Coconut Juice and Elephants

Day 3  – Cochin to Guruveyoov

Upon packing up at our hotel in Cochin, we discovered that Tatiana’s Epipens  (adrenalin injectors for her allergies) had been stolen, as it was in what looked like a purse-belt. This annoyed me so much, it is of no use to anyone but us. Fortunately I had brought two spare Epipens along with us, but still…

Once on the road, we stopped for a refreshment of fresh coconut water (which is different to milk) and put fresh jasmine garlands in our hair. I love the way the Indian women do such a good job of being pretty.  Bangles, make up, earrings, ornate flowing bright fabrics and flowers in their hair, so feminine.

On the road to Guruveyoor

On the road to Guruveyoor

We traveled three hours South to Guruveyoov where we visited Banudhur Elephant Camp. Being from Africa ourselves, where elephants are free to roam in thousands of acres we found this a very distressing place, so much so we all asked to leave.  These 65 elephants are all chained (24 hours a day, 365 days a year) to a post. Occasionally they get to go for a walk to drink water with their mahood (carer), but that is it.  These animals stay chained to their post by their back leg with less than a meter slack. I felt as if they were being humiliated – as they sway  from side to side,  displaying repetitive and distressing behavior of extreme boredom and sadness.

Elephant Camp at Guruveyoor

Elephant Camp at Guruveyoor

I looked into a this female’s eyes and she just seemed so mournful that I felt disrespectful to them to even take photos.   They are kept purely for religious festivals when they are decorated for processions.  The rest of the time they wait and do not even get to “work” to ease their boredom.   People come from so far to walk amongst these elephants, but it was wrong, wrong, wrong.  I was uncomfortable and helpless being witness to the misery of these giants who humans have not respected or understood.  It was entirely possible, at any point, for one of them to lose control and charge – those chains would be nothing to stop them, yet I almost wished for such a triumph. I am angry that the corrupt government in India allows for this to happen. In fact it is the government who buy the elephants from people who capture them from the forests – beating and scaring them into submission –  and it is the government who sells them to private owners. This encourages the trade to continue. Such intelligent creatures, they must be in hell. For 80-90 years they will live this cruel life and the humans will benefit from their misery.  My mind wonders back to them every few minutes – with so many pressure groups, how can this be allowed to continue ?

We were all quiet and subdued last night.  For me and George, it was a stark reminder of what much of India is all about, a sort of symbolism of all that is unfair here, the second most corrupt country in the world (after Pakistan). There is much suffering, many very, very thin old people sleep on the streets, they look “haunted” in the depth of their eyes, just like those elephants, yet they submit, powerless to change anything in this life and do all they can to survive another day, another week, another month.

Our kids struggle to grasp this concept, asking the same questions over and over, or offer futile solutions. They can’t accept that it is the way it is, in particular Tatiana. It is exhausting to process this,  an education in life, that some things we can’t fix, but it does not mean we should not acknowledge and see suffering, in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable or upset.


About Amanda Stergianos

Amanda Stergianos, founder of SAReunited, is starting a new chapter in her life. After 17 years in London, she and her husband George are taking their kids out of school and preparing for an off-the-beaten track adventure of our globe. She'll be blogging about her travels on the way...


  1. Marlis Dunn says

    It makes me very sad to read your story about these noble animals chained for their entire life. never being able to roam. It is extreme cruelty of the worst kind. It is the same with dolphins and whales in tanks trained to entertain at disney world. I do not visit zoos or circuses or disney world or any animal shows, because I abhor these places for the cruelty inflicted upon the animals and it is my way to NOT support these place, so that by example perhaps one day these places will no longer exist.

    • Marlin, I agree, I do not visit zoos myself, but I went on the recommendation that this place was an elephant sanctuary – rather than a jail. Once we got there we realised it was not what we thought, and we left. I take the stand that I have the reach to tell people about this, which is why I ended up there. Hence me writing about it, and I hope that word spreads and people will put pressure to stop this kind of cruelty. Amanda