The Old Elephant Route (2001) – a review

The Old Elephant Route (DVD Cover).

The Old Elephant Route (DVD Cover).

Last year a friend from Nibodi village told me about a group of wildlife people that camped outskirt of their village along with their elephants 10 years ago. After watching this film “The Old Elephant Route” I linked the travelers on this film with the people my friend had mentioned. The travelers stayed overnight at Nibodi with their elephants and interviewed the Gaon Bora, Late Chamedwe.

This team of travelers were actually a research team from Aane Mane Foundation (Bangalore), spear headed by their researchers, Prajna Chowta and Surendra Varma. They came to study “the past and present migration of wild elephants on the border area between Burma and north-eastern India as well as the viability of this corridor as a migratory route in a region which is located at the geographic heart of the elephant habitat in Asia.”

Though this film primarily focuses on elephants, they have given us good documentation of matters interest to us. Very vivid state of Miao-Vijoynagar road is covered in detail. They captured the initial days when Nibodi village was just beginning to resettle after a gap of about 40 years. They also bring historical perspectives – the bombing of WWII and use of elephants during those days.

It’s sad they had to travel twice – the first on three elephants up to 52 Miles and then start all over again from Miao with 9 porters! Altogether they trekked 30 days (Between February and early April 2000), daring rainy days, flood and muddy roads. Unfortunately, they did not reach Chaukan Pass, mainly because they employed Chakma and other porters, who have not been there.

My Nibodi friend told me “those wildlife people have written very bad things against us.” I wondered what could be the content. As I watched there are few references to the Lisu such as, “a tribe of questionable reputation, originating from Yunnan in China. The Conservator of Namdapha National Park, where we are now, has warned us the land encroachment and poachers performed by the Lisus. They have reportedly burned the forest and threatened the lives of forest guards… probably, because they have come illegally from China and Burma.”

I thought those are exact words the Namdapha Authorities say when describing the Lisu people. Interestingly, the researchers interviewed only two Lisu people, not even one from Shidi which is very interesting to me. One day I hope to write an article, “Why only Lisu people are blamed for killing animals and clearing forest while nothing is mentioned about the activities of other communities living around the Namdapha?

Whatever the side comments on Lisu, I treasure this document. There has not been any such documentary I have come across so far. This adventurous team has contributed to the world and to us a documentation that tells our stories by footnote.

For anyone who has further interest may want to visit Aane Mane Foundation website and read stories of this film or if you like to buy it.