Wake up feeling completely refreshed! What a gorgeous bed and - oooooh - to wake up and not smell musty damp and have complete feeling in the end of your nose and fingers. It's 5:00am and absolutely freezing outside but my room is lovely and warm for some reason. So tempting to stay in bed ...
The veranda outside my room @ Wild Horizons
View from my room over to the dining area
A clean bathroom!
I dress in my usual 'elephant carer' gear (leggings, trousers, thick thick socks, three tops, coat, hat) and cross the road. Literally. Sundur Kali's stable is within 30ft of my front door. I arrive to find Ali sleeping under a blanket right next to Sundur Kali (who is standing up ready for breakfast). I tap Ali gently on the foot and he stirs. I feel absolutely awful waking up this poor 13 year old boy who has slept outside all night on some hay but Saki has told me this is what I need to do in the mornings. My motherly instinct is screaming "Let him sleep" :-( Ali sits up and rubs his eyes. He smiles and says "Koochie?" and I nod and get to work. While we prepare her breakfast, Ali tells me that Sundur Kali woke him up at 3:00am demanding more food. She was pushing him with her trunk and throwing hay on top of him. When that didn't work, she started banging the posts holding up her stables and making the tin roof shake. She certainly knows how to get what she wants!
After Sundur Kali finishes eating, Saki straps the 'box seat' onto her while Ali and I sweep the stable and set fire to the old hay. The warmth from the fire is so welcome and we all take a moment to huddle round it and take the chill out of our bones. I feel so awful for Ali and his single blanket. I have never seen him wear anything other than the one set of clothes he has on now - and that consists of just some brown trousers, a t-shirt and a brown fleece. He doesn't have any shoes. I suddenly remember that I brought a spare blanket with me for the coach journey down. I tell Saki that I will be right back and run across the road to the guesthouse. When I get back, Saki realises what I am bringing with me and asks "For my brother?". I nod and he explains this to Ali in Nepalese. Ali steps forward and takes the blanket from me. He looks very shy (and usually he is anything but!) and he wraps it around his head and neck. After a while, he looks up at me through his long eyelashes and smiles coyly. What a sweetheart.
Then Saki invites me to get on Sundur Kali and says he's going to teach me a trick. I jump at the chance (I've been waiting so long for this!!) and carefully climb up on top. She is kneeling and when I am settled, she slowly stands up. What a feeling! Saki passes me a stick and tells me the words to say. Well, they are not words really - more sounds. He teaches me the sound for "Come to me", the one for "Go back", and "pick up". We practice the "pick up" one and Saki tells me to drop the stick and ask Sundur Kali to give it back to me. After making the 'noise' about 5 times, she finally understands me and up comes the stick. I reach out to grab it and feel like I've just died and gone to heaven. I just spoke to an elephant - and it understood me! :-)
Gaining Sundur Kali's trust
"Come on girl, give me the stick"
Ta-da! Got my stick back. I'm an official elephant driver :-)
At 7:00am, I head back across the road to have my breakfast (omelette, toast, black tea) and then sleep again until 9:00am. I think it is the cold that is making me so sleepy. After a quick shower, I head back to the stables. It is Sunday but Ali is at school today (Sunday is a normal day, Saturday being their 'holy day') so I set about making koochie by myself. I enjoy the peace actually so I don't mind. Saki and Sundur Kali return just after 11:00am. The fog has not lifted today and it is still very cold. Usually by this time, you can take off your extra layers of leggings and coats and be very happy in just a t-shirt. Hot even. Saki joins me making koochie and we take turns throwing the bundles to our big, slow girl. Saki tells me that he actually lives 170km away and only sees his wife and children once a year, for one week. How awful! He explains that he has no choice as the pay here in the tourist area is three times as much of that near his home. He brought his brother, Ali, here with him so that he can get a headstart in his training. All of Saki's family have been elephant trainers/drivers. In fact, Sundur Kali was just a baby when his grandfather began working with her. He did all of her training. Then Saki's father took over, eventually handing the responsibility over to Saki himself 5 years ago. Ali will be next, and then Saki's own young son (who is still a baby at present). I point out that Ali is at school today and Saki says, yes, but he can only attend when volunteers come to help. Otherwise, he has to be here making koochie while Saki is out and about in the jungle.
Returning from a morning in the jungle
Having a rest while Saki and I unstrap the 'box seat'
Me and my heffalump
Making koochie in the cold
Saki eating his lunch, Nepalese style
Sundur Kali grabbing some hay - to throw at me no doubt!
