Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Sri Lanka - the Elephants of Palawi

This post is dedicated to Grant and Louise Chamberlain

Sri Lanka has provided more stories and photographs than I can do justice to in the few minutes I have to write your update.

There are a few vignettes I would like to share now instead, and when I have reliable access to a secure computer, I will add some of my images to these posts.

It was great to catch up with my cousin Grant (a jazz saxophonist and ethnomusicologist) and his wife Louise in Colombo. They live in a beautiful region of the city - a bit like Canberra's Yarralumla or Red Hill - and they were in the midst of packing for their upcoming move to Sweden as we arrived. Thank you very much for your warm hospitality during those days!

We also saw the Kelandiya Temple in Colombo, which has a stunning and vast Bodhi tree adjacent to the primary edifice laden with complex murals from the mid-nineteenth century, illustrating the life of the Buddha and Sri Lankan Buddhist history. Await the images for more details, there are plenty.

The first story....

The Elephants of Palawi

There is a spectacular orphanage for elephants a couple of hours drive from Colombo. It provides rehabilitation, veterinary services, and general care for about a hundred elephants of various ages, from tiny (shetland pony sized, only a few days old) calves to a 70-year old blind beast of burden. Some were the children of orphans taken to the park many years earlier.

We arrived amidst a swarm of several school groups, just in time for the feeding and bathing of the pachyderms. They were tremendously cute - again I will have to taunt you with the allure of promised images! Their mahouts (handlers) were very skillful in their herding and oral instruction skills. Our driver, Harald (a lovely bloke with cutting-edge reflexes), told us that the Mahouts have an entire language all to their own, not unlike Gypsy's cant.

The highlight of that morning was taking time for a tea break beside a vast river. This was where the elephants were taken for their daily bath. One, a big girl by the name of Adila, was given poersonalised massage and exfoilation with coconut husk by her mahout. It was very sweet, as there is clearly a distinctive bond between elephant and handler, and it is a lot of work to scrub an elephant!

Unfortunately, I must go now. There is only one computer here, and others must have their turns to write to their loved ones.

More to come later!


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