It is the second day of snow, and against all the odds, Virginia Tech has cancelled classes. Some, not all, but some, which has been enough to keep us inside for the majority of the day watching movies and eating junk food, although we did make one snowy trek outside for some photo shoot adventures. The piles of snow and freezing temperatures have made me wish for warmer days, as well as given me some time to write a few more short stories.
The Golden Story
During our stay in the Akkara Ataseeya village in the Polonnaruwa district of Sri Lanka (I did a separate post titled Village Life), we spent an evening visiting a nearby temple. The temple had just recently opened up (recently being about a week earlier) after being closed for years following terrorist occupation of the area. We walked around the temple and learned bits and pieces of the history of the area as we took in the sights. We came across a beautiful old tree whose roots formed the shape of an elephant, making us a bit too excited, having not yet experienced what we were about to.
Walking around the temple, we came across a security guard. He nodded at us and motioned for us to come closer. He then casually mentioned that there was an elephant just across the clearing behind a layer of trees. While the security guard was able to keep his cool, we, the group of students who had been waiting to see a wild elephant since the moment we touched down in Colombo, were not as calm and collected. After we got our initial excitement under control, we stood watching the trees for what seemed like hours, waiting to catch a glimpse of the mysterious elephant.
Ever so slowly, it moved further and further out from behind the trees, and with it appeared two more elephants, one a baby! Eventually, we had to leave, as we weren’t allowed to spend the night at the temple, watching the elephants. I can’t imagine why not..
As we were making our way back, which took an excruciatingly long amount of time due to the fact that we had to remove our shoes, as is temple policy, and we were walking on sharp gravel, we noticed a crowd gathering by a large electric fence set up around the temple. We walked over, and got caught up in the mob mentality that was spreading almost as quickly as the two elephants that were making their way towards us.
We looked at each other in disbelief as they confidently headed towards us. “Could this actually be happening?!” The elephants stopped right in front of us, as that was the end of their lane, and starting waving their trunks around, looking for fruit. We learned that there is a man who feeds the elephants pieces of fruit every evening, so every night, right around dusk, they make their way towards the temple to get their treats. We took turns taking pictures, feeding them bits of fruit, and trying to contain our excitement just enough to stay clear of the extremely strong electric fence that was constructed to protect the temple.
We were lucky that the elephants left after they realized all the fruit was gone, because it would have been nearly impossible to tear us away as we were completely mesmerized! During our journey back to the village, the bus was full of excitement and people all telling their own versions of their experiences with the elephants. Our wildlife encounter was no doubt one of the major highlights of our trip, and imagine how special we felt when we later learned that no previous cohort had ever come nearly that close to an elephant in the past! Our host family was no doubt highly entertained by our enthusiastic retelling of what we sighted at the temple, and smiled and nodded along as we told our stories. They even taught us the Sinhala word for elephant: ahleah
I have one last comment to make. You know when you start saying a word over and over and it begins to sound kind of strange? Well that same feeling occurs when you look at an elephant for too long. Elephants are very strange animals. They have extremely tiny eyes that make them look kind of crazy, and don’t even get me started on their trunks! Elephants are amazing and beautiful creatures, but if you stare at that trunk too long, it just might start to freak you out a bit.