A herd of elephants...

Trip Start Aug 07, 2013
Trip End Aug 22, 2013

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pinnawala was on our list of places to visit based on travel guides. An elephant orphanage, the centre now had a booming tourist industry established around its routines. Each day at the same times, the elephants are taken down to the river to wash and spray water, watched by fascinated tourists and locals alike.

Arriving just 5 minutes before the elephants were due to go past our lookout, we were rushed by a 'helper' to get our tickets and walk to the riverbank. At 100-500 rupees for Sri Lankan adults( 50p-2.50) the attraction is heavily subsidised by tourists. Signs for 'tickets for foreigners' are everywhere and tourists are rushed past the queues of locals as their revenue is more valuable-each ticket for foreign adults costs 2000 rupees (10). It's easy to balk at the blatant categorising or discrimination if you see it that way but the sad reality is the vast majority of Sri Lankans live a simple life without the means to pay these prices. Compared to other attractions, these price tickets were reasonable. Of course, our 'helper' expected a tip for taking us to the ticket booth and escorting us to the river bank (both things we could've achieved ourselves) and was unimpressed with our 500rupee (2.50) offering 'it's very small.' After offering to taking it back then, he backtracked!

The elephants were majestic and captivating. Both of us took endless snaps, revelling in beauty of the elephants and the scenery. It was truly breath taking. As they marched past us back up the hill to the orphanage, trunks came inquisitively our way seeking snacks. Back at the orphanage, feeding time was underway. To have your picture taken feeding or giving water to an elephant was free but again tips were expected. 

All in all a beautiful place. We were keen to look out for signs of mistreatment as Lonely Planet mentions growing concerns over animal welfare. There were elephants with slight marks around their ankles where chains were used to clip them to rings set in the concrete floor to assign them a feeding spot but that was it. New shelters and enclosures were under construction and rolling fields and jungle surrounding the place provided authentic food. We witnessed elephants smashing up bark, stripping branches, hoovering up leaves etc so felt fine about the living conditions.

Along the steep road down to the river bank, shops have popped up offering every conceivable elephant memorabilia. Children's jigsaws, wooden statues, batik cards and drawings, painted ornate elephants, stone carved elephants, stationery made of elephant dung.

The prices were a little higher than you would find elsewhere on the island, but it felt more authentic to purchase souvenirs from the town where the elephants lived. 
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