Our driver picked us up at 10am to go to the Elephant Camp, Dera Amer, about thirty minutes outside of Jaipur. Closing in on the property, about ten elephants walked down the street with passengers in little baskets and beautiful paintings running down their trunks. My heart jumped with joy and excitement! We entered the camp and the entire staff greeted us with friendly smiles and welcome drinks. It turned out that our tent was not ready to check into yet so they walked us over to the veranda where I ordered a nice cold glass of wine and looked out onto the elephants, engulfed in amazing conversations with my sister. So,so grateful.
About 45 minutes later they explained that the service men would bring our luggage to our tent and that it was time to go on an excursion with Moti, our magnificent Elephant for the day. I had never in my life been so close to an elephant before…feeling how rough her skin was against my bare hand, rubbing my face on her long hairs of her trunk, and looking into her gentle eyes with the longest lashes I had ever seen. I had always loved Elephants since they are such gentle giants and are the most emotionally intelligent animal on the planet. However, being so close to one made you truly appreciate their beauty and gentle demeanor on a whole new level.
Debbie and I climbed on top of Moti and sat in her basket, becoming fast friends with the elephant’s Master. It was fascinating to learn that every elephant has a master and that they will only listen to the commands of someone that they truly trust. It typically takes the master a year or more to build the trust where the elephant will listen to them completely. A true bond must be formed, especially if the elephant is willing to allow the master to walk up his trunk to mount him for a ride. It is actually a very beautiful relationship that they have. In this case the master and Moti had been together for sixteen years….sixteen! Like so many other trades in India, elephant training is passed on from generation to generation. I thought to myself out of all the trades I’d witnessed so far in India…this one was a pretty damn cool gig.
Debbie and I rode with Moti through the rural forest that consisted of such interesting terrain and vegetation. Some parts were sand dunes, while the trees were lush and green, with various types of cactus and mountains in the background. It was excruciatingly hot so I was holding a parasol for shade, not freeing up my hands for pictures. It must have meant the universe was again trying to tell me to be in the present moment.
Moti dropped us off at our campgrounds where we learned that we would be the only guests staying at Dela Amer for the day and evening. They purposely make sure to attend to one party at a time to give the most attention to their visitors. We were standing in what felt like the middle of the desert, with our beautiful tent and no one else around us in complete solitude and peace. It was such a welcome break to our crazy and chaotic trip…perfectly placed right in the middle of our travels for well deserved rest and relaxation.
Walking into the tent, we realized what a special place this truly was. The attention to detail was unbelievable…from the double down comforters to the beautiful bronze colored camel lamp on the dressing table, and to the most amazing smelling aroma soap bars you have ever put your nose up to. The service men told us to lay our heads to rest for an hour and then they would swing by for a quick jeep ride around town to show us some local sites. Debbie fell asleep right away and I enjoyed some quiet time while also catching up on writing about our adventures.
In an hour they were back to check on us and walked us to the jeep for some sightseeing. It was lovely how they explained the history of Dera Amer and how they are really a refuge for these animals, making sure no cruelty happens to them. They take great pride in the land, the family that shares it, and the animals that inhabit it. A beautiful women wrapped in a cotton sari was working out in the fields at sunset and I nudged Debbie, remarking how beautiful she looked with the landscape behind her. The guides explained that one sad thing about women who live out in the rural areas of India is that they are expected to do all of the housework, take care of the children, and to tend to the farm. The men are expected to lay arounnd all day in the compounds doing absolutely nothing. I could not believe how sexist this was and at the same time how bad ass these women were. In America, I would doubt that a lot of men would believe woman could operate and run their own farms. In India it is a common practice. Having mixed emotions…I wanted to run up to some of these men laying in the sun to slap some sense into them while also wanting to give these women a large hug for all their strength and power. I would hope that one day it would become more balanced for these women. I was feeling a bit sad and discouraged that I knew it would take a long time to break this patriarchy and that change never happens over night.
The sun was setting, so we rushed back to camp where we found all of the service men lighting hundreds of lanterns and tea candles to create a pathway just for us. There were literally hundreds of these candles that they must have spent over an hour lighting just to make this a magical place for us to spend the night. It looked like the dunes had been lit up by fireflies which reminded me of my childhood growing up in Ohio. It was such a magical moment and we just looked at each other completely speechless. The trend in India has been how they love to pay attention to detail to make an experience that much more memorable and beautiful for their guests. This was no exception. They walked us over to a bonfire they had built for us and brought over “American Favorites” for snacks which included their version of french fries and chicken nuggets. They were actually really tasty and it was adorable that they thought this is what most Americans crave. After almost 1.5 weeks of eating nothing but Indian food we welcomed the change of pace!
A women appeared out of nowhere and asked if we would like to get a Henna tattoo. It turned out she was the wife of one of the servicemen who lived up the street. When in Rome! She sat in complete darkness with just a flashlight guiding her hand. Debbie and I both got the Henna on our forearms with a similar flower design. It took her about five minutes to complete, but little did we know that we would have to keep our arm still for two hours to dry! It turned out great though and is a wonderful memory of our stay at Dela Amer.
