Waris Ahluwalia: Elephant Family
How the actor and producer is helping to raise awareness of the animal charity on a trek through India, and with tea-infused cocktails
This November, 35 teams comprising 101 adventurers will navigate a challenging 500km route through the back streets of Rajasthan all in the name of a good cause. Travels to my Elephant, the second event of its kind, is co-run by conservation charity Elephant Family, bringing together a diverse group of names in aid of safeguarding the future of the animal in India and beyond.
Among those on the starting line will be actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia, who is making the journey for the second time. "The way Elephant Family and I work is that the way we give back is through celebration rather than guilt, because there's enough guilt in the world, I don't need to be doling out more," says Ahluwalia. "The rally is just an incredible adventure and opportunity to live life to the full, but at the same time raise money for an incredible and important cause. It's really this perfect alignment between having a good time and doing good."
But for those heading out for the first time expecting an easy time, they're mistaken. "For the first one we went through Uttar Pradesh, in rural India, for five or six days, and it was quite an adventure," he recalls. "I had thought that there was going to be police escorts and that we were going to be in a bubble, but no. It was real. We were basically on some of the most dangerous roads in the world."
It was certainly not smooth sailing, Ahluwalia had a less than auspicious beginning when a wiring problem caused his team's tuk tuk to break down before the rally had even begun. "I don't have a bucket list but if I did, India would not be on that list," laughed Ahluwalia. "But to be on those roads in places I'd never been and to see the faces of people as you go by, confused that there's this parade of tuk tuks going by with not your normal drivers, and the looks of surprise and laugher, was fun."
Ahluwalia's association with Elephant Family stretches back over a decade, beginning on the set for the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited when the director requested he make a pin for his costume. "We were shooting in India, so I had my workshop there make an elephant pin, and then when the movie was done and was about to come out I thought it would be a good thing to tie it back and give something to an organisation… We were creating in India, so I always believe in that process: when taking inspiration there should be some giving back."
Now a patron of the charity, he is also leaning on his other associations to support the cause. An ambassador for hotel group The Luxury Collection, he has partnered with the company to raise awareness and funds for the upcoming rally. The project sees The Westbury decked out in vibrant, India-inspired installations, while the hotel along with The Park Tower Knightsbridge and The Wellesley have launched special, tea-infused cocktails, each accompanied by an explanation behind the cause and with 100 per cent of profits donated to Elephant Family.
"Whether I'm involved in a story I've created, or a story someone else has created – say Wes [Anderson], Spike [Lee] or Deepa [Mehta] – in the end I'm just telling stories. In the past, I've told stories through gold, or diamonds, or cashmere. Now we're telling stories through cocktails."