From Kandy to the elephant orphanage in Pinnewala

The relatively short drive from Polonnaruwa to Kandy should last somewhere around three hours, but they flew one after another and we were not even close. After five hours that we spend driving on the steep, winding roads and breaking through the roadblock (work on the road, along the road and elsewhere), we finally get to Kandy, where we came across the real traffic chaos. People drive like maniacs here, they don’t obey the rules at all. Crazy. The owner of our guesthouse explained us that this kind of chaos last for at least two weeks, because of all kinds of roadblocks.

Kandy is a real transport hub for trains and buses, which is reflected in the number of tourists. Compared with Polonnaruwa, Kandy seems like a completely new world, a lot of people, bakeries, shops – they even have one true European shopping centre. For locals Kandy is the most holy place because of the temple, where is kept a tooth of the Buddha, which is considered for holy sacred relic of Buddhism. For the tourists are in addition to the temple with its surroundings, interesting also the Royal Botanical Garden and the elephant orphanage in the near Pinnewala.

To the botanical gardens (Royal Botanic Gardens) you can jump on the bus 724 from the bus station Clock Tower and you pay only Rs 15-20 per person in one direction, which is loose change, if you compare the price with tuk-tuk drive (under Rs 300 you definitely will not get the ride). Another tip, at the entrance in botanic gardens ask for a student discount and save some extra money. Student ticket costs Rs 825, normal is Rs 275 more expensive (this is the only thing in a country where you can take advantage of a discount). That you will easily imagine of how much money we are talking here, we have to mention that the current exchange rate of about € 1 is Rs 150 (rounded).

According to the cleanliness and tidiness, we’ve so far been received in Sri Lanka, we have to admit that we were with Botanical Gardens positively surprised. The park is free of garbage, paths are without holes, all plants nicely cared, lawn is freshly mown… A great place, where you can in once see the entire nature of the island, from orchids, cactus, palms and spices. The beginnings of the Botanica Gardens get back to the 14th century when it was a royal garden, since then it is expanding and becoming more value.

Advantage of city life we use for testing delicacies from bakeries – we try chicken bun (bread stuffed with slightly spicy chicken and vegetables), chicken rotti (wrapped in some kind of pancakes, the same filling, but much much more spicy than bun) and just ordinary chocolate donuts which were delicious. Prices in bakeries are moving around RS 50 per piece. Besides bakeries, you can find in Kandy a lot of restaurants, which is quite the opposite as in previous cities, where you can eat safe lunch or lunch without risk of digestive problems – only in Guesthouse’s. Prices are somehow in both cases, moving around Rs 300 to more than Rs 600. Usually we are talking about curry with rice, meat and vegetables or kotthu (dish similar to pasta with meat, eggs, spices and devil chili sauce).

One more interesting thing… While walking around the city (even elsewhere in Sri Lanka) we often ran into people who sells a kind of lottery tickets. Their sell shop is on motorcycles, in miniature huts or they have a simply placed blackboard in the middle of the street. Sellers are, at least judging by appearance – poorer residents. Logic for that game, is not yet entirely clear for us, even who is paying the winnings… we are still exploring. But very certainly clear is, that the lottery tickets are abnormally popular around here 🙂

What could be currently better, than quick getaway from the chaotic, dusty bustle, in nature? We visited on elephant orphanage in Pinnewala, which is about an hour and a half by bus from Kandy. Since it is slightly longer distance, we again recommend you to catch the bus, rather than pay expensive drive with tuk-tuk. You start from the main bus station with a bus which goes to Kegalla and get out on Karandunpuna for what you spend an hour and Rs 55 per person. Then you need to step on the bus to the Rambukkana (Rs 15 per person) and exit on the station in Pinnewala, just few meters away from the main entrance to the orphanage.

Elephant orphanage in Pinnewala is the largest and definitely the most famous. Inside is – according to the latest data in Lonely Planet – at least 80 elephants. Many are arguing that the place long time ago lost its mission and has become more like a zoo. Definitely the authorities smelled earnings (ticket Rs 2.500/person), because almost everyone would like to saw the elephants in close distance, take a picture and give him a food from your own hand… After our experience, we think that the elephants are relatively well treated. Chained was only the alpha male, with which they stick the whole herd all together in the middle of their daily bathing.

Bathing in the nearby river, which is located only about 200 meters across the street from the orphanage, is held twice a day. First time from 10 till 12 am, and again in the afternoon from 2 to 4 pm. Really great scene. Their watchmen of course want to earn a few extra rupees. For bathing and photographing with some of the elephants, you quickly need to pay Rs 200 or more. After washing, the herd moves back to the orphanage, where the feeding takes place. Clusters of people and constantly taking pictures, is for an elephant absolutely a big stress, but we could confirmed that they are already accustomed to this and are actually domesticated. That is why people think that the place is more a zoo than an orphanage – because so raised, domesticated animals in the wild won’t be able to survive and will have a lot of problems with re-adaptation.

Now, it’s time to spend some hours on the public rail transport. From Kandy we continue our journey by train to Nuwara Eliya – if only we get a ticket to this highly desirable route.

S & B

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