American actor and designer, Waris Ahluwalia is back from a 500-km-long road trip across Rajasthan as part the ‘Travels To My Elephant‘ project by ITC Hotels and The Luxury Collection. The former GAP model talks about the initiative that helps conserve Asian elephants. By Shikha Pushpan
Ahluwalia is a man who wears many hats—he is a designer, model, actor, and an activist. This, he explains, is a result of his desire to create a thoughtful living. “As a company, we want to see how this can be executed in different forms. That’s why I can weave through different industries and do things. I am attached to this idea of creating a work of exploring a more thoughtful way of living for our community and society. It’s about how you feel. That’s why I travel, that’s why I do everything that I do.”
As someone who believes in giving back to nature, Ahluwalia was a part of a group of 85 adventurers who rode Royal Enfields, Gujarati Chagdas (a motorcycle cut in half with a carriage attached to the back), and Ambassadors through Jodhpur, Osian, Khimsar, Marwar Mundwa, Pushkar, Salemabad, Sambhar, and Jaipur to raise £1million for Asia’s endangered elephants. We had a quick chat with the activist.
T+L. What were the highlights of your journey with ‘Travels to my Elephant’?
WA. Everyday something new unfolded. The highlight was that we would set off for hours driving, come back in the evening, and have dinner together under the stars. You are in for an adventure—there were 85 people from all over the world; you see them for breakfast, meet them for lunch, drive with them throughout the journey, and that’s not really easy. I brought some friends (including Canadian actor Joshua Jackson), there were people who had done it before. It was a mix of old and new racers.
T+L. You have been associated with the Elephant Family for over a decade. Where did it all begin?
WA. My director Wes Anderson had asked me to design a pin for my costume for the film, The Darjeeling Limited (2007). After we wrapped, I reached out to conservation non-profit Elephant Family to sell versions of the pins for charity. It has been a personal association with the organisation and its cause, ever since.
T+L. Why elephants?
WA. I am associated with other organisations too who work for endangered species. But when it comes to India, elephants are emblematic of this country. It’s a majestic creature that speaks of a time long ago. We were here, shooting in India, so picking elephants was more of an instinctive decision. Moreover, the elephant population in Asia has gone down 90 per cent in the last 100 years, and within the next 30 years, they are expected to be extinct.
T+L. How has this project helped you in the past?
A. “Two years ago, we relocated a village in Assam for an elephant corridor. This was not far from Kaziranga (National Park). We worked with the Wildlife Trust of India, the local government, and relocated this village to a higher ground. We built their houses, gave them farmland, taught them farming techniques for better existence. In India, It’s not just poaching, its more about human-elephant conflict. We have also brought in a system where locals get an SMS whenever there is an elephant in the area.”