Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How to climb onto an elephant

Next lesson for the morning was how to climb onto an elephant. There are a surprising number of ways of doing this, none of which involve a ladder, tree stump or trampoline. Each mahout/trainer has their own preferred way of climbing onto their elephant. Some elephants will accept a number of methods depending on the skill and ability of the person climbing on. Others will only allow the use of one, and frankly, who is going to argue? Most skilled, is the mounting option where the elephant lowers its head down onto its trunk, and the trainer facing the animal, vaults up and onto its head face on. This sees you "land" on top of the elephant's head facing the rear. The trick then is to do a u-turn while up in the air, by swinging one leg over the elephants back and scooting around until you are facing the right direction. All at a great height and hopefully without tumbling off. Luckily for me my prowess was not put to the test as Boon Pat didn't know this way of working. Frank though, mastered the leaping on. Once up there though it was a challenge for him, heights not being his thing. Next option is where the elephant sticks its trunk out, you step on and the elephant, operating like a crane, hoists you up, then you leap onto its head. Another highly skilled manoeuvre. A variation on this is when the elephant bends its knee, allowing the mahout to step onto its leg and it raises the trainer up to the point that he can climb on board. More sedate is when you utter "Non Long", asking the elephant to lie down, and it very kindly let's you grab an ear for leverage then step on it's leg, letting you scramble up, over and on to it's head. Then the command "Look" and the elephant clambers to it's feet. Very inelegant on a large fellow like Boon Pat I am sure. My fault, not his. Once up the idea is to hold on to the elephants ears, and wiggle your way forward until you are high on its head. Then it's a matter of finding your balance and you are off.
The commands used by mahouts in Chiang Mai are all Burmese, rather than Thai, due to the connection with the Karen tribe. A few more key phrases are essential around now. " Pai pai" (phonetically "buy buy") is the command for "go forward". "Hoh" is "stop", while "Ma" is "walk forward" if you are leading the elephant by the ear. "D" "D" is the equivalent of "good" so "D D Boon Pat" is "Good boy Boon Pat". This phrase I used a lot as with my mount being huge and only 14 years old, I figured it was best to err on the side of caution and give him lots of encouragement. The funny thing was that mid afternoon I heard Frank also uttering "D D Boon Pat". When I asked him why he kept talking to my elephant he said he couldn't remember his elephants name, so using mines was reassuring - for him! I nearly fell off Boon Pat I was laughing so much. What's more, Frank still can't remember his elephants name! 28.1.2013

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