A Travellerspoint blog

Magical Mosques and Delicious Delicacies

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

semi-overcast

We were hoping to take a train to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore but found out that the trains were fully booked due to the school holidays. The old train station building in Singapore had been closed down too so we instead opted for a ‘luxury’ bus that turned out to be much cheaper anyway. There were hardly any people on the bus so we had lots of space for the 6 hour journey. We met a Swiss backpacker who had just spent a month in Indonesia and tempted us to go there with his stories. We also met a Malaysian lady who now lives in Singapore and also loves to travel.

The weather in both Singapore and KL was strange, it was very hot and humid but it rained every afternoon, so we had to wear cool clothes but also take an umbrella too and hope that we would be undercover when it starts to pour down!

We arrived into KL at night and it was already dark. We were dropped off in the middle of bustling China Town, at the night market on Petaling Street. Although we have been to KL before, we were really excited to explore the city again.

Night Market on Petaling Street, KL

Night Market on Petaling Street, KL

We checked into a backpacker hostel called Reggae Guesthouse as everyone we have met so far has advised us it’s the best place in town! It’s definitely a cool place and in a great location plus it has free breakfast of toast and peanut butter thrown in!

After dumping our bags we went out for some food and found a roadside restaurant where we tried ‘steamboats’ for the first time. Basically, there’s a load of raw food on skewers all arranged on ice and you pick a mix of them and then at your table there’s a large pot of boiling water to cook it in. You can then add some sauces like soy or satay, it was good fun!

Sully eyeing up the grub

Sully eyeing up the grub

Food skewer selection - plenty of fishballs!

Food skewer selection - plenty of fishballs!

Raw food ready for steaming

Raw food ready for steaming

Cooking our 'steamboats' in China Town, KL

Cooking our 'steamboats' in China Town, KL

Whilst in KL we visited the ‘electric city’ shopping district called Low Yat. It’s a huge place full of all the latest technology and packed full of people. Sully decided to invest in a new notebook computer to use whilst travelling as we noticed that other backpackers were using them and that free wifi is available everywhere we go. We had a good time shopping around and haggling with the salesmen before we got the deal we wanted :-)

In the evenings we ate at a hawker centre (like an outdoor food court) in China Town where we actually ate Indian food. We found a stall where they make delicious roti and curries and went back twice. The food is so cheap, we had a big meal for only £2!

Rotiwalla, hakwer centre, China Town, KL

Rotiwalla, hakwer centre, China Town, KL


Street food, KL

Street food, KL

Street food, KL

Street food, KL

Street food, KL

Street food, KL

Despite being a very cosmopolitan country, Malaysia is mostly Islamic and so we took the opportunity to visit some of the amazing mosques here. The mosques are huge compared to those in England and are really grand in their design, especially the more modern ones. We visited the National Mosque in KL as well as the famous Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque (The Blue Mosque) in Shah Alam and the Putra Mosque in Putrajaya, here we met some young muslims travelling from France, Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia.

The blue mosque has the biggest dome in the world (106m high) and glows blue inside because of the sunlight glowing through the dome. This mosque was built in the 80s by the Sultan at the time.

The 'Blue Mosque', Shah Alam

The 'Blue Mosque', Shah Alam

The 'Blue Mosque', Shah Alam

The 'Blue Mosque', Shah Alam

The 'Blue Mosque', Shah Alam - blue glow from dome

The 'Blue Mosque', Shah Alam - blue glow from dome

The Putra Mosque has a pink dome and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and is on the edge of a lake. The weather was very hot when we visited. Putrajaya is a new city built in the 90s to be an administrative centre for the country. Although everything is new (including the mosque) and well designed, with beautiful buildings and landscaping, it felt like a bit of a ghost town.

