. But for us it is a tour of the town, with Rajah pointing out the most prominent colonial left-overs before we head back to Colombo.
Sri Lanka lives in our minds as a dynamic place, an island gem of natural beauty and wildlife, rich culture, a complex history and friendly locals...we leave instilled with a desire to someday return.
Rick Butler Slideshow