Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bangkok Tiger temple: Where the big cats don’t roar

This exorbitantly priced tour started with a group of monks accepting an offering of food from us before we were ushered into the sanctum sanctorum to witness the incredible. A team of tiger carers (read: keepers or trainers) juxtaposed with each magnificent tiger kept watch to protect tourists from their unpredictability and instinct (I mean the tigers’). An hour of cautious interaction with the larger cats made us comfortable with cubs scratching us with their little paws and grabbing us with their sharp yet unharming canines.

To keep the excitement of the promised experience, the monks coached us convincingly on how to avoid getting attacked or eaten up by them. “Don’t stroke it gently as it may think it’s a fly and flick you with a power-paw shots. Don’t crouch in front of it or it may think you are a child and they are known to attack children. Ddon’t turn your back to them. Don’t look straight into their eyes lest it gets intimidated.” The list was long. Our fear factor was adequately aroused. The next incredible moment was a customary bathing and feeding of the beasts, tamed into such subservience that their growls sounded like purrs. And, they were eating out of our hands! Raised on cooked chicken only — so that no instinct of attack, kill and eat is aroused — they could be passed off as tigers promoting world peace.

The thrill or rather the shock of seeing obedient, disciplined and domesticated tigers is unparalleled. We kept within fenced confines, while the playful monks and trainers rolled about in rapturous interplay with the tigers over a large rattle. It was made out of dustbin bags full of plastic bottles tied to a staff, long enough to keep away from any remnants of instinct it may still possess. They showcased amazing stunts, incredible leaps, graceful acrobatics, and understood every gesture of their masters perfectly.  

And the grand finale! We could actually hold a tiger by the tail even as it allowed you to take pretty pictures, as your lips quivered and hands shook at the possiblity of any change of heart the tiger may have. We were lucky. Because either they didn’t care or it’s an ordeal they know they will have to suffer every day, with a multitude thronging to the temple.

All through, however, the slip-of-the-tongue of one monk stayed. Something was amiss. My mind and heart were in constant debate over the rumours and different opinions surrounding these tigers. Were they sedated? Were they suppressed to be this calm? Is this too lucrative to let go? How did a few small stray cubs adopted for care grow into such a large family of over a 100? Should I have encouraged this seeming trade that destroys the very dignity of the wild? Is this really just a circus set in the jungles? 

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