[ It’s time to play catch up on travel from the past six months — first up, India!
Here’s the thing about the chaos of India: you can never really plan exactly how things will go. Despite one’s best effort to plan and iron out every last detail, there are absolutely no guarantees. And while the chaos will often chew you up and spit you out, sometimes it will deliver an experience to you that is more beautiful than you could have ever planned or imagined.
This exact thing happened one Thursday morning in November.
I heard that there was a wilderness preserve nearby where you could ride elephants to see Assam’s famed one-horned rhinos. Details were scant – there were only a few elephants, reservations were necessary, we should go early in the morning. When we piled in a car at 5:30 a.m. I had very low expectations for the day. I assumed there would be a problem with our car or our reservations or that there wouldn’t be enough elephants. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had showed up to a glorified farm with an elephant on it.
We arrived and were served tea, and then we walked across a hanging bridge to a grouping of small homes on stilts. Each home belonged to an elephant keeper and an elephant. We walked up and met the elephants. It was surreal – where else can you just walk up and pet an elephant (or five)?
From there we walked over to the Elephant Riding Station (such a thing exists!) and boarded our respective elephants. There were plenty of elephants to go around. We breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The elephants carried us along a dirt road, through a forest and then out into a grassy clearing. I said to my fellow elephant passenger that I really didn’t even care if I saw any rhinos, riding an elephant on a misty morning in northeast India was quite enough.
Just a few moments later we saw the first rhino. Then another and another. The elephants walked up to the rhinos and we sat and watched from just a few feet away as the rhinos munched on their breakfast. Eventually the rhinos would tire of our gawking and trot off.
As we turned to head back, I laughed out loud at how dreamlike the whole thing was. Riding elephants in the foothills of Himalayas. Rhino spotting in the early morning mist. The morning air was cool and clarifying. All was calm and quiet, save for the inhale and exhale of the elephants and their big, plodding footsteps.
I have a new favorite sound: padding elephant feet walking through tall grass.
The entire experience was beyond expectation, otherworldly. I left feeling restored, decompressed and ready to dive back into the chaos on the other side of the hanging bridge.
Navigating the chaos tends to be an all-consuming task, so one’s mind never has time to contemplate the possibility that maybe, just maybe, things will all work out better than planned. When these better than expected experiences do pop up, one finds herself in absolute awe and a state of utter gratitude.
I left feeling a little less irritated, a little more hopeful. Maybe expectant is a better word – expectant, subconsciously eager for the next time the craziness would unfold into an entirely unexpected, once in a lifetime experience.