We arrived in Sri Lanka about 6:00 am. Sri Lankan Immigration officials came on board when we left Singapore so we were cleared before we arrived.
Sri Lanka is primarily a Buddhist country.
After a great breakfast we were off to our excursion “Elephants of Pinnawela By Train”.
About 9:00 am we boarded the bus and headed to the Colombo Fort train station. On the way we saw two of the iconic features of Colombo: the Lotus Tower and the huge Buddhist shrine (stupa) Sambodhi Chaithya.
Seems like every large city has a distinguishing tower and Colombo is no different. This one is shaped like a lotus flower thus the name “Colombo Lotus Tower”. It is 1,159 ft tall and is used for communications as well as recreation. It also has a revolving restaurant and an observation deck.
Construction began on the Sambodhi Chaithya in 1956. It commemorates Buddha’s enlightenment and teachings. If you’re up to it, you can climb the 123 steps to the entry.
After 10 minutes of bus travel we reached the train station. Since it was a work day the station was very busy with people arriving and departing for work. It seems we were the only ones not in a hurry.
About 15 minutes later our chartered train “The Viceroy Special” arrived. Our conductor showed us to our train car and got us settled for our two hour ride to Pinnawela. The interior of the train car was a throwback to the early British Raj era. Each seat had a real table with tablecloth and placemat. About 10 minutes into the trip tea (Ceylon tea of course!) or coffee was served.
The time went by quickly and the countryside was very beautiful. We saw several Buddhist temples/shrines on the way.
We arrived at the Rambukkana train station and re-boarded a bus for a short ride to the village of Pinnawela and the elephant orphanage. The orphanage was originally founded to care for orphaned elephants but has also become a nursery and breeding ground for wild Asian elephants. Their current herd of elephants is around 90.
As we arrived we noticed some interesting signs. One warned us to be careful and to watch for crossing elephants! Another advertised an elephant bathing place. While another advertised “Poo Paper Sold Here”. I thought this was advertising toilet paper for the tourists. Actually they are advertising handmade paper and paper products made from elephant poo! I won’t go into the process but just say there were a lot of paper products for sale.
Our trip was planned perfectly and we were in time to watch a portion of the herd getting their bath in the local river. The elephants actually live about 1/2 mile away from the river (thus the crossing sign). Twice a day they are marched through town into the river where they bathe about an hour. A firehose nozzle is used to wet help them down. The elephants seemed to enjoy the spray and the cooling water.
After an hour they are herded together for the march back to the Orphanage. At that time tourists can buy food and feed them if they want. Once the herd is ready the march back to the orphanage begins. The route back takes them on the same street as the souvenir shops. After the elephants pass you can pickup your own “souvenir” if you want.
When the elephants were gone we went to a restaurant that overlooks the river for lunch. We had a very tasty Indian meal. While we were eating, about six elephants showed up at the river for their bath. It was great fun eating and watching them bathe.
After lunch we had a little time to visit the souvenir shops and then walked to the Orphanage. We arrived just as the six other elephants returned from their bath. A few minutes later it was time for another group of elephants to leave for their trip to the river. It was kinda scary watching this huge herd of elephants walk by only a couple of feet away. However the handlers made sure to keep them in line.
We wandered around the orphanage for about an hour and then began our 2 hour trip back to the ship.
About 5 minutes before we arrived back at Colombo Fort station we saw a huge and very colorful Hindu temple. We wished we had time to stop and explore it but the ship was due to leave in 30 minutes so we had to return to the ship.
All in all it was a great day.