Elephant Wrestling in Nepal, 1995

Yet again, until I get my next trip underway, I’ll have to dig into the archives and post an old travel photo. This one was taken in Chitwan National Park, Nepal in 1995. Chitwan was the final destination of a three day rafting trip down river I-forget-the-damn-name. In the park we had a real nice little setup right on the river with safari tents and loads of wildlife. We spent our days tracking rhinos and anticipating our certain death by crocodiles.

The treks into the bush used elephants as our mounts – which I was dubious about. I wasn’t doubting the elephant’s skills, don’t get me wrong. They flawlessly navigated muddy jungle in the fog with no path to speak of. I was dubious of the relationship between the elephants and their keepers. I’m no fan of captive animals at the best of times, but these ones were rather skinny and showed signs of rough use. The men who handled the elephants used fireplace poker style metal rods – you know the sort, with the point and hook. The elephants showed serious scarring around where the riding hardware was strapped to them. Also, they just looked miserable – it was in their eyes and the way they hung their heads. Watching these elephants was breaking my heart, but there really wasn’t anything to be done. Had I known this beforehand, I wouldn’t have gone there.

One afternoon, I was down by the water watching the handlers wash the elephants off in the river when I was offered the opportunity to help. Myself and another visitor were given an elephant to take into the river and scrub down. Like I somehow knew how to do that or something. I declined the metal rod, grabbed a huge pumice stone and followed my elephant into the river. I could lie and say “lead my elephant into the river” but who am I kidding. It was amazing to interact with such a great animal – and a huge one for that matter. I scrubbed up the spot she liked behind her ears with the pumice stone. For which she thanked me by dunking me into the river while I was on her back. She would lie in the water with only her trunk sticking out of the water just to mess with me. Elephants apparently have a strange sense of humour.

We stayed out in the river goofing around as long as they let us. On the way back in I figured out that she liked to scratch her head by bumping it into me. Trust me, you don’t miss that hint the first time. So this picture was taken as I was being pushed backwards out of the river while trying to scratch her. My feet were bruised all to hell from being smashed across the river bottom, but it was still worth it. She was lead away to her enclosure, and I went back to my tent. I fell asleep that night hoping like hell that this poor, sad animal had at least enjoyed her afternoon in the river.


// shawn