Sunday, 15 August 2010

Elephants and Temples

8th August 2010

We began to head back towards Colombo, leaving the tranquil city of Kandy behind. We had many planned stops along the way, again our day had nothing to do fashion or craft. Our first stop was Embekka Devale which is known for its intricately carved pillars dating from as far back as 14th century. The carvings depict different mythical creatures and the odd Portuguese soldier. Our guide was a wonderful old man missing most of his teeth who knew the entire history of the temple and pointed out all the interesting little details of the paintings and carvings.

The next temple was the Gadaladeniya temple which is at the top of a battered sandstone hill, to get to the temple we had to sprint to the top of scorching well worn steps in our barefeet. The temple hailed from about the same time as Embekka but the has been heavily influenced by Hindu architecture. We had to hop to the main structure before the soles of our feet blistered. There was a huge statue of Bhudda in meditation pose. Our guide then began to show us his paintings, I gritted my teeth and prepared to tell him they were very nice, but no thank you, but the paintings were excellent. His style was very simple and they had all been done with pen and paint. I was impressed and bought one, then the girls all gave in and bought one each. It made his day as it was his birthday and he usually only sells two a month.

We finally arrived at the destination we had all been waiting for, the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. ‘Luckily’ we got there just in time to see the spectacle of feeding time. Two baby elephants were chained to the middle of a fenced arena where sunburnt tourists got to force bottles down their throats. As you may be able to tell, I didn’t really enjoy this – in fact it made me feel a little ill (this could have also been the smell.) There is a huge problem in Sri Lanka of humans encroaching on elephant territory resulting in the elephants being pushed into human inhabited areas and both elephants and humans responding violently. As a result there is a ‘conflict’. I felt that the way this has been explained to us as a situation where the elephants are equally to blame is sad and surprisingly na├»ve for a nation seemingly so attuned to their environment. There has also been a little bit of controversy surrounding the orphanage due to the amount of human contact the elephants are subjected to and also because they have begun to breed elephants when it is supposed to be an orphanage. We headed down toward the river where we saw a pack of about 30 elephants ranging from babies to adults all trundling into the river to bathe. A magnificent site although entirely orchestrated by their mahouts (keepers).

On the way back home we stopped at a fruit stall and bought bags and bags of fruit, mainly avocados. They are huge and ripe and soooooooo tasty! When we finally reached home we had amazing Mexican style wraps with lots of tomatoes, coriander and of course the amazing avocados.

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