After we struck out with the wild elephants, Ash, Katie and I set off for a restorative lunch followed by a trip to see some domesticated elephants at Lord's Elephant Park.
I didn't know what an elephant park would be like. Turns out it is a clearing in some woods where elephants are kept for tourists to interact with. After not seeing any wild elephants, we just about jumped out of the moving car when we drove up to a clearing and there were three elephants just hanging out, calm as could be. We stumbled up to the ticket hut, gawking and marvelling at the sheer size of the beauties. It was hard not to wonder what it would have been like to actually see elephants in the jungle, unsupervised, perhaps easily spooked. It might just have been a good thing that we weren't lucky enough to see them.
Elephants are huge. I know you all know this. You've seen elephants at the zoo and the circus, I know. But seriously, I need you to understand that up close and personal elephants are GINORMOUS, HUGANTIC, MASSIVELY MASSERIFIC. And they were right there waiting for us.
But first we had to decide how we wanted to interact with the elephants and pay the corresponding fee. Turns out its kind of expensive to hang out with an elephant. Maybe Gigi, our trekking guide at Periyar Tiger Sanctuary that morning and Lord's Elephant Park have a deal.....she takes tourists out to look for elephants in the wild, getting them good and hungry for some elephant hang time, then she deliberately steers clear of the behemoths so that the elephant-deprived tourists will fork out any amount of money just to be near one.
I don't care.
I was about to meet my first elephant. After looking over the elephant play-date menu, Ash and Katie went for the hour long program where-in they would bathe an elephant, watch the elephant pull logs and follow commands, then finish up with an elephant showering them. I went for all that PLUS I wanted a ride on my elephant, for a full hour.
Now, all the elephants at the park had heavy sorts of blankets on them with bars for setting your feet on and other bars for holding onto. I was having none of that. I told the park people, "If I'm gonna shell out this kind of dough for an elephant ride, I'd gonna ride that elephant like God intended." And I insisted that they take off the blanket. I was told later that very few people request to ride the elephant bare back. I'm not sure who's smarter, them or me. Knowing what I know now, it could be a toss-up.
Ash and Katie went off for their adventure and I was led to a stairway that climbed to a platform that put me at the right height to climb on the back of my elephant.
I waited with baited breath. Soon, the most massively massive of the three beasts at the park was guided up beside me.
I bent down to look him in the eye. I wanted to meet him properly if he was gonna carry me around for the next hour.
He had a beautiful eye. He had two actually, but when you are right next to the head of an elephant in profile, you can only see one eye. "Hi", I said. I mean really, what else could I say.
"What's his name?" I asked Park Boy, the young kid who'd brought me to the platform.
Gigi upon entering the jungle had said, "If you are lucky, you will see wild animals."
Here I was, getting Lucky. Lucky wasn't wild. But he was good enough for me!
Without ceremony, I was told to take my chapels (sandals) off and climb aboard. I aimed for Lucky's front shoulders. For anyone who has ever ridden a horse, but not an elephant, imagine trying to straddle two and a half horses at the same time and you would almost have the right width of an elephant. As soon as I was on Lucky's back, I was told to scoot up, closer to the neck. Around his neck, Lucky had a rope. I was told to hold onto that rope for balance. Lucky's Mahout, or trainer, would walk beside us in case there were any problem and to tell Lucky where to go. That was only slightly reassuring. If I were to lose my balance, the ground was almost a story below me and the mahout wasn't gonna be able to catch me.
I patted Lucky on the head and told him I trusted him. His skin was rough and populated with several long course hairs, but wonderful to feel, none-the-less. I could also feel his skin with my feet and, obviously, sitting right on top, I was aware of all of the movements of his front legs.
Lucky was very gentle with me. He plodded along, maneuvering with grace and ease around pothole size foot-prints left on past excursions down the elephant trail. I found that as long as we were on even ground or moving up hill I could hold onto the rope with one hand and pet Lucky with the other hand. If we went down-hill I had to hold onto the rope very tightly while I ever so slightly held my breath hoping I wouldn't fall off. This took a lot of core strength and I thanked my lucky stars and Matthew for the yoga lessons.
It was absolutely thrilling walking with Lucky. Beyond compare. I've loved elephants since I was teeny tiny. I have all sorts of elephant trinkets around my house. And there I was ON AN ELEPHANT. An elephant named LUCKY. Come on. Forget about it. I was over the moon.
Lucky was a great teacher of No Motion. He moved so slowly, so deliberately. I was immensely grateful. Like Lucky, I had to move slowly and deliberately to shift my focus up or left or right or forward.
Since the ride was a whole hour, I had enough time to get over the shock of being ON AN ELEPHANT that I was able to start really taking the experience in. I was eventually able to sit up straight, relaxing into Lucky's back, and to look around. The view from the top of an elephant is pretty darn great. I was at bird's eye view. All sorts of parrots and exotic birds whizzed past my head. I was astounded to find myself comfortable enough on Lucky to be able to watch the surroundings with clarity.
Twice Lucky had to stop to relieve himself. It wasn't as bad as it sounds. Sitting on top of an elephants shoulders actually put me at quite a distance from the, ummm, shall we say, smelly end of the elephant.
