Elephants of the Low Himalayas

Joe Bradfield is senior writer for Ellenbecker Communications.

I had begun to think I was out of luck catching a glimpse of elephants while covering two tunnel stories in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s northernmost state. Monkeys, yes. Monkeys were everywhere, mothers with babies clinging to them, one hand out to passing cars, illegally panhandling from fence posts and curbs.

It was two days before I saw the Tata cargo trucks for what they were. Each brightly painted truck was uniquely adorned with garland, tassels and extra metal bits welded on. Handwritten script in any of a hundred or more languages blessed travelers, repeated wise sayings, or invoked protection from one or another of India’s 33 million deities. These brutes were ponderously slow in an infinite procession, straining up the mountain grades. High up in their cabs their mahouts pulled fast and hard on their steering wheels, negotiating hairpin switchbacks while smaller traffic spilled around them precariously close to poorly guarded ledges of ravines and cliffs.

The tunnels between Srinagar to the north and Jammu to the south will provide a straight, level, all-weather route that allows travel at highway speeds and protection from Himalayan rockslides and snowstorms, ultimately removing elephas metallicus spectacularus from the endangered species list.