Eye to eye with an elephant

by tkos on October 8, 2012

Post image for Eye to eye with an elephant

“Don’t look now, but there is an elephant behind you”.

I threw it out there, as if it’s as common as a cow sleeping on an Indian highway, to make me sound that little bit cooler.

“Oh yeah” Kimmi replied, with as much excitement as discovering we were about to eat yet another masala dosa for breakfast. “That’s nice,” reminding me that I don’t pull off cool very well.

This was our first elephant sighting in India but Sri Lanka had given us a total of 286 photographs of wild elephants. Elephants from afar, elephants up close, elephants in herds and elephants alone but all of them elephants and all of them looking remarkably similar to each other. How many photos of elephants do you need before you say to yourself ‘I have enough.’ So I could kind of understand why elephants are like dosa’s, after the excitement of the first few, they tend to get a bit repetitive.

We had been in Kerala, the southern state of India for about a week, cycling north along the coast. So far the road had been pleasant, the landscape lush and green, the monsoon rain scarce, the sun gentle and the roads quiet. It was the opposite of ‘the crazy India’ we had been expecting.

This was the first time we had come across a ‘tame’ elephant, meaning that it had a chain around its neck and was being walked along the middle of the road by its ‘owners.’ We got a little closer as we had a video camera attached to the bike and thought we might be able to get some close up footage. Typically, as we approached, the elephant was turned off the highway and walked down a dirt track towards a tiny village, tearing at the leaves of low hanging branches as he strolled.

The villagers spotted us hanging back on the highway, facing the ass end of an elephant with fading hopes of decent footage. They waved to us enthusiastically, enticing us to cycle down the dusty path after them and get closer to the elephant. Kimmi and I exchanged glances and telepathically discussed suspicion, trust, time and safety, all within an instant, and silently agreed that it’d be worth the plunge. We began to make our way towards the village.

The fully grown male elephant stood twelve feet tall looking quite the gentle giant as he grabbed at fodder with his trunk, loading both branches and leaves gracefully into his mouth, past his two giant ivory tusks. Yet the sheer size and weight of the beast was so daunting, that there was no mistaking how easily this animal could kill you if you were to simply fall under his foot.

One of the two men commanded the elephant to kneel as if talking to a trained puppy, and just as obediently the elephant bowed his majestic head and took a knee to the ground. The man took three steps up and a leg over to sit proudly on top of the elephant with a grin that beamed of both love for his pet and dominance over his beast.

The proud ‘master’ gestured for us to climb the elephant after him. Without a flinch Kimmi relished the opportunity, kicked off her shoes and began to follow the same three footsteps to the top of the elephant. Her 26 year old flexibility and upper body strength of her childhood gymnastics unconsciously sprang into action as she bounced to the top of the beast. As the gentle giant stood to full height he gave her a slight startle but other than that Kimmi looked as comfortable as John Wayne on a horse.

“Your turn!” she beckoned, as she virtually stepped down the elephant like he had stairs. I took a deep breath, kicked off my shoes and approached the beast that towered twice my height. The majestic head lowered once again as he took a knee to the ground for my first step, I placed my right foot on his bent leg and looked up for a crevice for my second step, “What the hell am I thinking?! There is no crevice! This is an elephant, not a rock climbing wall!” I think to myself as I fall back down to the ground.

The man on the elephant reached out for my hand to pull me up as he realised I was starting to struggle. My 36 year old limbs have the flexibility of an office worker and I have the upper body strength of a cyclist. I placed my bare right foot on the leg of the elephant again, hoisted myself to grab the open hand of the man and threw my leg straight into the side of the elephant, inadvertently kicking the animal whilst landing my foot nowhere. The man desperately tried to lift me as another man from the ground pushed me up from my ass, I couldn’t get any higher as the man lifting me was sitting where I needed to go and I couldn’t fall down because a man was literally pushing me up from my behind. It turned out that I was completely stuck, halfway up an elephant, yet only two feet from the ground!

Debated Hindi between the two men as to the best course of action in getting the fat white man up the elephant drawled on for what felt like the length of a Mumbai traffic jam. The hair of the beast tickled the inside of my ears as the dust and dirt from his leathery skin rubbed onto my face. With my hand being gripped and pulled up by a small Indian man half my size and clearly naked under his lunghi, my ass being clutched and pushed up by the five and a half foot moustache sporting herder, I have never felt more uncomfortable or awkward, sandwiched between two Indian men.

The elephant had waited so patiently as I had desperately tried to grip onto various parts of his leathery neck, eventually he got a little bored of it all and lowered himself even closer to the ground to give me an even easier step. It worked a treat, with the yank of a hand and the help of a push; I bounced to the top of the elephant.

The only problem was the elephant still had his head so close to the ground. So now, despite having each leg either side of his back, I was so far forward and on such a steep angle, I started falling over the top of his head. I could feel myself slowly slide over the elephant, face first with my ass sticking out in the air, I was so far down the elephant, it was like I was giving him a huge upside down cuddle on his face. We looked straight at each other, eye to upside down eye and I knew that at any moment gravity would win and I would topple over his head and land under his bone crushing feet, staring up at the giant ivory tusks of a startled elephant and towards my doom.

With one shrug, the elephant towered tall and tossed me back to the regular sitting position. I pondered my near death experience of being crushed by an elephant as my heart raced with despair. I was safe. I was alive. I took a deep breath and a moment to consider my miraculous fortune and my lucky escape from a gruesome death. As I sat upright and secure, I had never felt more peaceful until I realised I was sitting in the lap of the lunghi wearing Indian man.

As I sat, in the new found safety and comfort of his lap, I looked down to the ground to see Kimmi crying with laughter. It would appear that every member of the tiny village had come out to witness the great spectacle, all of which were hysterical, watching one of the funniest debacles of a white man and an elephant that they would ever see.

And all the while, the camera on the bike was still rolling.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

claire campbell October 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I love reading ur stories I was laughing out loud… glade ur have a gr8 trip… be safe and have lots if fun.


Ed Seychell October 9, 2012 at 7:18 am

Had a real good laugh at this story Brett, and I loved the photo!.


Nishanth January 25, 2013 at 8:19 am

I was reading through your stories and boy i am glad that you visited Kerala – my native state. Hope it wasn’t as chaotic as the rest of India and i hope you had a nice time there.

Funny read overall. A small correction though, if i may?.
“Debated Hindi between the two men as to the best course of action in getting the” . They might have spoken in Malayalam not Hindi since it is the official language of Kerala.

Have fun Brett and Kimmie


Preeti July 11, 2013 at 11:15 am

hilarious lol! happy you saw an elephant being taken care of and loved..you hear such horror stories sometimes! :)


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