The Elephant — India’s national heritage animal — has a long history in this country. It has fought mightily in wars, even wearing armor; it has been a powerful piece of “machinery” when doing construction and moving logs from forests. All of these massive forts and palaces that one can see all over India, have elephants in their construction history. On occasion when I would see an elephant walking down the street, I would remind myself, “Wow, I live in India.” When we finally got some family to visit us at the end of our journey here, we took the opportunity to get up close and personal with the mighty elephant in Jaipur.
After taking an early flight out of Delhi we went straight to the Amber Fort where past kings ruled in Jaipur. Our first elephant experience of the day was riding up to the top of the fort with one. Let’s just say, they don’t move too fast and they let us know their personalities during that quick ride as some didn’t want to be behind the slow ones.
The real experience of elephants, though, happened that afternoon. We had been told by many friends to definitely do “Elefantastic” when you go to Jaipur. So we did and it was definitely worth it. The owner, Rahul, and his family have worked with elephants for generations. They used to have their elephants participate in the job of carrying people up to the Amber Fort like we did that morning. The last several years, he has evolved his elephant farm and has made it a great place for visitors to come and really learn about this mighty animal.
Since there were six in our party, we were assigned three elephants upon arrival — two people per elephant. Each elephant had a local that helped assist us in our duties. The first assignment was just to get up close and personal with your elephant, look them in the eye, and let them smell and look at you. They are very social animals. We spent a lot of time during this part feeding them, rubbing their trunks and just getting to know them. For me, one of the surprises was the coarseness of the hair on them. They eat non-stop, about 300 pounds of food each day, which of course led to plenty of moments having it discharged on the other end as well. We learned how to put the food right up in their mouth and the elephant Hailey and I were assigned taught us quickly when she was ready for the next serving.
One of the fascinating things we learned while feeding the elephants is that the size of their molars are HUGE. An elephant has six sets of molars in its lifetime, shedding them periodically. Once the last set fall out, they basically die of starvation and malnutrition.
After our elephants were semi-content (my elephant never stopped eating — she would try to grab at any shrub or tree even as I rode her), we got to paint and decorate them. For any special celebration when elephants are present or annually at the Republic Day Parade, elephants are painted with beautiful designs.
After painting, it was time to give these creatures a bath and that’s when we really learned of their playfulness. They loved having their trunks filled with water, drinking it and then spraying it all over us. Elephants love having their skin scrubbed down so after we did the lower cleaning, we got on top of them bareback and scrubbed the top part of their bodies. That’s when we got drenched — both by the elephant spraying us and the gentlemen holding the hoses.
Once our friends were clean, we got to remount the elephant with a thick padding, making the ride a little more comfortable. We went on about a 45 minute ride as the sun was setting.
It was a fantastic “thumbs up” experience and well done by the elephant farm and their employees. Thank you India!