River Wissey Lovell Fuller


April 2011

Ian provides his usual lighthearted look at life

April 2011

Management gets airborne (and we are charged double!)

During January, Head Office and I spent a holiday at the southern tip of India in Thiruvananthapuram. If we wanted to go anywhere, we used a local tuk-tuk driver called Ben who drove with considerable vigour. Tuk-tuks are like motor cycles with a cab on the back. They have a one cylinder engine with a 360cc capacity, powered by a petroil mixture and travel at 22mph, which is quite fast enough on their roads. When travelling in a tuk-tuk, you have an intimate relationship with the road as there is no obvious form of suspension. It took me 2 days to learn how to get in and out of the machine - turn sideways, insert your bottom and allow the rest of the body to follow. If you do it wrong, you get stuck!

One of our outings in Ben's Tuk-tuk was to an elephant sanctuary about 12 miles away (about an hour and a great deal of pot-hole avoidance). We arrived in the customary cloud of dust and petroil mix fumes to see the sign on the gate "Agasthyavanam Biological Park Elephant Rehabilitation Centre - Kerala Forests & Wildlife Department - Kottoor Eco-Tourism - Avoid Plastics, save Nature - Admission charges: Indian 10 rupees Foreigners 20 rupees Children's 3 rupees" Well, even the misplaced apostrophe didn't get a mention in my comments to management about the double charging of foreigners! The mind wanders to the Annual General Meeting of the Kerala Forests and Wildlife Department at which the subject under discussion would have been "How can we promote tourism and encourage foreign tourists to visit out elephant sanctuary in the middle of nowhere up a 6 mile track which is a nightmare for tuk-tuk passengers?" Suggestions such as improving the access road, building a small restaurant, providing toilets, using advertising and promoting the sanctuary through travel agents, would all have been forgotten when some bright spark piped up "I know, let's charge them double!". The idea was so attractive that immediate implementation occurred and a whole generation of foreign tourists was alienated. However, I paid up and shut up while Head Office kept pointing out that, even at double charge, we were only paying 28p each for entry.

Those who visited the elephants had the opportunity to go in the lake with the elephants and give them a good scrub with a coconut shell, getting thoroughly wet and muddy in the process. My reason for visiting the elephant sanctuary was to have a ride on an elephant. As I get older, I realise that there are many things I have not done but would like to do, and this was one of those projects. I went to buy my ticket "Elephant Rides - Children's 30 rupees, Adults: Indians 100 rupees, Foreigners 200 rupees". This was serious money during an Indian holiday, where a couple of quid should last a day or two, and paying double hurt even more (200 rupees is nearly £3.00) but no expense should be spared in pursuit of one's ambitions so I coughed up and wished the attendant well in the search for his parents (Nobody spoke English so I was fairly safe). Management had not been keen to ride an elephant as she had feared the problems of getting on board. When she saw the steps and the platform provided for that purpose and how docile the elephant looked, she changed her mind, decided to get airborne on the elephant, and I had to traipse back to the gate to pay double again (Oh, the stress!).

In my mind, those providing elephant rides should also provide a nice red seat. For our double charge, we got a sack thrown over the elephant's back and a piece of rope around her neck (the elephant, not Deannie). We climbed the ramp and a little Indian man gently helped Deannie on board, sitting her on the nice comfortable bit at the back of the elephant's neck, with the rope to hold. He pointed to the elephant's back and let me get on with it. Now, elephants are designed for one rider and the back of an elephant very rapidly turns into a horizontal platform about 5ft wide - this was to be my seat. I have never been very supple and I have never been able to do "the splits" forward and backwards, let alone sideways as was required now. My legs spread farther and farther apart, inner thigh muscles and tendons twanging and tearing, until all my pelvic bones were in contact with the elephant's vertebral spinous processes. Oh dear, such discomfort in the nether regions. This discomfort paled into insignificance as the elephant started top move. The large back muscles seemed to move alternately forward and backwards, dragging my pelvic bone across the elephant's bony spine. Perhaps I should move sideways a bit? Oh no, I might fall off - people have been killed falling off ladders smaller than the height of this elephant. So, the photos taken by our tuk-tuk driver show Management sitting comfortably, grinning and enjoying the experience, with an uncomfortable lump, more or less hidden behind her, fighting cramp and torn muscles with a great fear of falling off, but putting on a really brave face.

Ben then took us to a crocodile sanctuary, the conditions of which were so cruel as to be unbelievable, and the sign on the gate said "Adult Indians 5 rupees Children's 3 rupees Foreigners 10 rupees". The man taking the money actually spoke some English, agreed that he would love to visit England but did not take kindly to my suggestion that we might charge him double. He didn't seem to understand when I wished him well in the search for his parents!

One day, after we had been out, we bumped into Paddy and Mick. Both looked really fed up and they were arguing furiously. Misguidedly, they had moved to India to open a pub. As the area is completely tee-total, they had failed miserably. Paddy wanted to open a brothel instead and, as we arrived, Mick was saying "If we can't sell beer, how on earth will we persuade them to buy soup?" Best wishes,

Ian G. Nisbet

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