I’d never thought of holding a lion or a tiger cub before I saw the travel poster…can’t imagine why not though…
*** Dom Cobb: What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?
Arthur: Ah, what Mr Cobb is trying to…
Dom Cobb: An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood. That sticks, right in there somewhere. ***
Dec 2009 -Goa – Inception:
We were happily wandering around the streets of Goa on our honeymoon and suddenly we came across a most magnificent and huge travel poster. (In retrospect, I should have clicked a picture of the poster…but it didn’t strike me then.) A firang holding a full grown tiger standing in the midst of a lush green jungle. I felt an instant tug from my heart and said out loud….I want to do this; I want to be the one holding the largest of the big cats.
A minute later, we were inside the travel agent’s office. Sitting opposite to us, across a desk, the travel agent informed us, that the place featured in the poster was a jungle in Karnataka and much to my dismay, he added that no, people could not just go there and touch the wild cats. The firang was a regular visitor and hence had the opportunity to do that. (Duh!) A few more questions from us asking for details made it apparent that the picture was in all probability just a promotion to lure people and may have just been photo-shopped.
But the image and the beauty of the idea stayed with me in my mind and heart.
*** In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left you. ***
August 2010 – 9 Months later:
Hehe…I know this is starting to sound like a movie…
So anyways, we were at Ujwal’s cousin’s place (For those of you who have chanced upon this blog, Ujwal is my dear husband.) for Ganpati that they had brought at home. After the Puja with all the formalities (that I will probably never get the hang of even if I live to be a hundred!) we were flipping through their holiday albums and Voila! There was a picture of our hosts in Bangkok sitting on a wooden bench and feeding a tiger cub! Needless to say, that picture had me all excited and I made a solemn promise to myself that I will go there and soon…
*** When you really want something in life, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. ***
Dec 2010 – 4 Months Later
So it was the 5th of December 2010 early morning and we (Ujwal and me) were at the airport after months of planning and research by ME…I don’t mean to sound all selfish and although I couldn’t have done it without Ujwal trusting me & supporting me a 100% on everything, I did do all the bookings, right from the plane tickets, hotel booking and transfers, destination lists etc myself with minimum interference from the travel agents and saved a lot of dough (at least 10K) in the process…heehee you guessed it, I’m a Marwari and proud of it! Thus began our trip to Bangkok for our second honeymoon and we were all set to fulfil my wish of a close encounter with the wild cats.
6th December 2010
I’d just rather cut to the chase and skip the rest of the trip details, partly because it’s been around a year now since then and it’s kind of time-consuming to recall everything and partly cause honestly, this was the reason and the highlight of this trip…the Tigers.
I’d booked the safari for the very next day of our arrival in Bangkok. We were up and about early at 7:00 AM as required and about two and a half hours later we found ourselves at the ticket counter of Bangkok Safari world. There were three things we could do. First of all there was ‘The Safari’ where you could get into a bus and see the animals in their natural habitats, but they were still in captivity and therefore partially tame. Next there was the area where animals were kept in their cages. And third was a totally dumb River safari, where you had to get inside a tube boat and float across a canal and watch supposedly interesting fake animals…For GOD’s sake!!! Anyways the ticket came as a package, so you had to pay for it even you did not take the ride!
As soon as the bus entered the Safari gate, a large Ostrich ran across from right in front of the bus making us all go into raptures and making the cute five year old French kid sitting in front me start his never ending, sweet sounding exclamations & gibberish which lasted through the entire ride.
There was a sign board just inside the entrance that read ‘Remember: Animals always have the right of the way.’ which was very apt and made me smile.
With a lot of oohs and aahs along the way on seeing all other animals (Have posted a few pictures for your viewing pleasure), we at last made it to the lion feeding show Even though they were captive, it was thrilling to watch their lithe graceful movements from the bus.
