I wasn't sure I wanted to do it again. Riding an elephant the first time was terrifying enough. And this time, I would have someone riding behind me. If she fell, I most certainly would fall too.
Why man decided he should figure out a way to mount a large beast like an elephant and train it to follow commands, I'll never understand.
But riding elephants in India is part of its legacy.
They've been used for centuries to ride into war, carry nobles and royals through cities, and during Hindu temple festivals to celebrate God.
Since arriving in Kerala, we've someone riding an elephant down the street about every two days.
So to ride an elephant in India is to experience part a small part of the culture.
And we know part of our assignment with Rotary is to absorb as much culture as we can.
But there's also a part of me (my overly concerned, politically correct, animal-lover, American part) that couldn't decide if it was a good idea to ride an animal that, in my mind, should be roaming free on a protected flatland somewhere.
Did I really want to participate in an activity where the animals spend much of their lives wearing chains and giving tourists rides around parks for a second time?
I could see the faded scars on their legs from where the chains must have dug in their flesh. Even standing in the hot sun, it’s possible the metal chains became hot and burned the elephant’s skin.
But the animals seemed healthy; their caretakers seemed kind to them.
I know even in the United States there are people who look at their worker dogs, horses, cattle and other livestock with similar attitudes – that some animals are meant to do whatever man wants them to.
That often contrasts with my notion that all animals should live out a Disney cartoon existence.
Before I mounted the sweet animal, I slowly walked up to her face and petted the top of her trunk. She was softer than expected, and her tiny body hairs weren’t pricking my skin like they did a few weeks ago when we were riding in Kollam.
My introduction was almost an apology for making her work as well as letting her know that I wouldn’t hurt her.
I climbed onto her back, and my Rotary teammate, Cely Smart, climbed on behind me. I was sitting on the animal’s shoulder blades, and with every step, our entire bodies lifted on one side. We rode the elephant through a children’s park and up toward the elephant training area, where all the other elephants are held for training.
You’re up so high on the animal with only a small rope to hold. I was secretly praying the animal didn’t decide to go rogue. It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time.
I’m still not sure how I feel about elephant riding. I know I’m pleased to claim I’ve participated in something like that. But I wish more could be done to keep the animals out of chains.
Perhaps our American PETA folks could help reform some of that here.
Maybe I’m just being too sensitive.
Until tomorrow, Victoria.
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