Putrajaya Mosque and gardens

Putrajaya Mosque and gardens

Putrajaya lake

Putrajaya lake

Class in mosque

Class in mosque

Putra Mosque, Putrajaya - courtyard

Putra Mosque, Putrajaya - courtyard

Putra Mosque, Putrajaya

Putra Mosque, Putrajaya

Prime Minister's office, Malaysia

Prime Minister's office, Malaysia

In KL we also visited the National Museum of Islamic Art where we learned about the history of Islamic architectural design and the different style of mosques throughout the world. We also saw very old Arabic and Persian texts, hand-written and very decorative. There was a special exhibition on about the Afghan cameleers of Australia that we found fascinating as we had never heard of them before.

http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/afghan-cameleers

Whilst in China Town we visited a very old Taoist temple and saw for the first time the prayer rituals performed inside. The Taoists here are mainly Chinese and pray to various idols and light lots of incense sticks and then burn paper in a large kiln. We didn’t find out why but could see it was an important part of their prayer rituals. They also devote food to their idols as we have seen in both Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

Taoist temple in Kuala Lumpur's China town

We visited, too, another South Indian (tamil) Hindu temple which was very similar to those we visited in Singapore. Early in the morning we found the priest there reading his paper with his mobile phone tucked into his waistband! We were also surprised to meet a ‘eunuch’ called Preeti in the temple who was happy to pose for a picture:

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL - family inside

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL - family inside

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL - 'Eunuch'

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL - 'Eunuch'

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

Sri Mahamariamman hindu temple in KL

On our last night in KL we went to the Suria shopping centre where all the cool people hang out (!) and had some great food in the food court there. The food in Malaysia is amazing and we don’t always remember the name of what we have eaten but there seems to be a mix of Indian, Chinese, Indonesian as well as traditional Malay dishes. Yummy! It seems that wherever we go, there is food being sold and we can't help but keep sampling it all!

Freckled cake

Freckled cake

Bakery treats in KL

Bakery treats in KL

Prawn bake, KL

Prawn bake, KL

YUM YUM

YUM YUM

Sophi's dinner!!!

Sophi's dinner!!!

Sully and his  grub

Sully and his grub

Fish restaurant, KL

Fish restaurant, KL

Rotiwalla, KL

Rotiwalla, KL

Chinese chicken, KL

Chinese chicken, KL

King prawns, KL

King prawns, KL

Banana and sweet potato fritters outside metro station, KL

Banana and sweet potato fritters outside metro station, KL

Fruit stalls in China Town market, KL

Fruit stalls in China Town market, KL

Candyfloss!

Candyfloss!

After a huge meal and some naughty donuts we headed to the Traders Hotel (Shangri La) in our best backpacker gear, hoping to get into their swish roof top bar on the 33rd floor. We were pleased to get in despite not quite looking the part and not being able to afford the cocktails! The bar was soooo cool, there were amazing views of the Petronas Towers and the other towers of the city and the bar had a swimming pool running down the middle. The best bit was the DJ and his hiphop/RnB beats and a Chinese lady dancing alone like Beyonce the whole night – great fun and a fantastic way to end our time in the capital!

Petronas towers at night

Petronas towers at night

The SkyBar and view of Petronas Towers

The SkyBar and view of Petronas Towers

Pool in the SkyBar

Pool in the SkyBar

Night view of KL skyline from the SkyBar

Night view of KL skyline from the SkyBar

Reflection of the towers in a puddle after a rain shower

Reflection of the towers in a puddle after a rain shower

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 17:18 Archived in Malaysia

The Temple of the Tooth

Kandy, Sri Lanka

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Before finishing our time in Sri Lanka's hill country we spent a few days in Kandy, the second city of Sri Lanka.

Kandy is another UNESCO World Heritage site and the hotel we stayed in was an old colonial mansion which had been renovated from UNESCO funding. We really enjoyed our stay here, relaxing on the veranda in the evenings (trying to avoid the mosquitoes of course!) and watching the world go by.

Resting on the veranda after a day of visiting temples

Resting on the veranda after a day of visiting temples

!]
Papaya seller

Papaya seller

Street seller pacing up and down looking for business

Street seller pacing up and down looking for business

]

The main attraction of this city is the Temple of the Tooth, a Buddhist pilgrimage site and one of Sri Lanka's holiest shrines. We were lucky enough to visit whilst a pooja (prayer ceremony) was taking place. Buddhist pilgrims from all over Sri Lanka, and even overseas, were there to catch a glimpse of the golden casket which holds the Buddha's tooth.