I was happy for the brief intermissions in walking. Apparently, elephants have to stand still to go potty. While Lucky took care of business I just sat without needing to constantly balance. Lucky would flap his giant ears and sometimes the sunlight would hit them in just the right way and the red freckles on his ears would glow. In the stillness I was also able to turn around and see his tail swish. When he would finish, he'd raise his trunk up and I could see it crest the top of his head for a few brief seconds. Awesome.
Only once did Lucky scare me. Towards the end of our ride, Lucky got hungry and started to veer off the path and down a rather steep hill. I thought I was about to tumble head first into the moving path of a hungry elephant. But the mahout corrected course and we headed back to homebase without bodily injury. This resulted in much patting of Lucky's head on my part and me saying, "Thank you Lucky, thank you thank you thank you!"
When we returned, pictures were taken.
Then I climbed off of Lucky, bent down and kissed him on the top of his head. Through the slight gap between his shoulder and the platform, Lucky reached up with is trunk. I instinctively put my hand down to shake it. He wrapped his trunk around my arm and pulled down just hard enough to startle me a little. He let go and I realized that I'd been hugged by an elephant.
Next I got to feed cucumbers to Lucky. I came down and stood on the ground. I didn't know where to put the food. I thought maybe I would put them to his trunk and he would grab them, but no. I put them right into his mouth. Between cucumbers, Lucky would put his trunk down and I would pat him on the head, then he'd put his trunk up and I'd feed him again. When he was done eating, I stood there with him waiting to go for a bath. I put my forehead to his forehead and we just communed.
Suddenly, Lucky was being led away from me and I was being told to go in another direction. I was not going to bathe Lucky, but Lakshmi, the elephant Ash and Katie had just bathed and played with. I was really upset. I wanted to wash Lucky, to thank him for giving me the ride of a lifetime. But they said I couldn't.
"At least let me say goodbye to him then!"
I was led over to Lucky's bed where they were putting his blanket back on him. He'd sat down, so I was able to easily get face to face with him. I just started thanking him over and over again and kissing him on his forehead. I was a little afraid that I might cry. His mahout told me that one man from England had ridden an elephant at Lord's Elephant Park and the man had fallen so in love with the Elephant that he bought him on the spot and had him shipped back to England.
"I'm sorry Lucky. I don't have a house big enough for you back home. But I love you that much anyway."
It's heartbreaking to leave an elephant.
But Lakshmi tended my broken heart and fluttered her very long eyelashes at me and let me know that all would be well.
As promised, she did tricks and pulled logs and did whatever her mahout told her to do.
Park Boy narrated for me, "Now I have to tell you this, this elephant knows 77 different words. It's true what I'm telling you. The mahout does not speak these commands. He will climb up on that elephant. You don't know how he will climb up. Your friends, they know this secret. But you don't. The mahout will climb up and he will tell this elephant what to do with just his feet."
The mahout stepped on Lakshmi's front foot, she lifted her foot and he climbed up onto her back.
"Now I know the secret of how he gets up on the elephant."
"Yes. But soon you will get washed by the elephant. Your friends did not climb on the elephant. But I think this will not be true for you. I think you will climb on the elephant. Then you will be very wet."
When Lakshmi had finished showing off her skills with the log, the mahout brought her over to the bathing spot. He gave the command for her to lie down. She lifted one of her rear feet and kind of dangled it, but she didn't appear to be interested in following orders.
Ash said, "I think she's tired of having baths. We just gave her one."
Park Boy said, "She is being a little mischievous." I must have looked worried because he added, "when she goes to work she will work, she will no longer be mischievous."
After several minutes of letting us all know who was really boss, Lakshmi decided to play nice and she laid down on her left side. The mahout started pouring buckets of water on her. Park Boy put a scrub brush in my hand and I started scrubbing. Lakshmi started to make happy noises. I think Lakshmi was just playing hard to get, cuz she seemed pretty okay with having her second bath of the day.
Katie said, "You're gonna be there a long time."
I had to scrub that elephant's ears, trunk, right side, rump. When I was done with her right side, the mahout had Lakshmi sit up so that I could do a bit of her left side.
When I was done cleaning Lakshmi it was my turn for a bath. Park Boy was not wrong. I climbed right up on Lakshmi's back, elephant riding style. The mahout had filled a large tub of water. Lakshmi took a big gulp, raised her trunk, and shot the water over her head and all over me. I was drenched. I was also laughing so hard I could barely breath. Lakshmi went for more water. Five, six, seven times...I lost count. Each time she sprayed me, I just squealed with laughter. I was soaked to the bone. My modest Indian dress was clinging to my body. Ash and Katie were snapping photos and laughing at me.
I was in Heaven.
When the shower was over I leaned forward and gave Lakshmi a big hug. I'd always wanted to lie down on top of an elephant and give one a hug. Dreams were coming true left and right.
Park Boy brought me a towel to dry off which was a little bit like bringing a tissue to mop up a geyser. Every bit of my clothes was sopping wet. But I didn't care. Park Boy then made a pass at me which I actually found charming under the circumstances....he was about 17, I smelled like an elephant and looked like a wet rat, well, a wet rat with really nice breasts which happened to be prominently featured in my tight wet clothes.
Driving home, I was on cloud nine. Who needs wild elephants when you can get Lucky (and Lakshmi) all to yourself?