An Elephant Excursion in Jaipur that includes Riding and Feeding
It was right in the middle of the monsoon; the rain had been pouring continuously from the sky above for the last five to six hours of our journey. The base of the taxi was flooded from Agra to Jaipur; the legroom was submerged in water. My sister, Imani and I, folded our legs on top of the car seat. Six hours on the road felt was agonizingly uncomfortable, my legs were constantly falling asleep and getting pins and needles. Our schedule only allowed for one day in Jaipur thus could partake in a single adventure. I had been dying to see firsthand the Asian elephants which dominated this part of the world.
Jaipur felt more of a village than a city. It was very green with swells of jungle scattered around the environment. The trees were luscious and thick, they meandered their way around the city’s famous hills. The road swerved endlessly; the corners were endless. Indian drivers, may it be tuk-tuks, cars or bikes, drove in the middle of the road. Driving in India felt like you were constantly risking your life; most corners were blind which meant a driver as crazy as yours would be overtaking and breaking destructively. My heart was beating fast, expecting the worst and hoping for the best.
The Elephant Village was in the middle of a rural area below the luxurious palaces that towered in their prestige hilltops above. The palaces took the shape of the long hills that they sat on. Sanjeev, the man who managed the vicinity welcomed us with masala tea and invited us to sit down. He gave us a brief history of the place. One elephant’s food cost 4000 rupees a day and there were 109 elephants in the establishment. It’s a non-profit organization in India that aims to provide good treatment to elephants. Asian elephants have been domesticated thus don’t pose a threat to humans. The organization keeps the elephants mainly as a form of tourism. In India, the symbolism of an Elephant is of prosperity and wealth.
Their first option was the package of riding and feeding for 1800 rupees. The second option was feeding, painting and washing the elephants for 2500 rupees. The third option was renting your Elephant for 3500 rupees. Doing all the activities cost 3500 rupees. My mother didn’t want to ride any of the elephants which left Imani and I. We chose the riding and feeding option.
Two elephants were relaxing under the shaded roof by the display. They were smaller than African elephants. Their trunk was much longer and could drag down on the ground. They don’t have big tusks and aren’t aggressive as African elephants, nobody can poach them for their ivory and aren’t an endangered species. They have a pink discoloration on the bottom of their ears and on their long trunk, laced with grey spots that look like they were splattered with paint. Their eyes are deep and grey to expressing their age. Their trunks had wrinkle lines that look like lines found on old branches. The top of their heads has some hair, a few black strands standing ashtray.
There are two ways of climbing an Asian Elephant. Either by the trunk or by the back. The trunk is more complicated than the back. First, you hold both ears and put your right leg out to get raised by the trunk. Then, you start to climb the mammals face up the trunk to the top of its head. It sounds a lot easier than it was. The surface of the creature as hard as a rock but I was scared. I didn’t want to injure her in any way and it looked inhumane to climb her face. I imagined if somebody had been climbing my face, I wouldn’t have liked it. I climbed successfully till the trunk then got stuck. It was the thought that the distance between the ground and where I was suddenly too big. Not having any support of anything except the grip of Vishal who was sitting up above and Sanjeev down below was tantalizing to my mind. I tried to and get something to get a grip of. I attempted to push myself up and get myself closer to Vishal. I screamed, in this moment of fear was the truth of it all. I was scared of two things: falling to my untimely death and hurting the wonderful creature. My body didn’t understand how to differentiate these things. With one final pull, I was up on the elephant’s neck. We were about 2.2 meters off the ground.
It was a comfortable experience, the grip of the mat to the elephant’s body was very strong. The mat covered half of the top of her back and was tied together by thick ropes that went around the poor animal’s body in a circular movement. I had asked Sanjeev whether the Elephant would feel any pain and he lied to me. Vishal explained in depth how they can control the elephants through tying the last rope which goes underneath the tail. It causes the animals a great deal of pain thus makes them submissive. It sounded like animal cruelty which I strongly disagree with because it doesn’t resonate with my morals. Imani had told us (my mother and I) she didn’t want to ride the elephants because of how they were mistreated but we were both riding the elephant today. Vishal took my spot at the neck to direct the Elephant on our ride. We proceeded to a set of steps which were 2.1 meters off the ground at the wall of the property where Imani was standing to climb onto the Elephant because she had feared climbing from the neck. She climbed aboard and we were off on our adventure.
Each step that was taken was slow, steady and precise. On top of the Elephant was very stable. The ground looks the same as it does when you walk on it but it’s quite high so if you fall it can lead to instant death. We were exploring the small village. It was poor but full of life. We passed a field where small boys were playing cricket, they waved to us eagerly then continued to give their attention to the game. Some branches stood in our way and we had to brush them to the side while we ventured on. I asked Vishal what the creature's name was, and he told me that she was called Rangoli. Rangoli was 28 years old. I also learned that Asian elephants live to the same age as African elephants, 70 years just like humans. I was flabbergasted. Rangoli was so stunning.
We wandered through an alleyway of shops where babies greeted us by shouting “Hello!” And waving frantically in the air. We waved back and shouted, “Hello” down below. There were women in shops buying and selling things. We were the center of attention of the villagers. We proceeded past an opening which was housing for other elephants. There were ten elephants in the large building. They were being fed being huge tufts of grass and were aligned in various segments where they normally sleep standing. Vishal explained to me that sometimes they can sleep on the ground, this happens every third to the fourth day whilst in captivity. Our tour of the village had come to an end when I saw the blue iron sheets that indicated the property up ahead. Rangoli has been such a great host, letting us ride her with such ease and prowess. I’ve always had a strong liking towards these animals which turned into huge respect. Rangoli was a graceful elephant.
The ride was over, it was feeding time. Everybody climbed off and I was left on Rangoli’s neck. Vishal handed me a loaf of bread and held a stick with his right hand to portray his dominance over Rangoli. He said “Lepale!” and Rangoli stretched out her long wiggling trunk towards me looking for food. I stretched forward with bread in my left hand whilst balancing myself with my right hand. Rangoli was pleased because she kept eating and eating. I put four slices of bread in my hand each time. At a point, this routine became familiar to me. this is how Rangoli and I bonded, mammal to mammal. I said “Lepale!” as well. Rangoli didn’t respond to my call because domesticated Asian elephants only respond to their masters.
Afterward, it was time for me to get down and feed Rangoli with Imani. I climbed off her and walked to the center of the shade where we were given three loaves of bread each and fed her. Rangoli was eating so fast. Being closer to her enabled me to pet her beautiful bridge that had a pink pigment and grey spots. She was fragile yet, strong. I looked into the grey of her eyes and I felt like I could see into the depths of her soul. We were connected in some way. Time flew, about thirty minutes later, Rangoli was full. It was time to leave and I gave her one last hug. She was a dear friend, even in the short time I had known her. I had an attachment to animals; the more I spent time with them, the more I felt closer to nature.
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