It’s not like I wasn’t apprehensive about riding an elephant–they’re big and high off the ground. And a story our guide told us as we drove out of the city limits of Jaipur and up and mountain made me a little–oh, I don’t know–queasy? Here’s the story:
In the past, tourists were allowed to ride four to an elephant up a long hill at Amber Fort to this gorgeous little elephant polo field and restaurant. One day, an Italian tourist decided she wanted to get up close and personal with an elephant for a photo. She touched the elephant behind her ear, the elephant swung its trunk and knocked the tourist down, breaking her leg. The tour guide, thinking his tourist was in danger, jumped in and the elephant stomped him to death.
Yeah. But there’s more:
Turns out upon investigation, the elephants were being badly mistreated, taking 10 or more trips up the mountain with too many riders–much more effort than their bodies could withstand. They were stabbed and poked with hooks in their most sensitive areas. So, by law, elephants in India must now be well treated, they can carry only two tourists at a time, and they take a short round trip and no more up and down the mountainside.
So that’s the backdrop to my admission that yes, I rode an elephant. I did. Without tranquilizers or Scotch. With my husband’s encouragement, I climbed aboard after him and rode the sweetest little female elephant ever. Oh, she was wonderful. Our driver said she was a very nice creature, one of the youngest (apparently most are around 35 years old.) Other than making an unscheduled stop to munch some greens, it was an uneventful ride.
The male elephants aren’t very nice, so tourists can only ride females. By the way, a person who rides an elephant is called a mahout.
My sweet elephant
Once I got into the swing of it, and I do mean swing–it’s not a smooth ride, kind of a lumbering up and down thing–I noticed that our driver was on his cellphone.
My mahout on his cell. At least he wasn’t texting.
Two women in our group didn’t ride, believing it was exploitative. They didn’t fault anyone for riding, but they’d raised a point I hadn’t considered before. I do know that I’m heartbroken by the poaching that goes on in Africa and really, at heart, wish that we would let God’s creatures be.
With that in mind, I’ll give such tourist attractions deep thought before participating in the future. And I did emerge with a deeper connection to these beasts and a wish that cruelty to them and all animals will end very soon.