My earliest memory of meeting an elephant was at Rani Baug at Bombay. As an impressionable 7-year-old girl, I was in awe upon meeting the majestic creature with funny floppy ears and a mammoth trunk. “Horton Hears a Who” and “Mr. Galliano’s Circus” were two books that made me love elephants even more. Elephants are one of the most intelligent animals and it is often said that elephants do not forget kind or unkind behaviors towards them. They are truly remarkable creatures. My recent trip to meet the elephants at Manas National Park gave me the opportunity to meet the love of my life up, close and personal. This was my first trip to Assam, as one of the 12 ambassadors of Bodoland.
At Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp
We stayed at the Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp for three days. It is located close to the park boundary near a tea garden. You can stay in cottage tents, outdoor tents or the machan rooms. The entire space has been designed thoughtfully and the service is impeccable.
I arrived at the camp just in time for lunch and halfway through I heard a mighty call. Ratnamala and Jaymala, our elephant companions had arrived and wanted to go for their bath. Both these elephants were orphans that were raised by the local mahouts. Both the elephants at the Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp were used to humans being around them and were quite friendly. Manas National Park takes special care to ensure that the elephants are not overworked and have a limited set of activities every day. They firmly believe in developing the area as a sustainable, animal-friendly destination.
Up, Close and personal with the elephants at Manas National Park
Approaching Ratnamala and Jaymala was very easy. They were a friendly and playful pair. When you are standing close to an elephant, you can’t help but wonder how strong they really are. Yet, the gentleness in their eyes makes them seem so kind. After a quick photo session with them as they patiently posed for us, it was time for their bath!
Bathing elephants at Manas National Park
We made our way to the nearby pond and both Ratnamala and Jaymala settled in the water with a splash.
Did I want to go and bathe them personally?
Was I scared?
Did I imagine one hundred different ways in which my clumsy self might slip and fall in the terribly cold water?
However, a few words of encouragement and assurances by the mahouts and my friends that the elephants would love to have me bathe them made me get into the water.
In the pond with Ratnamala and Jaymala
I gingerly stepped in and went to Ratnamala who was happily lazing around. Alfred and Namita, my co-elephant bathers helped me get over my initial fear. Both the elephants would let out a trumpet of contentment as they were scrubbed with grass. One interesting thing to note is that the mahouts spoke to the elephants in the local language and they would respond to them by waving their trunk. It felt surreal standing so close to both of them.
Elephants can be surprisingly hairy and their skin is so tough that a good grass scrub makes them happy. The mahouts also apply a bit of oil around the eyes as it tends to get dry around the area.
Towards the end of the bath, Ratnamala decided that the three humans i.e. Alfred, Namita and I were too dirty. It made sense for her to take some water in her trunk and give us a quick shower. It was extremely cold but it was worth it. Shivering, despite the strong sun on our backs, we made our way back to the Smiling Tusker Elephant Camp.
A walk to remember with Ratnamala and Jaymala
After a quick change of clothing, it was time to go on a walk with our two gorgeous friends leading the way. A dog decided to follow us on our walk and remained our companion till the end. We became quite friendly with the elephants, too. We ambled through the tea estates and watched both the elephants pluck branches for a quick snack.
They would pause next to a tree, take a moment to think and …Crack! They would pluck a branch full of leaves. It was almost as if they were attending a buffet and they knew which branches would be delicious. A quick bite later, they would either decide to discard the branch or continue munching on it.
During our 2 hours long walk with the elephants at Manas National Park, we passed a Bodo settlement and were welcomed warmly into their houses. It is wonderful to learn about new cultures and experience something unique. The Bodos are the kindest people you will ever meet and we had a great time going around their house getting to know about them. Weaving is an important source of income for many families, more on that later in my next post 🙂
The sun had almost set and it was time to return to the camp to huddle around a bonfire. Ratnamala and Jaymala retired for the day, too. After a delicious meal and swapping some tales, it was time to sleep. For the next day, I was going on an Elephant Safari in the deep jungle. Stay tuned for my next blog post.