5 Things I Learnt From Seeing Wild Elephants in India

Aka one of the most incredible, yet scary, experiences of my life.

It was on my list of things to do on India – see wild Indian Elephants – but given some experiences I’d heard from other travellers I didn’t know how realistic my expectations were.

I was travelling with my brother (Tim) and we decided to give it a shot at Periyar Wildlife Reserve, in Kumily, Kerala. 925 sq km of wild animals roaming free.


Tim insisted we go with the walking option, rather than the jeep or the boat. I wasn’t too keen about coming face to face with an elephant on foot (let alone a tiger, which also live within the sanctuary!), I would have much preferred the safety net of a getaway vehicle! However, my brother won the battle and we went with the trekking option.

We met our group at 8am the next morning. There were five of us, plus two guides initially. After the first half hour or so an armed forest guide joined us – clearly stating that no animals would be harmed with the gun, it was merely for protection. While I was of some relief that we had some form of protection, I’m not sure if this made me feel more safe or less safe!!


We walked for a few hours, stopping to demolish some morning tea and lunch from our brown paper bag (provided by the trekking company). During this time we saw plenty of monkeys, bison, a sambar carcass – we were told it had been eaten by a tiger – and a tree trunk that had been scratched to buggery by a tiger marking out it’s territory….we were reassured this was from a few years back – still mildly terrifying none-the-less.


Post lunch and gazing across some breathtaking views of the Tamil Nadu/Kerala border, we began the trek back towards civilisation. We were all feeling a bit deflated thinking that since we hadn’t seen any elephants that morning, it was probably pretty unlikely that we would see any at all. Of course like with anything, when you are least expecting it is when it always happens, right?! DSC04971

We were trekking along, much of the conversation revolving around the fact that yes, people get trampled to death by elephants (thanks for that, yup that’s exactly what I want to hear while we are actively searching for wild elephants!!), when all of a sudden the guide at the front whipped around and urgently waved his hands signalling us to be quiet. There were elephants ahead!! And there they were – just over a mound in the path, were FOUR wild Indian Elephants.


My heart leapt out of my chest!

It was the most incredible sight to see. Elephants are such majestic animals, and it was the most humbling (read: scary!) feeling to be in their presence in such a vulnerable state, i.e with no escape vehicle other than our very own feet!

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Though of course while this was all happening, my mind was frantically panicking about the fact that we were probably going to get crushed to death but also I had better get some good photos before that happens to prove we saw them!

We lingered around a while, well-hidden, and took some photos. Problem being, these elephants were standing directly on our path – there was no getting back to town until they were on their way.

Thankfully after we had our fix they strolled off to one side and we were safe to continue.

That safety lasted about 10 minutes, as we walked directly into an open space and were suddenly in the presence of another MASSIVE elephant. I was petrified because we were in such an open space that being seen by this elephant would not be ideal! The elephant had heard something and slowly turned around, while the 5 of us bounded after our guides to hide in some bushes.

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The elephant turned away and we dashed away further to safety, and after watching him in all his glory for anther few minutes, continued our trek back to Kumily.

What did I learn from my experience looking for wild elephants in the Indian jungle?

1. Seeing elephants in the wild is terrifying (I admit I’m a but of a wuss when it comes to scary animals but I swear this would be scary for anyone). You feel so vulnerable, so small, so insignificant. At that moment there was no way out. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do but do your best to stay calm and take in as much of the experience (any experience!) as you can.

2. I have never felt so close to nature as I did that day. You have to take a bit of a risk and live life outside your comfort zone to remind yourself that you are alive! Seeing elephants in the wild is a very different experience to seeing them in a zoo.

3. Experiences make the best memories. Hell yeah I will spend however much it costs to do something like this. But spend $200 on an item of clothing…not so much.

4. Don’t always go with the easy option. Not just when looking for wild elephants, but for life in general. For me, trekking was the hard and scary option. But it was soooo worth it. If you go to Periyar, don’t do the boat trip.

5. Wild elephants > elephant rides. Please DO go trekking in India looking for wild elephants. You will never regret it.

What’s the scariest/bravest thing you’ve ever done?


10 Things I Love About India

Before I started The Butterfly Editions I used to write sporadically over on my first blog, Springjumps. Whilst I no longer write over there, I don’t want to lose some of my favourite posts! Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of my favourites, originally posted on Springjumps (slightly rewritten, so as not to confuse!). 


In December 2012 and January 2013 I was lucky enough to spend nearly two months backpacking around a country that I plan on going back to time and time again – India. I originally wrote this post about halfway through my time there, when I had travelled the Golden Triangle (Rajasthan, Agra & Varanasi) and had a few days hanging out on my own in Delhi before heading west to Gujurat to meet my brother.

I can visualise exactly where I was that afternoon in early January writing this post: perched at one of the communal computers at Smyle Inn (such a great hostel, right in the middle of the Main Bazaar + the best breakfasts). I was chilled to the bone, Northern India gets cold guys!

The following is a list of 10 things I loved and learnt in my first few weeks in the grand country that is India.

1. Camels. Turns out I really like camels. I only was able to do a one hour trek in Pushkar, but boy they can turn your mood around! Next time I’m in Rajasthan, I’m going do a camel safari in Jaisalmer for sure.


2. Markets. The markets are incredible! You never quite know what you’re going to get in your next breath…if it will be delicious or putrid. Full of a whole lot of unnecessary needs and wants, you can get lost for hours.


3. Henna. Is so pretty!


4. The peaceful havens of temples, gardens and water. In such a chaotic place, it is such an amazing feeling when you find yourself surrounded by tranquility. Some of my favourites: the Jain temple in Ranakpur, Lodi Gardens in Delhi, being rowed along the Ganges in Varanasi, and the abandoned hilltop temple we watched the sun rise from in Pushkar.

Lodi Gardens, Delhi

Lodi Gardens, Delhi

5. Pushkar. Small (less than 15,000 people), genuine and beautiful, Pushkar is an oasis set amongst a desert backdrop. I felt so relaxed there!

Pushkar at dawn

Pushkar at dawn

6. The kind people. This is India, and the brutal truth is that not everyone is genuine, or honest. But, many are! We met a lovely Indian family on our train to Varanasi who stayed awake right through the night to help us so that we wouldn’t miss our stop.

7. They fight for what they want. On a small scale: shopkeepers non-stop hassling you to buy their goods. On a large scale: the protests and uproar over the gang rape in Delhi that horrifically resulted in the death of a girl a couple of weeks ago. Positive change is happening right now in India as a direct outcome of this.


Protests in Delhi last week

8. The food. You definitely need a break from it every now and then, but there is no denying that Indian food is one of the greatest cuisines in the world. It is also a lot more diverse than the Indian restaurants back home would have us believe! Yum, yum, yum. By the time I get home, I think I’ll be obese! (edited to add: actually, I got food poisoning and came home lighter than when I left!)


9. The beauty. Its smelly, dirty and quite often run down, but you can’t deny that India has a magical sparkle that makes it one of the most beautiful countries around. The colours, the sparkly saris, the henna, the wildlife, the music, the architecture…


Amer Fort, Jaipur

10. The history. India’s history is deep, rich and diverse. There is so much to learn, see and explore. It’s an ultimate destination for history-lovers!

You just never quite know what to expect. Sometimes its good, sometimes its incredible, and other times its a tad frustrating, but that’s half the fun. You just have to keep in mind, that whatever you’re expecting, it is probably going to be exactly the opposite!

Have you experienced India? Is it on your travel wishlist?