Outside the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

Outside the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

Before entering the temple, the devotees purchase flowers from rows and rows of stalls outside, so that they can give them as offerings inside the temple. All of the devotees dress in white.

Flower seller poser

Flower seller poser

...and his mate

...and his mate

Lady and daughter in Temple of the Tooth

Lady and daughter in Temple of the Tooth

Jasmine for sale as offerings - smells gorgeous

Jasmine for sale as offerings - smells gorgeous

Flowers for sale outside temple

Flowers for sale outside temple

Once inside, we saw the large decorative shrine and a procession of drummers and the trumpeters. The devotees we already queuing in line to give their offerings and waiting for their chance to pray to the tooth relic.

Drummers in the pooja at Temple of the Tooth

Drummers in the pooja at Temple of the Tooth


Detailed carvings on the shrine building

Detailed carvings on the shrine building

Waiting to start the pooja

Waiting to start the pooja

More queues of devotees

More queues of devotees

Queues waiting to make their offerings

Queues waiting to make their offerings

Lady waiting to make her offerings

Lady waiting to make her offerings

We also saw a queue of ladies with bottles waiting for some holy water to take home with them. We asked one lady and she said it was spicy water but we couldn't quite work out what it was for!

Holy Water

Holy Water

The temple complex is huge and has a new and old shrine and everywhere is highly decorated with pictures of Buddha.

New Buddha Shrine, Temple of the Tooth

New Buddha Shrine, Temple of the Tooth

Twin Buddha statues

Twin Buddha statues

Old shrine doors at Temple of the Tooth

Old shrine doors at Temple of the Tooth

Father and daughter in Temple of the Tooth

Father and daughter in Temple of the Tooth

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We learnt about the history of the tooth itself, which has been stolen at various points throughout history. It was even destroyed by the Portuguese at one point, but it magically reappeared (!) and is now safely back in Sri Lanka. Noone is allowed to see the tooth, they only file past to catch a quick glimpse of a room that holds a gold box, with the tooth inside. Once a year there is a huge festival called Esala Perahera, where the tooth is taken out and paraded around the streets of the city on top of an elephant. All of the elephants are dressed up and hundreds of thousands of people turn up for the 'carnival'.

Prayers at temple of the tooth

Prayers at temple of the tooth

Floral offerings to the Tooth

Floral offerings to the Tooth

Prayers at temple of the tooth

Prayers at temple of the tooth

Offerings of fruit

Offerings of fruit

Monk waiting with offerings, Temple of the tooth

Monk waiting with offerings, Temple of the tooth

At the back of the temple we found dozens of naughty monkeys and lots of baby monkeys running around and playing in the trees. They were even trying to steal food from some families having a picnic!

Monkey in temple

Monkey in temple


Lady chasing off monkeys

Lady chasing off monkeys

At the temple, there was also a museum about a famous Sri Lankan elephant called Raja Tusker. There are strict rules on what elephants are allowed to work at the temple and carry the tooth in the perahera. They must be asian elephants of a certain breed and all 7 of their body parts must touch the floor when they walk (4 legs, trunk, tusks, and !!!). Raja Tusker fulfilled this role for 50 years before he died and was a national hero, so they have him stuffed and put in a museum!

Raja Tusker museum, Kandy

Raja Tusker museum, Kandy

Whilst in Kandy we had some interesting food and also visited a cultural show where we saw all of the traditional Kandyan dances being performed.

Hoppers - local speciality

Hoppers - local speciality

Man making hoppers

Man making hoppers

Dancer at Kandy cultural show

Dancer at Kandy cultural show

Vez dancer, Kandy

Vez dancer, Kandy

Dance show Kandy

Dance show Kandy

Kandyan drumming

Kandyan drumming

We also spent some time walking around the lake, although it was surrounded by trees and at night all of the birds in the whole world (well it felt that way) but lots of bats, would sit in the trees and do their business so it wasn't so romantic having to hold paper over our heads and run like mad to avoid the 'showers'! hahaha!!

