Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sunday Part 1: In which I get to ride a "Nelephant"

During my travels on Saturday I had booked myself into a days Mahmout training and Elephant riding. Supposedly a full days tour. A Mahmout is an Elephant handler.
I was picked up on time from my Hotel and we drove around picking up other people for the tour group. For two people we had to wait for 30 minutes as they were not awake when the tour bus arrived. I got angrier and angrier and was on the point of rioting when two "lads" turned up. They both looked the worse for wear, were obviously hungover and as they talked I learned that they had been partying all night. The Bludger is not a patient person and has a low tolerance to waiting.
Our first stop was an Orchid Farm. I paid attention for a little while, but shortly gave up on Orchids and used the loo (never let an opportunity go by when on a bus) and had a coffee in the cafe. I chatted with our tour guide who after 5 minutes was wanting to set me up with one of his female relatives. Maybe that would have been OK but it never eventuated.
An Orchid. Purpulus peopleus eaterus from memory
Then it was back on the road and we headed to the Elephant Park. We had a short walk through rice paddies to the Elephants and then were asked to change into our Mahmout gear. This comprised of Thai "fisherman" style trousers and a loose fitting top and a sash belt. I felt more like a Pirate than an Elephant rider and the get up would be ridiculous pretty much anywhere else.
In full Mahmout gear
We were given a short briefing on how to control the elephants. This involved the use of words for forward, back left, right and stop plus the use of a cane with a hook on the end held in particular ways to reinforce the commands all accompanied by kicking the ears. Later when I got onto the elephant I discovered that the barb leaves a scar on the elephant as it can penetrate the skin. I have mixed feelings about this, but I will say that the elephant barely noticed and they would be dead if not kept by the park.
After the briefing it was time to get acquainted with the elephants, this involved feeding the beasties Bananas and getting up close and personal. Then all of a sudden it was time to get up onto the Elephant.
Mahmout's do not ride on the Elephants back they sit astride its neck behind the ears. This is quite an experience as the elephants do not have a lot to hang on to in that position. You ride bareback or more specifically "bare neck", only tourists get the saddles that you see in pictures.
Stage 1 of our training was to make the Elephant walk back and forth and practice the basic commands. A real Mahmout walked beside the Elephant and I gained the impression that the Elephant would have gone through the same routine if I had sat there and not given any commands at all.
That's a Banana that the Elephant is taking from my mouth
After we all had a turn it was time for a lunch of Chicken and Rice with a sauce of some sort and fruit. Simple but nice. By now I had warmed to the "lads" they were actually quite nice guys, young, impressionable and seeing the world for the first time. I was like that once, now I am more mature and grumpy. What still pissed me off though was they both had the looks that girls fall for and judging by their conversation they were both far more "successful" than I ever was.
During lunch the Mahmouts began to assemble the Elephants and we were each assigned to an Elephant. By chance I ended up on the leader of the group. For the rest of the afternoon I was always in front, and often waiting for the others to catch up. My Mahmout was also the official photographer and so I was often left unattended. Just me and the elephant and whatever it found to eat.
A born leader. The Elephant not me.
Once lunch was finished and we were all assembled on our Elephants we commenced a trek. This took about 90 minutes and in reality we probably covered less than 2km in that time. The Mahmouts walked beside the Elephants and we "controlled" the direction. The trek took us up a nearby hill and back down one side in a circular path back to the camp. A reasonably fit person could probably have walked it in 30 minutes.
However the trip was hilarious and actually very tiring. At one stage I seriously considered getting off and walking the rest of the way as I was very worn out. The hilarity came because the Elephants do not go for a ride such as a Horse might do. They see the walk as an opportunity to eat. My Elephant, as for the others also, was continually pulling down bamboo as it walked. Often it would stop and dive into a thicket and just stand there chomping away. My ability to control it was not high and the guides just let this happen. I surmised that this was normal but I did wonder how Hannibal got all his Elephants across the Pyrenees and Alps mountains into Italy.
At one stage my Elephant decided to crash through a thicket of bamboo to find some tasty morsels. At this point it became a bit worrying as I was in danger of being swept off the Elephant by the Bamboo, I was already ducked down to pass under branches that would have been impossible to push out of the way. I was very proud of myself when I managed to stop the beast, engage reverse thrust and back out of the thicket.
The ride continued on in this fashion and I later learnt that this was about par for the course, in fact this was a good day as we kept on time and course.
The trek took us back to the camp and on to a water hole. Here we were supposed to wash the Elephants down. Something that we were told they enjoyed. All I can say is "WATER FIGHT". It was on for young and old! Not sure how it started. Was it the Elephants squirting their riders with their trunk? or the Mahmouts throwing buckets of water around with gay abandon? Who knows. Who cares. It was a hot day, we were dirty and sweaty, it was fun and no hardship.
The tour ended shortly after, we had an Elephant parade and then it was time to change and get back to the Minibus for the trip home. Part of the tour was seeing paper made from Elephant dung. Mercifully the factory was closed and I was dropped back at my accommodation.
The Bludger was tired and walking bow legged like I won't say that. But the day was not over.

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