Chitwan – by elephant

He didn’t want to do it. If I’d have thought more about it, perhaps I would have agreed. But part of me still held that fascination – that childish wonder of the experience. And so we went.

He didn’t want to go. But he did it anyways, for me. Because I love animals and thought ‘what an amazing experience it would be to ride atop such a beautiful creature’. Innocence or ignorance; either way, I showed up wide-eyed and full of wonder only to leave solemn and a bit ashamed.

There were over thirty beasts saddled up and awaiting their customers. They needn’t wait long as the droves of tourists buses and jeeps quickly piled in, and the tourists piled out.

I close my eyes and listen to the sounds around me. The “thuh-thump, thuh-thump” of my elephant’s rolling gait. The constant cries of a bird for “one more bot-tle”. The crashing of tree branches as we make our way through the jungle.

I breathe in deeply the smell of the jungle as an elephant trumpets nearby. I am transported back hundreds of years. I am an early explorer, delving deeper and deeper into the dark wilds of the jungle. I am falling straight into the pages of The Jungle Book.

And then a cell phone rings and I am hurdled back to the future. And then an angry “THWACK!” rings out as an elephant’s skull is smacked with a long heavy stick. The illusion is shattered. I look around and find myself in the midst of a train of elephants, all topped off by the eight spidery legs of tourists squished into a square platform atop each elephant. The couple sharing our platform are chatting loudly amongst themselves, or on their cell phones, or to the family crowded together on the following elephant. I hear another elephant trumpet and realize that it’s only because it, too, just got thumped on the head, this time with a metal rod. Our ‘unique’ elephant safari is nothing but a train of some thirty elephants, filled to overflowing with tourists, following one another on the same train. The tourist chatter is overwhelming at times, and the sickening “THWACK!” of the wooden or metal rods leaves a lump in my throat each time.

We amble into a clearing where two rhinos are grazing. They could care less about the surrounding elephants and we are afforded, for a third time, an up close and ‘personal’ look at these fascinating animals. It feels more like a circus attraction with the droves of tourists atop each elephant ambling around these rhinos and I find myself less than impressed.

Two large snakes are found in a nearby pond and the drivers urge their elephants over, where we circle around the the drivers have their elephants beat at the ground, terrifying the poor snakes and sending them slithering to and fro, trying to break through the circle. After several minutes of this absurd spectacle, the elephants break and amble away. We start the slow ride back to the elephant park when our driver realizes that he has lost something. He must have dropped it somewhere, because he’s turning the elephant this way and that way. Angry at having lost whatever it was, he takes out his own metal rod. One end is rounded while the opposite has both a sharp point and a curved hook. He pokes it at the elephant’s head and smacks it against the top of it’s ear. I wince each time. Part of the elephant’s ear is bloody while there are big healed-over scabs atop it’s head. I feel disgusted and sick to have paid for this.

We finally return to the elephant park. Kyle and I are silent on the bus ride home and say nothing for almost an hour. There was nothing to say. We paid to ride on over-crowded, ill-treated domesticated elephants in a park where wild ones forage freely. It makes no sense.

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~ by Rachel on July 3, 2011.

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