Have you ever bathed an elephant?

On and off I get emails complaining that all the stories I publish are too long, too profound and these readers would also like a fast and enthralling story! Therefore, I am happy to publish a great and enjoyable story by Gillian Birch, a well known travel writer!

Have you ever bathed an elephant?


Gillian Birch

Being married to a Master Mariner I suppose I have had the opportunity to travel the world more than most. I am often asked what my favourite place in the world is, and I have to say that Sri Lanka has a special place in my heart. It is indeed a gem of a country, in more ways than one, but it stands out from the rest as I had so many amazing encounters with wildlife during my trips.

One such opportunity presented itself when our local guide, Sam, suggested we should go and bathe an elephant. One up on swimming with dolphins, I thought as we set out, and I was right! It was one of the most emotional and magical moments I have ever had in my life. Watching myself later on video I could see that I was totally engrossed in washing that elephant and nothing else in the world mattered at that moment. It was an unforgettable, strangely emotional bonding experience.

Let me tell you first about Sam. He was one of the local guides who came down to the beach every day, carrying his album of guided trips to show to tourists. Forget the usual pushy touts that you may encounter elsewhere in the world, these were well-dressed family men who spoke excellent English and were proud to show you their country from the local perspective. They wore polished shoes, pressed trousers and immaculately ironed shirts as their uniform. When we later visited their village and realized they had no electricity, and running water had only recently been provided to each home, how they managed turn out so immaculate and well-dressed was a credit to them.

Sam picked me up in an air-conditioned crossover vehicle with a driver and we headed off into the jungle. The first stop was always at the gate of the local temple where Sam would hop out and leave a small gift of money to ensure our safe journey. We arrived an hour later at a shady pull-in where a shallow river ran through the forest. Moments later the clanging of chains announced the arrival of the mahouts bringing their working elephants down to the river for some refreshing R&R. Each elephant waded into the river, knelt ponderously down and then rolled over on their side on the stony riverbed. You could almost hear their sighs of pleasure.

I took my coconut shell halves and approached warily. Scooping up the clear flowing water I began to splash it over the elephant’s side and legs, scrubbing with my coconut shells and gradually working across his enormous hide. It was so quiet and peaceful and I became totally engrossed in the task, splashing and scrubbing. The action was so relaxing and therapeutic – and not just for the elephant!

After 20 minutes or so, the elephant began to roll over and rise and the mahout signaled for me to climb on the elephant’s neck. I hauled myself up on the rope around his neck as he began to stand. Everyone except me could guess what came next – he began to hose up the river water in his trunk and then sprayed it over his back – and me – time and time again. I was soaked and laughing as we rode together up the riverbank, me riding high and feeling better than if I had spent a morning at the spa!

Gillian Birch is British and has travelled all over the world with her husband, who is a Master Mariner. She is now a full-time travel writer and uses her personal journals to write in detail about her many experiences worldwide.


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