|photo credit: Trekking Collective2011|
My first unforgettable encounter with Thai elephants more than 20 years ago was hanging on precariously to an elephant howdah (elephant saddle!) during a monsoon downpour in the forests of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, northern Thailand only a few hours journey where I am based in Chiang Mai, the capital city. A time to really appreciate and respect the sure footedness of such a relatively huge pachyderm travelling on a steep and slippery single file narrow mountain path. Don't look down if you get virtigo!
Following my new found elephant friend and her keeper again the next day we made our way down to the river for her morning shower and I joined them to bathe and wash away seeds and insects before work begins - An Elephant Spa ! Contrary to popular belief pachyderms - 'thick skinned mammals' have very sensitive skin.
In the north of Thailand Mahouts (elephant keepers) the Indigenous Karen are the traditional keepers of elephants in the northern forests originally living along the deep forested Thai - Burma border their skills are legendary with commands and skills learnt over many generations with their partnership lasting over a life-time as both man and elephant may live over 60 years.
Over the days I was taught commands in Karen dialect, So I began to know and care for this amazing creature, learning of foods and medicines that can be picked from the forest for an elephants well -being as I journey on elephant back following forested paths.
Late afternoon I returned to my Elephant friend to continue my lessons of traditions, forest-lore and ways of the Thai elephant with a forest walk returning the Elephants to their resting place for the night. It really was a once in a lifetime experience!
Take time to look deep into their all knowing kindly eyes for these our friends are one of the last remaining links to another maybe better world.
..."Let www.trekkingcollective.com you on an unique personal journey through northern Thailand .."
Caroline Marsh is co-founder of Chiang Mai based independent ethical tour operator http://www.trekkingcollective.com .."Expertise, Ethical travel and Authentic Experiences contribute to making a difference to local communities and the environment." passionate about new experiences and travel; preaches and teaches community environmental well being; Caroline writes for travel sites, regional travel magazines and her own blog Authentic Chiang Mai promoting her adopted city of more than 20years!; coordinates local 'grassroots' community peoples actions through Holistic Environment Urban Schools Program (HEUSP)and a member of the umbrella network group Lanna Community Life Network (LCLN) formerly NCCN. Visit channel www.youtube.com/holisticearth1