“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight” ~ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Linda Solomon

At last, the long-awaited Elephant Safari Ride, where I will see lions, and tigers, and what, oh my! I have a dramatic vision of the elephant scooping me up with its trunk and deftly placing me on its back, just like in the circus. I’m somewhat disappointed to see a large platform atop a tall scaffolding. I step onto it with the help of my mahout, or elephant driver. He situates me close to the elephant’s head, straddling her with my legs, which are hanging out the sides of the basket. It almost seems as if he is trying to ensure that all 100 pounds of me can keep the entire basket balanced atop this lightweight of 12,000 pounds.

 Three hours into this ride I have seen nothing exotic or anything worth taking. I start to get so bored that I begin taking selfies. Suddenly my guide screams, “Look, look.” I follow his pointed finger down to a huge pile of shit. But this isn’t just any old pile of shit. Apparently this dump was left by an exotic one-horned rhino. I gotta tell you, after monarch butterflies, too many deer, and a croc’s nose, I am ecstatic. This could be my only proof that I was really in the jungle, and I want to capture this important scene for posterity. Unfortunately, to my guide, this is just a pile of crap and not picture worthy, so he keeps Mumbai moving. I try to take the picture by turning around, but it’s impossible to keep your balance on a moving elephant. Clearly, we are not on the same wavelength when it comes to what’s important to capture on film. One man’s treasure is another man’s shit or something like that. 

As we head back to the resort, my guide asks if I want to ride Mumbai back to home base. I assume he means for me sit behind him on the elephant’s neck. Although this isn’t on my bucket list of things to do before I die, being in the moment, I respond with a yes. I realize my guide is making no attempt to join me. I assume he’s going to use a rope to lead Mumbai back. No. He hands me the elephant goad he used. Unnerved, I have no idea how to direct an elephant, with or without an elephant goad. Clinging to Mumbai’s neck, I lean down to hand the guide my camera so he can take my picture.

The picture taken, I wait for him to lead the way. Instead he jogs a few feet ahead, snaps one more picture, then takes off running, with my camera. Are you kidding me? What kind of guide abandons a tourist in the middle of a jungle, let alone one sitting atop a 12,000-pound elephant? How the hell am I supposed to find my way out? Fear washes over me. I blow out a series of short breaths. My mind is busy cataloging the possible dangers. What if the elephant gets spooked by one of those as yet unseen Bengal tigers or a sloth bear or a jackal? What if I fall off and get trampled? Surely the guy is coming back?

After a while, my so-called guide still nowhere to be seen, I realize I am alone. Totally alone. On top of a huge beast. In the middle of nowhere. Feel free to laugh if you want. Petrified and fuming, I have no option other than to cling to the elephant’s neck. Something tells me sitting upright and maintaining balance is key. Instead I’m half on, half off her neck, grasping her long strands of hair as we go down a steep hill. The basket tilts at such an angle that I feel as if I’m about to be shot out of a cannon. Holding on with a life-or-death grip, my legs flailing against her sides.

As we move forward, I pray that Mumbai has the way committed to memory. Elephants never forget, right?

Read more of my jungle experiences in Big Red: How I Learned Simplicity from a Suitcase.

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