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Habarana elephant ride

  Habarana - Ramble in the jungle
We had passed through Habarana on our way to Polonnaruwa the previous day and Mr. Chaminder, our driver pointed out the little huts on the side of the road.  "Elephants for riding" he said.  "You can do this tomorrow if you like."  At first the idea seemed outlandish and a little scary.  Overnight, however, it gained much favor as it is not often you get the chance to ride at the back of a huge mammal.
  So we made our way from Sigiriya to Habarana in search of a tame elephant with a strong back.  Manika, a 35 year old female covered in gold and green fit the bill perfectly.  For US$ 90 we got to ride her through main road (!), village, jungle and swamp for a little over an hour.  We climbed a rickety three meter tall wooden platform and jumped on her back.  It took us a little time to figure out that with the contraption that was fitted on to her, both our feet had to hang down on the same side but when we did we started enjoying the ride with the elephant's handler leading the way. 
As soon as we left the main road and crossed into part of the village, a vehicle pulled up next to us and handed us a plastic bag.  200 Rupies later we had two bunches of bananas to offer as treats to Manika.  Feeding the elephant proved to be absolutely fun.  She would place her trunk over her forehead and grab it with its tip.  If we were a few seconds late to deliver she would snort and send a shot of air coming out to make sure we noticed she was waiting... 
  We all took turns sitting on the neck of our elephant.  Although we had absolutely no control over our pachyderm, that was a powerful experience. 
It must sound funny, but riding right above the huge animal's head you got a feeling of how an elephant must be seeing things.  We got an idea of what it means to have the might to cruise around in the jungle knowing that you are the biggest living creature around and nothing can threaten you. 
  Quite thoughtfully, a guy that seemed to know a thing or two about cameras, followed us taking video and pictures from our little expedition.  Not only was his photographic work decent, he also knitted four lotus flower necklaces for us.  Despite the fact that the flowers were in the same water with what was at first mistaken as coconuts and later identified as elephant droppings we wore those lovely necklaces...  We were pretty sure that no one would have wanted to come really close to us by the time we arrived back at our starting point and the flowers were indeed lovely.  We were of course proven wrong as both our photographer and the mahout came to say their goodbyes and collect their well earned tips.
  If one was to say that these elephant rides are a tourist trap, he would not get many arguments.  Although in Habarana there are at least three places doing them, this is something that you can find in quite a few areas in Sri Lanka.  We noticed elephant rides near Ahungalla and Sigiriya too.  We did have some concerns about the animals being mistreated but our driver insisted that the people that handle the animals take good care of them.  After seeing the animals up close, we certainly can't contradict that.