Monday, November 28, 2011

Ban Ta Klang forest temple Wat Pa Ar Jiang and elephant cemetery

On the outskirts of the elephant village in Ban Ta Klang, is the elephant forest temple Wat Pa Ar Jiang, which was founded around 2005. At this temple a baby elephant was born in September 2001.

Those two elephants doesn not belong to the temple, however.

Just recently one of the elephants belonging to the temple, Pang Toom, died. Now the temple has only one elephant, Plai Chompoon, who stays in the elephant village.

Close to the temple is the office and residence for the head Buddhist monk.

Head monk Pra Ar Jahn Han, is 59 years and he belonged to the Salangam family before coming a monk.

Before becoming a monk, he was also a mahout, attending elephants belonging to his family.One of the first elephants he remember being born in the village was Plai Thongbai.

His family own ten elephants in Ban Ta KLang:
Pang Tongbai, Cam Lay, Pak Boun, Phen, Pang Ploy, Pang Naam Choo, Pang Tong Suk, Pang Do.Do, Plai Chompun, and Chompuns and Pang Tongbais son Plai Songkran.

Around 1990, a couple of elephants was buried within this area, later more was added, and around 2005 their tombs was officially declared an elephant grave yard by Pra Ar Jahn Han.

This is probably one of the first officially elephant cemeteries in the world.
Beside the elephant cemetery, theres a sign with list of names of elephants, and their owners.
In November 2011, 70 elephants had been buried here.

When an elephant has died, a ceremony called Bangsakun is held, for the spirit of the elephant.

After this, the body is buried in sand, where it stays for a couple of years, so insects can clean it, until the bones are free.

One the picture to the right, the temples elephant Pang Toom, is being buried.

During a second ceremony, hip bones, cranium and other bones are brought to the elephant cemetery, and laid to rest in a specially designed tomb.

A new Arawan pavillion is being erected since 2009, at a cost of 30 million Bahts. Arawan is the three-headed elephant in the Hindu religion. Arawan stays in the second heaven, guarded by the god Indra.

At the bottom floor, theres an entrance to a cave, where children and sinners can fllow a track in the cave, where they learn about what happends, when and if, they live a sinful life.

The higher platforms will later include sections with the statue of Erawan, and even a watch tower where visitors can overlook the nearest area including the elephant village and the river.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Elephant dung paper factory in Ban Ta Klang elephant village, Surin

Today I visited the elephant dung paper factory in Ban Ta Klang. The factory is withing the elephant kingdom project, and it is located at the Ta Klang forest temple Ah-Tiang (with its own elephant grave yard), is easily accessed by foot after a 20 minutes walk.

The process is divided into 5 steps: washing, boiling, spinning, bleeching, screen-spreading and drying.

First the dung balls are washed in a concrete pool, where waste material is washed away, until fibers remain.

The dung gets boiled for a couple of hours, over a fire.

 Its then taken to the spinner.

 After spinning, its boiled with clorine, getting bleeched to an almost white color.

Then scoped into a bucket...

...shaped into round balls...

 scaled (should weigh apr 200 grams)

And then poured into the frame concrete where it may get colored...
Frames with a fine net, in order to shape the dung into an rectangle.

The frame is put down in the solution...

Everything inside the frame is now ready to be dried. Once dried, it is PAPER!

 which can be used for perfect drawing or scetch paper...

or made into books.

This Youtube video is about the Surin elephant kingdom project and the dung factory.

The project also has a facebook page, please visit Dungpaper Surin to learn more!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ban Ta Klang elephant village in Surin

Ban Ta Klang is a village in Tambon Kapho, Ampho Tha Tum, ca 62 km north of Surin town in Thailand.

Most elephants are housed single at their owners house, where tourists can stay on homestay, inside the village property.

Here in Ban Ta Klang you can also see a pair of twins.

Interview with veteran mahout Mew Salangam, in Ban Ta Klang

Mew Salangam, was born 1926 in the village of Ban Ta Klang.

His father had 5 elephants, which he started to work with, when he was 10 years old. After his fathers death, being the only son, he inherited those elephants, and caught another 5 for himself. His last two elephants were passed to his two sons, one living in Chiang Rai, the other in Pattaya.

Altogether he has caught 50-60 elephants, the last catch was about 1970, 40 years ago. Now 85 years, he is one of the five oldest Mor Chang (highranked elephant trainers) of Kui tribe, having the rank Sadam.

