Elefantastic, an ethical elephant sanctuary in Jaipur, India! Review & discussion of elephants attractions, rides.
Hello, my gentle giant!
Let me introduce you to a compassionate elephant sanctuary in Jaipur, India — Elefantastic. I saw firsthand how the caretakers treat elephants like family, and dedicate their lives to raising awareness about conservation and ethics.
Elephant tourism is a contentious subject, as these sensitive creatures are too often mistreated. Let’s have a open conversation in this post, and I welcome your thoughts as always.
In my view, travelers should educate themselves about animal attractions, and refuse to support those that are cruel. Before my trip, I did extensive research about elephant experiences in India. Many locations offer rides (particularly at Jaipur’s Amber Fort), but these unequivocally cause the elephants to suffer (carrying loads of tourists in a painful saddle, getting prodded with hooks and kept in chains, not having adequate care and rest).
Then, I read about Elefantastic — a Jaipur sanctuary that makes rescuing elephants its mission. I browsed through reviews and blog posts, and saw that the response was universally positive.
Here, guests get to interact with these intelligent creatures in ethical ways, including feeding and washing them, and decorating them with nontoxic chalks (more on that later, as well as the meaning of Hindu swastikas!)
Yukiro and I were traveling through India with the highest-rated travel company, Janu Private Tours, and they’ve always given us fair and honest advice. Mr Janu has brought travelers to Elefantastic since it opened in 2012, and assured us that the sanctuary met the highest standards.
When we arrived, we were greeted by Elefantastic’s owner Rahul (Anil Choudhary, above). He spoke passionately about his mission: rescuing elephants, taking responsibility towards their welfare, educating guests through positive interaction.
Rahul assigned us to one of the female elephants, and we were with her for the entire half-day. He showed us how she liked to be touched: on the trunk, at the cheeks, under the big floppy ears. We could even wrap our arms around her trunk and give her a hug! She responded happily, with bright eyes and a flip of the ears.
Have you ever been up close with an elephant? It’s incredible… these are the largest land animals in Asia, yet they’re so gentle and intelligent. We felt we could put our full trust in her, and it was clear that she was enjoying the human attention.
Close-up on her beautiful grey skin, which has some mottled patches on the nose bridge. (All Indian elephants have different markings, and distinct personalities once you get to spend time with them).
My India-themed nail art is by Glam Nail Studio; they decorated my gradient gel nails with small gems and a chrome polish finish.
Our elephant’s “mahout,” or keeper, never left her side. In India, mahouts typically begin their profession as boys, and are assigned to an elephant for life.
At Elefantastic, we saw that the elephants live in their own individual houses, which they share with their mahout and his family. The sanctuary is on a huge plot of land, and the creatures have plenty of room to roam freely (they are never tied up).
Our mahout tied together palm fronds and stems, and showed us how to feed our elephant. We placed the bundle in the nostril area of her trunk, and gave the verbal command “Leht.” She grabbed the food and dexterously twisted it up to her mouth!
Fun facts: Indian elephants spend 14-19 hours a day feeding, and consume several hundred pounds of vegetation daily. They are vegetarians and mainly eat leaves, tree bark, roots and stems.
Our elephant was clearly well-maintained; she was calm and radiated happiness. Aren’t her brown eyes lovely? (Eye contact is important for making the elephants feel secure, so you can’t wear sunglasses during this activity. I’m wearing tinted prescription glasses.)
I loved seeing the close bond between the mahouts and their life-long partners. These caretakers guide them with Sinhalese verbal commands such as “stay” or “walk forward.” They never use chains, hooks, poles or any instruments to force the elephants. They’ll sometimes gently tug the elephant’s ears with their hands to steer her, but this doesn’t cause pain.
As you can see, Elefantastic’s residents always have shade from the elements, and the grounds are meticulously maintained.
Once our elephant had her meal, it was time to give her a makeover! In India, elephants are traditionally painted in rainbow colors for festivals and special occasions. Unfortunately, many of these paints are harsh and contain lead.
Elefantastic provided us with a palette of non-toxic, organic chalks that cause no harm to their bodies (I got some on my hand, and it washed right off with water). Since elephants don’t sweat and only have pores between their toes, this doesn’t clog up their skin.
Of course, we dressed her in Goth and punk symbols! Pentagram, 666, A for anarchy, a wonky Leviathan cross. But what’s the deal with the swastika?
If you spend any time in India, you’ll come across swastikas, especially on the front of doors and gates.
While Westerners primarily associate the swastika with Nazi Germany, it is in fact an ancient Sanskrit symbol that translates to “marker of goodness.” In other words, this has been an auspicious Hindu sign for thousands of years, long before the terrible events of World War II.
