Elephant Express

A short, thick branch slaps across its hairy hide and we’re off. Max and I are on-board the largest vessel from the trip so far, larger even, than the giant camel Bob Marley, we’re on an Elephant.

The last time I was in India, Flash and I went to an elephant sanctuary near the Periyar Tiger Reserve and it was fantastic. The Elephants lived in glorious surroundings, were free to roam around their paddocks and really seemed to enjoy life.

We’d gone on a ride through some of Kerala’s finest terrain (lush forest, babbling wildlife, gurgling streams), we’d washed and fed them and even been washed by them (see picture) – so, I was rather disappointed to arrive in what looked like a building site, in which rested (or rather were chained to metal poles) five uncomfortably hot Elephants.

Walking towards these tethered beasts, I wondered why they weren’t looking at us with normal animal inquisitiveness – looking at their eyes I realised. Like cloudy days, their eyes were contaminated with cataracts.

Turning around wasn’t going to achieve anything. So, though saddened by the animals plight, I didn’t leave – I got on. We both did. Our walk didn’t consist of a trek through beautiful scenery, no, we shelled out 800 rupees to walk 50 metres up, and 50 metres back, one of Varkala’s particularly boring backstreets.

Smack, the branch whacks for the final time and we turn back into the yard. Dismount.

Periyar Tiger Reserve

Washing the Elephant

And vice versa…

Varkala’s Equivalent

Kerala – The Wayanad District

Dewy water sticks to waxy leaves, fungi sprouts from a weathered log and Vervet monkey droppings litter the spongy ground. It’s 2 pm and we’re halfway through the Braveheart walk in Tranquil’s coffee plantation.

I breathe – a deep lung-filling breath – and continue uphill along the winding track, close on my heels Father puffs. Not hot, but humid the sky seems to wrap around my face. How much further? How much further?

“I knew it said tough, but this is a bit much isn’t it?” I say, turning to him, my hands on hips.

“Come on Noodle, we’ve trekked over the Throng La we can do this.”

He was right, three years before we had trekked over the highest pass in the world – the Throng La in Nepal. It had taken us just over three weeks to complete the Annapurna Circuit, to reach the whopping 5,416 metre pass and to return down to Pokhara. What was I complaining about?

Flash had been on that trip too. I had forced him out of London with the bait that on the trek he would pass the highest donner shop in the world (I kid you not) – Flash was rather rotund at that time. Shockingly, however, after realising that he wouldn’t be passing the highest fast food joint in the world and a brief stint of trying to break his own ankle, Flash took pretty well to trekking – he beat me over the pass and lost 3 1/2 stone in the process, which, incidentally, he has kept off ever since.

“There,” Father continues, “I think it’s just over there.”

I look, a wide stretch of rock shimmers in the distance, I can see it, but I don’t know far it is. Move legs, move legs. My hamstring burns, though I’ve lost weight, I’ve lost muscle tone too. Head down, keep walking, breathe, keep walking, look up. Look up.

Spread out before me, lies, like a Hardy Intro, swathes of green, a sea of trees, nature at its finest – untouched. I sit, the rock smooth beneath me, I stare.