Getting up at 5am was worth it. As part of our Munnar trip our driver picked us up at dawn from our hotel in Kochi. We drove for about an hour deeper into the luscious, green Keralan countryside. A dusty, stoney path lead us behind a couple of houses until we emerged on the bank of a shallow, rocky river bed. The lush foliage and size of the bridge in the distance showed us that in the monsoon the river would have been a lot fuller but for now there were only wet pools of water within the rocks of the river bed.
Scrubbing elephants with a coconut shell
In the river there were 3 young, but not baby, elephants. Each elephant had 2 mahouts who wore pink and purple clothes that were tied up into a makeshift skirt.
With a combination of shouted commands and a gentle tap of a stick the mahouts coaxed the elephants to bend down into the watery pools and, to our surprise, started washing them by roughly scrubbing their backs with a coconut shell. The elephants had really tough rubbery skin and seemed to enjoy the rub down. Often one of the mahouts would sit on the top of the elephant’s neck to help wash him or to manoeuvre him.
I watched, mesmerised for over an hour as these incredible gentle giants lay in the water and their skirt clad mahouts clambered all over them scrubbing them with the coconut shell. Occasionally the elephants would waggle their trucks around or stuck them out spurting from under the water.
Once the elephants had been washed their skin glistened wet and dark in the early morning sun. They clambered out of the water and onto the river bank where we could stroke them and have some photos taken.
There were a few other tourists watching, some had bought bananas which the elephants massive mouths quickly devoured. One the the mahouts ate the banana inside and then gave the elephant the skin but he didn’t seem to mind. After some stroking and taking photos of the elephants one of the mahouts came around asking for ‘tip, tip’. We obliged and the majestic elephants were lead off down the dusty paths.
Back in the car the driver gave us a breakfast his wife had made which consisted of omelettes, bananas and toast covered with tasty lemon curd. We ate as the scenery got ever more tropical and jungle like as we journeyed further inland and started climbing the mountains toward the tea plantations of Munnar.
As the road winded ever upwards we spotted our first Indian monkeys playing on the low stone walls that separated the deteriorating single carriage road, complete with speeding, honking trucks and buses, from the drop down below through the jungle. I was glad that we opted for the driver option and hadn’t taken the packed, rickety, swerving public buses up here.
We glimpsed a waterfall in the distance and drove right under the dry, darkened, smoothed rock that would form a massive waterfall during the monsoon.
It wasn’t really part of the tour but as we had enjoyed watching the elephants so much that morning our driver took us to a place that he knew of where we would ride elephants in the jungle. The elephant that we rode was huge. He was a lot bigger than the ones we had watched being washed earlier. His gentle, kind face, truck and ears were spotted pink with the sun and the hairs on the top of his head felt a little spikey.
The majestic giant was so big we had to get on from a raised platform. He had a soft pad on his back that we sat on and you could feel every loping stride that he took. A mahout walked along side and the elephant took big, long, slow strides around the woods as he followed him around.
The mahout took loads of photos and videos of us riding the elephant and with a shouted command the elephant would curl up his beautiful trunk for photos. We rode around the jungle for about half an hour. Then we got off and the gentle elephant towered over us as we stroked him and had some more photos taken while I marvelled at how big the elephant was, how his ears flapped and how big and flat his feet were.
I was so pleased that the driver went out of the way to let me spend some more time with the beautiful elephants. Being with these majestic animals was a humbling experience that filled me with joy. I loved riding, stroking and just being with the elephants. They are such incredible and gentle creatures it was definitely one the highlights of my Indian adventures.