Sometimes the best days on a trip, and in life, come about unexpectedly. We were looking for something to do for our last day in Jaipur. We were almost lamenting that we hadn’t planned properly and had an extra day in Jaipur. In hindsight, an extra day in Jaipur is never anything to lament about. EVER. It’s a city spilling over the brim with art, talent, beauty, wildlife.
Thank you to my travel companion for not letting me be stingy (a trait I abhor in myself) – we decided to visit the elephant village and spend a few hours hugging elephants, learning about elephants, painting on elephants, riding elephants and bathing elephants.
Upon arrival at ‘Elefamily’, one of the companies that works in the elephant village, we took part in a ceremony where we tie Rajasthani turbans – they even do this for girls! Which is really nice because I do think girls in India should start wearing turbans to make a statement that we are equal. In fact, would that not be a cool idea for a day in a year – girls wear turbans to show that we can do anything men can do? I’m sure women’s rights groups will object to this on one basis or the other, probably saying that I’m suggesting we have to imitate men to be heard or whatever. But turbans are fun…for a little while. I took mine off after a while because it was a) falling apart and b) just plain weird for all my photos to be like that. Vanity is something I fear I’ll never be able to get rid of in my life. My late grandmother cared about the kinds of salwaar kameezs and jewellery she wore until she was 80. I probably will too. But hand on heart I can say I’m a hell of a lot better than most girls – you know the types we see on facebook who’ve taken a picture like a million times to get it ‘right’. Eugh. Anyways, like Colonel Haathi from Jungle book I digress…
Our host, Kabir from Elefamily, has 9 female elephants. In the elephant village, there are a total of 120 female elephants and 4 male elephants. (Guys reading this are thinking that’s a great ratio – you’re all so predictable!).
The female elephants are all working elephants. They carry tourists up to Amber Fort, about a 10 minute ride. They do five rounds up and down and then they can spend the rest of the day just being elephants. I’m happy the Government has come up with this smart arrangement.
It’s funny when we were at Amber fort, in a queue of tourists from all around the world, there were a number of fairly fat tourists. We watched a fat my-guess-is American woman get on the elephant and my friend goes ‘Poor elephant, having to carry another one of its kind up the hill’. Hehehe.
Anyways, so let me tell you all I can remember about elephants!
1) Their favourite food is bananas…..
You’ll notice when you feed them that they store four or five bananas in their mouth at a time before swallowing them. They eat a LOT. We saw the room with all the hay(?) for one day’s feed. They only sleep for an hour in a day and they eat all night. At night in the elephant village, the owners chain up the elephants so that they don’t go wandering and kill someone. They also place sugarcane all around each elephant which the elephants eat all night.
2) They love each other. Like us, elephants have deep bonds with each other. Herds are known to come back to the place where a fellow elephant was poached or died and mourn his/her death.
3) I’d always been curious about the discolouration you see on Indian elephants, on their trunks particularly. Kabir said it was because that’s where the driver and riders climb up the elephant from. Simply rubbing the skin in one place repeatedly causes them to lose pigmentation. Interesting. I like elephants being grey, it’d be weird if they were all pink.
4) Elephants are very good huggers.
Unrelated to the hugg-ability, they are actually pretty hairy sometimes. I didn’t expect that.
5) The elephant language has around 34 words. Impressive vocabulary, no? We learnt a few. For reference, for the next time you’re on an elephant: ‘agat agat agat’ means ‘go go go’. ‘Dhut’ means stop. ‘Che ghoom’ accompanied by the right foot moving the right ear tells the elephant which way to turn. ‘Peeche hut’ means reverse. Most of these are hindi words as hindi-speakers will recognize.
It’s actually not that hard to ride and steer and elephant once you know the language. It was an absolute marvel to me that I could steer an elephant and make it go and stop as I pleased. I also marveled at the whole concept of taming elephants. It’s so strange to see a small human telling a huge creature what to do. This particularly struck me as I watched Kabir tell the elephant to back into its ‘apartment’ and it did as it was told. Kabir had his hand outstretched and was angrily saying ‘peeche hut’ as he stepped towards the elephant and the elephant kept stepping back, a little bit reluctantly like she couldn’t really be bothered but she did step back. And then it was bath-time!
Elephant-riding is also really good assertiveness training for the human involved because elephants do not listen to gentle instructions. You have to be loud, and sure. I should try and get it introduced into the Harvard Business School curriculum as part of leadership and assertiveness training.
At the start of the day Kabir had told us ‘You’ll fall in love with the elephants’. I thought that was an ESL way of putting things – how can you fall in love with elephants? and that too so soon? But at the end of four hours, I didn’t want to leave and I loved elephants so much – still do. And I was looking at our elephant ‘Moti’ lovingly (Moti is hindi for pearl, also hindi for ‘fat’ with a slightly different pronunciation) and Moti had tears in her eyes. I was touched. And then Kabir said their eyes are always moist to protect them. Of course.