Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

A 35-year-old tradition comes to an end

In Singapore: I went on a night safari in Singapore which is very popular with the tourists. This is a safari of-its-own-kind and in a train that takes you around the Park where you see animals in a forest-like open area. Wild life enthusiasts would find it funny as all the different brightly-lit animal zones are constructed in such a way that no animal could go beyond the confines of its zone. I went there not as a tourist but to see how the corporates adopted various animals in Singapore.
For some tourists, who haven't been to forests or seen the natural habitats of wild animals, this safari offers a very different kind of experience. Something more than a zoo but less than a real safari. Among the many species of animals, quite a few, like the elephants, were from India.
The elephants reminded me of my last weekend in Jaipur when Rajasthan Diwas (March 30) or the state's official birthday celebrations was in full swing.
The elephants have always been a part and parcel of Rajasthan's royal traditions and even today the big fat Indian weddings are incomplete without the presence of at least two elephants standing on either sides of the entrance. The controversial elephant polo is a big attraction for the tourists. The most recent one was last month when the City Palace hosted an Australian polo team in town. Perhaps, the most popular attraction in Rajasthan for the tourists, especially the foreign ones, is the festival of Holi which observes an Elephant Festival Day.
The festival is organised by the Rajasthan Tourism Board on the eve of Dhulandi festival when people play with colours. In the bygone eras, royal processions featured the Maharaja sitting on gold or silver howda placed on the back of an elephant. Groomed to perfection and decked up in jewellery and colours, the elephants moved gracefully in a procession from early evening till dusk. That spirit had remained intact over the years.
The decorated elephants perform various acts and even play Holi with each other and spray colours from their trunks on the tourists. This event is among the highest selling tour packages. Artistes from various divisions perform on the stage and in the open ground as well.
The festival was started by none other than Rajmata Gayatri Devi when she became the chairman of RTDC in the 80s. The Festival was shifted to the City Palace and then to Khasa Kothi and from there to the Chogan Stadium. But the increasing number of tourists over the years forced the organisers to move to the Rambagh Polo Grounds in recent years. I was there last year and found that the sheer number of foreign tourists had made even this big ground seem smaller.
This year, just a day before the Festival, the Government has to cancel it due to objections raised by the People For Ethical Treatment To Animals (PETA) – apprehending that the tuskers would be mistreated.
Although the people involved do not wish to stop it as so many foreign tourists have arrived in Jaipur to witness it. The elephant owners decided to organise this privately in Amer which the police had to intervene and stop it.
With this it seems a 35-year-old tradition has now, and all of a sudden, been given a legal burial. But then, what about elephant rides that continue in many places, including the Amer fort. Wonder if this too would be stopped!
ess bee

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