Eric Dinerstein traveled by elephant for the final fifty miles to the Royal Karnali-Bardia Wildlife Reserve in Nepal, where he was to study tigers. “…and this was a slow elephant.” In the seasonal rain, the path turned into a mud swamp.
After the rains stopped…we reached the banks of the Babai, and, to my dismay, the river was a deep brown torrent. Across the surging water beckoned the rosewood and acacia forests of Bardia. The drivers were determined to cross without delay. The mahout, sitting behind the elephant’s head, urged her down the riverbank. She stalled at the water’s edge, perhaps guaging the the speed of the current or the stupidity of the humans sitting on her back. The mahout would have none of it. Whacking her with his stick across her broad forehead and muttering curses, he drove her forward. Within seconds, the elephant was up to her knees and elbows, then shoulders, and before I could tell the driver that we might want to consider our plan of attack, we were swept away.
For a brief moment, only the tip of the elephant’s trunk and my head were above water. Elephants are surprisingly bouyant, however, and powerful swimmers, and the drivers, who held onto the saddle ropes, soon had us back on the riverbank.
I had learned a priceless lesson that all of us must discover in our own way:
When life knocks you off your horse, or your elephant, get back on and cross the river.