“Decide now,” said our India Teacher Tour guide last December, “will you ride an elephant up the mountain to the Amber Palace, or walk?”
We looked at each other, paused… then sighed: “RIDE!”
The long line of elephant-craving tourists moved forward smoothly. At the front, we saw why: an authoritative gentleman barked elephant assignments to each visitor clump and bid them rapidly jump off the staircase to the elephant-back-box. We hopped on, and off the elephant kalumped!
Our beast trod heavily up the mountain, the hot Jaipur sun beating down. Colin and I swayed back and forth, high off the ground. I marveled at the misty lake below, and at the toenails of the elephant behind us: stately half-moons.
Now, talk about well-oiled machines… we hadn’t gone ten feet when merchants began trying to sell us knick-nacks to us as we sat on the elephant! A woman in front of us made the mistake of buying a parasol from one (leaning down precariously to hand her rupees) and suddenly swarms of vendors appeared.
I suppose it would have made a good story. “Hey, where did you buy that blanket?” a friend back home would ask. “Oh, this old thing?” you could nonchalantly reply. “I picked it up atop an elephant in India climbing a mountain.”
We swayed closer to the Amber Palace itself. What a beauty! Built in 1592, this gem of India is also known as the Amer Fort. We will see more photos from its interior soon, but for now, let us focus on this elephant situation, as it has a darker side.
What are the ethics of riding an elephant like this? I have heard several people say that this scheme is cruel to the animals and poorly thought out. Personally, I have no idea what the reality is, knowing very little about pachyderms, but I do know that the pressure to hop atop one is immense when you are with a tour group and hundreds of people ahead and behind you are doing it.
If this ethical question is a big one for you, I urge you to do your research before you hit that throng of tourists, and to get firm on your choice before entering the line. Me, I actually had a very nice time atop the elephant, but did have nagging pangs of guilt and confusion about whether we were doing something bad.
We reached the top safe and sound and dismounted from our elephant transport, giving it a sound pat on the rump. Looking down, the mountain sloped far below. Looking out, the Amber Palace beckoned alluringly. What adventures would be in store for us next? Is this a journey that YOU would have liked? Do share.