Asia, India

Moti: The Dearest Elephant in India

Asia India

When it comes to India, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s another world, with many different worlds within it. I’ll start with the story I’ve perhaps had the most practice telling recently, since I’ve been teaching in a Kindergarten this past Autumn, and this one always gets those cute little jaws to drop. It’s about my first time in India, 5 years ago now (what!?!), and the protagonist is my dear friend Moti, an elephant.

There’s something about India that inspires me and makes me feel alive more than any other place in the world. Particularly the in the small village Sujata, a few miles from Bodh Gaya, where Buddha reached enlightenment.

I met Moti after about 6 weeks in India. I had been living in a Burmese monastery in Bodh Gaya, where Buddha Siddhartha Gautama reached enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. It’s like a Mecca for Buddhists all over the world, and pure magic. I highly recommend going, especially if Varanasi is on your itinerary (it’s about 3 hours away). Anyway, I had spent the last month and a half hardly leaving those monastery walls, meditating 3+ hours a day, and the Sagittarius inside me was dying to get out and explore more of India.

Little did I know, less than half a mile away was the dearest elephant in the world. I had never met an elephant personally before, and when I first saw him I was totally entranced.  I didn’t yet understand any Hindi, so even though some of the locals warned against it, I naively walked right up to Moti like a moth to a flame and hugged his huge trunk. Moti hugged me right back, and hard! Elephants seem to always be hungry and love sweets especially, so in no time I felt this guy’s trunk forcefully weeding through my purse. He found an apple in there and quickly plopped it into his mouth.

The Niranjana river, Bodh Gaya, next to Moti’s compound

The Mother Bodhi Tree, a descendant of the one Buddha sat under and reached enlightenment over 2,000 years ago

From that day on, I visited Moti every afternoon. Instead of taking afternoon tea in the monastery, I’d slip an apple or two in my bag and power-walk through the busy Indian streets to my new best friend. After a few afternoons of our apple rendezvous, Moti caught-on to our new little routine and he’d start dancing, more like head-banging actually, when he saw me walking towards him in the distance! I wish I had filmed it because it was the cutest dance in the world – he’d literally move his big head back and forth and swing his trunk in a figure eight more and more enthusiastically the closer I got to him.

Moti lifting his trunk for an apple as usual. I didn’t have any left so I tried dancing with him instead. Also, the chains on his feet were there because he was allowed to roam free. His Mahoot didn’t want him running for fear of accidentally crushing things/people in his path

A month or two later, I was returning to the monastery after dark with my friend, when I realized I was close to Moti’s compound. I thought I’d just check in on him in case he was awake and give him a hug before bed. Sure enough, when he saw me, the head banging began, but this time I hadn’t prepared any apples. Moti lifted his huge trunk and stood there expectantly with his mouth wide open.

This is the view from inside Moti’s mouth

I touched his tongue, which was surprisingly soft, and then took hold of his two tusks. Something in me whispered to try pushing up on his tusks. I did, and almost immediately, Moti had lifted me up into the air. So there I was, completely perplexed and dangling there like a monkey, and Moti decides to swing me from side to side. I’ve never been so scared and laughed so hard at the same time in my life. This is the part people sometimes don’t believe, so I’m including a not so high quality picture here to prove it.

Moti lifting me like a monkey into the air

Moti totally changed my experience in India around. At the point I met him, the underbelly of culture-shock was totally getting me down. India especially can be unnerving at times; it’s completely chaotic and upside-down in many ways. More than anything though, India is a great teacher. All the beings within that country have this light for life that’s contagious and lifts you right up. The vibration is higher there, so to speak – I think because so many people are focused on bettering themselves in a non-materialistic sort of way. The most beautiful thing is that they’re humble and open and genuinely interested in making connections. That energy there is what’s kept me going back again and again, and to learn to see the beauty amidst all the chaos. India changes everything.

I’m going back to India for the 11th time in 5 years in less than two weeks! I strongly encourage anyone who has ever contemplated going to buy your ticket now. Just do it! Feel free to reach out to me if you need any travel advice or companionship – I’ll be there the next 3 months.


Contributed by Camille Leon