Elephant Enchanted!

Elephant Enchanted!

Squirting jets of water into each other’s eyes with thick, hose-pipe trunks, or slathering themselves with the wet sand that caked the banks of the river, these lovably colossal creatures had trumpeted their way into our hearts.

The Pinnewala orphanage for elephants, situated halfway between Colombo and Kandy, was established in 1975 to protect and nurse elephant foundlings. On a recent visit to Sri Lanka, we decided to visit this haven.

The gnarled, pot-holed road that lead to Pinnewala had us quivering with nauseous discomfort, but the lusciously verdant cloak that draped the countryside managed to mitigate its cons.

Stepping out of the by now claustrophobia inducing car, we were assailed by the rather overpowering aroma of elephant poo. Following the trail of fresh droppings, we walked a couple of hundred metres to the river. The path to the river was flanked by quaint souvenir stalls that sold all sorts of ethnic memorabilia.

On reaching the Maha Oya River, the delicious smell of elephant mingled with the delicate aroma of the surrounding vegetation infused the air with its rustic charm.  An outdoor cafe, frothing over with excited tourists, overlooked the bathing site . Besides serving cups of hot chocolate with a distinctive Sri Lankan flavour, it also treated us to an excellent view of the elephants.

With furrows etched deeply into their foreheads and eyes sparkling with wit, most elephants seemed content to slosh about lazily in the water, impervious to the love-struck stares of the visitors. Some others scrubbed the backs of their ears with gritty purposefulness, scouring the creases permeating their countenance with determined zeal.

A couple of elephants rolled about in the sludge along the banks of the river and then lay contentedly to bask in the cheerful heat of the sun. Two mahouts patrolled the bathing site, sure-footed and nimble. The elephants seemed to be a part of one large family, wrestling playfully with strong trunks and then making offers of amnesty by proffering bunches of foliage to one othe

After two hours of uninterrupted bathing, they walked in a procession along the river, flapping their ears and drenching the unsuspecting onlookers with refreshing splashes.  As I ran my fingers along the woozy haired forehead of a little one, still wet with the recent dip, feelings of affection and protectiveness towards this intelligent, comical creature engulfed me with torrid intensity.

We still had an hour to go before the babies were fed, so we looked around the store selling elephant dung paper. As the name suggests, elephant dung paper is made from poo. An adult elephant consumes about 180kg of leaves and grass per day.

They drop dung around sixteen times a day. The dung is boiled with margosa, which acts as a disinfectant, and the pulp is then put through various processes to finally make paper. This paper is an environmentally sound alternative to regular paper. It also helps in the conservation of these adorably magnificent creatures whose numbers are fast dwindling.

Raja, a blind tusker stood by himself, feasting on leaves of fresh tamarind and coconut. Two exquisite tusks, the cause of his sightlessness, lent him a majestic, almost regal air. He had been shot in both eyes by poachers who were in the quest of those much coveted front teeth.

He was happy at Pinnewala, and did not seem to mind the hordes of tourists who disturbed him with the constant click-clicking of their cameras. We then trudged through the Sri Lankan slush to the stalls where the baby elephants were housed, splattering our clothes with traces of muck.

The sight of the little ones intertwining trunks and swaying to and fro on stubby, uncoordinated legs seemed to wash away all the grime and wobbliness of the journey.

They were being bottle-fed by their handlers, and milk dripped furtively down their chins [or whatever elephants call chins!]. We got to feed them as well, and encountered unexpected strength as their mouths hung hungrily onto the bottles. Feeding them gave us a feeling of inexplicable contentment, and we knew that God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.

Pinnewala had bewitched us with its cheerful, swashbuckling denizens and the lush beauty surrounding it, and as we said goodbye to its mud and magic flecked premises, we knew that we would be back soon, real soon.

Malvika
Cluny Convent School

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