May 2, 2013
After having just a tiny little chai with dinner, I couldn’t fall asleep due to the caffeine. Chandler woke up before the alarm and figured we might as well get up to ensure we had enough time for breakfast and to get to the nearby forest park early. Reluctantly, I dragged myself out of bed and preformed what needed to be done to get out the door. We went back to the same “hotel” restaurant as the previous night for idly.
We had no problem finding a rickshaw to take us to the park. It was 20km outside of town and the autos don’t go that fast, but we made it 30 minutes early. We weren’t really sure what to do after our driver dropped us off and just kind of wandered around for a little while. We had read in the guide book that there was a boat to ferry us across the river, but we saw others walking across the river on a natural rock bridge. Chandler confirmed that this is what we should do with some local river guides and across we headed.
Across the river and up a short hill, standing under a beautiful flower tree was an elephant. To our right were three adults and two babies, just milling around eating leaves. There were elephants everywhere we looked. The ones that were wandering around by themselves had chains around their feet to limit their movement, but the elephants with their mahouts, or elephant handler, had free range of motion. As soon as a few others made their way across the river, one of the mahouts brought over one of the babies for petting, feeding and photos. I had died and gone to elephant heaven. This little guy was so freaking cute.
After a while it was time for the bathing to begin. We followed several elephants down to the river. Mahouts across the world routinely use a bull hook for guiding the animals. This is a long stick with a sharp metal hook at the end. It can be used to gently guide the animal or for inflicting a lot of pain. We hadn’t seen anyone abusing the animals, but right when we go to the river one of the mahouts dug the bull hook into the forehead of his elephant to get the animal to back up. When the elephant was in position, the animal was commanded to lay down, which it did. As the elephant was laying in the water, the mahout began to violently beat its face with a stick until it mellowed out. Chandler and I started to leave. If that was how the animals were going to be treated, we wanted no part.
We waited around a few more minutes to watch some children begin to splash an elephant that had not been abused. The rest of the animals were guided to the water, given commands to lie down and not attacked with the sharp end of the bull hook or with sticks. Luckily, that was the only elephant that we saw getting mistreated and decided to stay and help scrub a few down. It seemed that the one abusive handler was just an impatient and callous person, as the others handlers were much more gentle and patient.
The care the rest of the mahouts gave their elephants was actually very encouraging. Their elephants were scrubbed clean with brushes from top to bottom, a few were given mini pedicures and serious tusk cleanings. We just helped out with splashing them down, a little scrubbing and lots of petting. The elephant’s skin was similar to rough elbow skin with very coarse hairs all over their bodies. They were quite intimidating when up close, especially when standing up and towering over us, but amazingly beautiful. I’ll take two.
The bathing ended after an hour and we decided to leave instead of taking part of the elephant rides offered. After the violent display earlier, we weren’t interested in a repeat and wanted to end on a high note. Back across the river we went and back to town. We caught an auto to a Tibetan refuge complex outside of town and visited the golden temple.
The temple was incredible and immediately brought us back to the Buddhist temples of Southeast Asia. There were many other tourists milling around and it was cool to see four of the major religions of the world, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, all enjoying the beautiful temple. We hung out for an hour, had an amazing tibetian/south Indian (strange combo, think momos and dosa) meal at a nearby restaurant and headed back to town to catch a bus to Mysore.
We took a local bus, which was hot and crowded but very budget friendly, so we didn’t mind it too much. When we got to town, we walked to the hotel the Lonely Planet recommended as being in our price range. When we inquired about the prices, we found they were almost double what was in the Lonely Planet. Chandler haggled as usual, but they only made a big show of knocking off the “taxes” which amounted to a 5% discount. Frustrated we walked to the next hotel to find it also out of our price range. At that point a “friend” started following us around offering us a room for 600 rupees, a tour around town for 40 rupees and who knows what else. He was relentless and followed us for several blocks despite us completely ignoring him. His attention started gathering other people’s attention, who then also started to “help” us and we were getting more and more frustrated. Chan was on the brink of laying out the next person who called him “my friend”. Finally, we just jumped in an auto to get away from everyone and asked the driver to take us to the youth hostel which was outside of town. It turned out to be a very nice quiet area, full of boarding houses for local college students. The hostel itself was a bit militant with strict “no talking” rules and male/female segregation, but it felt very safe and was clean.
We found an internet café nearby and booked a train ticket back to Delhi for the next night. After another dinner of dosas and some nice hot showers, we spent the remainder of the night chatting (breaking the rules!!!) with other travelers staying at the hostel.