Wedding elephant in Assam, India

From Jorhat we travelled west for one and a half hours till we got to Kohora, a small village on the highway on the edge of Kaziranga National Park, a world heritage site; it’s home to rare one-horned rhinos, and boasts the highest concentration of wild tigers anywhere.

Kohora| Central Assam | North East India

We got off the state transport bus at Kohora because we were to spend a few nights in Kaziranga to see if we couldn’t see a tiger for the 7th time running.

We disembarked, strapped up our backpacks and started down a country lane to Iora. It’s a comfy hotel, high ceilings, spacious king-size beds, the sounds of birdsong, a tiled swimming pool and splashes of bright-pink bougainvillea around the lawns. Breakfasts serve the best cheese omelettes in the north east (Assamese: sis umlet).

The place holds sentiment for Sarah and me because we were married here for the second time (to each other). We had already had our English wedding in Cornwall.

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Going up the lane we passed the exact spot where I had to mount a 17 foot high elephant on our wedding day; it was literally going up memory lane.

Instructions for climbing a 17 foot high elephant on your wedding day

The first problem you have when climbing a 17 foot high elephant is that you have a 17 foot high elephant to climb.

Further complications can be that you’re dressed in Indian wedding clothes, are wearing curly-tipped Maharajah shoes and don’t have a step ladder.

It was my wedding day and I was to arrive on an elephant with my best man Paolo and led by my best Swiss-Italian man, Giovanni.

The three of us wore Indian clothes. As the groom, I wore Assamese wedding attire of a white knee-length shirt (kurta), holy leaves on a string around my head, a white silk scarf and a dhoti.

A dhoti is a single piece of cotton worn round the legs that is folded in layers and tied in to a knot at the back; it’s a large diaper but for grown men. It can be worn with or without a safety pin depending on your appetite for risk and your ability to cope with societal humiliation.

Either way it’s incredibly airy and comfortable in humid Assamese climes but it’s far from elephant climbing gear.

My outfit of choice for climbing an elephant would be as Spider-Man but this would make an unseemly entrance for the groom at an Indian wedding. My bride would not be happy.

Sarah was arriving at the wedding ceremony dressed in a stunning white and gold mekhela sador (Assamese sari) on a palanquin, an ornate seat carried by six men. I had already ensured the handsome ones were deselected.

When Paolo, Giovanni and I got to the elephant at Kohora a mile from the wedding venue, we stared up at this mighty beast, resplendent with howdah, moustachioed mahout and a canopy.

How was I to get up this huge hairy wall? My shoes, those curly-tipped ones, although they looked fabulously glittery and very regal, were already feeling like large pasta shells on my feet.

Furthermore, the shoes didn’t come in left or right, each shoe could be worn howsoever adding to their ill fit.

The mahout shouted an order to the elephant and she sat down. This still didn’t solve the problem. The seventeen foot high elephant became an eleven foot high elephant.

I tried to leverage some grip but my curly-tipped Maharajah shoes simply couldn’t gain traction on elephant skin.

Luckily there was a ditch close-by next to a wall and the elephant stepped down into the ditch and Paolo and I were able to mount the elephant comfortably from the wall.

We swayed in the howdah as she walked along towards the wedding venue. People came out of their houses to see us pass as Paolo and I gave our namaskars from under a colourful umbrella. Giovanni on the ground led the elephant.

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Soon we had a serious problem in front of us. A 17 foot high elephant with a howdah and umbrella reaches a height of 22 feet. This is very close to the height of overhanging electrical cables.

Paolo was getting emotional and said to me, “this one of the most special moments of my life.” The wily Mahout said to me,, “aapponi mook boksis dibo lagibo,” (you’d better give me a tip.)

My thoughts ranged from feeling soppy, the feeling of getting fleeced, worries of being late for the wedding or worries of turning up on time but electrocuted. I decided the latter issue was the most pressing and told the mahout if you want a tip, avoid that power cable, which he did.

We arrived at Iora to a welcome of Bihu dancers, with drums and pipes. Lots of guests were there. Fortunately the staff had brought out a step-ladder for our dismounting. It was perfect. Even my safety pin stayed in place.

Rani the elephant stood up on her hind legs and trumpeted to the guests. She then packed her trunk, with moustachioed mahout (now with generous tip) and made her way towards the exit.

I was happy Rani was a female elephant. I had heard scare stories of wedding elephants who, on departure, showed their fifth leg to the guests.

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The blog post ‘Helpful hints on how to climb a 17 foot elephant on your wedding day’ first appeared on http://www.heyloons.com and is part of the blog series called ’90 Days in South East Asia’

All the links to blog posts in the series are as follows:

1) I’m backpacking around Southeast Asia for 90 days

2) Packing for backpacking: 16 useful things to take on your travels

3) How to sleep on a flight (aches on a plane)

4) Flying past Mount Everest

5) A storm in an Assamese teacup

6) On the lazy man’s road: the story of Dhodar Ali

7) Digboi, the oil town in the rainforest

8) To Sivasagar: home of the Assamese kings

9) Things to see in Majuli, the world’s largest river island

10) An unexpected treat on the river Brahmaputra

11) Helpful hints on how to climb a 17 foot elephant on your wedding day

12) Where the rhinos roam

13) The Assamese Bihu: a time of unbridled joy

14) A tale of a dry day in India

15) Kalimpong and a magical Himalayan wedding

16) Chiang Mai, a pretty little temple town

17) Replanning our route, re-routing our plan

18) Luang Prabang in Laos: the jewel on the Mekong River

19) A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng

20) In the laid-back city of Vientiane

21) Laos: Caves, a jungle trek and the mysterious turquoise lake

22) On our way down south in Laos

23) Goodbye Laos, you beauty

24) Friday night at the Saigon Opera House

25) Getting over a fever

26) Vietnam days: Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi

27) Landing in the sea at Halong Bay, Vietnam

28) Mandalay Days

29) Bagan, the jewel of Myanmar

30) Three nights on Lake Inle in Myanmar

31) Finding a perfect perfume in Singapore

32) In Borneo, watching the orangutans at play

33) Watching turtles at Selingan Island

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