We took a trip to Punnathur Kotta (Anakkotta) Elephant Camp a short drive North of Varkala Beach. This is the largest elephant camp of its kind in the world and houses over 60 animals, which are trained and used in festivals and processions throughout the year.
Nervously I watch four elephants from a safe distance, surprised by their size and my unexpected fear, but happy the lone male described as very violent is separated from the others. I am glad when the smallest female elephant is untethered and commanded to walk towards us.
Indian elephants are smaller and darker grey than African elephants, with pink trunks and ears speckled with grey patches.
They look undeservedly sad, especially in their deep, small, intelligent eyes and their skin feels warm, soft and rough all at the same time.
Once on top of our elephant she seems happy of a short walk, slowly loping along, flapping her ears when something unexpected or disliked approaches – rickshaws and motorbikes pass us and a cow stares petrified, bewildered at us aboard our 28 year old docile ride.
I feel wary but also amused – looking down at the short dark bristles on her head reminds me of Dumbo.
The ride is surreal and after I wonder if she enjoyed the human contact as she slowly, stealthily (for her size) edges towards us while we photograph and touch her.
She obediently follows commands, but the thought that she could easily crush us and escape this life never leaves my mind, maybe the abundance of food and companionship stops her from making that move – I hope they are all well treated.