SI Vault
September 29, 1958
During the trip to India that ended in her tragic death, Ylla (left, seated on elephant) photographed a rhino capture (right) and wrote about
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September 29, 1958

Indians And Their Animals

During the trip to India that ended in her tragic death, Ylla (left, seated on elephant) photographed a rhino capture (right) and wrote about

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Ylla, the great photographer of animals whose real name was Camilla Koffler, died in India March 30, 1955 after she was thrown from a jeep while taking pictures of a bullock race. She had gone to India in late August of 1954 at the invitation of the Maharaja of Mysore and under sponsorship of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. She was a guest of the maharaja until mid-December, when she went to Trivandrum and subsequently to other parts of the subcontinent in quest of stories. The article below consists of selections from the journal she kept throughout the India trip. The complete journal, along with 77 of her last photographs, will be published October 29 in book form (Animals in India, Harper & Brothers, $10).

First meeting with Maharaja of Mysore
Today I was taken in a palace car to meet His Highness. I was brought to the Small Palace where I was met by a private secretary who took me through various galleries to a simple drawing room where I was received by His Highness. He was seated below a huge oil painting of one of his ancestors. The maharaja wore a turban, and—in accordance with the current style among Indian men—had a neatly trimmed mustache. At 35, His Highness is rather portly; he speaks very slowly. We were served tea and coffee. His Highness remarked that Mysore was proud of its coffee. I chose coffee; it was excellent.

Visit to soldiers' barracks in Mysore
Amusing—and touching—incident while visiting the barracks of the maharaja's soldiers. In the room of one of them, I was greatly amazed to see, on a wall covered with Hindu religious pictures and photographs of the Queen of England and Prince Philip, a clipping of one of my photographs that appeared in a British magazine. Pasted on gold paper, a double-page color picture showing two kittens playing was hung in the middle of the wall, as though it had been given the "place of honor."

On the children of Mysore
The children here are generally a nuisance. They appear from everywhere, are attracted by the pale skin and dress of Westerners and, in a minute, form a dense wall around their object of curiosity. My bearer, Mohan Lal, always tries to chase them off, but they do not go. When I cry in despair: "Lal, Lal, they are in my way. Get them back, get them away!" they repeat my outbursts in a mocking chorus. Lal, poor man, is embarrassed on two counts: he understands all their rude remarks which, unfortunately, escape me, and he is put off by my own behavior. No doubt, he thinks I am most undignified. In fact, I am sure I embarrass him every time I jump out from the palace car and crouch down in the middle of the road to photograph a buffalo or a cow.

Second interview with the Maharaja of Mysore
When I reached the palace, I had to wait a bit in the trophy room. Among the trophies on the walls were the heads of 14 tigers, six bears, 10 bison, deer and leopards. The maharaja was dressed completely in white. A sparrow flew in and out of the room (the sparrow had made a nest in one of the lamps). I remarked on the extraordinary familiarity of animals in India. "They blend in with humans here much better than in any other country," said the maharaja. He told me he had killed over a hundred tigers. Tiger hunts are carried on in the nearby jungles. He explained that he and his party sit in a machan (a box like an opera loge, situated high up in the trees) during the hunt while beaters drive the tigers and the drumbeats create a heightened rhythm.

Visit to elephant working camp, Mudumalai Reserve, Mysore

As it is Sunday, the elephants are not at work but are free to graze in the jungle the entire day. Three of the elephants have babies, 6, 8 and 12 months old. An expectant elephant mother is put on a big rice and coconut diet; after the baby is born, she does not work for six months (not so much to conserve her strength, but to keep the baby out of the way of the working elephants). The elephants are well looked after: they are scrubbed in the river for an hour in the morning and in the evening and are fed boiled rice after they have had their bath. At night they graze in the forest.

There is great excitement in the camp. A big tusker lost a tusk in a battle with a rogue. (The tusk, covered with blood, was left lying on the ground.) The tusker is kept within an enclosure through the night to prevent him from seeking out the rogue for revenge.

The baby elephants are putting on some marvelous antics. The oldest one kicks, throws his trunk about and is generally very fresh; the youngest is practically standing on his head. In the river they jump all over their mothers and enjoy playing together; they splash, submerge and really seem to love the water.

Third visit to His Highness, at the summer palace
First, a game of tennis, then a lengthy film session. Met HH's mother, a shy, charming lady. Unbelievable game of tennis, each ball being chased by a mastiff and a Boston terrier; during the game Major Denis Conan Doyle, son of the British author, and his wife Nina, the Russian Princess Mdivani, drive up in a gray Rolls-Royce.

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