Friday, October 21, 2011

(Travelogue) Visiting the Elephant Sanctury in Pinnawala: Oriental Outings Day 18

March 18, 2011

A view inside the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Today was one of the main highlights of our three weeks Oriental Outings when we visited Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a place where baby elephants who have lost their parents are brought from the widespread tropical jungles and taken care of in a (close to) natural milieu. Visiting the orphanage was a treat indeed! Tops mozumbus’ list of Must Dos in Sri Lanka.

Three hours bus (plus tuk-tuk)  journey to the sanctuary was not that comfortable, however, completely worth it, more so as it saved us the exorbitant cost of hiring a private car, thanks to Dharsana – our host – who is an encyclopedia when it comes to traveling around Colombo and beyond using public transport!

The day ended with excited us wandering around the capital city to fetch the match ticket, which we already booked online for tomorrow’s Pakistan – Australia World Cup encounter, only to know that the pass will be available from the office of Sri Lankan Cricket Board the next morning!

Animal Kingdom
The Elephant Family

Elephant Family in Focus

Wandering Alone

The Scenery
It was awe-inspiring when we entered the arena, which was a wide bank of the slow flowing river with green jungles in the background, after completing entrance formalities (see below for ticketing details). A horde of elephants, a few dozens if one could count, of all sizes were busy in enjoying the river bath.
No Restrictions

Roaming Free

The Prohat

Posing for Camera
Most importantly, there was no restriction on visitors, and on elephants for that matter, as both can mingle up without a pinch of fear! A live demonstration of human-animal brotherhood!! The environment was authentic and much better than the artificial setting in a typical metropolitan zoo. 
The Radar

A wedding ceremony was also going on in the adjacent Hotel Elephant Bay! The couple must be an avid nature lover to select this unique side for wedding! Nonetheless, elephant is a good luck symbol in Lankan society and the national emblem of the island country.

Moms are Always Possessive!
Cute Baby

Bathing Lesson

Practice Session

Feeling Safe
While the gigantic creatures were roaming around carelessly, the spectators were more attracted towards the miniature type. There were a handful of cute babies also some of which had been born there as a result of affairs between grown up orphans!!

Their mothers were all possessive, sensing that people are interested in their babies they were trying to hide them among the horde especially when one attempts to make a snap! Melancholic memories of their childhood might have made them overprotective, and rightly so, as they did not want their kids to go through the pain they passed through. Elephants have emotions too, and at times more unworldly than we humans have!

Busy in focusing one of the babies too closely, I got too captivated and could not notice that a mammoth object is coming our way depriving us the already little space on a fragile river stone. For the next few moments I couldn’t see anything around except for gigantic brown structures with pillar sized feet and fan looking ears!

Thankfully the big one passed by smoothly without committing any mistake, slightest of which would have been very expensive for me. Soon I managed to peek between elephants to see Urooba safe and sound who was also hanging Misha in the baby carrier worried about trapped me.

Busy Bees
I've Got the Pipe

I Can Stand on it

And Then Slip!!
Having a Quick Massage

Diving in
That was like a big elephant party, all of them looked happy and careless, some busy in playing with the mud, some pushing each other, a naughty one even got a steel pipe and was trying to balance itself on that, while one another found a tree trunk and was using that for quick massage!
Some Busy in the Mud Bath

Having Some Good Time
Their response to people was also friendly and natural, while making on-demand poses and accepting bananas with gratitude, they were not looking nervous, although people did! After a couple of hours I was guessing who the spectator was, them or we!?

Happy Misha
Misha Having Fun

She Can Spot the Baby Too!

Will We Come Again Here??

She Slept Finally
The best thing for us was that Misha had an interest in the happening. She could even differentiate and point out the calves. From then, she can recognize an ‘elephant’ and gets excited while showing the picture album of our trip!

