Friday, August 19, 2011

A day for Gaurav

Day 65: Elephants and Muay Thai

This morning, we got picked up in our tour van again, but this time, we headed over to the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for elephants that have been saved from horrible conditions. We opted to do this tour over any other because it is actually an elephant conservation park, where you cannot ride the elephants (contrary to popular belief, elephants don’t enjoy this, and most other “sanctuaries” still allow this).

On the long drive over to the sanctuary, we were shown a documentary about the conservation park and the woman who started it all, Lek. She is the granddaughter of a shaman and felt connected with elephants since she was a teenager living in a small village. On her own, she started buying mistreated elephants from their owners and managed to save 14 elephants this way.  A Texan couple who were inspired by her work donated enough money for her to buy 50 acres of land for her first four elephants, and with the money from the tours, they have been able to save 36 elephants from cruel conditions and 1 wild orphan by housing and feeding them on a total of 150 acres of land (so far)! The sanctuary runs on the money from the tours and the gracious help of volunteers from around the world who come here to help in whatever way they can.

When we started up the final dirt road, we started seeing the huge majestic creatures walking around in the distance. It was such a beautiful sight! We arrived at the conservation area, and walked around with our guide to see the giant elephants grazing the land alongside their mahouts. We had the opportunity to walk out onto the land, and go to the feeding area, where we fed a family of elephants including a baby boy elephant with lots of fruits! Then, we came back to the viewing area, where the bell rang for the elephants’ lunchtime, so we fed them once again, their long trunks grabbing food from our hands and stuffing them in their mouth!

Incidentally, the sanctuary has also become home to a lot of mistreated dogs, who have been dropped off by people who have saved them from their own horrible conditions. The elephants don’t like the dogs because they try to eat their food, but somehow, they live in relative peace at the sanctuary!

After our own huge buffet lunch, we headed out to the river, where we got into the water and bathed these beautiful giants with buckets of river water! We watched the elephants play around in the water, rolling around on their back and splashing everywhere! It was so much fun getting soaked with them, and watching them have so much fun, after hearing the horror stories about the life they had come from. For example, one of the female elephants was depressed after the loss of her baby because she had been worked too hard when she was pregnant, so her owner got frustrated that she was not listening to him and shot both her eyes out with a slingshot. There are actually a few elephants in the sanctuary that are blind after having been mistreated by their owners.

It was wonderful to watch the interaction of some elephants with each other. We learned that some elephants became best friends at the sanctuary and would look out for each other. One older female elephant met a newcomer whose hip was broken and could not be healed, so she became friends with her and always stays near her because she weaker. The baby orphan elephant that was rescued is named Hope, and he is now grown up and has a girlfriend! There are many incredible stories like this, and all because of one woman who dedicated her life to save a species from the cruelty of man.

Once bathed, we walked around the grounds and soon had the chance to meet Lek, the wonderful woman who saved all of these animals. She sat with the elephants surrounding her, feeding them, petting them, and even sitting with the baby elephants and singing them lullabies. It was so nice to see someone so selflessly saving and taking care of these animals, since they could not be put back in the wild, having been so violently domesticated. Coincidentally, Lek is married to a Montrealer, so we got her card to keep in touch with her when she comes to visit Canada again! She is a very humble person and the success of the park has not changed her. She still treats each elephant like her own child.

After watching another documentary about the sanctuary and their work, we headed back to town, pleased that we didn’t give in to the hype of riding elephants, and instead seeing people doing wonderful things to save and take care of these mistreated animals.

When we arrived back to our hotel, we grabbed a quick dinner, and were then picked up by our tuktuk to take us to our next destination: a Muay Thai fight. Muay Thai is a Thai martial art similar to boxing, but more of a contact sport, as they are allowed to hit or kick anywhere on the body. The fighters start off with a traditional prayer and dance-stretch before fighting. We had front-row seats and watched about seven matches (including witnessing two knockouts), with fighters ranging from children to young adults. Although they were fighting (and Rachna didn’t really enjoy this part), the fighters showed a lot of respect for each other and for the sport, and the winner never boasted his win, but rather accepted it graciously, both fighters going to their opponent’s side to receive a blessing from the opponent’s coach before the winner accepted his victory.

This day was a big highlight for Gaurav as he has loved elephants since childhood, and because he was training in Muay Thai last year.  We walked back to our hotel in the spotting rain, and had a nice sleep, pleased with how our day turned out.
 Feeding the elephants
 Bathing the elephants
 Lek taking care of her babies
Muay Thai fighters

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