Why We Didn’t Enjoy the Jaipur Elephant Festival

When Cody and I decided that India was one of the many countries we would visit during our 16 months of travel, I wasted no time in searching for festivals in and around India.


Elephant Festival in Jaipur, IndiaI quickly found that the month of March was reserved for the Elephant Festival in Jaipur, which excited me as I adore Elephants and the thought of them being adorned and decorated made me smile, not thinking that maybe it didn’t make the Elephants feel the same way.  Never the less I arranged the dates accordingly to be here on March 7th, and 8th.


During the days leading up to the 7th we heard from many locals and travellers about the Elephant Festival, how it is extremely popular here in Jaipur.

There is an Elephant beauty pageant , and the Elephants are paraded around while hundreds if not thousands of tourists take photos of them (in my opinion) really not wanting to be there. I’m not really sure why I never thought of any of this while we were inquiring about the festival as I am a strong supporter of animal rights and liberation; maybe it was just a lesson I had to learn?

A day or two before the festival I started thinking to myself “maybe I shouldn’t attend this festival” and I started really “feeling” that I shouldn’t, yet Cody and I hopped into an auto rickshaw and made our way to the polo stadium  where the festivities were being held.


Like any large festival there were thousands of spectators enjoying themselves, taking in all of the vibrant colours, as Holi Festival is the following day, and just like anywhere in the world, people just can’t wait to celebrate by setting off fireworks, releasing lanterns into the air, or in Holi’s case, bombing everyone with coloured powder.


We made our way through the crowd until we hit a wall of Elephants.Elephant Festival in Jaipur, India

They were draped in lush fabrics, elaborately painted, ears pierced so more fabric could be draped with large saddles sitting on their backs so tourists could sit comfortably  to get their photos taken.

As much as they were still beautiful, and majestic, magical, and full of power, something was missing. Their freedom.


I was not enjoying myself at all, and I wondered if I was the only person in the crowd of at least two thousand people that felt that way.

Everyone was busy taking their photos with the beautiful, colourful Elephants, in awe of their size, and grandeur, without a single thought of how the Elephant really felt.


Maybe I am being a bit extreme? I’m sure some people would agree, but I can’t change the way I feel, and I feel for the Elephants.


I don’t believe they want to be there.

I felt like a hypocrite. I didn’t want to participate in anything, no photos with the Elephants, no petting the Elephants, and most definitely no riding the Elephants.

As everyone around me was so happy to be there, I felt great sadness.

So I turned around and refused to be a part of any of it.

Elephant Festival in Jaipur, IndiaI don’t know what I expected it to be like; maybe I had to go and experience it for myself to reenforce my strong belief in animal rights.

Being at the Elephant festival was no different than going to a circus and I despise circus’. The Elephants were paraded around with their faces painted like clowns for yet again, human entertainment. I shared my feelings with Cody and he felt the same way, so he took a few close up photos of the Elephants eyes, their beautiful souls, rather than all of the paint covering up their natural beauty.


Like many animals, Elephants are highly intelligent  and emotional, so why do we continue to discredit that?

Suffering is suffering, and I do not want to participate in anybody or anything’s sadness, and that feels so right to me. Hopefully I can redeem myself in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at Elephant Nature Park, where Cody and I will be volunteering from 8am to 5pm for 6 nights, helping to keep the Elephants in their natural habitat happy.

Elephant Festival in Jaipur, India

Happy Elephants are the best kind of Elephants!


“Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals “love” them.  But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.” ~Edwin Way Teale~

Comments To This Entry.
  1. derek May 19, 2012 Reply

    well put. i don’t believe that you should have to feel sadness even though that is probably what any normal person would do. just like you said you guys are going to the elephant sanctuary soon, and that in itself is going to feel so rewarding. it is terrible that these elephants and any other animal would have to endure this for a lifetime. i totally agree with you about circus’ as well. they are inhumane and really serve no purpose at all. they are serving these animals life sentences to parade around and “made” to look happy and as if they are enjoying themselves and would have it no other way. as you look deeper into this you realize wow was i wrong. i don’t feel like you should feel like you wrong in any way by going to this festival, maybe it was what you needed to see to give you the real picture. elephants are one of the most beautiful creatures on this earth. they should be free in the wild and living in their habitat that they were supposed to be in. an elephant painted on, dressed up, ears pierced, clothed, etc. is just ridiculous. let them be free and happy. im kind of all over the place on this one but it just gets me going. have fun at the elephant sanctuary!!! gonna be great!! love you’s!!!!!!

    • Giselle and Cody May 28, 2012 Reply

      We can’t help but feel sadness for the many animals that are enslaved and tortured by humans. Some of us just have no compassion for our fellow sentient beings. We learned from the elephant festival that it wasn’t our kind of festival, nor was there anything to celebrate.
      We are extremely excited to visit, and help out at Elephant Nature Park!!

