Let me start by saying that I’m a huge animal lover. I strictly stand for the ethical treatment of animals and I usually steer clear of animal tourism. But when I chanced upon Elefantastic on TripAdvisor, it looked like a genuine place, so after a lot of enquiring, we decided to visit.
Elefantastic is an elephant sanctuary in Jaipur that works for domesticated elephants of Jaipur with low-income, marginalised caretaker families to to provide welfare services and to raise awareness for Asian elephants.
Our visit ended up being ele-fantastic, there seemed to be no mistreatment of the elephants, only genuine love and care. There were no chains or hooks and the elephants were not tied down.
Elefantastic is not just an attraction, it is an Incredible experience, a heart-touching one.
Within minutes of arriving, we are introduced to our team. Sampa – a beautiful 52-year old female elephant, Raju – Sampa’s mahout, and Brijesh – our guide for the day.
Every elephant has a mahout (caretaker) who stays with the elephant almost 24×7. Guess what? The mahouts even sleep near their elephants. In some cases, the mahout’s family stays at the sanctuary as well, as the mahout can’t go far from the elephant, even at night. To the outsider this might seem like a caretaker, but we realise that each elephant shares a deep bond with their mahout. They’re family.
On reaching Elefantastic, every couple/family is assigned to an elephant, so that they can spend time getting to know the elephant and fully enjoy their interaction with them. We are told that elephants like being stroked on their trunks, under the chin and around the eyes so that’s exactly what we do. Sampa seems to warm up to us and our initial reluctance of touching her and being too close to her wards off quickly as she responds well to our gestures. It is amazing how gentle these gigantic creatures are.
The sugarcane that we feed her, definitely helps the “friendship”. When I take a break from feeding, she very gently nudges me with her trunk, to ask for more food. Adult elephants at Elefantastic eat around 200 Kgs of food daily. Yup, no kidding! They pretty much spend most of the day eating – we’re talking 15-18 hours a day.
Elefantastic aims to provide a foundation to break the cycle of working-elephants tourism in Jaipur. So the elephants here don’t work. Well, unless you count eating, sleeping, going for walks, interacting with visitors and water-play as work. Show of hands, who wants this job?
We are told that Sampa is the newest elephant in the Sanctuary. She came here as an overworked sickly elephant, and in the few months that she has been here, she has turned robust and gained a ton of weight, literally.
As we sip on the tea that we are offered, we are asked if we want to paint on Sampa. After asking questions aplenty to ensure that the colours are natural and won’t harm or irritate her skin, we proceed to draw and colour. The staff can tell that I’m no artist and quickly intervene by drawing an outline for us to colour inside. I make a mental note to skip this part when I tell my pre-schoolers the story.
Apparently, the elephants enjoy the colouring as they know they can look forward to a bath right after. Sampa seems to be nonchalant at best and continues eating while we colour. I realise that if when I visit Elefantastic again, I’ll skip the colouring and instead spend more time cuddling.
After taking some colourful pictures, we head over to the grounds for a bath. As my sister starts hosing her, Sampa holds her trunk up to drink the water instead. We realise she is thirsty and pour water into her trunk. We’re communicating! She collects a few litres in her trunk and then majestically puts it into her mouth. Once her thirst is quenched, she lets us bathe her. I don’t think we’re fast enough for her, as after a few minutes, she seems to get impatient and starts sucking up water from the tub and splashing herself. We get the hint and spray her with renewed gutso.
If you want to truly immerse yourself in the experience, carry a spare set of clothes and be prepared to get drenched. If you’re up for it, climb right on to the elephant’s back and shower with her.
After the water play and some refreshments, it is time for a ride. We go up some stairs and get on a platform so we can climb onto Sampa. Here at Elefantastic, they do not put any wooden seat or platform on the elephants, so you will be riding bareback. There is a blanket on Sampa’s back, held loosely with a rope for us to hold on to. We have a pretty nice view from up there and I hold on tighter as I realise how high up we are.
After a short bumpy ride, it is time for us to head back. We know that we’re taking with us memories that will last long.
Support Elefantastic – Pay them a visit
Visiting tourists are the only source of income for Elefantastic, they do not accept tips or donations. Support them by visiting them and by spreading awareness.
Your package at Elefantastic includes pick-up and drop-up from and to your hotel in Jaipur. A home-cooked vegetarian meal (by the founder Rahul’s mother, at their home) completes the experience.
You can see that the team at Elefantastic really cares for the elephants. The money earned from visiting tourists is used for the upkeep and maintenance of the sanctuary and of course, for food, medical treatment and into caring for the elephants and the caretakers and their families.
You can read more about Elefantastic or contact them via their website.