For Laura Gafmine, who is working at a restaurant in Helsinki after completing a four-year degree course in culture, it was love at first sight. A native of Finland, she fell in with elephants during a visit to Thekkady on New Year's eve.
The 23-year-old Finn is on her first visit to India. While touring Thekkady, she spotted an elephant walking past her car and instantly fell in love with the animal. In the three weeks since then, she has undergone a training course which now makes her a mahout, an elephant rider.
Her guide introduced her to Elephant Junction, a group which offers elephant tour packages that include a half-an-hour to a full-day ride on an elephant.
"It was on New Year’s Eve that I first touched an elephant and since then I have just one thing in mind, I want to get close to this magnificent animal which is intelligent and of course beautiful," said Laura.
A few days in Thekkady and after observing elephants at close quarters, she requested the officials at Elephant Junction to take her as an understudy with an expert mahout and they agreed. And every day, for three weeks now, she has been arriving at the office of Elephant Junction at 8 a.m. to begin her lessons.
Laura has been assigned to look after a 24-year-old elephant Ganga that she manages alongside her two gurus and also handles clients on the various packages.
Laura says that she cannot imagine living without being close to an elephant but her visa ends in three months. She says she will return with enough money to buy an elephant here, though it will take some time.