Hsipaw

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Somehow Ralph, Manfred and Fridel persuaded me to accompany them on a trek to an elephant camp some two hours downstream.  I was determined not to set out in the rain but come the morning that's just what I did.   But not before a trip to the market to buy a very cheap pair of green cotton 'army boots' in which to walk.   

We sat on hard planks plowing through the sometimes turbulent water.   Not exactly white water but white enough for me, a non swimmer in a glorified canoe without a life vest.   Fridel who promised to save me in the event of capsize you will notice is fast asleep.  How anyone could get comfortable enough to sleep is a mystery to me.

 

Within minutes of reaching the shore we were wading through a stream bed, the first of many,   In fact most of the trek was through water.  At first we tried to keep our shoes dry by removing them but eventually decided they would have to get wet.  We walked for two hours, knee deep in dung and mud and who knew what else.  Large turds and broken branches told us elephants were about.  A cheer went up when we caught their scent.   

The guys were great company,  Ralph singing old Beetles songs kept up a good pace and Fridel  was a laugh a minute.  Camp, when we reached it consisted of a single hut on stilts made of vines, bamboo and cane with a nat shrine in the corner. Five bedrolls indicated the size of the labour force.  A change of clothes did double duty as pillows and there were no creature comforts in evidence.  A hard life indeed.   There was no sign of elephants but we were assured they were in the area.  We ate our packed lunch with tea made by the Karen oozie and mandarin oranges which our Shan guide had picked from trees en-route.

Because of the danger of getting too close to the elephants we were kept by the hut, but as time passed security became lax and we wandered across the stream and climbed on to the log piles. Time and daylight were running out, we had been waiting for over an hour, they would have to come soon or we would have to leave without seeing them.

 Fridel ventured along the path then came running back with the news that the elephants were coming, he had seen them.  I called to tell him that if he got between my camera and the beasts I would kill him if they didn't trample him first. 

Suddenly they were there, two elephants with Oozie's on their backs.  In the lead was a 24 year old fully grown female with a noticeably younger animal close behind.  We had almost given up hope, yet here we were standing on logs within a few feet of real working elephants.  

Within minutes they were gone.  It was a relief to find that I wasn't too tired to contemplate the long trek back to the boat.

We knew we would be running out of light so picked up the pace on the way back, arriving at the riverside in 90 minutes.  The waiting boat was a sight for sore eyes.  None of us fancied the rocky current in the pitch dark.  The low water level and many rocks were no problem for our boat men who seemed to know exactly where every rock was situated as they 'tacked' back and forth across the river.  It was raining and chilly on the water but the activity on the shore took our minds off our discomfort.  Whole families were bathing along with their buffalo, some fathers and sons fished but mostly they were just enjoying family time at the end of the working day.  Kingfishers skimmed the water and we spotted larger birds with orange ruffs and toucan like beaks along the way.

It was a long slog upstream but the Clocktower Guest House capped a fabulous day with  both light and hot showers.  What more can one ask?

2005 Update

I believe it is no longer permitted to visit elephants at a small  logging operation.  

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