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Lucia May 25, 2012 Reply

    Hi guys,

    WOW! you make me feel so wonderful to know that I have a daughter and
    son-in-law who are living a highly conscious and mindful life.
    Wildlife is called “wildlife” for a reason……it’s wild and it has a right to stay wild and free and live a natural life. Not a false life that is made-up by humans for the purpose of entertainment and big business.

    This is the reason I have decided to make my contribution to the animals
    at the African Lion Safari. My contribution is not to be present. By not being there I make a statement and the statement is, without judgement, I
    refuse to support any establishment that subjects any living creature to
    If only those places did some research with the animals first to study
    the emotions and feelings the animals experience before they decide on designing a place to hold animals in captivity…….Of course they would not include this process because it would mean, no money to be made as the animals would communicate in their quiet way how such an unnatural environment makes them feel.

    It is so much more beautiful to learn about animals in their own habitat on their own turf……just like Robin Williams said on his video when he explored the life of dolphins.

    much love to you both, Mom/Lucia

    • Giselle and Cody May 28, 2012 Reply

      Hi mom.

      Glad you made a decision about African Lion Safari. And so grateful you raised me to love and respect animals, as they have as much a right to a good life as we do. We share this planet with every other species; yet some of us think we own it, and all of the life on it.

      Life is life – whether in a cat, or dog or man. There is no difference there between a cat or a man. The idea of difference is a human conception for man’s own advantage.
      ~Sri Aurobindo~

      The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”
      ~Jeremy Bentham~

  3. Nomadic Chick June 4, 2012 Reply

    Thank you for such an honest post. I am a pescetarian and do love animals, but now find myself participating in San Fermin this year (running with the bulls). The reasons why I’m doing it are long and lengthy to post them here, but the more I read about San Fermin the more I understand the differences… the bulls are particularly bred for the purpose of 1) being moved from the corral into the bullring. 2) bullfighting. 3) Food. After the kill, their meat is sold to local restaurants. Yes, they do die, but maybe my shaky conscious sees that the bulls were never caught in the wild and held trapped like the elephants you saw at the festival. Does that make killing the bulls right? I don’t know. I do know the more I travel the more I have to hold my tongue on what other cultures consider sport, pleasure and fun. Funnily enough, being in India taught me that. It will be interesting to see what else you learn about yourselves in Mother India.

    • Giselle and Cody June 5, 2012 Reply

      Hey Jeanie,

      thanks for taking the time to comment on this blog. Cody and I have just recently come to the realization that animals deserve a happy life as much as humans do, and being present at the elephant festival really reinforced those beliefs.

      We know it is not so black and white, as there are cultures the world over that will always eat meat, but what hurts is the way animals are treated. There is no reason to treat them with such cruelty, so much so, that you can very much see that they are suffering.

      We don’t see much of a difference from animals in the home to animals on a farm. There is nothing right about stripping a calf away from it’s mother after birth before she can even clean it, just so we can get her milk, and then stuffing that calf in a small box, making it stand all it’s life with no sunlight, and growing in excruciating pain just for the taste of tender meat.

      We have decided not to participate in any events that would put an animal in distress for any reason. Bullfighting, running of the bulls, circus’, marine shows, etc…..…yes many of these forms of entertainment are tradition,
      but just because it is, doesn’t mean it always should be. We need change.
      A shift in consciousness.

      We love animals very very much, but we are realists, and we are aware that the entire world is not going to stop eating meat, not in our lifetime anyway,
      and it would be so wonderful if animals were treated well before their lives were taken for food, skin, fur, or entertainment, but that’s just not the case in the present, so we choose not to contribute to the suffering, fear, anxiety, disease, sadness, and we’re sure many more emotions that they are going through before they are killed for anything.

      We don’t preach to people, and tell them they are killers, as we were once meat eaters ourselves, but if people ask questions we answer them as best as we can. Even when we were eating meat, we knew there was a big problem in the way animals are treated.
      Simply put, we don’t want to treat animals as products.

      It should be interesting to see how you feel about San Fermin when all is said and done. Stay safe, and far away from those horns!

      ” We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.
      ~Albert Schweitzer~

  4. Great post! I posted a couple weeks ago about how I regret riding an elephant. Like you, I just kind of jumped at the opportunity and didn’t think about the animal. I am also excited to head to Elephant Nature Park this year.

    • Giselle and Cody September 3, 2013 Reply

      Hey Amanda,

      Glad you changed your mind about riding elephants. You will love elephant nature park, we loved it so much we stayed for 6 months! 🙂
      They will help to educate you further on the plight of the Asian elephant.

