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: 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.
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.
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.These 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. They’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.
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!
Link to Weekly Photo Challenge – Unexpected.