Sunset over Kandy Lake

Sunset over Kandy Lake

We also met up with a Sri Lankan couchsurfer whilst in Kandy, a local guy who runs his own business and has lots of travel experience. We went to a great restaurant with him and got to know lots about life in Sri Lanka, very interesting guy.

Kandy was our last stop off in Sri Lanka after a fantastic month of travelling the island, exploring the landscape and getting to know the people and the food. We finished off with a few days in Negombo, a beach town on the west coast which is convenient for the airport. This area is where the Sri Lankan Catholics live and there were some great churches that we didn't expect to see! The beach was surprisingly nice and quite quiet so we did some reading and rested our feet after, to be honest, we were exhausted and wanted to get refreshed before arriving into hectic Singapore!

We had an amazing time in Sri Lanka and would highly recommend a trip here. We can't wait to come back one day! :-)

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 19:48 Archived in Sri Lanka

Ella Gap

Ella, Sri Lanka

After leaving Rikillagaska, we took a bus to Kandy and then embarked on 7.5hour train journey right through the amazing tea country to Ella. We had heard that Ella and the surrounding countryside is beautiful and we really wanted to see it for ourselves. We also wanted a good rest for a couple of days after all of the fun with Anula's team, and perhaps a hot shower if we were lucky.

The train journey itself was a wonderful experience, we passed by rolling green hills filled with tea, waterfalls, villages, people on the tracks. Even the stop at each station was fun with people everywhere and men selling all sorts of snacks through the windows. We never thought such a long journey would be so comfortable and fun! We even had a go at door-surfing and catching the breeze.

Our train climbing through the hills

Our train climbing through the hills

Sully with snacks on train

Sully with snacks on train

Soph surfing the train!

Soph surfing the train!

Sully enjoying the views

Sully enjoying the views

Soph with her favourite toy

Soph with her favourite toy

We arrived late in Ella where it was pitch black and we took a tuktuk up a dark hill to our hotel where we were warmly welcome and had a chinese dinner! Our waiter had advised us that, since we have arrived in the dark, we should wake up at 5.30 to see the sunrise over the hills and the scenery unfold.

We woke up at 5.30 to see the sky turn red and the mountains appear from blackness and a tall waterfall (which we could hear anyway) too. It was spectacular and we sat on the balcony enjoying the views to the sound of Buddhist monks chanting their morning prayers across the hills.

Ella Gap at the sun rises

Ella Gap at the sun rises

Waterfall view from our balcony

Waterfall view from our balcony

Ella Gap - the view from our balcony

Ella Gap - the view from our balcony


Sully chilled on veranda

Sully chilled on veranda

Breakfast and views

Breakfast and views

That day, after breakfast of tea and toast on the veranda in their very English looking garden, we took a long walk through the village and climbed the hill we could see from our balcony, know locally as little Adam's peak. It was hard work in the heat and with Soph's not-as-good-as-usual map reading skills, but as we sat at the top and enjoyed the view of 'Ella Gap' we decided it was well worth the effort!

Walking through tea plantations, Ella

Walking through tea plantations, Ella

Sophia after climbing Little Adam's Peak, Ella

Sophia after climbing Little Adam's Peak, Ella

Sully after climbing Little Adam's Peak, Ella

Sully after climbing Little Adam's Peak, Ella

Little Adam's Peak - we climbed it

Little Adam's Peak - we climbed it

Back in the village, we treated ourselves to Ayurvedic foot and leg massage to ease off the pain!!

[Sully chilling in a bar, Ella

Sully chilling in a bar, Ella

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 17:45 Archived in Sri Lanka

Two Leaves and a Bud

Rikillagaskada

sunny

After a beautiful train journey from Colombo into the hill country of Sri Lanka and then a hair raising, bumpy bus ride further up into the countryside, we arrived in the small town of Rikillagaskada and finally, securely off the tourist trail.