  5. Alex September 19, 2012 Reply

    Wow, stunning photos… though I know that was not the point of this post necessarily. I think my reaction to this kind of this comes down to a gut feeling… if I was there I would know if it felt right to me or not. My biggest question would be, how are these elephants treated the rest of the year? If this is one day a year of tradition amongst a year of being a treasured and well-cared for family member, I don’t think the festival would bother me. But if its one day in a lifetime of hard work and ill-treatment, that would upset me.

    • Giselle and Cody September 19, 2012 Reply

      Hey Alex,

      thanks for the compliment 🙂 we have been working closely with elephants and have been learning quite a lot about how they are treated all over Asia,and we can safely say that these beautiful gentle giants are not treated well wether it be at a festival, at a temple, or a at a trekking camp. They are considered live stock in many countries and in our opinion should not be used for entertainment whatsoever. Our goal is to educate, and truly save these creatures so hopefully they can one day all be able to live in peace amongst themselves without any human interference. Just the fact that these elephants allowed people to fully paint their bodies tells us that they were beaten and tortured so badly in order for that to happen. Luckily there are some amazing people out there that are selfless in their actions and have dedicated their lives to save others lives.

  6. Ayngelina September 19, 2012 Reply

    Beautiful post, I had never heard of this festival before but the more I travel the more uncomfortable I am with how animals are treated.

  7. Erica September 19, 2012 Reply

    These are beautiful pictures guys and I would have the same thoughts. I’m so torn with things like this – especially when you don’t really know what is going on. Quite a few of our outlooks have changed while traveling due to being exposed to how the way the world works.

    Still eat meat though. I know why people are veggies… I can’t go without my tacos al pastor.

  8. We are with you here. I have a real issue with these kinds of things. We do our best to avoid attractions that exploit animals – and there are many. We will look forward to learning more about your volunteer work.

    On a lighter note, I am noticing a theme here on your site: skin decoration. 🙂

    • Giselle and Cody September 3, 2013 Reply

      Hey Caanan,

      It is important to us to do the research before we choose to visit a place or event. We don’t want to participate in the exploitation of people or animals. Glad you feel the same way! And yes we LOVE our tattoos! 🙂

  9. Federico September 26, 2012 Reply

    Interesting post. I am also a pro-animals individual, though I’m not sure I would have thought the same way, unless I of course saw they were being treated poorly. Speaking about something else and regarding you first paragraph, did you try bull surfing in Kerala? It’s something I certainly want to try someday!

    • Giselle and Cody September 3, 2013 Reply

      Hi Frederico, thanks for the comment.

      To us, if it doesn’t come natural to the animal, chances are they are not enjoying themselves. We much prefer to see animals doing what comes naturally, and being painted, paraded, and dressed up in silly clothing is not natural, so in that respect we don’t believe they were being treated as best as they could be.

      As for bull surfing, we would never participate in something like that. We just don’t see how that would be enjoyable to us, or the bull in any way.
      We are pro animal. We believe animals should be left alone and not made to entertain us. We’re pretty certain that if the bulls had a choice, they wouldn’t allow themselves to be dragged through the muddy water, whipped, and very possibly injure themselves.
      We prefer to sit with cows and bulls in pastures and enjoy them peacefully 🙂

  10. Helen September 3, 2013 Reply

    I came across an article today about this Festival while I was searching for things to do on our trip to Thailand.

    I was in total awe of the beauty & the colors but I felt so sad as well. Then I came across your post. I’m glad I’m not the only one. In fact, I also said to my husband after reading it that it didn’t seem any different to me than animals at a circus.

    My favorite part of your post were the photos of their eyes & the idea of going to volunteer instead. How amazing is that? I will be researching for similar opportunities on our visit abroad. Thank you again for this wonderful post.

    • Giselle and Cody September 4, 2013 Reply

      Hello Helen,

      Thanks so much for your comment. And thank you for making the connection! We experienced the sadness in the elephants eyes first hand, and it was awful. We hope you find a good reputable sanctuary to visit on your travels. Have a great trip!

  11. reemmarei September 24, 2015 Reply

    As a painter, I always look for interesting subjects for my paintings. I came across beautifully coloured elephants and of course, elephants being my favourite animals, I created a folder with a visual research; however, I still felt something was missing. I started researching and reading about the elephant festival and was very excited that it occurs on my birthday month, March, so I thought: “yay, instant birthday destination!”. Then I read about all the emotional and physical pain those poor elephants go through and immediately deleted my visual research folder. I cringe at the fact people use animals for their own personal entertainment. No wonder elephants kill their own captures! I might actually embark on a trip to Thailand and volunteer in helping protect them. Thank you so much for this article!

    • Giselle and Cody October 5, 2015 Reply

      Hi Reem-Marie,

      Thanks for writing, and thank you for acknowledging that animals feel, and suffer like we do. the more we know, and educate people, the more things will change for the better. It’s a great idea that you travel to thailand to volunteer with elephants!

      Have a great time.

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