An elephant back ride is as essential to an authentic South-East Asian travel experience to most people around the world as a trip to Chandni Chowk is to any Dilli shaadi. It's one of the biggest tourist attractions on this side of the world. And while a slow tour on the back of gentle giant seems like a lovely, fairly harmless prospect, there's a dark torturous secret behind every elephant ride out there.
It's isn't in an elephant's nature to let humans ride it, and to train them for rides, to paint or play musical instruments for human entertainment, they are put through severe torture as babies - in a heartbreaking process called phajaan, as reported by Circa.
Literally translating to 'crush', phajaan is a torture technique directed at breaking the independent spirit of the elephant so they obey their human masters. And it is deeply and permanently traumatising for these innocent animals.
Phajaan involves confining very young elephants in cages too small for them to move or lay down and they are often beaten and starved of food and water. This cruelty continues until the elephant's captors feel it has been sufficiently broken to the point where it is ready to take commands - which can take as long as months.
A whopping majority of tourists around the world are unaware of this practice when they sign up for elephants rides and other attractions.
But one nature park has made it their business to not only rescue and care for several elephants from the painful clutches of torture, but to spread awareness about this ghastly practice to help put an end to it - Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Owned by Sangduen Chailert, commonly known as Lek, the Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary to scarred elephants from not only the tourism industry but also from illegal but still rampant logging torture.
The park has volunteers in plenty from all over the world, who have dedicated their time to the rehabilitation of these beautiful beasts and developed deep emotional bonds with them in the process.
Lek herself sings to the elephants at the park who are still recovering from the trauma from their previous life in tourism. Faa Sai, an elephant that Lek has a special bond with, only falls asleep upon hearing Lek's comforting voice.
Together, Lek's organisation have rescued several elephants with big and small traces of mental and physical abuse. Apart from about 16 elephants blind from their time in captivity, Elephant Nature Park is home to Kabu, who broke her leg in a logging accident and nobody ensured she healed properly.
Watch the complete video about this heartbreaking practice and Lek's initiative here:
Lek is confident that while it may take time, tourist education and awareness to promote ethical choices is the answer to this evil. Her dream is for tourists from across the world to be able to enjoy time with healthy, happy elephants in their natural habitat. And it's a dream worth fighting for.
All images sourced from Circa