7weeks in India – When the elephants come

Tribal village shop
Tribal village shop

We all know them: the famous “painted and decorated ” elephants from India. Elephants are much respected and many celebrations can’t be done without them. But there is also a “normal elephants’ life” aside. On the roads in the rural parts of Tamil Nadu (what means most of the region) you will find signs saying “Even elephants have right for way. Don’t obstruct the passage“. The elephants live everywhere here – in the woods, on the hills, the mountains and valleys. Often tribal and rural people tell about them.

Toilet doors
Toilet doors
Where the streets end - a remote village
Where the streets end – a remote village

We arrive in a very remote village up in the mountains where some development project has taken place. There is no infrastructural service available, there are no buses arriving here. A self-help group has been set up several years ago, and two years ago – because of the distance to the next villages – even a small paddy shop with some basic food: Rice, noodles, cookies, chili powder, few toothbrushes. There is not much in it, but people from the surroundings are very happy to be able to buy here. “Once a week fresh we try to get new supply. Sometimes we have the opportunity to go to the next town with some of the development managers or other visitors. Some of the food is delivered by vendors themselves. Unfortunately, we lack of vegetables. Here we do not have vegetables and the next vendor is too expensive”, the young woman behind the store tells me. The shop is a kind of container that can be shut down when the village people are not there. Without windows and made completely out of iron. This is important, because we have many animals here around in the village and some are really strong. The goats would get in and eat the food. The elephants would destroy wooden walls and windows. The elephants pass by frequently… She shows me a sanitation building that is at the other end of the village. There are three small dark units with only very small windows at the upper wall – without any glass. The sanitation building is clean. Two toilets and a washing room, not more than 2 m² each. When this building was constructed,” she explains, “the elephants became curious. They came and tried to open the doors. They destroyed part of them. Therefore, we had to build a stone wall in front of the entries to set up a kind of small corridor where no elephant can enter any more.” I can see it: there are still traces on the doors… Later that day we arrive at a kindergarten in another small village in this valley. It is a stone building with a heavy iron door. And again with small windows only – just gaps in the wall. So, it is rather dark inside. The teacher tells us that yesterday there where some students in the village, when the elephants came. Those were university students, conducting some survey.

Saving the toilets
Saving the toilets

The village people brought them in the kindergarten and shut the door. Just for safety reasons. “These people are coming from big cities. Better to make them stay inside. Elephants are not dangerous – we know what to do. But they don’t …” We, the ones from the other world, have no clue at all about all these basic abilities that are needed to survive in a world without technologies, supermarket and infrastructure.

PS: Today just after posting we went to another village, up to the top of the mountains. The road is accessible only for a fewpeople and the tribals themselves. After a while the road ends in a simple path, going by car bets difficult. And there we saw them: The elephants – wild and strong, not far away.

We see a wild elephant
We see a wild elephant

The two tribal villages get support now by the government to build a long wall around the area and a deep dig. “The elephants destroy too much… and it is dangerous for our people. In this region, every year around 5 – 7 people die  – just because of the elphants…”

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