The number one thing on my list of things to do in India was “ride an elephant!” It was going to be fabulous. I planned an outfit in my head, something flowy, print on print and jewelry. Yes, jewelry. Layers of baubles in all sorts of saturated colors. It was going to be glorious, glamorous and the photo was going to be epic! What I didn’t expect was that the experience would move me to tears.
The elephant ride I had been dreaming of happened in Jaipur, one of my favorite stops on my four city tour. Our tour guide took us to the Amber Fort – a beautiful palace and tourist attraction in Jaipur. Despite my desire to bring the drama with my look for the day, I went for a more practical look. I figured it might be tough to climb an elephant in a floor length caftan. haha!
Aside from being massive, when I first saw the elephants, I noticed that they were beautifully decorated with colorful paint, draped with fabric and topped with a carriage for passengers to sit. I was excited and nervous. I waited on top of a wall/platform and elephant walks up alongside it and Yahve and I climbed on.
It didn’t take long for me to notice that the handler is poking the elephant behind the ear with a sizable wooden stick. This bothered me a little and I looked a little closer and noticed that the elephant had a raw patch in the spot where he was being poked leading me to think it happened a lot. The ride went from thrilling and fun to somber after that. The ride was completely uphill and the animals (not just the one I was on but the ones around us) seemed to be struggling at certain points. The road was steep and narrow. I started to feel guilty. How many times do the elephants have to walk that steep road to the top of the fort each day? Were the given proper care and nutrition? I felt so irresponsible and that’s when the tears came. How could I have neglected to consider the animal who was going to provide me with the fabulous experience I had created in my head?
Well, I couldn’t get off in the middle of the ride, it wasn’t safe and the handler did really speak english very well. So I closed my eyes and gave the elephant Reiki (an ancient healing technique based on the principle that energy can be transferred through touch). Yeah, yeah, for many of you it probably sounds like hocus-pocus to you but I believe that all living things have the ability to communicate with one another on some level. I wanted the animal to feel my love and appreciation. It was all I could do at the moment.
When I got off the elephant and met up with the guide again, I asked him a few questions. Are the animals treated fairly? Why does the handler poke the animal like that? What happens to them when they get too old to do carry passengers? Why do some of the elephants have discoloration on their trunks? To which I believe he answered pretty directly – Yes, they are treated fairly there are people who monitor to ensure that they are. He didn’t know what happened to retired elephants. The discoloration was a result of an allergy to the paint (OMG stop painting them then!).
Now let me be clear here, I did not witness great abuse or mistreatment of the elephants but I was personally uncomfortable with it. When I got home I did a little research and learned that the treatment of the elephants at the fort had be regulated as a result of complaints from tourists over the years. Now, elephants were only allowed to carry two passengers (plus a handler) at a time and they were limited to five trips up and down the hill a day.
What I did take away is that I need to do more research when partaking in any activity that involves animals. The ethical and fair treatment of animals is important to me.