Single back leg chain
Double front leg chain
Suddenly - excitedly - Saki announces from nowhere that Sundur Kali is actually two months pregnant! My face lights up and he walks me to her left side and lets me listen to her belly. I can't hear anything but he keeps pushing my head into her warm skin saying "You hear, you hear". I can't hear. But I am determined to see! So that means ... hmmm, elephants are pregnant for about 22 months ... I have to come back to Nepal in 20 months ;-) I ask what will happen to the baby and he says that it will stay with Sundur Kali for 2 years as that is how long they need their mother's milk. The baby will then be sold to Chitwan National Park. I feel sad, but knowing how aware and inquisitive Sundur Kali is, I know she will be able to tell where he baby is when she herself is on a jungle trek (elephants communicate through tremors in the ground by the way). I'm sure they'll "keep in touch". He tells me that Sundur Kali is 35 years old and will work until she is 80. She will then retire from her jungle treks and have about 30-40 leisurely years before she "goes to sleep".
Just as I'm dreamily thinking about Sundur Kali communicating with her baby using tremors, she stops chewing and lifts her front foot. Poised. Her sister in the next stable is in the same position. They are both waving their trunks, low, at each other and sniffing/blowing gently. Saki tells me that her sister is telling her there is danger somewhere. Turns out to be a cat and both the elephants panic, swaying back and forth, trumpeting and lifting alternate feet as high as they can. The cat soon passes but it takes them both quite a while to settle again.
And then, something gross happens. To me which is just my luck. I don't know if it was a nervous reaction to the cat, or whether she got some hay up her trunk but Sundur Kali - without warning - sneezes all over me. If you have never been sneezed on by an elephant (and, like me, I don't suppose you have) it is impossible to imagine. I swear it was as strong as some showers I have owned. It is in my hair (nice), all over my jacket, in my eye, and down my trousers. Saki tries hard not to laugh but can't help himself. Thankfully, he excuses me from work early to go and wash my face.
Elephant snot down my trousers. Lovely.
After removing snot from my entire person, I have lunch at the guesthouse (veggie curry, dahl and rice) and then head into the village to use the internet. Finally manage to send a few emails and also update my Facebook status so that those who haven't yet had chance to read this know I'm alive. At 3:30pm, I head back home and talk to Dal on the veranda. He asks me what my hours are etc and I tell him that between 1:00pm and 5:00pm I don't work. I say to him that, in fact, I was wondering whether there is any other volunteer work going that could fill my afternoons. He says he will definitely find out for me.
At 5:00pm, I wander back to the stables and it's straight back to making koochie. It doesn't sound like much but it is seriously hard work. My hands are soooo sore now and I keep remembering that I have another 2 weeks of this before heading to Kathmandu for a week. I am eating 'salt' biscuits that Saki and Ali have kindly given me and, out of the corner of my eye, I see something grey moving towards me. It's Sundur Kali and her trunk which she pushes into my neck before blowing softly. Saki tells me that she's telling me that she wants a biscuit too. Awwwww. (And yes, I was allowed to give her a biscuit). Oh, forgot to say - Saki told me earlier today that her names means "Beautiful black lady". And beautiful she most definitely is. I am completely spellbound by her every time I see her.
Sundur Kali - Beautiful
"It must be love - lu-u-uv!"
Saki, Ali and I are all sat in the hay making a start on tomorrow's breakfast for Sundur Kali - minding our own business - when she decides to get playful again. She puts her trunk up and down, shows me her mouth and then begins tapping my leg as if to say "Excuse me, mouth open - food in. Remember?". Saki tells her "no more koochie" and stands up to give her a kiss. He tells me to do the same as that signals to her that there is no more food today and it is time for bed. So I do. Again, what a feeling. I have kissed an elephant! Sooooo ridiculously happy.
At 7:00pm, it is back to the guesthouse for dinner but I then head back to the stables as Saki has asked me to take Sundur Kali to the water pump. Afterwards, I show him some photographs of my son (which he had asked about earlier). He calls other mahouts over (mahout = elephant driver) and they all talk very fast in Nepalese, pointing at the photos of my son. Saki smiles at me and me and says "Very good. Good strong boy. Good". I feel very proud.
Then, after just one rum & coke, it is an early night in bed with my book - 5:00am starts means my evenings are cut super short. I also do a bit of sketching which I haven't really done for years. Very relaxed, very happy, but very tired. And although I have to do it all again tomorrow, I actually can't wait.