I had been riding on trains, planes and taxis it felt for 72 hours straight. During these travels I felt that I had been unceremoniously stowed either in the overhead compartment or in my nylon duffle bag pressed up against the snake hooks. Therefore, I was feeling like I needed a petite elephant to walk across my back to help me unwind and decompress. However, after arriving at the Elephant Rescue Center in Agra and hearing that the elephants begin their day with a 3 hour walk, I thought that tagging along with the elephants might be a good first option to restore my spine(and my spirit).
The next morning I arrived later then the elephants were accustomed to leaving for their morning hike. It is possible that I imagined this, but I felt that I received a collective ‘look’ from all of the elephants who appeared to be frustrated that their morning schedule was delayed. They were so enthusiastic about going their trunks were swaying, some were trumpeting, it was if they had gulped an energy smoothie that morning that was blended with kale and antioxidants. .
I had envisioned myself walking with the lead elephant that day, but before I could adjust my camera strap and tie my shoe laces, Maya had taken the lead. Maya, a rescued circus elephant was closely followed by Phoolkali, Bijli and Chanchal. Although the group started off like they were a cycling team drafting off of one another, they soon scattered to follow their own amusements. Bijli dashed off to do some bum scratching on some infant trees. Maya and Phoolkali obliviously headed off together where there was no path. Then there was the youngster Chanchal, who had other ideas.
Chanchal is the latest addition to the elephant group. On walks she is one of the slowest elephants. This is because of the traumatic injury she sustained to her leg when she was hit by a truck last June. The injury precvents her from flexing her knee normally; therefore, she ambulates by swinging her leg around her body in a circumvented gait. However, her disability does not prevent her from engaging in mishchief. Everybody lovingly refers to Chanchal as the naughty one. Since she no longer has a life where she fears bull hooks and punishment, she enjoys the opportunity to express herself and do what was forbidden to her in the past. You might be wondering what type of activities that would be while on her morning walk. Well for chanchal, she loves to crop raid and share her prize with Bijli, a friend that she had come to love.
Most of the walk was much the same. I gained a new respect for the mahouts who accompany them on these walks and are constantly dashing off behind them to ensure they don’t get into trouble. I also realize that walking with the elephants is not what I was expecting. I was not expecting their spontaneous play and their frequent stops to express love for one another.
Most importantly, I understood why that morning I had received the disapproving ‘look.’ Never Keep an elephant that need its bum scratched waiting.