Travel Tips: How not to get on an elephant

The internet is full of blogs and DIY sites explaining how to do practically everything and anything – but this is more about how not to do something.

After an elephant top safari through the Chitwan Wildlife Preserve in Nepal, we were asked if we would like to help the mahout, the elephant’s rider and caretaker, bathe our elephant.  “Heck yeah,” I enthusiastically replied. How often to you get to give an elephant a bath?!  It sounded like the beginning of a great children’s book. I was covered in sweat and dust and thought it would be phenomenal to cool off and have another amazing experience with an elephant. I all but ran down to the river dragging a less than excited Claudia. We were the first to arrive at the river and the mahout motioned me down to the river’s edge. Claudia bravely volunteered to stay ashore and document the event. Maybe this is why women live longer.

A Nepalese mahout washing his elephant

The mahout began to scrub the elephant and not being sure of the proper elephant beauty regime I eagerly looked to him for clues on how to proceed, my enthusiasm clearly blinding me to his devilish grin. He motioned for me to throw my leg over the elephant’s back, now almost level with me as she wallowed in the river. I followed his example and with a command the elephant stood up with me and the mahout straddling its back. The brief thought of “oh this gives us a better vantage point to scrub the elephant’s back,” was not even complete before the 10,000 pound animal pitched me off with a quick, effortless shake that would be the envy of any rodeo bull. It turned out this was more of a “tourist wash,” than an actual “elephant wash“ and a great source of amusement for both the elephant and the mahout. I could see that baleful brown eye laughing at me.

Oh now you are just showing off!

Next go around – oh yeah, I got back up, game on! I was much better prepared for the movement and managed to stay on the equivalent of two more shakes or two more seconds than the last time, for a grand total of  :04 seconds. This went on for some time with the mahout staying mounted and me getting thrown into the river alternating with the elephant “hosing” us down with a trunkful of water. To show off his southeast Asian rodeo skills, the mahout stood up on the magnificent beast. Finally the mahout lost his footing as I was employing a “better” strategy of staying on for up to :06 seconds before being plunged into the river. With both of us in the river the mahout decided to teach me the “dignified” way of mounting an elephant. As a picture is worth a thousand words I will let the photos speak for themselves.

First you must have the appropriate approach technique. And yes your intrepid guide IS wearing a Cookie Monster tee shirt

Really?! Just like this? Note the laughing mahout in the white tee shirt

I'm not sure who should be more embarrassed here me or the elephant?

It is important to build a level of trust with your elephant, maybe I should have bought her dinner first.

I'm on, kind of. Now what? Oh yea get thrown into the river again!

Please note that while not particularly elegant in my mounting technique this is how real mahouts get on an elephant – except the whole facing backwards thing – that I never quite sorted out.  To this day, this sequence of photos sends Claudia (who is now my wife and business partner) into the same gales of laughter I could hear from the river bank thru the whole experience. She laughed, the mahout laughed, I laughed…and swallowed enough river water to contract amoebic dysentery (no that was not coconuts floating in the water, who knew elephant poo floated?). But that is another blog. The experience was worth the sickness but I strongly suggest if you get the opportunity to “wash” an elephant that you do so, but better luck at facing the right direction and remember to keep your mouth shut when you hit the water!

Do you want fun travel stories to share? Why not contact the Travel Consultants at GW Nunn Adventures to get started on your next great adventure/ bar story?

What it looks like when you are more dignified getting on to an elephant courtesy of our friends at Necessary Indulgences:

Other Blogs from Nepal:

An elephant and her mahout

Asiatic one horned rhino in Chitwan, Nepal

Meeting a Sadhu or Hindu holy man

Hindu funeral pyre at Pashupatinath Temple Kathmandu, Nepal

Spinning prayer wheels in Nepal

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2 Responses to Travel Tips: How not to get on an elephant

  1. Erika says:

    That photo set cracked me up!

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