Rani, age 27
In the hills above coastal Kerala, there is yet another string of nature reserves. Some boast that they are filled with over 40 Bengal tigers (!), while in reality tiger sightings are extremely rare. Most have the garden-variety of spotted deer, birds, and, the now-ubiquitous Asian elephant.
Arjun, age 50
So instead of being herded into another all-terrain vehicle once we got out of the Backwaters, we instead decided to head to a place where we could actually ride the palatial-sized pachyderms. And so we did.
We rode Arjun, the 50-year-old elephant, through a small palm forest and through a village. Yes, we were a curiosity. Yes, we got to wave at locals, a la HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. And no, we weren't dressed half as well.
When Arjun dropped us off, we were then introduced to Rani, a 27-year-old female elephant, who obliged us by letting us scrub her down.
In return, she helped Janet get clean. As only elephants can.
Their skin is as tough as you'd imagine, which I could see at close range, and the tusks, well, they're just incredible close-up.
We got to feed Rani after her bath, and Janet's, which was kind of amazing. Not to mention intimidating. Her gullet went on forever!
Head to big round feet, we have loved all the elephants we came into contact with on this trip. They are awesome, in every sense of the word. They have such small, almost human-sized eyes, and somehow they are able to connect to us. We didn't see maltreatment here, at this elephant ranch, and the animals had shade and food and company aplenty. They have a long history of being work animals, dragging and carrying loads, so hopefully we didn't give Arjun any sciatica. But seeing them in the wild is heart-stopping, and we're glad we had a chance to do that on two separate occasions.