For me, my time spent with Sampa the elephant was an amazing, unforgettable afternoon which I am truly grateful to have experienced. Elefantastic should not to be confused with other elephant interactions around the area where the elephants are those that have been trudging up and down to the Amber Fort all morning. We did call at one of these by mistake when we couldn’t find where we were supposed to be going – it was a small garden with a covered area and what looked like a deep, domestic swimming pool. Nothing like the space at Elefantastic.
When we finally found it, we were introduced to “our” two elephants. Jackie, not being as much of an animal lover as myself and Jacquie, was happy to have a couple of photos taken and then stand back, watch and take lots of photos of us. We were introduced to Sonia who was volunteering at Elefantastic. First we had to take off sunglasses, bags or anything else that the elephant could remove – it reminded me of the elephant at Kuala Gandah in Malaysia who unties shoelaces given half a chance. From the beginning we were encouraged to make physical contact with the elephants and talk to them so that they can get used to our smell and voice. We were told that that the eleven female elephants here have all been rescued from horrifically cruel situations and been gradually rehabilitated. Some of them don’t know how to eat or drink properly when they arrive and store food and water up because they are not used to it being in regular supply. They often go into a depression because, even though they have been terribly treated, they miss the only family that they have ever known.
Elephants eat a huge amount and the mahouts were busy making food bundles of wheat and greens as fast as they could be eaten. It was clear that Sampa loved her greens but really wasn’t so keen on the wheat as she kept trying to get rid of that by thrashing the bundle against her body with her trunk. We were able to feed our elephants giving her the instruction to take the food from our hands. After a while they got us making the bundles and then it got really hard to keep up with her demands!
After a while, they brought out the chalky paints and it was over to us to be as creative as we liked. I don’t know whether Sampa enjoyed this or not, but she seemed to be going to sleep leaning against the pole so she certainly didn’t seem bothered.
What goes on has to come off and our next job was washing down our elephants. They clearly really enjoyed this bit and enjoyed getting us as wet as them.
Once our elephants were nice and clean we were offered the choice of riding or walking beside them through the elephant village. We chose the latter but I have to say I was very conscious of the size of Sampa’s feet beside my feet in sandals. It wasn’t the fastest walk in the world although Sampa did try to overtake whenever she was given the chance. The walk took us past the large pool where the elephants go to swim every couple of days. It was good to see that they were able to go in the water rather than just being washed down with a hosepipe.
Sadly, our time was up and we had to say goodbye to our elephant friends. We were taken to Rahul’s family home nearby where his mother fed us an excellent vegetarian lunch although she was very keen to force feed us chapati after chapati. She obviously spent most of the afternoon feeding visitors to the sanctuary one group at a time.
All in all we had had a wonderful afternoon which I wouldn’t have missed for the world. It was great to see that these elephants, who had such a rotten start to their lives, were now well loved and looked after.
I only wish I hadn’t had a couple of small niggles and question marks at the end of it:
- It was clear that in addition to the rescue elephants, owner Rahul had his own family elephants who worked, I imagine, ferrying tourists up and down to the Amber Fort. This is what his family have done for generations but it jarred slightly alongside the sanctuary work.
- We had understood that each elephant only had one “visit” per day and then rested for a day but I’m pretty sure that when I came back from lunch Sampa was with another couple. That said, they are only open from 12.30pm – 4.30pm so the most in a day would be two “visits” which doesn’t seem too onerous for them.