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_DSC6153This Saturday, we were treated with a brilliant talk by John Gimlette for the launch of his latest book ‘Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka’.

Well known traveller, author of four books and winner of the Shiva Naipaul Prize for Travel Writting and Dolam Travel Book Prize, Gimlette has travelled through the Soviet Union, lived in Argentina and visited more than eighty countries.

This time he explored Sri Lanka with us through a narrative of his research, experiences and encounters; and illustrated with his beautiful photographs – for he is also a photographer – Gimlette gives an account of the under-reported aspects of today's Sri Lanka.

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Veddah hunters gather honey © John Gimlette 

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No mistake here: if you expect poetic waterfall pictures and a guide to the best hikes, you will be disappointed. For this work is all about Sri Lankans, their history, and contemporary outcomes of a chaotic 26-year-long civil war.

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With great humour and eloquence, Gimlette talked us through his journey and his impressions of an island “that has a geography from heaven and a history from hell” (Michael Kerr, The Daily Telegraph).

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From Sigiriya towards Sri Lanka's highlands. © John Gimlette 

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Our first impression though, wasn’t the one we expected but gave us a good laugh: “The Island is covered in food; to the animals living on it, it is just an enormous salad.”

He then told us about some of the most dangerous animals, in the most casual way: “On the last day, I was sitting in my tent, and two poisonous snakes passed by.” I mean, how many times would one expect to say this sort of thing in a lifetime?

To illustrate his points, the author chose to show us some souvenirs he had brought from Sri Lanka; not the magnet-style, more like the Indiana-Jones-style. Amongst them, a Tamil Tigers flag, symbol of the independent movement, a bow offered by a tribe chief and the Tamil Pages (yellow pages), for the London population of Tamil Tigers.

Gimlette also brought back with him a metallic piece from the Farah III shipwreck, featured on the cover of the book. Remembering his visit to the site, he talked about it as “a sort of cathedral, beautiful and echoing, but with something sinister about it”.

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Farah III, Mullaitivu, SL. © John Gimlette 

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We hope our guests enjoyed the talk as much as we did.

You can find the rest of the photos below, and don't hesitate to give us your impressions of the book!

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