For Seekers Of Meaning With the elephant doctor in Laos
The illustrator and comic artist Olivier Kugler travels the world as a reportage artist. In Laos, he accompanied a veterinarian into the jungle to care for loggers' working elephants. French vet Bertrand Bouchard invited the London-based cartoonist to travel with him deep into the jungle for a few days and record what they experience.
Olivier Kugler rarely draws on the spot anymore. While yes, this is how the illustrator and graphic designer once learned to draw. But for a long time now he has been using photographs that he takes on the location. These are his travel photos (snapshots!), which he uses as templates for his detailed drawings.
Laos is, in contrast to its neighbours, still largely spared from the big tourist crowds. Visitors are drawn mainly to the countless temples. Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the Laotian capital, are known as cities of a thousand temples. But also in the interior you can find countless of the sacred sites. For example, the Ban Ken. It was built 200 years ago by the Lao Leu. An altar inside it is dedicated to Buddha. Decorated with what? Exactly: with elephant pictures!
The Mekong River is one of the twelve longest rivers in the world with about 4900 km. It crosses six countries in total, including Laos. Mae Nam Khong is the Laotian name of the Mekong. For tourists, a river cruise past teak forests, bamboo slopes, and Buddhist sites is one of the highlights. The locals, on the other hand, are more concerned about the Chinese, who are busily planning new dams and hydroelectric power plants, and are penetrating deep into Laotian structures and cultures.
Lao cuisine is hardly different from its neighbours. Some claim that it is the simpler form of Thai. Laab, the warm salad, is a kind of national dish and must be tried. The many small restaurants also serve sticky rice (Khao Niaw), green papaya salad (Tam Mak Hoong), fish steamed in banana leaves (Mok Pa), baguette paté (Khao Jii Paté), wet noodles (Khao Piak Sen) and crispy rice salad (Naem Khao Tod). The local beer is called Beerlao, a light drink brewed from barley and rice, with 5% alcohol content.
The traffic in Laos is like in other Asian countries. Although most roads in the country are now asphalted and in good condition, goats, chickens and pigs still have to be driven around at top speed. In many villages, there are no driving schools - but for a few euros you can buy a driving license. Therefore, one should be doubly careful on the road, especially on two-wheelers. Particularly during the monsoons and at night, the traffic is dangerous.
Laos used to be called the "Land of a Million Elephants" ("Pathet Lane Zang"). Unfortunately, these times are long gone. Today, there are about 950 elephants left in the country. The animals suffer mainly from poaching and logging of their natural habitat. If medical care were improved and protected zones were established where the pachyderms could mate in peace, the birth rate would soar. Experts are convinced of this.
And food again: Cookshops and street food are also widespread in Laos. One of the most popular dishes is pho soup. The Lao slurp it with rice ribbon noodles, delicious vegetables, mangoes, and many aromatic spices. It is preferably eaten for breakfast. The ingredients vary depending on the region, family, and type of soup. There are also local differences in spiciness. And of course, every street kitchen has its "secret recipe," and always the best noodle soup in town.
The district of Hongsa is one of the last bastions of the Mahut. This is the name of the traditional elephant handlers in Laos. The art has to be learned and the knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. A mahout takes care of an elephant, leads it to bathe daily, takes it to sleep near edible plants, and tends to it when it is sick. Mahout and elephant are usually together from training until death. By the way, the pachyderms can obey up to 40 commands.
Thomas Hummitzsch on "Mit dem Elefantendoktor in Laos"
This artistic aesthetic gives rise to a subjective feeling of being overwhelmed by these impenetrable, crowded scenes."