One of my earliest memories is of elephants squealing with delight as they sprayed each other with water. These elephants were working creatures and treated well. Sadly in our modern world not all elephants are cared for by their human owners. In Jaipur there is a place where the elephants are kept safe and happy. It’s a bit of a mission to get to the sanctuary but once there you can tell it’s a good place for elephants. Sandy tracks wander through the scrub and slope down to the stream beds which crisscross the landscape. Elephants actually walk on their toes so a comfortable surface for them is a must.
How does one mount an elephant? One climbs up onto a platform and waits for a passing elephant to stop. Its mahout (the individual elephant’s friend and driver) is usually dressed in comfortable swathes of cloth and perches on the elephant’s head with his legs tucked behind its ears. By moving his feet the mahout can direct the elephant forward, left or right and when to stop.
Climbing into the passenger platform, one dangles ones legs over the elephant’s back and braces against the other passenger. The elephant rolls as it walks along, so the ride is rather like a drunken sea journey. Elephants hardly make a noise as they plod along so it can very quiet apart from the bird calls and the occasional command from the manhout.
I like it when the ride starts at dusk and the elephant takes you into the countryside. The quiet of the landscape the peace of the falling light adds something to the whole experience. Out in the countryside you can come across abandoned buildings or a protected temple. At a temple there are bright braziers on each side of the door with well-dressed guards (red turbans and white trousers and a bright sash) and the whole thing feels like falling through a time tunnel to the time of the British Raj.
After the elephant ride and a chance to reward your elephant with some bananas its off across the lawn to a waiting glass of champagne, cane chairs and an open fire. The conversation wanders along covering the vast array of topics that kiwis find to discuss. Night falls and the night creatures sing to each other; the elephants have all gone to bed.
Mandy has been a tour leader with Tours Direct for over 15 years. She has a wealth of experience and never gets tired of travelling to old and new destinations.