When I first heard of the Elephant ride up to Amber Palace, I wondered if it was something I should truly do. I know that Elephants have a reputation of being used and abused by their owners and I prefer my Elephants like I prefer my coffee – FREE. In my research I learned that the Elephants at the palace are treated well and I dug into the details of how they were cared for which I include below. All that and I kept coming back to what the Indian locals told me – “yes, it’s touristy but it’s the thing to do in Jaipur”. I generally assumed that it was comparable to missing out on going to Time Square in New York City, only the Times Square in Jaipur was much more unique to me.
The Elephant Riding Tradition
So there I was, at the base of the Amber Palace viewing a huge line-up of colorful Elephants, we climbed a small platform where we awaited our new elephant friend for the ride up the steep slope. While waiting I considered this deep cultural tradition. I had learned how these elephants were an integral part of this region’s royal heritage and pondered on how they symbolized grandeur and royalty while representing the rich history of Rajasthan. And here I am about to get onto one for a relatively brief ride to Amber Palace. More than that, I was excited! Holy F, I’m going to ride an elephant up to a palace!!!
Where is the Elephant Ride at Amber Palace? — At the base of the Palace:
Google map location: Devisinghpura, Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302001, India
Getting on the Elephant
Our gentle elephant quietly sidled up to the platform but it was still… not close enough! There was a gap between the platform and the saddle, when I looked down I recognized that it was due to the thickness of the elephant. Essentially, it was not getting any closer. I gritted my teeth and went for it, I got on board by carefully hopping onto it, followed by my wife who climbed on to it much more gracefully than I did. I assume that someone experienced would make it look trivial but that was not us. Once onboard, we were not facing forward but instead we both rode next to each other side saddle. We reached to our left and right to pet With our legs hanging off of the left side of the majestic elephant. Our guide strapped us in and slowly moved away from the platform and towards an area full of vendors, who were on top of the walls trying to sell us all kinds of things that we were not interested in. So we ignored them and enjoyed the experience of riding this elephant.
Why are the Elephants painted at Amber Palace?
I was curious about this, was the elephant that I was riding painted purely for tourism? Happily the answer was no, all of the elephants had their trunk and face painted in stunning patterns. The paint on elephants have a symbolic significance and represents the cultural beliefs of Rajasthan. It can be seen as a way of honoring and celebrating the majestic presence of elephants in Rajasthan’s history and folklore. The intricate patterns are inspired by the regions art practices and of course it adds to the aesthetic and grandeur of this activity.
What is Riding an Elephant to Amber Palace like?
My experience with elephants to date is blurred by my limited experiences of seeing them in the circus and the zoo. Now I have gone on an elephant ride in the jungles of Thailand, but my memory was similar. I strongly recall the smell of the elephants dung which appeared to be everywhere. However I quickly noticed that riding this elephant up to Amber palace that the smell was a lot less than I expected! It was a nice surprise.
On our left side, we spotted what appeared to be a giant lake. It was a man made reservoir called Maota Lake and from the on top of the elephant it was a beautiful moment appreciating the beauty of vastness of the lake that was situated at the base of Amber Palace. On top of the lake was a very wide structure, that housed a lovely set of curated gardens. It felt that those gardens must be the only tranquil setting in this entire area. The gardens seemed to feature manicured lawns, trees, and pathways making it an awesome site to see from the elevated path.
Once our elephant walked through the main gate and into the main courtyard of the palace complex the elephant we were riding was guided to a drop off point where we awkwardly disembarked from it and continued our adventure on foot.
How are the Elephants at Amber Palace cared for?
The elephants at Amber Palace in Jaipur, India, receive special care and attention, which is important to me because I try to only go visit elephants where they are not being tortured. Here’s what I learned about how they are cared for:
Each elephant is assigned a caretaker (Mahout) who develops a close bond with the animal and is responsible for it’s daily care. Mahouts have extensive knowledge and experience in elephant care and are trained to understand and communicate with elephants. The elephants are fed a nutritious diet that is tailored to their nutritional needs and sometimes have added vitamins and mineral supplements.
The elephants have regular medical check ups by qualified veterinarians and are given care for any health issues. In terms of exercise the elephants are taken on walks and allowed to roam around in certain areas. They are provided with some entertainment in the form of puzzle feeders, daily bathing, proper grooming and social interactions with other elephants.
The management at Amber Palace attempts to promote responsible and ethical tourism practices, but as tourists we never see the full picture.