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Day 100: Kaziranga

Michael Palin - HimalayaMaan and I pass the time talking about Indian politics. He gets vociferously angry about the general level of corruption, but even more worried about the BJP, the right-wing Hindu nationalists currently in power. They're communalist, anti-Muslim and suspicious of ethnic minorities of any kind. A travesty, he thinks, of the principles of tolerance and diversity on which India was founded. He's about to tell me more when hysterical police whistle-blowing announces the arrival of a ministerial convoy accompanied by a jeep with a machine gun mounted on the back. This, it transpires, is only the Minister for Environment and Forests and it's a further hour before incandescent whistle-blowing and ferocious arm-waving narrowly avoid members of the public being mown down by the vehicles bearing Chief Minister of Assam and his party.

Priorities having been duly established, the long-suffering elephants begin to process down the road towards us. I count 41 of them, all colourfully attired in the national colours of red and green and carrying advertising for the Numaligarh Oil Refinery, whose tankers have been scattering us to the sides of the road all morning, and who are, astutely, chief sponsors of the Elephant Festival.

The elephants walk slowly, silently, with expressions of infinite patience. Their mahouts, in freshly pressed brown overalls and matching safari hats, look solemnly ahead. The crowd streams after them along the avenue of rosewood trees that leads through the fields to the arena. Many of them are representing local groups and organizations. They carry their pro-conservation banners aloft, shouting, singing and sidestepping the increasingly generous piles of elephant dung.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 100: Kaziranga
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Kaziranga
  • Book page no: 233

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