Karnataka is known for its gentle giants, and one way to interact closely with the Asian elephant is to visit one of the elephant camps, the best known being at Dubare. The elephants are all tamed and trained, and not dangerous in any way.
Traditionally, the forest department tamed and trained wild elephants to help capture other wild, “rogue” elephants that were causing damage. They were also used for logging operations. The trained elephants that are now “retired” from their jobs find a home at Dubare Elephant camp. There are at present about twenty of them at Dubare, with typical Indian names like Gopi and Abhimanyu.
Program: Reach the camp by 9 am to see majestic elephants making their leisurely way down to the river. Wade in, and help the keepers to scrub and wash the gentle giants! watch some on the river bank, playing and spraying themselves with dust, while waiting for their mahouts (keepers), since they are not allowed to enter the water alone!
Next, join the jumbos as they make their way to the feeding area, and offer them specially prepared balls of an indigenous cereal (ragi), and take a peek at the adjoining kitchen where 15 kgs of these snacks are prepared daily in huge pots. Visitors stay within an enclosure, while the elephants line up along the boundary wall.
Watch the elephants at the training enclosure, pulling down and arranging logs, according to the mahout’s instructions. However, this is not a daily feature.
Take a short elephant ride, or enjoy rafting or fishing--all part of the “day” program for visitors staying outside the camp.
If you are a bird watcher, train your eyes on the thick vegetation along the river banks and spot partridges, cormorants, woodpeckers and kingfishers, to name a few.
Finally, take the time to talk to the naturalists at the reception center and glean some amazing facts on elephants. You can also buy some books and souvenirs at the counter.
Season: The best time to visit is September to May, though the camp is open throughout the year. March to May is good for sighting wildlife.
Tips: You need to wade into the river to bathe the elephants, so dress accordingly! Shorts/capris/cargoes and rubber sandals are best! Carry some food and water for a day trip, as the only refreshment available there is green coconut water.
However, if you’re staying at the resort within the camp, there is more to follow, including a jungle safari, coracle (circular, indigenous boat) ride, trekking, a campfire, wildlife documentaries, and of course, sumptuous meals! Pack your bags, and head for the experience of a lifetime!
Dubare Elephant Camp is about 240 km from the state capital, Bengaluru. The latter is well connected to major cities by air. Hire a cab or take a bus to Madikeri, or one of the smaller towns like Kushalnagar, from where the camp is a mere fourteen kilometers. You could also drive down, the pleasant drive on good roads takes approximately 5 hours from Bangalore. The nearest airport is at Mangalore, about 194 km away, while the nearest railhead at Mysore is 115 km.
The camp is situated on the banks of the river Cauvery/Kaveri. There are motorboats to ferry tourists across, or you can choose to step across rocks dotting a shallow stretch of the river!