The following is a pre-recorded account of my aspirations, dreams and expectations for the Elephant Expedition I am currently undertaking. Stay in touch for news of what really happens while I’m away!
The dreamy journal
We woke around five this morning (that’s somewhere hideous between 11pm and midnight the previous day in GMT) to the wonderful smell of elephants. After a glorious cooked breakfast we mounted our domestic eles and took our first trip out to the sal forests at around seven. Perhaps I rode on Champa Kali (Flower). The roll of the elephant is so pleasant that it almost sent me to sleep in the early afternoon.
In my wildest dreams we have already seen several wild bulls and collected a dozen or more DNA samples. We have also heard news that a large group of females and young were recently spotted in the area and have made plans to head in their direction tomorrow.
The phanits (elephant drivers) sit up front on their elephant’s neck. Four expedition members share the howday on top and a local tracker stands at the rear. The phanits steers using body language, pushing forward with a press of their foot behind the ele’s ear, or tapping a shoulder for reverse. A back lean makes the elephant stop and a front lean with a press on her head will make the elephant kneel. Soft, gently discussions are carried out in Hindi and discipline handed out with a steel ankush. A horrible, but necessary, tool according to the elephant handlers.
The Nepalese trackers really know this area and understand its wild occupants and their habits. They can read the markings in the soft mud and are able to guide us expertly to where the wildlife walk.
The reality check
However awful I feel, I will still manage to scrape myself out of my bed and join the party. It may take another day or so for the anti-histamine to kick in but my eyes are already in a state of recovery rather than getting any worse. I am nervous of the elephants though. They can tell that I’m allergic to them and I can’t help but flinch so much whenever the phantis uses his ankush that my nerves are now shot as well as my spine. The roll of the elephant ride makes me seasick and last night’s curry has given me the runs.
We have spent all day wondering fruitlessly through the forest and seen little more than a few birds in the distance. I tried approaching the domestic eles when they were washing in the river but go sprayed full in the face.
This scenario would be bad. But would it be awful? I’ve survived being sick and still had to go to work. Even if I’m sick on this trip, I’ll still be in Nepal rather than at work. And, even if we see nothing other than birds, the sal forests will be new and exotic and beautiful. As for getting sprayed in the face by an elephant – what a story to tell my grandchildren!
My only true reservation is how I will react to the reality of the phantis using their ankushes. I will struggle to accept this and must remind myself that they know their animals. I’m sure elephants wouldn’t work for humans if they felt abused. Would they? These elephants do not spend their lives in chains. Wouldn’t they just smack their drivers back if they were really hurt, tip off their riders and run?