The Gathering

The Gathering is an annual migration by hundreds of elephants to Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka, usually around July through early November. Recently read an article about The Gathering on CNN and thought I should share an excerpt from my travel journal on my trip to Minneriya.  Here it is below and some of my unedited photos above:

I landed in Sri Lanka the third week of November and while Minneriya was one of my first stops I knew I was arriving at the end of the dry season so I didn’t get my elephant-sighting hopes up. I told myself I would be happy if I saw one in it’s natural habitat. Just one.

I entered Minneriya just as a jeep of English tourists was exiting. They were not happy. They didn’t see anything larger than a few herons. My heart sank. I’m sure the impression of disappointment on their daughter’s face matched mine. I was in Sri Lanka as a volunteer English teacher to Buddhist monks. This safari was my splurge. I started thinking of all the others things I could have done with the safari guide fee. My heart sank even further.

For the first 15 minutes we passed cows and herons. Several dozen herons. But no elephants. Minneriya is beautiful and for a city girl like me being in the wide open plain was impressive.  I loved how the bright blue sky met the green grass in a seemingly perfect line.  I don’t think the guide understood why I was taking so many pictures of the sky but it was stunning and brought a smile back to my face. Thirty more minutes passed and I was content again with my decision to go on this safari.

And then I saw an elephant. I giggled. I clapped. I took a LOT of pictures. The guide shook his head. I may have been a little over-excited for this one elephant. Just one. But he was beautiful. My trip was made. Box checked.

We moved on. Saw more herons. And even more cows and herons. And then the most amazing site I have ever seen! (No hyperboles here.) I saw one elephant come out of the bushes. Followed by another. And then another. And then about 30. And then there were hundreds.

There was no clapping or cheering or even picture taking on my end. Just sheer awe. Everything felt bigger than me at that moment. The sky was bluer and more open. The plain was greener and more expansive. And these gigantic creatures were lumbering towards me at a pace that seemed to slow down my normally rapidly revolving world.  I just stood there and took it in.

It wasn’t until the guide tapped me on the shoulder that I remembered to start taking pictures. Hundreds of pictures. There really is no point in trying to describe what I saw. Even the pictures don’t do it justice.

Even more so, words nor pictures could capture the frenzy of emotions that I felt in that hour. I see a lot of things in New York City and in my travels but nothing was comparable to this, in the way it made me feel so…small.

The air was so sweet I wanted to inhale it all but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t take a breath deep enough.  I wanted to scream and cry but all I could do was smile.  And smile I did. My smile was huge – and if you know me you know I’m a naturally big smiler – but it didn’t feel wide enough to capture what I was feeling inside.  I felt unbelievably grateful to be able to witness something so natural and so beautiful.  Maybe that’s what bliss feels like? I don’t know but it was overwhelming.




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