I thought you would be interested to learn that by tradition each elephant in Nepal has three handlers. They are the phanet (fawn-it) the lead handler, the pachuwa (paw tsue-wa) second to the lead and the mahout, an apprentice. Each position has its own specific responsibilities. The phanet helps to oversee the community of elephant handlers so he often remains at the stables, leaving the pachuwa and mahout to take care of the elephant’s daily needs.
At first light, the elephant, pachuwa and mahout head into the forest to collect elephant grass, enough for making kuchi plus a full day’s fodder for the elephant. Both handlers ride atop the elephant’s bare back, balancing effortlessly, barefoot and sometimes holding an umbrella to shade themselves. Upon their return they work cooperatively to make the kuchi and clean the stable area.
The kuchi is a traditional food ball made by folding the surprisingly supple elephant grass into the shape of a bowl. Rice, salt, and molasses are packed into the bowl. Other supplements can be added to the kuchi if the elephant has a special dietary requirement. Another name for the kuchi is dana, meaning gift, which explains the ritual involved in creating the fresh kuchi everyday.
After packing the bowl, the grass is folded over the top. Working two strands of grass in opposite directions, the bowl is tightly wrapped. After securely enclosing the bowl, the ends of the grass are tied in a twisting motion then tucked under the wrapping like a knot. Each adult elephant receives approximately 90 kuchi each evening.
I could not resist, I had to try my hand at kuchi making. I love a challenge and really, it was quite fun. First you have to position yourself as comfortably as possible on the ground, with one leg bent so you can use your ankle as support to bend the grass. Next you follow a very defined technique of shaping the grass, first folding the grass and then wrapping it around itself until you have created a grass bowl. Making the bowl is not as easy as it looks.
Although I pride myself on being good with my hands, I must admit that the contents of my first kuchi fell out of the bottom. But I was determined and after a few tries my kuchi bowls were holding their contents.
I am sure the elephants and the mahouts found humor in my amateur kuchi making, but the elephants ate them just fine.