Inspiring elephants

On the video you can see me and a keeper playing with baby elephant Sheba. During my time in India I was touched by the elephants there. Here in the Netherlands we don’t have elephants and we can only view them in zoos. In India it’s very different. There are elephant gods, temple elephants, working elephants and wild elephants. I seized every opportunity I had to see elephants and have had different experiences that I will share with you in this post.

The first intense personal encounter with the elephants was in Varkala, where Daan and I visited an elephant orphanage. I don’t know if it really was an orphanage, it didn’t seem to be, but it was called that. There were about six elephants, including lovely Sheba and the rest were adults. Apart from these they had another group of twenty-two elephants. We were able to get very close to the elephants, cuddle them and play with them, even the big ones. Also, we rode one of them for about ten minutes. As you can see in the picture below.

The ride was incredible. Daan and I both take horse riding lessons at Spirithorses where we practice natural horsemanship with a Western twist. It seemed like the keepers here were practicing the same thing. They lived together with their elephants, grew up with them and communicated with them. They did have bamboo sticks, but only used it when necessary to gently push the gigantic beautiful creatures, just like we use our legs and arms with horse riding. Later we found out not everyone in India had this much respect for the elephants.

At first it was a bit scary to sit this high on an enormous creature that I didn’t know, but as the ride continued I got very relaxed and even let go of the rope that was tide around his neck. I felt completely saved and placed my hands on his shoulder blades to feel how he was walking, just as I do with the horses. A few times I touched him on his head, to pet him and every time he reacted to my touch, I couldn’t figure out of he found it pleasurable or not. There was a tranquillity about this male elephant that I don’t find in many other creatures and I continuously found it in other elephants too.

After the ride we played with baby Sheba, which was just amazing, as you can see in the video. The little menace genuinely wanted to play and I was in awe by his gentile nature. With Daan and his keeper he was a lot rougher than with me. He must have sensed that I was nervous, since I saw him hit Daan quite hard with his trunk, and thus he took it easy on me. He liked it when I stroke his trunk and he seemed to be enjoying our little interaction very much. We got into this little play session, because Sheba was playing continuously with his keeper, as you can also see in the video, and they obviously had a very strong bound.

Later we went to an elephant training camp at Dubare Forest which provided a very different experience. We watched the elephants being washed (as you can see in the video below), being fed and I took a little ride on one of them. The keepers were continuously hitting the elephants with sticks with pointy ends on them, at one point even with swords. Elephants do have thick skins, but when I saw the soft-natured animals shake from pain I was sad. It was a very different experience from the orphanage and it made it clear to me that elephants can be treated in a softer and more harmonious way.

Apart from these ‘working’ elephants we also visited the India elephants at Mysore Zoo, as you can see in the video below these were very happy elephants. The Mysore Zoo is a very beautiful and wonderful zoo where the animals are visibly relaxed and happy. It was really nice to see the herd interacting with each other and to again experience the harmonious nature of the elephants.

The elephant also plays an active role in Hinduism and at many temples we saw temple elephants. They bless you for a rupi or a banana, depending on what you’ve got in your pocket. The first time I approached one of these elephant I literally got blessed, the elephant spat on me! But after a few times I got the hang of it and got blessed properly every time. Next to this there is also an elephant god, who has become my personal idol, Ganesha. Ganesh is the son of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva once mistook him for Parvati’s lover and cut off his head. Realising his mistake, Ganesh was granted the head of the first animal that Shiva would see the next morning, the rest is obvious. More importantly, Ganesh is just the cutest thing ever, with his tubby belly and beautifully decorated head and he has a rat as his holy transportation vehicle. How cool is that? I’m hooked.

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