Published: June 18th 2012April 27th 2012
Yes, it's a tourist trap. But, from the view point of a 11 year old, it's not everyday you get to stand next to an elephant herd, feed a plantains to a baby elephant, get to touch a baby elephant and it's mother and watch the herd go down to the river for their twice a day bath time.
There is some valid criticism of the "orphanage" ... everything from, "they are allowing breeding to take place" to "there's too much contact with humans" ... Indeed, though many of those criticisms are valid, the elephants are well treated, and it is a good foreign exchange earner for the country. Locals get in for free, while foreigners pay a decent entrance fee. Discriminatory yes, but fair when you consider the income distribution between locals and foreigners.
We left Colombo at 7:00 to get to Pinnawala for the morning feeding ... we got a little held up in traffic and go there just at the end of the feeding. It's a much shorter journey from Kandy than Colombo, so there were many tourists already on site.
After that ... some walking around the grounds ... a mother elephant who was
in the matriarchal herd came to us with her baby ... on her own volition mind you, not due to any encouragement from any mahout ... soon, we were surrounded by other tourists who also wanted to touch the mother and baby.
Then it was time to go down to the river and wait for the herd to come down to bathe. We sat on the rocks by the river, and soon the whole herd was behind us, climbing down the rocks. The males were led to one side, and the main herd was given centre stage in the middle of the river. But, as you can see, some modernism has come to Sri Lanka. One of the mahouts who was in the river, was on his mobile phone the whole time.
There are more photos below