A Close Up of Temple Street and Palace Square During the Perahera

In the morning I headed straight to Temple Street to see if I could catch Travellersdish, who I’d missed the night before.  She had probably been caught in the lock down before the parade, not knowing I’d left my arrival into Kandy so late.  Not finding her in, I left a message and wandered among the offering stalls that march up the road beside the park, making my way toward the fountain in Palace Square.

Along the way I couldn’t resist lingering at the stalls – beguiled by the sweet smell of water lilies, and the hum of bees

as buckets of lotus and water lilies were being unloaded

and the stallholders began laying out the second wave of offerings for the day –

little mounds of fragrant white jasmine

and blushing araliya (frangipani) on simple slabs of cardboard

or more elaborate combinations, with jasmine and Manel, the national flower.

A stallholder peeled open a perfect white lotus, offering it to me with a smile – but first I had to take a close up, so I could share his gift.

A handful of people had gathered by the old cast-iron fountain in Palace Square – now a temporary bedroom, bathroom and dressing room for Perahera elephants.

I was going to be in luck, it seemed.  Just as I’d hoped, bath time was in progress.  As I sidled between a Buddha statue and a parked truck, there, right in front of me, was an elephant.  Glistening in the morning sunshine he lay supine – trunk extended across the paving, front legs neatly crossed at the ankles – being tended by two lean men in hitched up lunghis.

And in the far corner of the little square, a bored and unchaperoned star was doing trunk stretching exercises – either that, or an impersonation of a Kandyan dancer, trunk imitating outflung, undulating arms, back feet tattooing to the remembered beat.

When I looked at him close up, I could have sworn he was laughing, blowing air through his trunk, singing on a silent elephant wavelength.  By the way, how do you like the pretty grey and red ribbon around his neck?

But the bath time rituals at my feet were what captured my fascinated gaze – and lens – for the next forty minutes or so.  One mahout worked the rear half, the other the front – quietly, methodically, efficiently, as I’d noticed before, when we’d watched an elephant loading logs onto a truck.  Starting behind the ears

the mahout worked carefully across the shoulder, into the armpit, under the top front leg – you’ll notice I’m following operations at the front – slowly across the chest, to the legs

working painstakingly all the way down the inside bottom leg

to his neatly trimmed nails – an operation which must have been undertaken before the journey to Kandy a couple of weeks ago.  These days the trip is almost always by truck – unless an animal suffers motion sickness.   It’s sad because even ten or fifteen years ago one could be sure of elephant sightings on any of the roads leading to Kandy in the weeks leading up to the Perahera season.

After the legs, the action moved to the trunk, looking so pink and vulnerable, unfurled like that across the stones.

It seems the world has stopped, I thought, standing there in the middle of the city.   The animal seemingly barely breathing – so quiet and still.  The mahout’s occasional instructions to move a foot, an elbow, uttered clearly, but quietly, are obediently and silently executed.  We stand enraptured, forgetting about everything except the elephant, and the mahout.

In the glare, it looked as if the animal’s eye was closed and I wondered whether he was dozing, until I did a close up, to see he was keeping an eye on proceedings

expecting the cool sensation of a bucket of rinse water at any minute.

After the rinse, the mahout sharpened his coconut husk scrubbing utensil

with a wicked sickle-tipped knife

before moving to work in tandem with his mate across the elephant’s vast side and tummy,

eyes open, observing the world around him.

Across the expanse of our elephant’s back, I spied a baby being led away – for him, bath time was over  already.

Jake must be credited with tempting me to post this close up of the sights of Temple Street and Palace Square during this year’s Kandy Äsala Perahera.  You can see other entries in this week’s challenge here.

58 thoughts on “A Close Up of Temple Street and Palace Square During the Perahera

    • Both are certainly dependent on the other, whether it’s respect or not, I’m not sure. Ever since I first observed the almost symbiotic relationship between an elephant and his mahout, I’ve thought the man acts like an elephant – quite measured, and deliberate in all he does with the animal – but that’s a simplification also.

  1. Well done my friend, the images are alive 🙂 I can almost smell the sweet fragrance of the flowers, the tenderness of touch on the petals and the beauty and tranquility of the sacred Eklephants makes this a really great set of images.



      • I do enjoy the flowers but when mixed with one of my favourites elephants… to see them just lying there getting a bath and cleanup wonderful… I could just imagine trying to get one of our African elephants to lie down for a bath… not sure I’d have much success.. but would love to get up so close.. to touch and play…

  2. A great set of photos. It’s so tempting to come over all anthropomorphic, but there’s something fascinating about the relationship between the man and the elephant. It reminded me of the first (and only) time I crept up to see and hear elephants asleep, in Nepal, lying down, they have something vulnerable about them, that goes as soon as they stand up.

  3. I adore elephants, although mine are African Elephants. Such intelligence and understanding in their eyes, almost baby-soft skin behind their ears, dexterous and amazingly agile and sensitive fingers at the end of their trunks, their immensity and power are mind-boggling when willingly given over to their loving mahout. Almost-humans

  4. I love all your lotuses and water lillies, jasmine and Manel: gorgeous flowers. And the close-ups of the elephant being bathed are wonderful. Is he really old, I wonder? His skin looks so wrinkled…. 🙂 I think I may have to visit Sri Lanka!

  5. There is something so fascinating about the relationship between this magnificent creature and a mere human. Always amazed at how docile and obedient they seem. And that little fellows dance was entrancing 🙂 Wonderful wonderful photos. Loved them all. I just realised, looking at your pictures that I hadn’t noticed any water lilies or lotuses at the stalls near the Kapaleeswarar temple! More of a Buddhist offering I guess.

  6. These are amazing images allowing us to witness something most of us never will. I could look at them all day and see something new.

  7. Gorgeous flowers. And the elephants, oh my! Beautiful beyond words. This must be like a cooling massage to them. Each photo is enthralling by itself, but to follow the sequence is wonderful.

  8. what a wonderful experience it must have been – to be there and see that rapport between animal and man – funny last night I saw Water For Elephants and was enthralled with the elephant in the film. Thank you for sharing this beautiful time with us

  9. You had me hook, line and sinker at the flowers, and then with the elephants I swam along enraptured sharing the moment… I can only imagine how amazing it must have been for you 🙂

    • Ella, I’ve just discovered your comment of two months ago! I don’t know how I missed it – and several others … my apologies.

      You’re right, I should have divided it into two posts, but I was so excited by my shots and the images were so fresh and exciting still, I just had to share them as soon as I returned home.

      Thanks again for your comment, and sorry I didn’t acknowledge it.

  10. I loved how you documented such an intimate encounter with an elephant – it felt as though we were standing right there with you. Judging from his relaxed state he was clearly enjoying his bath!

  11. I saw your words Temple Street and then read on to see Kandy, and I can see where you are, which gives m eso much pleasure. Your photos of the flowers captured me, th escent must have been so heady, and I’d lik eto thank Jake for encouraging you to take the close-ups too! A wonderful picture story, thank you

    • Isn’t it wonderful when our memories can take us to the exact spot someone else’s talking about, or guide us through a city again, after a long absence. Glad you had a bit of a walk down memory lane, Promenade …

  12. Pingback: Just How Big is an Asian Elephant? | The Wanderlust Gene

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