Monday, June 13, 2011

Kegalle, Pinnawala and MEF

Colombo Fort Station
So the highlight of my trip has started. I was finally dropped at the elephant orphanage by Michael and Darrell after a hectic train ride. The train from Galle left at 6:45 and was quite comfortable. The express train was a gift from the Indian Railways to Sri Lanka, However due to some signal failure between two stations there was quite a bit of delay and we reached the Colombo Fort station a little past 9 o' clock. Much to our dismay, the train from Colombo Fort to Rambukanna(the closest train station to Kegalle) was delayed by an hour. After a while an announcement was made that the express train to Rambukanna was leaving from Maradana and not from Colombo Fort. So we got into the first local train to Maradana. The interesting thing about Sri Lankan trains is that you will not get a reserved seat in any class on the train. which means that there is a stampede to get seats as soon as they arrive on the platform. By the time our local train arrived at Maradana the express train to Rambukanna had already filled up leaving us with no choice but to stand in the buffet car which happened to be jam packed. I have traveled like this a couple of times in India but for Darrell, my friend from Canada, this was to be an experience of a lifetime.
After reaching Rambukanna, I was a little disappointed with some things. Firstly I was told I would have to stay at a nearby hotel until a place opens up at the usual homestay. I really enjoyed my stay at Michael's place and would have loved to stay with another family..
Secondly, the volunteers along with me didn't actually work at the government run Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala but at a smaller private sanctuary called Millenium Elephant Foundation(MEF). It was a pity because I was really looking towards working with very young elephants. However Michael informed me that MEF was a much better place because they offered a lot more activity and play time with the elephants than the elephant orphanage.
My first meeting with the elephant I was assigned to was quite exciting. Poojah, a 25yr old female elephant is one of the six female elephants at the MEF.My first assignment was to clean the dung from Pooja's enclosure. It did stink a lot but I knew what I was getting myself into and managed to get the job done within fifteen minutes. I hadn't even finished and the mahout was barking orders in Sinhalese.
My Poojah!!
I managed to figure out that we had to take the elephant for a bath. Getting very excited about the prospect of bathing an elephant, I literally ran down to the stream. It was quite amazing how intelligent these beings are. One word instructions were enough for Pooja to understand what the mahout( whose name I found out later to be Ratna) was asking it to do.

Bathing an elephant is not an easy task. To get the mud out, the mahout and I used our full arm strength to scrub the sides and the legs. The mahout did the face and trunk as these areas are more sensitive and the mahout did not want to take the risk by letting me do it. The elephant was then taken to a day time resting area where it would rest and chew on the grass endlessly. I was then asked to do some gardening at the ecofarm where they grew the bananas and spinach and grass for the elephants. We brought the elephant compost and planted pineapples as well.This was to be my daily routine for the two weeks I am staying here. The volunteers here are very friendly and fun to talk to. Most of them are from England and the US. We were done with all the work around 12:30 and all of us left for Mrs Kumari's house( the homestay place). Deciding to watch movies in the afternoon I left for my hotel and after a sumptuous lunch I returned back with my laptop. The afternoon was amazing watching Postgrad(not a great movie, but fun regardless) and Inside Man.
And so ended my first day of volunteering with elephants
The pictures will be posted soon I promise. Especially the ones with the elephants!!

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