Kerala: Was That an Elephant?

So, it was holiday time and we had decided to get away from the city and have a holiday in Kerala. We had got in touch with a driver that someone had recommended called Prakash, and he was there to pick us up when we arrived at the airport. We stopped off at a beer shop to get some beers to take with us to the first guest house that we had booked in advance. We arrived late and it wasn’t until the morning that we could appreciate the view from our balcony, looking out over mountains and tea plantations.

The view from the balcony

In the morning we became proper tourists and our first point of call was to check out the Jeep Night Safari. We booked a jeep and a guy was going to pick us up early afternoon and get us back to our guest house about 9.00pm so we had some time to eat before we went to bed. We realised that if we had any chance of seeing some animals in the wild, we would have wait until dusk, when we were told most of them roam free. While it was still light, the driver drove us around the tea plantations and the scenery and green hills were a wonder to see after living in Mumbai for so long.

It was a long afternoon in the jeep, and after being bumped and bashed around all day, we were starting to get tired. But not the driver: dusk was approaching and he came alive. He had been paid to take us on a night safari and that was what he was going to do. We tried to share in his enthusiasm but the tiredness, especially from the boys, was kicking in. The driver was determined to show us as many animals as he could. We especially wanted to see a wild elephant, so this thought keep us looking and keen. He knew all the quiet roads, but even the quietest of roads were full of other jeeps looking for the evening wildlife. I did wonder what animal would make itself known with jeep headlights shining in its direction all the time.

So after it just turned dusk, the driver’s enthusiasm increased, and so did our tiredness. After a further two hours of not seeing too much, except the odd bison (which became the holiday joke; every time an animal of any size or shape was seen, we would copy what the driver first shouted: ‘Bison!’).


Michelle asked the driver to turn back and we would call it a day. By this time Theo was asleep in the back, it had been a long day, a full day of sightseeing and we were ready for bed. But the driver would not listen: wild elephant was all he was talking about and that’s all he wanted to show us. Michelle decided to sit up front with the driver, firstly because she felt sick being bumped about in the back of the jeep, secondly because she was feeling cold and thirdly, most importantly, to try to convince the driver to take us home. But he still wasn’t listening.

‘There is one more national park, sure elephants’ he said.

‘OK, one more,’ we agreed; after all it would be fantastic to see an elephant in the wild.

‘How far to this national park?’ I asked.

‘Only 10 km – will be there in no time, then I am sure elephants’.


We drove into the national park, the road was new and so much better than the roads we had been bumping around on for nearly three hours. I thought, maybe the elephants prefer new tarmac to walk on.

Then Andrew, who had not said anything for hours, and to be honest I thought was asleep like Theo was, started to come to live and get excited.

‘I can smell elephants,’ he said full of enthusiasm.

‘Ha’ the driver agreed.

I was thinking I can’t’ but I didn’t know what an elephant would smell like anyway. So for a 12 year old boy to be able to smell an elephant and I couldn’t, I was a bit confused. But I just went along with it.

‘Smell it?’ Andrew asks again

‘Yes,’ I said but I am not sure what sort of smell I should be trying to smell. Then the whole jeep including Theo that had just woke up started sniffing, it was something like out of a comedy scene.

‘It sort of comes, then goes again,’ Andrew continued.

‘Does it?’ I thought.

The driver piped up, ‘sure elephant, ha.’

‘Definitely elephant,’ Andrew said.

‘Yes, elephant,’ replied the driver, who by now was happy to have another member in the jeep sharing in his determination to see an elephant.

Michelle and I just looked at each other. Where?

Then the silence hit amongst the odd bit of sniffing, and we just all looked out of the jeep and into the wilds, but really all we could see was dark, and forest. This silence continues for about 20 minutes.


Then the silence is broken and we all jump.

‘I can smell elephant poo,’ Andrew bellows.

‘I think that is mummy’s hair,’ I replied

Michelle looks back from the front seat, and doesn’t even reply to such a low level poor joke.

But, then I agree I can smell it too.

‘Yes, elephants,’ the driver shouts.

Then a motor bike comes in the opposite direction flashing his lights. The driver stops and talks to the guy on the motor bike and all I can hear is the word elephant. He drives off and our driver drove on.

‘Elephant,’ he says again.

‘Where I ask?’

‘In front,’ the driver replies as he seems to hold the steering wheel tighter. Could this be the big moment?

‘How many?’ I ask.

‘Only one, up in front’

I am thinking if I don’t see a herd I will settle for one. Even Theo is now fully awake.

‘Where are the elephants?’ he asks.

‘In front, and there is only one,’ I say before the driver can answer.

Then the silence starts all over again, no speaking, even the sniffing for elephant poo has stopped, because now we can all smell it. We’re all looking out of the jeep’s windows, hoping to see an elephant.

Then the same conversation starts again, ‘I can smell it, yes elephant, where is the elephant?’

This goes on for another 20 minutes and I am trying not to laugh at the strange situation we all find ourselves in, in some jeep, in the dark, trying to find an elephant. Then we see it.

‘Over there,’ the driver yells

‘Where?’ we all say at once.

He stops the jeep is this the moment of seeing our first elephant in the wild?

No, is the answer. The driver stops and show us the elephant poo, but no elephant. We have missed our chance.

Then it is then a 3 hour bumpy ride back to the hotel.

So, NO elephant, NO dinner because it was too late to eat. NO ice for the beer I had bought earlier. So NO to a warm beer, NO to a late night snack. But yes to bed, and to see our first elephant in the wild we will have to wait for another day.


No warm beer for me, trying to chill in a bucket of water.

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