It was dinner time and the service men brought us over to the most romantic table I had ever seen with hundreds of candles and tiki torches surrounding a beautifully set table out in the desert. We were both in shock. There must have been over seven men making sure our water was always filled, we were well stocked on Naan, and that we were utterly content. I told Debbie that I had and probably never would experience this level of detail and attention for the rest of my life. She said you will if you put it out into the universe and believe that you will. How true that is and a great reminder to always envision your greatest desires. I must have done something right to deserve an evening like this shared with my sister… truly unforgettable.
At around 5am Debbie and I awoke from a deep slumber to crazy sounds outside! Singing Babblers (a type of bird that sounds like a mix between singing and laughing) surrounded our tent in swarms. I had learned what they were earlier that day and could not help but chuckle to hear their calls. However at 5 in the morning, I did not find them as amusing and rolled back over to sleep. When I finally awoke, I opened the tents door to find an elephant right outside grazing. This was a new elephant we would meet called Laxmi. The master of Laxmi explained that Dela Amer only housed female elephants because they were the most docile and sweet…Laxmi was just that. I handed her sugar cane through her trunk (her favorite) and she smelled it up and down inspecting each piece one by one. Some were to her liking and she would break them open and feed them into her mouth through her trunk. Others she would discard and look at you for more….”that’s all you got?” They allowed us to bath Laxmi, which she absolutely adored. Elephants get overheated very easily so she welcomed the water being splashed on her and even put her trunk up for us to put the hose there for her to guzzle water in her trunk to be fed back into her mouth. Sometimes she would try and bath herself, spouting the water onto her back and getting you quite wet in the process…so much fun! Once she was bathed her skin was so much softer. The master handed us paints and we were able to draw whatever we wanted on her trunk. We drew an Om sign and a few designs, but the paint was really watery and hard to control. We were both really sad when our time with Moti and Laxmi came to an end. I gave Laxmi a kiss on the trunk and told her I would be back to see her again.
From there one of the service men brought us back to his jeep to take another tour of a compound some locals lived in right up the road. He told us it would be a great way to dive into the culture of the people who lived there…personally, this was a highlight of my trip. Similar to places I have visited in Thailand and Bali, families own property together called compounds where they all live and work together. Each family lives in one wing of the compound with their wife, husband and children. Another wing would be where their brother and his family lived for instance. Driving up to the compound I immediately saw a bunch of children, baby goats and baby cows. I knew I would be in heaven being such an animal lover!
The first little boy that greeted us was named Lucky and he may have been the most beautiful little boy I had even seen (pictured here). In the beginning he was super shy. We took a tour of the compound and he would be lurking behind every building or tree…always close to us but trying to stay out of site. However as he loosened up he was such a funny character! I taught him to give me a high five which he just absolutely loved. His Aunt was showing me how they make chutney by putting so many different herbs and spices onto a rock and smashing them all together while adding goats milk. Quite honestly it looked very barbaric and not that appetizing, but I was snapping away pictures like crazy (very cool and unique experience to witness). I realized that Lucky was watching me with my phone and very curious about what I was doing. I finally turned around and took a couple pictures of him and showed him once I was done. He was mesmerized! I finally realized that he had never seen an iPhone before, had no technology out here in rural India, and that this was probably the first photograph he had ever seen of himself. How amazing! Things we take SO for granted are so not readily available to many outside the states. Good or bad thing? Depends I suppose. I wondered to myself if this had been the very first time he had seen his actual own reflection.
I walked back to the car where Debbie had gathered all the other children around in a circle. As I entered the circle I realized that Debbie was trying to teach the children a French song. They all leaned in bewildered and fascinated by her. None of them could relate to the words (not even me), but the sound of music united all of us together. Suddenly one of the little girls chimed in and started singing along. One by one all the others followed suite. Kindness, compassion, love, and music are all universal…all proven right there in that circle in rural India.
Before we left for good, the guide brought us around the entire compound showing us where they fed the animals, the actual farms, and rooms of the various family members. A woman allowed us to walk into her bedroom/kitchen which was one of the most humbling experiences of my entire life. This room had a dirt floor and straw roof overhead. The bed was about the size of a double bed with no mattress and no pillows, blankets, or sheets. I asked the guide if this was her bed and he nodded yes, also saying that she shared it with her husband. Such a hard and small bed for two people to share. At the foot of the bed was a fire pit and cooking pot where she made her families food. She got on the ground with her skirt and gave us a quick demonstration.
When we had first arrived at the compound I had met this woman who literally looked like she was at least sixty years old. Later we found out she was in her thirties…a million wrinkles upon her face to show each day she had worked out on the family farm, making dinner for her family, and taking care of her children all on her own. We could not be but a couple years a part, but a million lifetimes away. She smiled graciously and thanked us for coming into her home. The thing about this woman and her beautiful family is that she has never known another world and knows only this. Is she content? In the end are we? As they say…more money more problems. Is that truly the case? Language not being barrier…she would have been a very interesting person to have sat down with to swap life stories and lessons. I wonder if we both have different lenses but similar values in our heart.Tags: culture, Gratitude, India, perspective, travel