AFTER only a week in India the opportunity came up to visit a special elephant festival in the neighbouring town of Kollam. Not wanting to miss what could be a spectacular event for our senses, we decided to go.
We had been warned that it could be a very noisy experience as each village surrounding Kollam would be sending their decorated elephants and a musical entourage to accompany the great giants. Each village in effect was competing to have the most elaborately adorned elephant and loudest musical show.
We hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us there, wait for us and drive us back to Varkala (the going rate was R1,000 [£15] as it was 45 minutes each way). The drive was smooth and luckily there were no hair-raising moments either!
There were street vendors selling snacks, drinks, noise-makers, toys and all things party-related. Children were lining the streets in anticipation of the upcoming parade. Westerners were dotted through the crowds, taking in the sensual orb surrounding the event.
And there we were in the middle of it all, drinking in our first Indian festival. Having two children, especially a baby, we attracted a lot of attention. I was stopped every few paces as people wanted to smile, raise their eyebrows, click their fingers and touch Kobra.
I even had a few teenage boys stop me, but to my surprise they wanted to know MY name and not Kobra's. As we strolled the street, those boys just kept appearing and would lovingly call "Hello Jamie!" in their sweet Indian accents. Claude, of course, found this very amusing - actually he still does!
We watched as several elephants and their blinged-up groupies passed, but the noise was getting to be too much - as was seeing the elephants' shackled legs, so we decided to find our tuk-tuk driver and head out.
Our driver wasn't familiar with Kollam, so took the advice of another driver on the best exit route from all the chaos. However, I think he was mislead because it turned out the recommended short-cut actually put us smack in the middle of the procession.
We were following the elephant's journey. Our driver tried his hardest to overtake as many elephants as he safely could, but it was difficult as we were being lead down many winding lanes, passing the homes of all the local people who were out in force to see the show.
Each family stood at the edge of their property with puja offerings to the elephants. They had decorated tables with fruits, candles and incense. Everyone had the biggest smile imaginable and waved to us as we passed them. It felt like we were royalty. We were all beaming from the warmth the people of Kollam so generously showered upon us. I think this may be the closet experience I will ever have to feeling like a superstar.
After our driver finally found a turn-off from the procession and was on the road back to Varkala, we had a good laugh about how much fun we had being in the parade.