Our neon elephant looks like she’s ready for a rave! We decorated her side with lucky “swastika rangoli,” which have dots between each of the four arms.
Many Hindus paint swastikas on doorways and home entrances, to invite in prosperity and good fortune. (I took these images in a residential area of Jaipur.)
I think our Gothic elephant painting project turned out rather well! She’s one of us now.
(My black sun hat is by Lack of Color; more of their designs are below.)
In Hinduism, the clockwise swastik is a representation of Lord Vishnu and the sun god Surya. I also found it on the sash of Ganesha, the elephant god.
Less commonly, you’ll see the reverse / counterclockwise version, or sauvastika. It is associated with the goddess Kali, magic and nighttime.
Regardless of how you decorate your elephant, it’s fun to take part in the cultural ritual. Our new friend leaned in and loved the strokes and attention.
We added some devilish kawaii to this flank. Can you tell we’re having fun?
Now, it’s time for a bath! Our mahout walked our elephant over to a grassy field, and we hosed her down with water. (The safe chalks came right off.)
We put some water into a bowl, and our elephant sucked it up like a straw. Then, she swung her trunk around and sprayed herself to cool off!
Water for elephants is a must: they can drink 200 liters a day. The staff kept us hydrated too, offering us unlimited chilled bottles of water, and masala chai.
I posted some video clips of the Elefantastic experience above and here. Watch us hand-feed our friend and bathe her, along with other footage of traveling in India.
Out of the three individuals above, who has the most fabulous pose? I’m guessing you would say the elephant!
Close-up on my vintage Vivienne Tam colorful top, which fit the theme of the day perfectly.
One of the most beloved Hindu gods is the elephant-headed Ganesh. Some say that Lord Shiva beheaded him, and replaced his head with that of an elephant. Lord Ganesha / Ganapati is known as a wise, playful scholar who removes obstacles, and is the patron of the arts and sciences.
Once you get to know a real-life Ganesha, you can see where these characteristics come from. Yukiro and I were in awe of our elephant’s sensitivity and intelligence, which came through in the way she connected with us and her environment.
These mammals are known for their wide range of complex social behaviors: grief, memory, altruism, cooperation, using tools… In many ways, they leave us in the dust.
She is a 28-year-old Indian elephant, a sub-species with smaller ears than her African cousin. About half of female Asian elephants have short tusks, or tushes, which you can see when she opens her mouth for a drink.
Since 1986, India’s elephants have been listed as endangered, as they have suffered significant population decline. Poaching and the loss of natural habitats are mainly to blame. It’s more important than ever to donate and support conservation efforts like Elefantastic’s, to stop them from becoming extinct.
Elefantastic listens to its guests, and is always striving to do their best for the sake of their rescued elephants. When we visited in mid July, the policy was that elephants could only be ridden in an ethical way: once every two days for 45 minutes max, and without a saddle that causes discomfort. Guests could sit “bareback,” on a soft cushion that is tied and positioned in a way that does not hurt.
However, as of late July 2017, Elefantastic has come to the decision that they will no longer allow elephant rides, to raise awareness toward animal welfare.
Yukiro and I were therefore some of the last guests to get on top an elephant. We chose to ride for only 15 minutes (we climbed up here from stepping off a staircase). Our mahout led her through the spacious grounds, while we hung on tight and petted her bristly forehead!
While we felt that this method did not stress the elephants, we agree with Elefantastic’s decision to stop all rides. From now on, guests can walk alongside their new friend, and take her for a leisurely stroll on the property.
We can honestly tell you that elephants are treated with the utmost respect at Elefantastic. We saw them living in un-tethered natural conditions, and connecting with their gentle mahout keepers.
What a joy to be in the presence of these powerful creatures. I encourage you to support this fantastic animal sanctuary, and volunteer with the elephants for yourself.
To make a booking: visit the Elefantastic website and email Rahul (firstname.lastname@example.org) to secure your reservation. They offer hotel pick-ups and drop-offs, and you can either start in the morning or afternoon for half a day of activities. A delicious vegetarian lunch is included at Rahul’s mother’s house — the simple meal is made with love, and was one of the best I had in India!
(Elefantastic address: 90 Chandra Mahal Colony, Delhi Road, Amer, Jaipur 302002, India)
You can find out more about Elefantastic here. Namaste to Rahul for his admirable work to help elephants, and to Janu Private Tours for making this experience possible. Stay tuned for more stories from India — next, we’ll go on an insider tour of Jaipur with Mr Janu.
What are your thoughts on elephant travel attractions, and sanctuaries like this one? You’re welcome to leave any thoughts or questions in the comments.