Sully's friend, Beth, had previously lived in Sri Lanka working for an NGO and we had arranged to visit the team at one of the projects that Beth had been working on. We were nervous and excited to be going somewhere where there was not much English to be spoken and that was not in Soph's trusty guide book. But then that's what travelling is all about!

We were not even sure where to get off the bus but had some directions from Beth and so after an hour, we saw a petrol station and jumped off where there were two lovely girls waiting to meet us with big smiles and nervous giggles.

We walked a few minutes to their office where we were warmly welcomed with sweet, milky tea, a pile of cake and fresh bananas ready to pick! Already the long journey was feeling worthwhile!

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DSCF9248

A while later we were welcomed by the manager, Anula, who had returned from a meeting. She was very happy to welcome us as friends of 'Miss Beth'. We learned that Anula had worked in social organisations all her life and here, at the Women and Children's Centre, she has ten staff working for her.

We also met Bandula, a man that lives locally and who does translation work for the organisation. He came along to help us communicate with the team and to explain about the work going on there.

During our two days there, where we were invited to sleep over in a room above the office building, we saw some of the great projects they were working on.

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DSCF9264

One afternoon we attended a women's tailoring class where ladies from nearby communities can get a chance to learn some basic skills for their own use or to make things which they can then sell. Sophia was invited to join in and hand stitch some decorative patterns. The result gave all of the ladies a good giggle!

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We also saw some dance classes taking place for school girls. They were learning traditional Kandyan dancing and without the organisation they wouldn't have had this opportunity. The dance was accompanied by loud drumming and looked like lots of fun. We decided that it looked like a cross between classic Indian dance and a rugby haka!

We also visited a small Bhuddist school where the children had been provided with life-skills coaching and that day were putting on a small performance on stage. Even the local priest attended in his orange robes and the kids were very cute!

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One evening, we were invited by Anula to attend the temple with her. We thought it might be a small temple, as they are everywhere in Sri Lanka, but had a fantastic surprise! The temple complex was beautiful with a large courtyard and garden. The sun was soon to set and there were young monks in their orange robes walking around everywhere! We found out that this is a monastry where monks are trained, starting from the age of 8. They live here and have lessons and prayers all day.

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We were very lucky to be invited into the main building where they live and to meet the head priest. He sat calmly and spoke to us in very good English. We were given tea, sweets and bananas! We asked for a photo and he moved to a large red sofa (very regal looking) and invited us to sit at his feet! He then took us around the temple and showed us the ancient Buddha statue made from gold and shrined inside a cave. Inside the main building was beautifully decorated from floor to ceiling. As we were leaving, over 100 of the young monks filed in for their sunset prayers and we could hear their chants echoing in the hills around us.

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One of the other highlights of our trip was a visit to the Hope Tea estate, which was high up in the hills. After a scary journey where our old minivan trundled up ear-poppingly steep, rocky tracks and we wondered if we were made a little too close to the edge, our driver delivered us at an amazing tea estate where we could see for miles and miles. The were tea plucker ladies dotted all over the landscape and we had the opportunity to meet some of them and ask about their lives and take some photos with them. We learned about the best teas and how they do the plucking. The pick the newer leaves from the top of the plant, best when there are two leaves and one bud. Sully picked some good'ns. The families living and working in the tea estates are known as Plantation Tamils. They were brought over from India by the British and have always been culturally and geographically separated from Sri Lankan society. As a result, they are extremely poor and a lot of work is being done with them by Anula's organisation.

Tea plucker, 58 years old

Tea plucker, 58 years old

It doesn't smell of tea just yet

It doesn't smell of tea just yet

Hope tea estate plucker

Hope tea estate plucker

Tea plucker

Tea plucker

We visited their hindu school on the estate where all the village children were in attendance for extra classes. They were so excited to have visitors! After the confusion over Soph's freckles was explained away and they had all have a touch of her arms, we were then invited to shake each of their hands. Before we knew it, we had a hundred little hands shaking in our direction with giggles galore! We took some photos and they got even more excited and were jumping around to get into the pictures. A couple of them sang us some songs and had a tug of Sully's (getting even bushier now) beard! Lots of fun for all! As we tried to leave their village they surrounded us and followed us. Soph was given a pink flower by a little girl and as we drove off they were shouting BYEBYE at the top of their voices!

