We set off for our long holiday weekend on Thursday evening and headed for Mysore. It took 5 hours to do a journey normally taking 3 due to the holiday and commuter traffic. We checked into the hotel Sandesh The Prince for the night. Unfortunately and, as is sadly usual in India, despite it being me who was checking in, I was roundly ignored and the reception staff starting talking to Rez about facilities etc. We both looked at each other and Rez turned around and walked away so they could only talk to me. Not defeated by this jesture the reception staff just talked even louder to Rez as he walked off! The hotel reception and atrium were well maintained and beautifully decorated. The same could not be said for the rather tired looking rooms. The extra bed we had ordered for Zahra had also not been supplied and after some arguing it transpired there was an extra charge of ₽500 (£6) so hadn’t supplied it. Eventually it appeared and we settled in for the night. Our sleep was brief though as we were rudely awakened at 5am by the caged parakeets in the atrium squeaking to each other. Breakfast was traditional Indian and rather tasty. Checkout service was equally as bad as check in service. What a shame.
We headed to Dubare (stopping briefly at Decathlon as Rez had forgotten to bring anything other than his work shoes for the weekend!). 2.5 hours later we arrived at the river bank, a little confused as to where we were supposed to head to. After asking around we discovered we were in the right place. We had to beep the car horn and a boat would be sent across for us – and indeed that is exactly what happened.
Dubare Elephant Camp
Quite possibly the quickest check in ever in India – super efficient manual system. We were shown to our “luxurious cottages with attached bath facility. Located in an idyllic part of the Cauvery River, “. We had a river view cottage which had basic facilities (beds, wet room, patio and a hammock) and was perfectly fine for one night.
We settled in and headed over for our Indian lunch at 1:30pm. There was plenty to choose from, even if it was a little over chilli’d for our (read “Rez’s”) tastes. During lunch the wildlife guide chatted to us about the schedule over the next 24 hours. Tea at 4pm followed by a jeep safari in the jungle from 4:30pm to 6:30pm (we got back later than that); then an educational wildlife documentary for an hour (about elephants, obviously) followed by a campfire and supper. Day two was an early start with tea at 6am followed by a nature walk from 6:30am to 8am. Breakfast was 8am to 8:30am then elephant washing until 10am. The actually schedule went on longer than that.
The Jeep safari
It was stunningly beautiful scenery as well as spotting many animals. We saw spotted deer, peacocks, Malabar giant tree squirrels (brown and cream coloured with a tail like a fox), Malabar parakeets (also known as blue winged parakeets), buffaloes, eagles, “Indian God cattle”, paper wasps (“very dangerous” – as they sting unprovoked and its super painful and can cause anaphylactic shock) and elephants. We also saw the 200 year old ruins of a temple and a fish poison tree.
The wildlife film
The guide was very knowledgeable and we were quite tired after being out in the 35C heat for several hours. No time for rest though as we headed straight into the wildlife film about elephants and humans living in the same space and the conflict that causes. It was quite interesting to see the tactics employed to move elephants on when they ventured into crops. The focus was on moving the elephants on with minimal distress to the elephants (and the farmers whose crops were being destroyed).
The campfire and dinner
After the film we sat around the campfire (and at 8pm the temperature was probably around 25C) and ate our dinner starters. We had to move our chairs as far back as possible to remove ourselves from the heat whilst others, more used to the Indian temperatures, drew closer. The camp dogs were well behaved and were clearly looking for treats as the scampered around. (We discovered them the next morning are snuggled together in the ashes to keep warm.)
We headed inside for dinner which was a great buffet selection of Indian dishes. There was a lot to choose from and we ate plenty. We headed to bed after dinner as it had been a long day and we were all tired and happy.
The Nature walk
I’m glad we did as we were woken by loud Indian music playing over all the camp at 5:30am to 6am to ensure everyone was awake for the jungle trek. Zahra managed to still sleep through it and was less than impressed when we woke her. Still we headed over the the central hut / restaurant, had tea and departed for our walk with the guide. We wore suitable clothing for a jungle trek. One happy camper who joined us did so in her pyjamas and flip flops!
