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Day 95: Dibrugah

Michael Palin - HimalayaFeeling more secure, I look around. The mahout uses his feet tight up behind the elephant's ear to control direction and, far too often it seems to me, strikes the animal with the blunt end of a machete. Elephants ears, seen from behind, look surprisingly delicate and vulnerable. curled at the edges and pale marked with long purple veins, they're like giant leaves in autumn. I'm surprised, too, how much hair there is on an elephant's hide, short little shoots on the full-grown females, much longer and thicker on the young. The prehensile trunk is always working away; look out for a quick snack, a leaf or two, some shoots to strip and, if possible, an entire bush to uproot.

According to Manoj, the Assamese were the first to harness the natural skills of elephants to help with human activities, and their use became widespread in the logging industry when the railways were being pushed up into the plantations and oilfields. They showed the rest of India how to control and domesticate wild elephants but now, with logging drastically cut for environmental reasons, many of the mahouts and their elephants can no longer find work. A few, like these, are retained to clear bamboo cane or tidy up the tea plantations, but it's a dying art.

Having overcome my fear of falling, I'm enjoying this slow, powerful progress through the undergrowth. I'm hardly aware I'm on a living creature. It's more like being on board ship on a gentle swell.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 95: Dibrugah
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Dibrugah
  • Book page no: 224

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