Elephants on the Maha Oya River

Elephants on the Maha Oya River

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Some surprise guests arrived while I was finishing my breakfast. And it was well worth the interruption.

I sat outside on my balcony enjoying the view of the Maha Oya River – swirling water studded by emerald palm trees. It was quiet, except for the singing of birds. I sipped a cup of local Ceylon tea.

I was called out of my daydreams as the hotel staff alerted me that there was a group of elephants arriving. A herd of six was marching out into the water.

With apparent enthusiasm, the regal creatures took on a child-like demeanor. They rolled in the water, and two of them carried around tree branches the size of surfboards. There was communication between them – high-pitched squeaks and booming trumpets.

I abandoned my comfy chair and cup of tea for the rocky steps down to the water’s edge, where I was greeted by a massive animal who gazed at me with her ancient, bright eyes under 2-inch long eyelashes. She was dark charcoal gray, with a spattering of orange spots on her trunk and ears.

She must have seen the handler pass me two bags of bananas, because she stretched her mouth open for the fruits to be deposited – with peels, stems, everything.

Another elephant arrived, and this one picked up the bananas with her trunk and transferred them to her mouth. While waiting for me to open the second bag, she delicately kneaded my arm with the prehensile, rubbery tip of her trunk.

These were elephants from Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a rescue facility two blocks away. Each day, they walk to the river to bathe. Raised in the orphanage, the elephants are used to interacting with humans, including tourists who help fund their care.

When you go

By staying at Hotel Pinnalanda, you have the best spot to view these gentle giants, and you will have the opportunity to interact with them.

I paid $55 for my room, which is an absolute bargain considering that the elephants were a highlight of my trip to Sri Lanka. And with only four rooms in the hotel, there’s no need to battle other guests to get a good viewing spot of the elephants.

The price included a simple but filling breakfast, made fresh to order. I had scrambled eggs and toast with local tea and fresh squeezed juice.

Pinnalanda is not a luxury hotel, but it has all of the essentials that you need to be comfortable: a clean room, air conditioning, a tea and coffee station, and even their own line of soap and shampoo. There is also a television and free wi-fi.

Timings of the elephant bathing may vary: usually there are morning and evening baths. For details please check with the hotel upon your arrival.

Be sure to tip the elephant handlers, who take care of these wonderful creatures. Also consider visiting the elephant orphanage directly – the hotel can help you with reservations.

Written by:

Tammy PowellTammy Powell is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Abu Dhabi. She is enthusiastic about traveling, reading, meditating, and ballroom dancing. She maintains a blog of her travels and life lessons at Maps and Meditations.

All photos by Tammy Powell

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