The Elephant camp
After breakfast the guide walked us over the footbridge into the Elephant camp. The mahouts were already out in the jungle collecting ‘their’ elephants. We headed down the the riverbank and watched as boat loads of other tourists came over to watch and join in the spectacle of elephant bathing and washing.
Karnataka’s history with elephants goes a long way back and currently the state’s Forest Department has about 150 elephants in various camps. After logging operations were ceased there were domesticated unemployed elephants in addition to the rescued elephants which had various life threatening injuries. The Dubare Camp, the camp where elephants were trained for the famous Mysore Dasara, was converted to a rescue and training centre and a tourist attraction. The aim is to have guests and tourists leave the camp with a sense of responsibility to do their bit towards protecting elephants.
Our guide, a trained naturalist, talked about the complexities of elephant history, ecology and biology throughout the morning and he answered lots of questions. The first I had was about the chains the elephants had around their ankles. This had two purposes, the noise was like a rattle so mahouts and others could hear where the elephants were and where they are moving to. The other was to protect tourists in the camp. The chain would be attached to the two front ankles, limiting the elephant to to walking pace, whilst they were in the camp with tourists. This appeared to be for about an hour to an hour and a half. The rest of the time the chain was on one ankle like a noisy bracelet. I also asked about how the elephants were tamed or “domesticated” as the guide stated, as I have seen some truly awful and cruel film clips of poachers taming elephants using nails and metal hooks. The guide was horrified (a good reaction) and told us that rescued elephants were confined in huge wooden pens (and they were huge) for a period of time whilst the assigned mahout develops a relationship with the elephant by petting it and feeding it. Only when the mahout feels he has adeveloped a good relationship with the elephant will training for basic commands begin. It is clear that the mahouts in the Dubare camp have genuine concern for the health and well being of the elephants in their charge and were quite protective of them whilst they were in the camp amongst tourists.
We didn’t wait long before we could hear the rattle of chains and the appearance of the elephants with their mahouts. They were massive up close.
The elephants appeared one after the other as they wandered down to the water for a drink. They drink 6-8 litres of water in one trunk and take about 200 litres of water a day. They enjoyed being in the water. The mahouts then came to the waters edge and the elephants laid down for a scrub. This is were we joined in. Only allowed at the back top of the elephant we splashed the water over its body and helped rub it down. The skin was soft and rubbery as well as hairy. The skin is 1.5 inches thick too. The mahouts were really scrubbing the elephants. When too many people got close the mahouts shouted and people backed off. One baby elephant attracted a lot of attention but he had two young mahouts protecting him and they were very good at it.
As well as the body scrub the tusks and other intimate areas were cleaned by the mahouts. The elephants stood up when they had had enough, although one was quite keen on another scrub down after his bath and laid down again. Two elephants decided to shower some tourists, a lot!
Feeding an elephant
After the bath we headed into the camp proper and watched as the mahouts prepared the elephants grain and grass ‘sandwhiches’ for the elephants. We were able to feed one elephant their breakfast and it’s quite a stretch getting food into an elephants mouth I can tell you!
Whilst we were feeding an elephant some other Mahouts were demonstrating how elephants obey commands and how they functioned during their earlier role in logging operations. (That made me feel uncomfortable as it reminded me of performing circus animals and was merely done to entertain the tourists.)
We were in the camp for several hours in the end and learnt a lot about the elephants and the mahouts.
We headed back to the villa for a shower and change before checking out (which was supposed to be at 11am but we only left the elephant camp at 11:30am. No one seemed bothered by the late check out.)
The camp also had coracle rides available on the Cauvery river. Whilst we didn’t have time I also didn’t fancy spotting a crocodile or two. As we headed back across the river in the boat we saw crowds of people river rafting down the Cauvery river and the elephants heading off for a day eating in the jungle.
I thoroughly recommend a visit.