One mother. One sister. One wife. One child. One dog. One pet rabbit. Twenty four elephants.

At first, I was uncomfortable with the idea of captive elephants existing for the bidding of humans.

"You will be assigned your very own elephant. Learn to communicate with eyes, voice and smell, feed and, through these, develop a special bond. Ride into the jungle, perhaps encounter panthers, water buffalo, wild pigs. Then adorn your elephant with a tapestry of paint."
But online research of Elephantastic revealed that these were rescued animals, from zoos and circuses. Tourist rupees cover the costs, there's no government nor institutional funding. This ranch, amongst a village of such sanctuaries, is differentiated by its philosophy. Grounded in devout Hinduism, even the wild pigeons are fed. "Good karma."
(If you go: be sure to book with Raul of Elephantastic, not 'the Elephantastic,' a rival and less humane ranch)

Each elephant has its own house, the footprint of its room about the size of a six car garage, and it's own human family - for life. Caretaker families live in a room of the elephant's house, use no whips nor hooks, and commit to the care of their behemoth for the span of several human generations. Devoted to their companion, their lives and livelihoods are this amazing beast.
And I truly did experience a sense of bonding. Elephants identify firstly through smell, secondly thru sound and touch. So "stand close, stroke much, feed upon request." It's important to feed your new friend, elephants love to eat, and they need to know you aren't here to steal their food. The 'request' came in the form of an inquiring nose, sometimes a nudge, or a swinging if the trunk when my attention strayed. Within minutes, Lakshmi was stepping toward me when I moved away from leaning into her trunk or shoulder; turning her head to look me in the eye; and, (really?) touching her bindi to mine.

Mother and sister and wife welcomed us into the family home and prepared a sumptuous thali - an assortment of little dishes served with rice, naan, and chutni. Moema's special chutni, a light yogurt with mint, coriander and basil, was refreshing as it was complex. Pet Bunny hopped amongst us, checking out our feet, climbed low, stuffed-fabric stools for a broader view, and distracted us from the many wall hangings and figurines that crowded the tiny sitting room of their home. Many 'danuval's later saw us to the door, and she would accept no gift of rupees. Felt strange after days of fending off grasping hands and desperate hearts.

Back out into the soft sunlike day, Lakshi bore us well, her rolling stride lulled my body to relax and flow. I was surprised to realize that muscles in back, shoulders and neck, tight from carrying packs and holding awkward postures required of rickshaw riding with four, let go and tension dissolved away. I could feel her vertebra through several layers of quilted padding, they were as broad as my pelvis! My riding companion softly rose the chant, "Duhl Jelal Wal Ikrum," Stride with Divine Majesty.

After a sugarcane treat (the elephants, not us!), Lakshmi seemed to enjoy being adorned. I swear she preened.

What a day! Pleasant contrast to yesterday, with our speaks-too-fast, profiteering tour guide. "Won't you buy something from my friend?" And, "Oh, the Elephant Village is closed, instead, you hire me to take you to the Amber Forte." If you go: know that this is not rude, in the context of the culture you have invaded. All but the very top 1% scrambles for existence! There is always commission to be made, and, "buddy can you spare a dime?" It's difficult to not anger at the blatant lie, especially since it was confirmed by our coach driver, who had been with us for days. But our leader had been in close contact with Raul, and sternly admonished both driver and guide. Still, the constant barrage of want can wear you out. Even the colorfully uniformed guards at the Palace asked for a tip whenever a picture was snapped, or they believed one was.

The Palace Complex provides a glimpse of the gluttony of times past, the Maharajas of Ragistan. Literally, gluttony. Portraits of all but the last of each generation's despot were as wide as they were tall to accommodate the girth of their subject. The last had been educated in Britain, the difference - in costume, manner AND body, was huge.

Tired and dirty, the evening tempted us to just hang out at our beautiful Hotal Arya Niwas, a palace of an accommodation, and not only because if the contrast to Agra. There are four Arya Niwas in the Jaipur area, all owned by one family, and I highly recommend them to you. It's obvious they take great pride in their offerings of accommodations, food and service. Rooms are clean, comfortable, and tastefully decorated, the gardens lush and inviting. Locally produced ceramic lamps adorn marble hallways, along with precious bowls of marigolds floating in water. Staff is friendly and not invasive. Yummy food is prepared to order, and more to Western taste (ie, no steam coming out of our ears). Laundry service is fairly priced and dependable. And yet, this is the least costly hotel on the trip! Location, location, location.

Soooo, to lounge about this inviting abode, read and write and sip some tea?

But one if our number had gone out the night before and discovered a treasure! So off we set, four to a rickshaw, bumping along the 2 kilometers back to the Palace complex, then winding round and round thru tiny backstreets to the inner compound of The Lake. This architectural remnant of a prior time of opulence has been recently revived and this month the grounds and pavilion serve as setting for a nightly trans-inducing 2 hours of traditional Rajinstani folk music. From our low-cushion repose, sparkling fabrics waft in the breeze, framing the stage and offering glimpses behind of the lake and the distant lights of the city and the stars. Drumming! Singing! Dancing! Colors! Passion! You'll have to wait for my return when I can upload the videos. I hope to introduce this heritage group to The Painted Bride.

An unbelievably bumpy ride, in a golf cart bedecked in fringes and mirrors and shredded silks, back to the Arya and a late-night snack of 'cheese sandwich' - open faced toast with diced tomatoes and cheese, grilled to a lovely golden brown - tops off the best day yet.

Tomorrow, one last tasty breakfast in the dining room of Arya Niwas, then coach to Pushkar.