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Riding an Elephant Up to the Amber Palace in India

Would you ride an elephant up a mountain to the Amber Palace in India?

Would you ride an elephant up a mountain to the Amer Fort in India?

Important 2019 Update: DON’T Ride Elephants

When I wrote this article, I was ignorant of terrible truths.

It has become amply clear over the years since I wrote this article that it is NOT okay to ride elephants. I am leaving this article up, below, to demonstrate why people (myself included) have gotten lulled into thinking it’s “fun,” but doing the research, elephant riding is not a practice that should ever be supported.  

For further reading, here are articles about the cruelty of elephant riding from PETAConde Nast Traveler, and the BBC.

Original 2013 Article is Below:

2019 Reminder: This activity is NOT an ethical choice.

“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!”

Mountain view of people lining up to ride elephants up the mountain.

Throngs of tourists lining up to ride elephants up the mountain.

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!

You are assigned an elephant and guide at the mountain base.

You are assigned an elephant and guide at the mountain base.

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.

Off you go, up the mountain!

Off you go, up the mountain…

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.

Merchants try to sell you things as you sit on the elephant.

Merchants try to sell you things as you sit on the elephant.

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.”

What better time to buy a blanket than atop a pachyderm? (Yes, those are my feet.)

What better time to buy a blanket than atop a pachyderm? (Yes, those are my feet.)

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.

See your goal wobbling high above: The Amber Palace!

See your goal wobbling high above: The Amer Fort!

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.

The road is winding, but you will endure.

The road is winding, but you will endure.

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 made it to the top! (There's my little brother, relaxed as can be.)

We made it to the top! (There’s my little brother, relaxed as can be.)

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.

Check out how far you came... and the tiny elephants below!

Check out how far you came… and the tiny elephants below!

 

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Andy Lai

Monday 10th of October 2016

Thanks for the article! India is a beautiful place!

Nihal

Wednesday 28th of September 2016

I am proud to be an Indian. Its an amazing place with so many historical monuments and various tourist attractions. I would plan a visit to amber palace on my next vacation. This article makes me anxious to explore these places. Thanks for this article

James

Friday 26th of August 2016

Lilli, you covered Indian beauty in very good way. I love Jaipur I visited there 1 year back.

Sarah

Friday 27th of November 2015

Perhap's it's a fun experience but please do not ride the elephants. I spent one month in Jaipur researching elephants who work at Amber Fort and most suffer horrible health conditions. Additionally, the mahouts (elephant caretakers) are paid a meager salary, so it not only supports inhumane animal treatment but also human oppression. Elephants are not native to Rajasthan but are brought in due to tourist demand.

JDiver

Sunday 24th of February 2019

These elephants suffer. On our National Geographic Expedition, we were told about their captivity and conditions and we all ripped up in a motor vehicle. So should everyone.

David Green

Thursday 3rd of September 2015

I have found out hear Jaipur your elephant rides.

1 How much is it to ride

2 how long do I need to book or can I turn up on day

Thank you

David

Lillie

Thursday 3rd of September 2015

Hi David,

Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment. Unfortunately, I don't know exact answers for you, as we were with a tour guide and he arranged everything for us, but I'm pretty sure you can just arrive and wait in line to ride rather than booking in advance. Enjoy!

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