When we visited the Amer fort we noticed that the elephants left before noon – so we asked our driver if he knew where they were kept. He told us about the elephant village in Amer, where the caretakers and their families live together with their elephants.
So the next day, we went there. It’s a compound with several house complexes, all fairly recently built (probably by the government to encourage tourism). In each complex are stone huts for elephants, I often saw around four huts in each complex, and then there are smaller buildings around an inner courtyard housing the families that look after the elephants. From walking around I would guess that two families and four elephants live in each complex – and all the families had lots of children.
Unfortunately the kids were really spoilt – they ran up to us, immediately seeing that we were tourists, and asked for ten or twenty rupees. If this did not get them any response, they would ask for chocolate. Then their third attempt was pen and paper. It was sad to see them begging immediately – our Indian colleague asked them if they go to school. They said ‘yes’. She then told them they should not beg and study hard, to become successful in life. Good advice, but it seems that tourism already spoilt those kids.
It was especially sad to see that the kids (who were all clean and properly dressed, so at least the families living in the compound are living in fairly good standards) walked up to the elephants in the huts and just pushed them or punched them, at the same time telling me that I could ride an elephant if I wanted to (no thanks, done that already) or come closer to touch them. Partly I wanted to get closer to those beautiful animals, but I also felt very sad for them – they were chained to the ground, had little place to move and clearly the kids were not showing them the respect they should show.
Gladly one of the mothers saw my disapproving look on my face and told the kids to leave me and the elephant alone. She moved into the background and let me watch the huge animal closely (but from a safe distance). The animals in the compound all had freckles – their skin was lighter in some patches, often on their trunk and face. It looked very interesting!
After a while, I moved on to the next hut – there the elephant was getting a deep clean. His caretaker had a hard job giving the animal a scrub – he used a stone to get rid of dead skin on the elephants back. The caretaker gave some orders, the elephant got up, turned around, lifted one feet and then the other – she clearly enjoyed the shower. I asked how often the caretaker has to do this, he said at least once a day! Hard work, but it looked very nice for the elephant.
Next to the houses was a big pond, big enough for several elephants to swim in there – and they sure did. I saw two elephant ladies enjoying a bath there – with their two caretakers close by (they held on to ropes so that the elephants would not roam freely). There was another tourist couple, the men actually got into the water to shrub one of the elephants – he said it was his lifelong dream to get close to the elephants and he surely did get very close!
I spent most of my time at the village next to the pond and watching the gentle giants bath – they were so playful. They came close to the water edge and I touched both of them, what a thick, leathery skin they have! Both caretakers were happy to talk about their elephants, answering many questions about how they feed, keep and look after them.
Gary from F8Photography took some pictures of me, looking at those wonderful creatures:
As I was planning to leave they asked me to donate some money – given that there was no entrance fee involved, and both caretakers had spent time chatting to me, I was happy to support them. They had given me tremendous pleasure to watch and touch the elephants, so I was more than happy to reward them for their time.
It was just a shame that we had to leave before all the nicely decorated elephants came back from the Amer Fort – the ones we had seen were ‘on rest’ that day. So that’s why there aren’t that many elephants in my pictures. But still, it was an amazing experience.