Elephants and Water: A Recipe for Magic

The articles in the travel section of BoomerReviews.com have inspired me to share one of my most amazing world travel experiences. It occurred at the end of a 17-day trek through the lower Annapurna Mountains of Nepal. It was tDonna_ElephantSprayhe final highlight, an elephant safari through the jungle of Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal.

Our safari had us searching for one-horned rhinos. It was a big success as we spotted an entire family of them from atop our 11,000 pound female elephants. When the adventure was over, the mahouts positioned the three elephants in the shallow water of the river. Our guide asked if anyone wanted to sit on an elephant and be sprayed? Of course I volunteered.

Once secured on the elephant’s bare back, I was getting settled when suddenly, WHAM! I was blasted by a trunk full of cold water. My fellow travelers yelled, “Donna close your mouth!”  I tried to close it when suddenly, WHAM! She sprayed me again. By now I was screaming with glee! She sprayed me five times!  It was great fun. Then she started to roll over onto her side and I had visions of my left leg being crushed so I scrambled off and swam to shore. Sometime later, when all of us had our fill of being soaked, Raj, our trek leader, said, “So does anyone want to clean the elephants?”

Again my apparently independent arm went up. “I do!” I had no idea what this entailed, but Raj directed me back into the river. By now the three elephants were lounging on their sides in about four feet of water. Clearly it was their spa day. I trudged to one elephant’s back where I began to spread water up on her skin and rub. It was marvelous. Her dark grey hide was very thick and felt rough to my touch. She seemed to enjoy the attention. Growing more confident, I waded up to her head and began cleaning her enormous ear. I rubbed gently and she seemed to lean into my touch. I studied her beautiful thick eye lashes, the few graceful hairs on her head, and the look of contentment in the visible eye. She was so huge. I could hardly take a breath for feeling the wonderful enormity of the moment I was sharing with with this majestic creature. She was still and relaxed. We both had moved into a kind of  bliss. It lasted for several long minutes.

Donna_Elephant2After a while my fellow elephant cleaners were climbing out of the water through the mud onto the bank. The rain was coming down and we were soaked and getting chilled. Everyone headed back to camp but me. I was still glued to my elephant’s beautiful head. Finally from the shore, Raj called, “So Donna are you staying?”

That pulled me from my reverie. “Could I?” I asked meekly.

Raj smiled as he replied, “Yes.” But clearly it was time to go back. I lingered a few more precious minutes in the water, “soaking in” the experience and the magic. The elephant and I continued to lean into one another.

One of the trainers appeared to help me to shore. I was far behind my group and got lost trying to make my way back to camp. On the trail, I passed three Terai women who were out gathering the morning crops. I think they read my expression of bliss could clearly see that I was disoriented. They giggled a bit at my expense. I was, after all, sopping wet, in a bit of a trance, and lost!  Very gently they turned me around and pointed me in the correct direction. They shared shy smiles with me, and one lady affectionately squeezed my arm. Here I was, half way around the planet in a foreign culture, being assisted by beautiful sari-dressed women, who reached out to me as one of their sisters. We did not share language or customs, but we did share a deep bond of understanding.

Poignant, short-lived and beautiful. That was my moment with the elephant and the water and the kind hearted Terai women in Chitwan National Park, Nepal.


Donna Friess
Author and psychologist Donna L. Friess, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus in Communications Studies at Cypress College in Orange County, CA. Donna has been a social activist for children’s rights. She facilitates a “Loss of a Loved One” support group and is an active professional speaker.
Donna Friess

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