The Things You See

I don’t remember the exact moment I realised I loved Sri Lanka, but I do remember the first breathtaking moment of wonderment that sparked the initial infatuation.  We’d been on the island for a couple of days and were taking a tuk tuk into Galle.  Just past the bridge, the traffic slowed to an amble.  Getting out to see what was happening, this is what I saw: The Things you See, Elephant  Carrying his Dinner Perhaps you can understand?

In the course of the next month, and my subsequent trips out and about over the years, I’ve come to expect the unexpected on the roads of paradise.  You know those signs at the beginning of freeways, prohibiting bicycles, pedestrians, horse riders, etc. from proceeding any further?  You’ll have to visit an old post if you want to see a photograph of the sign at the beginning of the new Southern Expressway,  but believe me, the list we’re accustomed to constitute an unimaginative prelude in my special place!

I’ve always said one of my favourite things about Sri Lanka is the chaos, but really, you’d have to be almost dead with a terminal case of ennui if you weren’t thrilled or amused by the things you see. The Things You See, The  Cartman

Some years ago there were still carters on the roads, transporting firewood and other non-perishables.  Surprisingly, though they’ve become rare in the countryside now, you still see single animal carts in the cities,  and they always make me smile.

Just a few months ago,  I was startled to see a bright yellow rubber ducky floating into view.   This was a new one on me!  Fortunately its conveyance pulled over and I was able to capture the reality – a brand new inflatable for the thrill seekers coming to ride the rapids of the Kaleniya Ganga near Kithulgala.

The Things You See, Dinghi But it’s the elephants, hands down, that thrill and, increasingly, surprise the most.  Some years ago, test driving my newly rebuilt jeep, Mo and I skidded to a halt as a huge tusker surged up onto the road, slick and dark from bathing in the river below.  There, right on the bend, was a set of steep stone steps into the water, and the mahout was bringing the animal up from his regular evening bath.  Segue ahead several years, in almost the same spot, I was delighted to meet up with an old friend I’d met some years ago on the Ruwanwella Road,  a day’s walk away to the East (that’s her, in the banner shot above).

I’ve told you before about the day Mo and I almost ran into an elephant loading logs onto a truck, just beside the road.  Even in those days this was such an unexpected sight that we were joined by pretty well all the other people using the road at the time.The Things You see, Positioning for the liftThese days it’s Kandy, at Perahera time, where you can be guaranteed an unexpected encounter with these marvellous animals.  As you can imagine, the city is a magnet for almost all the domesticated elephants on the island. The Things you See, Sharing the Road with aTusker August 9, 1995They’re mostly trucked in, now, and even return home at night, if they live in the surrounding area, and though you’re expecting to see elephants in the city, sometimes the places you come across them is quite unexpected.  I was amazed, walking down the street some years ago, to see this particular dressing room.  Owned by the temple, it appeared as if the shop had been built as a demountable, so that the elephants could be brought in to be dressed each night of the perahera.

The Things You  See - outside the Cathedral On my last trip, I was at the cathedral admiring the beautiful alter screen and the parlous state of a painting in one of the chapels – the last place I’d expected to see an elephant – but there, on the other side of the fence, a ghostly mass stood silently in the shade.  Walking to the other side of the building, what do you think I saw through the palings on the far side of the car park?  You’re right – elephants, in a makeshift bathroom, with several huge beasts lolling on their sides, luxuriating in the watery ministrations of their handlers!

The Things You See, Temporary Bathroom

Link to Weekly Photo Challenge – Unexpected.

53 thoughts on “The Things You See

    • But not unexpected! 🙂

      By the way, I’m sitting here, a warm breeze wafting in, laden with the sweet smell of my neighbour’s Murraya paniculata hedge. When I first moved in, another neighbour gifted me the scent of their Trachelaspernum – I may be gardenless right now, but not without a garden – how lucky am I?

  1. When I visited Thailand, the first elephant I saw in Bangkok came as a bit of a surprise. I was filled with wonderment and can understand how “a sighting” could have affected you, being that this was you new home. This was a great post, Meredith.