There are five ranks within the Kui mahout system:

  • The highest rank is labelled as gold color, and refered to as Ku Ba Yai. Theres is no more Ku Ba Yai living today.
  • The second rank is labelled as silver color, and refered to as Sadam. Mew Salangam is Sadam.
  • The third rank is labelled black color, and refered to as Sah Dien.
  • The forth rank is labelled as rope, and refered to as Cha.
  • The fith rank is Mah.

Since no wild elephants are caught anymore, its impossible for younger mahouts today to reach the highest ranks.

Mew remember the first roundup in 1955, but can not identify himself on the classical black-and-white picture, which are today so common on walls in Surin. His estimation of that occasion is about 300 elephants present.

Mew claims it was held in Tha Tum (Thai: ท่าตูม) and not in Surin town, or in Ban Ta Klang, as sometimes stated. The district is subdivided into 10 subdistricts (tambon), which are further subdivided into 165 villages (muban). Tha Tum is a township (thesaban tambon) which covers parts of tambon Tha Tum. There are further 10 Tambon administrative organizations (TAO).

As far as he know, not one mahout in Ban Ta Klang was killed by an elephant.

Regarding the catching and training of wild elephants in the past, he says that most elephants were caught in nearby Cambodia. During this time, the mahout would respect the jungle in different ways, not speaking loud, and trying not to offend the spirits of the forest. The Kui mostly used a specially designed lasso, which they used to catch a wild elephants leg, while riding on a tame elephant.

Mor Chang Mr Phu Yai Da Salangam with lasso
After cathing selected animals, they would bring them back to Ban Ta Klang, with the help of specially trained elephants, refered to as Phon Chang or Kloh Chang. (In India Kumkhis)

On arrival in Ban Ta Klang, the chief mahouts would blow their Buffalo horn, releasing the prohibit to speak, and now the elephants were not anymore belonging to the forest.
The taming and training would normally last for about three months, and can be divided in four phases:

1) The elephant were caught with a lasso, and tied to a nearby tree. In order to move, a large trained elephant would assist, and the wild elephant would be fastened to the trained one, with ropes.

2) The elephant would then be taken into a traingulair cage, called Yarlong, where a designated mahout would care for it, feed it, and also start to sit on top of the elephant. This phase included 10-20 days.

3) After the elephant had grown to learn its mahout, and become used to have him sitting on its back, the elephant would be taken for walks, roped to a trained elephant (Phon Chang). During this phase, the elephant would be pulled to walk forward on command, and reversed etcetera, also by seing the trained elephants movements, and slowly understanding the different commands.

4) The elephant would now walk on its own, ridden by its mahout, but for safety, with front feet hobbled, and ropes attached from backlegs to saddle. Succesively, more freedom would be given, until the mahout had control of the elephant, and could work it independantly from cages or or other elephants.

Arrived Ban Ta Klang elephant village, Surin

At the Surin town bus station, Songthaews leave for Ban Ta Klang every hour. Trip costs 50 Bhat and takes 1,5-2 hours depending on how many stops are made at the markets.

Cheap, but not the most comfortable way of travel, during longer distances. Luggage is placed by your feet, reducing available space for the legs.

From the highway, theres another 19 km to Ban Ta Klang. When passing a junkyard for cars, I saw the first elephant, and started to wonder for which work it was used there. (right from the tree)

The closer you approach the village, the more elephants you see on both sides of the road, chained outside the owners house or on a rice field. This lowland region is highly dominated by endless kilometers of rice fields.

Righ behind the Songthaew you can see an elephant beside the road.

 I left Surin 15.00 and arrived Ban Ta Klang at 17.00, and noticed civilization has made yet another step in the village; an ATM machine.

Ban Ta Klang has an impressing number of elephants, and may futurevise become an excellent tourist place.

Presently, the setup is more made for guest coming in buses and spending some hour, or a day, but with more guesthouses, it may provide a place to spend several day, or even a week, for elephant interested people. 

Last time the guesthouse was fully booked, and I stayed inside the elephant village in homestay, in the Mahouts house.

This time I will stay at Apples mothers guesthouse, opposite the elephant village, the green house in the middle of the picture.Most visitirs go here for lunch, or gather in the evenings over a beer.

 Today, one old elephant belonging to a nearby temple died. It was already cremated when I arrived, but I went there and took some pictures when it was buried, a km outside the village, where a statue was raised, telling about the past when elephants were cought in Cambodia. In the forest beside the statue, an excavator had already buried the elephant.