Kandy Esala Perahera: What the World Needs Now is More Dancing Elephants Lit Up Like Christmas Trees. Really.

No booze either


So we are back in rainy Kandy, smack dab in the middle of the Esala Perahera festival. I don’t have my guide book with me to remind me what exactly it’s about.  You can Google it then lambaste me for being a lazy traveler.  I’m tired.

The nightly procession starts at the Temple of the Tooth near the lake, so let’s venture a guess that it has something to do with Buddha’s tooth. And elephants. Lots of elephants. Elephants lit up with a Catherine Wheel or a particularly excellent Christmas tree.

We came in yesterday from the east coast where we had spent the past four nights recovering from a particularly vicious and debilitating pot-holed bus ride from Anuradhapura. Remind me never to sit at the back of a rickety bus as it dashes at 90km/h over war-torn, pock marked roads, past bombed out shells of concrete buildings and fields and fields and many trees. Or rather, ‘roads’.  Also, I’ll remind all of you not to do so either, unless you bring full body armor and knee pads and a bungee cord.  We’ll leave it at that.

To come back to Kandy, we hitched an expensive ride with a kindly Belgian family in their hired van. No lethal bouncing allowed when there are toddlers in the vehicle! One little girl puked violently all over the front seat anyway, but that was pretty good for two little kids on a bad road for over five hours. In Burma the kids were puking all the way to and from Hsipaw.

So anyway, Kandy. We are back in rainy season, back in the clouds. And like I said, back in a rather religious city during a rather religious festival fortnight. There are public loud speakers on all day, blasting a combination of religious and pop music interrupted by announcements that are prefaced by the first few bars of Take My Breath Away, which I now have running through my head incessantly.

Hotel prices are tripled for the festival and rooms were scarce when we tried to book from Trincomalee. We’re lucky we got what we did (I won’t even mention what we are paying for it). Because of the holy festival, all the bars in town are closed and supermarkets, as noted above, have stopped selling meat and alcohol.  Our hotel manager, however, kindly and quietly informed us that he’d stocked our mini bar with beer and if we needed any more to just ask. It wouldn’t show up on our bill due to festival protocols though. We’re to pay a discreetly noted ‘fee’. A plain brown wrapper kind of scenario.

However, we are right down town, wonderfully central,  and last night we were able to easily make our way to the nightly procession that starts in the temple of the tooth and ends up…somewhere.

By 6pm, the streets were blocked off and people started lining the sidewalks, claiming their spots with tarps and cloths. There were police everywhere. Richer folk paid absurd amounts of money for plastic chairs set up at key points along the route. We weren’t that ambitious. We lurked around, trying to find gaps in the throngs, and eventually ended up behind some bright yellow barricades under a thick cover of bird riddled trees.

We had a good view, just a step back from those who had claimed the sidewalk, with the added bonus (and good luck!) of some seriously freaked out birds who were having bowel problems. During the one hour wait and the two hour procession, I was shat upon four times, quite exuberantly.  I’d like to think I was just extraordinarily lucky.


Waiting for Godot


The procession was amazing. Drums and whips cracking; dancing and singing, illuminated elephants– for two hours! The Victoria Day Parade back home has a lot to work on to get up to this level of awesomeness.

Let me show you.


This is the Illuminated Elephant Tranquilizer unit, just so you know




And elephants lit up like the best Christmas tree ever!


Followed by awesome dancers– with the elephants swaying and stepping to the very same rhythm. Insert italics here.


I said elephants, right? how about three golden elephants? Is that good enough for you?


Or maybe you require three shimmering, dancing blue-lit elephants to keep you satisfied?


the remarkably peaceful, non-shoving, non-pushing throngs exiting calmly after the 2 hour procession




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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.