    • Perhaps you’d better email me ( and tell me about your trip. How long you’ll be there, when, what you like to do, how you normally get around when you travel, how much money you’re planning to spend … 🙂

  2. I thought about my two homes, we have draught oxen in Spain, huge beasts and very placid, goats and sheep of course, and lots of horses and donkeys. Here in Gib we have the famous monkeys. But elephants pip all of those. Is there anyone who has never wanted an elephant? My childhood dream, I was convinced the front garden was big enough. I was very serious. One of my parents’ friends would always ask if my dad had bought me the elephant yet. I didn’t realise it was a photochallenge post, I was too engrossed with the elephants 😀

  3. Beautiful post!!!! Seems to be a place where unexpected is the normal thing!!! May be everything is just a question of point of view…I bet they would be surprised by the traffic caos in our cities, or may be if they would see everybody just looking at their mobiles and I pones, without paying attention to their friends,,,,

    • You’re absolutely right, Michelle, living in a place where elephants are part of everyday life is beyond exotic! That was a life sprinkled with magic in my book. And, I’d say, most Sri Lankans are noticing – as I did – how their world is becoming a little less exotic over time, which makes our recollections ever more precious.

    • That’s what’s so extraordinary, in many ways, Patti – these animals have been sharing the roads with people for centuries and no matter how busy the traffic, they remain the arbiters of what happens around them on the road!

  4. Absolutely wonderful – and SOOOOO different.

    Here in Spain, I often run into a herd of goats on our mountain road, and I always stop and marvel at them. Not quite elephants – but nevertheless, very different than in the UK.

    • You don’t see donkeys on the back roads now, Marianne? But yes, herds of goats sure are a bit different to England. I feel quite strongly that we must treasure these remaining shreds of difference before the whole world is homogenised.

  5. How wonderful to come across unexpected elephants during the business of your days, going about theirs’. I think someone the everday would never be less than exotic even being familiar with them and each encounter would always be special. It would be a shame to lose that.

    • Totally! It wasn’t just me – my Sri Lankan friends loved seeing them, though some were more cool then I and didn’t always leap out of their vehicles to take pictures … though many did too. 🙂

  6. it seems luxurious to spot an elephant when out and about, so glad you have collected these photos of your sightings over the years to share with us … the joy of the dressed elephants, and those bathing, or working, absolutely marvellous … my first elephant spotting was in a tiny village on the Mekong where we had just crossed from Thailand to Laos, the bustle of Thailand giving way to simplicity and calm.

  7. Elephants are somehow the only animals to whom I feel a real connection. I still follow and support Shirley, the oldest elephant in the US (I think). She lives in the Hohenwald sanctualy in Tennessee now after many years of struggle. I cannot imagine actually happening upon a working elephant. It’s easy to imagine why you fell in love with the country. This is a wonderful post as always. 🙂

    • I know what you mean about a ‘connection’, George. Of course it helps to know that the elephants you meet, out and about, are ‘tamed’, but I never felt a moment’s fear, standing there beside them, just an overwhelming sense of affinity. My last encounter, the elephant put her trunk up to my face and blew me the softest ‘kiss’. It was wonderful. 🙂

  8. Unbelievable to have this proximity to these lovely creatures on a regular basis, Meredith. It must be one of your greatest regrets about leaving, but the memories are special. 🙂

  9. What a delight to come upon an elephant unexpectedly Meredith! Rather rare here these days. I don’t think even the local temples in Chennai have any, with the escalating costs of upkeep. We saw several along the highway in Delhi and Agra though! Beautiful post and images 🙂

  10. I just went to the circus in September with my grandchildren and saw elephants there. They were preforming in the smallest area and yet seemed like ballerina’s as they did their twirls. They seem to be remarkable animals. Very informative article with fabulous photos.
    Thanks for the trip !!!!

    • Yes, nimble as a monkey. We don’t have animals in circuses here any more – about which I’m glad, but it’s sad to think kids don’t see the animals moving naturally (if in unnatural ways!) – as they seldom do in zoos. Glad you enjoyed the ride Isadore. 🙂

  11. So glad to hear that the circus no longer has animals. Though growing up the circus was a part of my life…I hated seeing the animals caged and made to behave unnaturally.

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