A 48-day jungle spa retreat in Tamil Nadu sounds appealing. With rejuvenating massages, nature walks and fruit cocktails served by the bucket, the Thekkampatti "rejuvenation camp" is envy inducing – however the resort in Mettupalayam is strictly for elephants only.
26 elephants from across the Indian state have joined the annual retreat. All come from temples in the region, where they are kept as religious pets. However, accepting prayers and devotional offerings of fruit, flowers and pigments from Buddhist worshipers is taking its toll on the elephants' health.
Every February pachyderms make the pilgrimage to the banks of the Bhavani river, to rest and recuperate. While it may sound like a package holiday for pachyderms – the elephants receive much needed treatment from vets.
According to the Times of India those animals treated at the camp often suffer from early diabetes, obesity and foot wounds. While elephants treated by vets in other parts of South Asia are in poor condition from heavy work and tough conditions. The temple elephants of Tamil Nadu are at risk of being overfed.
"During this camp we are assessing the elephants' weight and health," Dr Thirunavikarasu, the director of the animal welfare department, told local reporters at the start of the camp.
"Throughout the year they are staying in the temple only, where they are in a restricted space, but this is an open naturalistic space, similar to their natural habitat."
It was for this reason that the month-and-a-half long camp was devised, to keep the elephants in shape and "rejuvenate" the animals.
Like any other wellbeing retreat, a big part of the camp is food. The only difference is portion size.
"Healthcare makes a difference to their overall well-being," says caregiver T Saravanan, talking to The Hindu Times, as he mixes a fruit smoothie that wouldn't be out of place at a health resort - albeit, here it comes in a bucket.
"Carrot, beetroot, dates, watermelon and sugarcane, we also give chyawanprash [medicinal honey], ashta choornam [spiced cheese] and other vitamin mixes to boost their energy levels," says Saravanan.
Mahouts – elephant handlers – wash, scrub and bathe the animals in cooling mud as part of health treatments at the camp. For animals who can live upwards of 120 years, the handlers are determined to keep them in top shape.
Jungle walks and an exercise regime help improve the animals "blood circulation". This is an important part of the camp to rejuvenate temple animals, whose sedentary life normally involves eating devotional offerings.
This year's camp has not all been long walks and trunk scrubs. Last week, a mahout and his assistant were arrested for reportedly thrashing an animal.
A bystander filmed the incident in which the two men were thrashing the elephant named Jeymalyatha.
According to the New Indian Express the handlers say they had no option but to "use brute force to bring the animal under control" after it had tried to trample mahouts.
"He was taking the elephant to the shower area," colleagues at the camp told the Express. "[The elephant] suddenly ran out of control after seeing another elephant ; the caretakers found very had to bring the elephant under control."
The mahout involved was suspended, with charges pending.