Today is the day for an elephant ride in the Laotian jungle. We board a made-up catamaran canoe with chairs on the deck for us to experience the crossing of the Mekong River. A coach ride for 40 minutes, transfers us to where our elephants are grazing, waiting for us. Boarding an elephant can be one tedious task. (I do have photos, but I’m not allowed to show, of Lyn boarding ours). After all of us had boarded, we headed off up a trail, past rice fields and towards the jungle.
Elephants are graceful, but purposeful in their movements. Riding one is like you are receiving a bottom massage REAL deep – thanks for the chairs between our botts and a moving bag of bones. The leading elephant was a little on the ‘slow’ side and held the rest of us up from getting to the top of hill in good time. He started to slow significantly and our driver, who was leading his/our elephant, started ‘whipping’ him around the ankles to hurry him up. (We could tell the elephant was a ‘man’ as he identified himself with great gusto). I saw his driver grab his hooked prodder, and suddenly the elephant went down on his back legs and rolled onto his side. Of course, his passengers and driver were thrown off. The other elephants started to appear agitated and the ones to the rear did a quick U-turn back home and two moved quickly forward away from the scene. When I first saw the elephant go down, I immediately thought he had had a heart attack and because there was no movement to try to get up, it seemed he had died.
The elephant which we were on, showed hesitancy to move on as we motioned to our driver to move away further up the trail. It was a difficult time for us all as we wondered how the passengers were. We could not get down to run back to help them. So for the next 1.5km, two elephants with 4 people were in pure unbelief, not being aware of what was happening behind us, while the others were headed back to where the coach was. We ‘disembarked’ at the top of the climb and refused to get back on. We then casually walked, with shaking knees, most of the way back to the coach before motor bikes ferried us back. Where the elephant ‘went down’ was an enormous ‘load’ of what elephants do when they have a heart attack, and no elephant. We thought that in the past 40 minutes, someone had come and ‘dragged’ the beast into the bush.
Since then the following has been ‘worked out’. It seems that the driver must have prodded the elephant in the forehead in a most sensitive spot and knocked him out. He went down for the count. Our guide for the event, jumped off her elephant to check our clients and called an ambulance and a vet. The ambulance took the clients to the local hospital and thence on to the larger hospital in Pakse. Fortunately, there are no breakages but quite heavy shock. The guy has returned to tell us what he saw happening and what caused the nasty event. We are all so relieved that they are safe and also that the elephant is still alive. The village vet injected ‘something’ into the elephant and it returned to the village. I’m sure I saw it grazing on my return.
Lyn and I have been quite upset at the event but there is nothing more that we could have done to help. Large animals need to be taken care of with trust, even though humans may have been injured along the way. Medical reports are saying that she is sitting up and conversing normally and the ‘shocked’ state is wearing off. (I haven’t mentioned names for obvious reasons.)
The return trip to our resort was very quiet initially with the tissue box being handed around to a number of very concerned fellow travellers. We then felt it good therapy for us all to talk about the situation to relieve that tension amongst ourselves.
After lunch, we took a short rest before an excursion to Vat Phou, a pagoda up a steep climb, not too far from the resort. It was also good therapy to get some strenuous activity happening.
The religious complex of Vat Phou, a combination of Khmer architecture and Hindu religion, is located at the foot of a hill.
The summit, the Phou Kao, immediately attracts one’s attention because of its shape, identified in ancient times as the linga, the phallic symbol of Shiva, from which its ancient name, Lingaparvata, originated, and its reputations as a sacred hill.
The permanent spring, at the foot of the cliffs, is probably one of the main reasons that prompted the ancient rulers of the area to establish a Shivaist sanctuary there.
The walk up to the pagoda was treacherous as we climbed a steep stone stairway with high narrow steps. But once achieved, the view was fabulous. The spring of water was interesting coming out of a rock face and into a wooden gutter before into a pipeline which went to wherever. Descending was more difficult than our ascent. But we made it to the base before enjoying some great reflections in the late evening.
Here’s a few orchids and flowers along the way.
Tomorrow, we fly to Luang Prubang in the north of Laos.