I am hugging an elephant’s trunk. It feels like a gigantic, leather, worm. Wriggling about, I feel every twitch and shimmy of this incredibly muscular appendage. It easily swings me around as I hold on for dear life and a few good photographs. It is 7pm in Jaipur, India and an elephant is swinging me by its trunk, a wonderful upgrade from the public park swings I used as a child.

I have never seen an elephant before. In person that is. Sure, the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet offer a great window into the life of elephants, but I never put any thought into how spectacular they would be outside of my TV screen. Besides, most of those elephants are in Africa, not India. The local zoo at home has no elephants, so I really have no concept as to what elephants should be like. And swinging from an elephant’s trunk in India was not really on my “To Do” list.

The elephants are housed in a dilapidated corral of sorts. The old wooden support beams are splintered and cracked, sagging under the weight of the walls and cement roof. The shrill trumpeting ravages my eardrums and echoes around the pen in a cacophonous orchestra. I flinch at every roar while the keepers laugh at my jumpiness. I give the elephant a pat on the side and watch the dust leap off its skin and sift through the air. Ceremonial paint still streaks its trunk and head, giving it the look of a gigantic moving mural.

“You like a ride?” the keeper asks cheerfully. “200 rupees.” I don’t even have to think. I shove my money into the keeper’s hands. He scrambles up the trunk and plops down onto the elephant’s back with a giddy smile, wild excitement flashing in his eyes. He leads the behemoth over to a concrete stairway and motions for me to come join him. I toss my camera to my friends and bound up the stairs, my feet barely touching the ground. I carefully ease myself onto the elephant’s back directly behind the keeper. “Dumbo!” the keeper exclaims and laughs heartily. He leads the elephant in ovals around the pen. I duck my head under the crossbeams and wave to the Indian children coming in off the street.

The ride ends and I slide back onto the stairway. It’s a short ride, but it’s all I need. I shake hands with the keeper and my friends rush up the stairs for their turn. After we have all taken our turn atop the colossus, we thank the keeper. I give the elephant one last hug around his trunk. He shakes me around, then lifts his trunk and opens his mouth emitting a honkish groan.

As we exit the pen, one of my friends remarks, “Imagine what our friends are doing!” I laugh and picture my incredibly nerdy best friends, Andy and Ben, playing video games and tinkering with their computers. “Not this,” I grin, “Not this.”

—Dallas Koller

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