My driver and I were in downtown Noida yesterday when we spotted a "Mahout" riding his very large male elephant past one of the newly completed metro stations here. Chauhan (my driver) and I were finished with our afternoon errands so we decided to see if the guy would stop and 'visit' with us for a few minutes on the side of the road. To be honest, I just wanted to better understand why I keep seeing these giant animals casually strolling through city traffic.
It turned out that the elephant driver (or "Mahout") was really nice and very willing to talk with us. He was apparently from southwest Delhi (about 15 km away) and was on his way to a large party on the other side of Noida in the neighboring community of Ghaziabad. My driver says the mahout was probably making about 10,000 rupees ($200) for this very long walk and special appearance.
Chauhan helped translate my questions while we spoke. As I was standing there on the edge of the street, the elephant stepped closer and touched me on my shoulder and hand with his long trunk as if to say, "hello." Then the elephant reached out past me and wrapped his trunk around a small tree that had been recently planted by city at the side of the road. He gently tugged and pulled the tall sapling right out of the ground.... just a small snack.
At this point we realized we had started to draw a small crowd of curious onlookers: "What's the white guy with the camera doing with that elephant on the side of the road?" I think there were maybe 25 people closing in on us...
So we thanked the Mahout for his time. Then he gave Chauhan his card and said if we ever want a ride to please give his son a call. Then off the two of them lumbered, man and beast, on again to their scheduled party appearance. Just another day in suburban Noida.