There Were Stories Too
War is Bad, Even for Elephants

I'm Fit!
An elephant that lost one of its legs due to mine explosion – a consequence of the civil war between the Sinhalese army and Tamil fighters – got special attention. He was found wounded in the war zone and then brought to the orphanage where he has grown up now healthy and strong! There was a pregnant mother also. She got tired and took support from the fence where we were standing to have a rest before she could go back to her abode.
One With Chain

And This is Why it is so!
On the other side of the road a young couple was busy in having romance. That was genuine and innocent! An angry one was causing some nuisance as he started fighting and pushing as soon as some other fellow came closer to it. Unfortunately, he was chained with one of his legs.
A Romantic Couple!
It was soothing to watch them so we spent quite some time first in the river facing balcony of the adjacent hotel and then on the other side of the road where elephants reside.

Logistics for Independent Travelers
Colombo-Kandy Highway

On the Way
Collecting Fares

Inside the Bus

Please Read!
We visited the Elephant Orphanage as a day trip from Colombo using public transport and found that doable, however, with a mild level of discomfort, which off-set with the savings we made over hiring a private car. A private car may cost around LKR 7000-1000 while we did that for LKR 1000.

First we made it to the Fort Bus Station, adjacent to the Train Station, from where intercity buses originate. For Pinnawala, it is Bus Route # 1 which runs between Colombo-Kandy. There are two types of buses for the same route; the big one was cheap but without AC and hence not recommended unless one is on a shoe-string budget. The other one charges a bit high (LKR 210 per person then) but it is more comfortable, coaster style, with functional AC. Recommended.

Alight at Pinnawala junction on Colombo-Kandy highway. Inform about your plan beforehand to the bus conductor, who will also collect fares from passengers, to avoid any confusion. From the junction you can take the inexpensive local bus to the orphanage or haggle with one of the tuk-tuks standing there. We opted for the later to save some time and paid LKR 100 after a bit negotiation. From the junction to the orphanage it is a pretty straight forward and a scenic journey.
Pinnwala Junction on Colombo-Kandy Highway
On the way back, we first took the local bus from the orphanage back to the Colombo-Kandy highway where we waited for the bus to Colombo. Rather than waiting for the AC coaster we took the bus that arrived first. And that was a mistake as it was too uncomfortable, slow, and hot! So better wait there and aboard the AC coaster.

In case you are flying into Sri Lanka and want to visit the Elephant Orphanage first thing, then there is no need to go to Colombo first, as the airport is ~40 km away from Colombo city and there are direct transportation options to Pinnawala/Kandy from the nearby town of Negombo.

King Coconuts!

Good One
In any case, don’t forget to drink refreshing coconuts while on the go, especially the yellowish golden king coconuts, from roadside vendors. It’s quite a deal for LKR 30-40 to make up for the lost energy due to tropical heat. For the same price, you can have the pulp of the coconut, just ask the vendor who will not only break the fruit into two but will also make a spoon for you from the fruit skin!

Tuk-Tuk Trap
The tuk-tuk we rode from the junction first took us to a private setup, located on the same road, and was marked as ‘Elephant Safari’. Beware, this is a trap! It was only the rip-off entrance fee of LKR 6,500 that cast a doubt in my mind. A kind passerby also confirmed that it was not the place we were looking for. I shouted at the young tuk-tuk driver who then asked blatantly for another LKR 100 which I obviously turned down and asked him to either took us to the real place without charging a single extra penny or face the (unknown) consequences!

Of Ticket, Money, and Discount!
First Buy the Ticket

Ticket Counter

Details

Normal entrance fee for foreigners is LKR 2000 per person while there is a discount for SAARC nationals, which I was unaware of until I exchanged the USD for LKR from the Ceylon Bank’s branch located inside the vicinity. Timely information by the decent looking lady bank manager and presence of one tattered copy of Urooba’s passport in the daypack saved us another LKR 3000! As far the bank was concerned, the exchange rate was comparable to what I got earlier from outside the airport, 3% off from what quoted on the internet, a fair case I guess.
Bank of Ceylon
Souvenir Shopping
We also bought a wooden elephant from one of the many souvenir shops outside. Haggling is the law; we got our choice for LKR 2000 down from 3000! There was a shop also which claimed that they use elephant dung only for paper making. The idea was appealing however prices were ridiculously high, maybe to exploit the awareness among tourists regarding environment and tree cutting! 

So that is the end of another enthralling day with only one day left before our departure back to home!

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