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I've seem a documentary in which a host is washing elephants somewhere in India (I believe it was Kerala) but I can't remember where I've seen it.

enter image description here Image courtesy of tiagopereira and is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

So... I'd like to know where in India are foreigners allowed to wash (and play with) the elephants? Do you have to pay for the experience or do you just ask the owner?

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Thanks for the photo mindcorrosive... –  John Doe Feb 1 '12 at 14:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

If you're expecting to wash / play with a 'family-owned' elephant, perish the thought! Elephants are expensive creatures to care and feed for, and you aren't going to find personal families owning elephants.

Here's what you can do: go to a wildlife sanctuary / national park in India. Mark's answer mentions Jim Corbett National Park, which is in Northern India, close to the town of Nainital. Corbett National Park is actually best known for as a tiger reserve - part of a project known as Project Tiger to conserve tiger population in India. (As in aside, do read Man Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett; it's a brilliant-if-dated book that took a first serious look at how human populations could live in harmony with tigers without harming their population.) Corbett National Park is one of few national parks with a sizeable elephant population, so that's one you can consider.

I gather from your other questions that you have Kerala in your itinerary. Each nature reserve in India has its own signature animal, and while Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala is a technically a tiger reserve too it is best known as an elephant reserve. As part of organised tours you can book, you will be able to do the activities you're interested in. Obviously, tours like these can be somewhat pricey (this depends on what you consider "pricey") as the money goes towards conservation efforts - and is also somewhat touristy. At least you know what you're spending is going towards a good cause.

Another option is: go to a temple in South India! Elephants are worshipped in South Indian culture and many temples have their own stable of elephants that are worshipped, bathed, and fed daily. Now this isn't something that is organised so I don't know how you can confirm / ensure you get to do it (since the elephants are holy, many people want to do it), but temple devotees do do it (but then, as a non-Hindu I'm not sure whether you'll be allowed?). One of the temples particularly famous for its collection of elephants is Guruvayur Temple (again in Kerala). Regardless, a trip to see temple elephants is totally worth it!

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Great, thank you. I'll surely visit temples in Kerala and see if I get to bathe and "pet" the elephants. Even though Periyar National Park is not on my route, I'll try and make a day trip there once I get to Kerala... –  John Doe Feb 1 '12 at 14:49
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@rlesko: Guruvayoor is a spot-on choice for seeing elephants at close hand, I'm not sure if Guruvayoor allows foreigners to bathe the elephants though - since the elephants are sacred to the temple priests. However take a look at this place tripadvisor.in/… in Guruvayoor just outside the temple –  JoseK Feb 2 '12 at 9:04

Dubare Elephant camp near Coorg in Karnataka which allows visitors to wash the elephants. The camp is maintained by the forest department. Should you wish to stay at the camp you can stay at Jungle Lodges and resort or it can be done as a day visit staying in Coorg or Mysore.

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In Jim Corbett National Park, you can touch, hand-feed and bathe the elephants - the full experience.

Get the Elephant Experience at Jim Corbett National Park

The experience and camp is claimed to include:

  • Reception Centre with displays of elephant and other animals in the park.
  • Boutique Gift Shop, featuring a massive range of wildlife related products.
  • A 42 seat Restaurant with spectacular views of the mountains and forest.
  • Snack Bar & Photo Kiosk Visitors Can: Ride Elephants through the forest of Durgadevi (additional to entrance fee)
  • Touch and hand feed Elephants
  • Watch Elephants playful bathing rituals Have photos taken with elephants
  • Enjoy & learn amazing facts from information centre, museum and from park staff about Elephant, Tiger and other mammals.

Tripadvisor has a review of the Dera Amer Elephant Safari, which includes this descriptive quote:

This place was AMAZING!!!! The service, the people, and most of all, the elephants!!! This was my favorite night of all, washing, painting elephants, riding one into the sunset (as they greet us half way with cold water and wine) and have a delicious dinner while being catered to as if we were king and queen. Beautiful grounds, amazing staff....love love love. Will remember this night always.

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Thanks for the info, it seems great. I hope I'll be able to get Jim Corbett National Park in my itinerary. –  John Doe Feb 1 '12 at 14:44

protected by Ankur Banerjee Jul 20 '13 at 16:33

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