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byeeee

byeeee

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With Anula we also visited the line-rooms where these Tamil families live. They are long houses with lots of rooms and each family has their own room. There is a shared cooking area and they all live together as one community. They are very poor as they rely on jobs on the state-owned tea estate and there are not enough jobs to go around.

Communal kitchen in line rooms

Communal kitchen in line rooms

We also passed through a village called Eastlands where we called through past the tiny houses, through a field of more tea and to a sheer drop in the cliffs. We were told that the drop is 1000m and that they call it Worlds End. Vertigo set in pretty quickly! It was amazing to see that there were no warning signs, no fencing and that all the local village kids were running around playing and sitting at the edge to look down! Apart from feeling glued to the spot and scared to move, the views were BREATHTAKING and we felt so very lucky to be there. Lunch appeared from nowhere (as it always does here!), a steaming parcel of curry, rice and vegetables each, and we sat and had a picnic on the edge of this cliff, hoping that the wind doesn't pick up! The kids from the village arrived with ten little hands carrying a bucket of water for us and after we had eaten some of the old ladies ventured over to inspect the visitors and asked for photos with us. By the time we got to Eastlands after visiting the school, we had no camera battery charge left and so Anula has the photos from this afternoon - we are hoping to get copies some how!

Anula took us to so many more places that were wonderful to see, we could write forever about all of the amazing experiences we had whilst staying with her including various schools, night time walks, visiting waterfalls, 3 hot meals a day - all so delicious. When it came for us to leave, we were quite sad and left Anula and her team with some gifts to say Thank You. They also presented Sophia with a locally made handbag and an elephant made from a coconut shell and then waved us off from the bus stop!

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 08:03 Archived in Sri Lanka

Trunks and Tusks Treat

Millenium Elephant Foundation

sunny

One morning Sully surprised Sophia with a trip to the Millenium Elephant Foundation in Pinnewalla near Kandy. It was sooo exciting!

www.milleniumelephantfoundation.com

After a bumpy bus ride we arrived at the place early in the morning where we saw the elephants that live there eating and one of them bathing in the river.

The Foundation is set up for older elephants that were previously working elephants but are now 'retired'. The Foundation takes care of Elephants that are injured too.

Whilst there we were able to spend time with the elephants and their mahouts. We found out that a mahout spends almost all of their life with one elephant and an elephant will only take instruction from that one person. How loyal!

Sophia had a fantastic time and didn't want to leave after spending the day in the water giving Raja the elephant a back scrub with coconut shells and managed to avoid being sprayed with water!

Raja was previously a temple elephant in Kandy but came to the foundation to be looked after after he broke his leg. Not sure how. You can see it swollen in the pictures.

We took sooo many photos whilst there, but here are a few. It was a real highlight of our trip so far!!

Elephant foundation

Elephant foundation

Finally I look tiny!

Finally I look tiny!

Soph avoided the spray

Soph avoided the spray

Walking down the stairs to the water

Walking down the stairs to the water

Nice to meet you

Nice to meet you

Asian elephant tusk - one lip

Asian elephant tusk - one lip

helping raja to cool down in the heat

helping raja to cool down in the heat

water onto his ears!

water onto his ears!

Sully giving raja a scrub

Sully giving raja a scrub

Raja

Raja

Sully with the mahout

Sully with the mahout

sully and raja

sully and raja

Trunk

Trunk

mahout with raja

mahout with raja

Giving Raja a pat!

Giving Raja a pat!

Sully and Raja

Sully and Raja

Soph and Raja

Soph and Raja

very british - rolling up the trousers!

very british - rolling up the trousers!

Raja the elephant

Raja the elephant

Trunk

Trunk

Nice freckles

Nice freckles

Us with Raja and the mahout

Us with Raja and the mahout

An elephant tooth

An elephant tooth

Posted by Up.Up.and.Away 02:36 Archived in Sri Lanka

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