My love for animals would be pretty evident to anyone who has read my earlier posts. The size of the four legged does not matter – I find an elephant as interesting as a tiny squirrel. As a little child, I remember going for an elephant ride with a mahout (elephant care taker) who would come with the gentle mega life form right till our door step. Sitting in the basket mounted on the elephant’s back, at least 10 feet above the ground, was the high point of my life as an eight year old and the memory still makes me smile. As a child, little did I know that the elephant was definitely not as happy as I was. PETA and related concepts are too much for a child to understand!
Elephant Orphanages near Kandy
A couple of decades after the last elephant ride that I had had, Ankur planned a trip to let me interact once again with the the ‘biggies’ at Sri Lanka. The options available are the Millennium Elephant Foundation and the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage near Kandy. Both these shelters are about 50 km from Kandy and close to each other.
Which one of the two you decide to visit depends on what you really want to do. For a more interactive experience of bathing and elephant and riding one, Millenium Elephant Foundation is a good place. If you want to watch lots of elephants frolicking in the river, we would suggest visiting the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.
Millennium Elephant Foundation
We hadn’t planned to stop at the Millennium Elephant Foundation and were on our way to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The place was suggest by our cab driver, who insisted that we must spend an hour or so here to ‘experience’ being with the elephants.
Meet the residents
There are fewer residents here (as compared to Pinnawala) – eight elephants only: four girls Lakshmi, Rani, Ranmenika and Pooja and four boys Raja, Kandula, Kavari Raja and Bandara.
Our host for the day was Lakshmi, who is a gentle lady, over 40 years of age. She is the the matriarch of the herd at Millennium Elephant Foundation. Her gentle nature has earned her stardom – she is famous ‘filmstar’ who has appeared in plenty of international movies. Lakshmi’s daughter Pooja is the first calf to be born to a domesticated elephant in Sri Lanka. While at the foundation, you can say a ‘Hi’ to Pooja as well.
Things to do at the Millennium Elephant Foundation
You can spend 2 to 4 hours at the foundation engaging in various activities with the elephant. The charges that you pay at the entrance depend on the duration of your visit and the activities involved and can be anywhere between USD 15 to USD 30. We chose the 2 hour option and had a great time bathing and riding the elephant.
Riding an elephant
Getting on top of the elephant was little bit of a tussle – we needed our mahout, our muscles and off course, the elephant to help ourselves up on her back. Once there, we were pretty steady. The mahout said ‘Hurrrrrrrrrrahhh’ and Lakshmi started ambling along. It took us a few minutes to feel confident on Lakshmi’s back, perched 10 feet high. Soon enough, we were enjoying the lush green Sri Lankan vegetation around us.
The only time when we were a little worked up was when Lakshmi had to cross a small bridge. Even though she was slow and steady, I was sure I will topple into the stream below. I wonder why tough? As a child, such a thought had never crossed my mind when I played ‘Princess on the Elephant’! Woes of growing up, I guess!
Bathing an elephant
This was my favourite part! Lakshmi seemed to be having a pretty good time lying in the water – who doesn’t like to soak ones self in the bath tub. In this case, the bath tub was a pond to match Lakshmi’s majestic size. I went in, tippy toeing initially. I wasn’t quite sure whether I was welcome. But I guess I was! The mahout handed me a coconut shell, which was Lakshmi’s loofa, I think I did a fairly decent job as a masseuse – Lakshmi seemed to be smiling blissfully. You can even sit on the elephant’s back and she will graciously shower you…an interesting experience.
Considering that Ankur is not too comfortable with four legged beings, he stayed out and clicked my pictures. It took a lot of coaxing and cajoling to get him into the water. I am sure it wasn’t an experience that he was too comfortable with. As for me, ‘bathing an elephant’ – thumbs up and a must do thing when you are in Sri Lanka!
Watching the elephants paint
We all love colours, including the elephants. Trainers have spent a few months teaching Lakshmi and Rani to paint and the ladies seem to enjoy their time with the colours. The paintings are up for sale as well and cost between USD 200 to USD 400. Your idea while buying this masterpiece should be to donate to the foundation for animal welfare and take the colourful token home.
Two cents from my end… Some tips…
- Try reaching the foundation early in the morning- will ensure that you have sufficient time to spend at the foundation and still reach in time to watch the herd of elephants bathe at Pinnawala (10 am and then 2 pm).
- The easiest way to get here is by renting your own car of taxi. Self driven cars are not easily available in Sri Lanka. Suggest hiring one with a driver.
- Carry a change of clothes handy if you wish to give the elephants a bath or want to get blessed with a shower.
- Want to contribute? Speak to the staff on adopting an elephant or doing voluntary work.
As always, send me an e-mail if you need any further details. Glad to help.
Let the travellers’ tribe grow!