The beginning of a journey!
It was the initial stages when I had joined JLR in Dubare as a naturalist. My work schedule was such that I had to take guests on a early morning trek as there was no safari yet; come back for breakfast then take them for the elephant interactions where they could actually get to bathe the elephants at the camp. After which they could see what and how the Elephants are fed and so on……
Then came my real real work, of briefing the guest (JLR & the day visitors) about elephants and answer their doubts. The guests could then enjoy the joy rides on the elephant (which I disliked the most of all, cause it was quite stressful for the pachyderms). The kids and young ones just loved these rides. Well! the entire morning was spent at this, then lunch at noon; a little rest and then back to work. Another long trek in the forest from 4-6pm (miss them now!). It was great,we mostly saw just deer’s and sambhars; occasionally gaurs and elephants too! But of course a lot of birds. Dubare is a good place for birding!
After the second month I couldn’t resist my urge to climb on the elephant and ride them, so I would randomly go and ask the mahouts for a ride; most of them laughed at me and said to each other in their language, that I was so tall and heavy that I would have a lot of problem climbing one; forget riding on one. Tribes who live in our jungles have a dialects of their own, which is similar to the regional language of the state. The language of “jenu kurubas” (tribe which collects honey); the local tribe who were also the mahouts had their own language, but no script. Spending time with them helped but it was difficult to learn their language in-spite of knowing Kannada . All I ever wanted to do was to ride and elephant and to do that, I could do anything on this earth. I started picking up bits and pieces of their language as I interacted with them. Learning their language helped me communicate better with the mahouts and also be accepted as their own; therefore, things gradually changed.
Even before I could know, I was closer to them and them to me, I was beginning to enjoy this. At the interactions more mahouts would call out for me to scrub their elephants; and some time there were verbal fights among themselves as to which elephant I would scrub. Oh! how I miss those moments so much now. I would end up scrubbing almost all the elephants or at least a little bit of them all. The fun and joy of doing this can never be explained in words. Its a feeling that is very unique and special!
The bathing site is next to the river Cauvery, so as to accommodate the elephants coming in for a bath. At that time the camp had 16 or more. Some of them were used for timberwork in other forest ranges. The elephants from the Madeikere division are the only one’s which to do timber -work all round the year. The elephants would come down to the river and lay down on their sides to get scrubbed by their mahouts and the guest, what a luxury they enjoyed.
Elephants at the camp also came in a variety of sizes, the youngest 5-6yrs and the oldest being 57-59yrs (not quite sure of his age). We had more male elephants than the females. Not sure why?
Most of the males with their beautiful tusks were handsome and looked magnificent especially after their bath. I always did envied the mahouts sitting on top and riding them to the feeding area. I wanted to bond with one, and ride one like a true mahout. By now I could sit and ride an elephant anytime I wanted, but I was still a greenhorn, a novice. Knowing only a few commands I tried copying it. But it never worked. There is something other than imitation, to get an elephant to listen to the commands. I learnt that i had to have the elephant listen to my commands without a mahout being present near us. That was a job both tough and risky too. Nevertheless that's what I wanted to do.