The small city of Amer in the outskirts of Jaipur in Rajasthan, is the home of many elephants. Most live now in a village that has been specially designed for the mahouts, their families and their imposing animals.
In my wanderings, I met a group of twenty-one mahouts and their elephants who didn’t live in the village, but inside the city of Amer, close to the beautiful Amber Palace where they work. These young men, who belong to the lowest casts in India, don’t own their elephant and work for a manager who takes care of their lodging and food.
In Amer, a tourist pays 900 roupies to ride an elephant up the hill of the Amber Palace. A mahout earns a salary of 1500 roupies per month plus tips. Each elephant has to do at least four rides a day.
Quick math tells that these men live in the conditions of what I would call “modern serfdom”. I don’t think the word is too strong. Yet, they are among the most beautiful human beings I have ever met. Meeting them has left me with mixed feelings of joy and indignation.