After completing the bus trip in roughly about an hour, we went next to the area where all the animals were in their enclosures. With much anticipation and excitement we stepped inside and walked through the very green tunnel and beautiful entrance created using artificial creepers, only to reach the end and be man-handled by a Thai couple, who immediately put something on our shoulders. Much to our surprise, it was a couple of brightly colored Macaw parrots! In broken English and the signature sing-song Thai accent, they explained that we had to pay 350 Bahts (1 Baht = 1.50 Rupees approx) for a picture with their birds. Me being me, I quickly agreed and we spent the next 5 minutes posing for 2-3 pictures with the beautiful and haughty birds with their razor sharp beaks and powerful claws, two each on our hands and shoulders. After finalizing the one we wanted printed, we shelled out the money, took the receipt for collecting the picture later at the entrance and quickly moved on.
We turned at the very next turning in the park and lo and behold…waiting for me were two small cages on wheels (I hate saying the dirty word ‘Cages’, but it is what it is and can’t be helped!) of tiger and lion cubs. There was one cage with all the 2-3 month old tiger and lion cubs (we later learned that they were lionesses). And the other cage held 2 medium sized tigers, about 6 -7 months old.
Their caretaker, Audi (that’s what his name sounded like, although I’m pretty sure, that’s not how it’s supposed to be spelt) explained in the now familiar broken English, that we could hold the milk bottles and feed them and he would click our pictures for 350 Bahts. We could pick a tiger or a lion cub of our choice.
We happily opted for the bigger cub. Audi quickly removed the cub from the cage and much to our delight made us sit down on the wooden bench and handed us the cub on our lap. The front paws on my lap and the hind paws on Ujwal’s lap. He handed me the bottle in my hand, held it in place so that the cub could get at it and warned me to hold it straight and keep the milk flowing.
I was thinking, this is it! This is what I wanted!!! The cub held on tight to my wrist with both his paws, I could feel his paws, claws on my skin. I had to concentrate on keeping on feeding him with the one hand that he held. My other hand was focussed on feeling the length of his torso. The fur felt soft and smooth, but not silky. I realised that just like dogs, tigers also do smell a little, but it wasn’t an offensive smell. I looked closely at the beautiful black stripes and tried to take in all the sights and smells and the feeling that I was actually holding ‘A Tiger’ cub on my lap. At the same time, I tried to smile and look into the Camera lens for Audi who was trying to get a good picture of me and Ujwal. That moment has made it to the archives of some of the best moments in my life! J
The cub soon greedily finished all the milk and Audi quickly replaced the bottle with another one and then Ujwal had his turn at feeding him.
I noticed that all the time Ujwal was feeding the cub, the second large cub that was inside the cage was continuously growling, looking steadily at us and had his nose pressed against the cage bars. It was hungry I realised with a start and soon I realised another thing with a twinge of guilt. I couldn’t be a 100% sure but the cubs were probably being kept hungry so that when park visitors fed them, they’d be too distracted by hunger to cause them any harm and would concentrate on drinking milk, so that the caretaker could take their pictures easily. Sigh…well it couldn’t be helped.
Audi had finished taking the picture that we paid for and was generous enough to take a few more using our camera. Soon the cub finished the second bottle too and Audi put him away in his cage again.
Although the feeding was over, I couldn’t quite move away from the cubs. I petted the small lion cubs through the bars of their cage and we hung around for some more time. I tried out my best sweet girly voice, (strictly reserved for when I am desperate) and asked Audi if he could get the lion cubs out and if we could play with them for a bit. He refused and we were just walking away in disappointment when he had a sudden change of heart and called us over. He told us to come by later in the afternoon and promised to let us have them for a little while then…Yippeeee!
We turned up at the said location like bad pennies and true to his promise, Audi got the little lionesses out of their cages and I first fed one and then Ujwal fed another. Unlike the tigers, these were really young and cuddly and much like domestic cats. I could feel the one I was feeding burp while she stopped drinking milk for a while. Audi again took our pictures with the felines. We thanked him profusely and promised to visit the park, the next time we went to Bangkok and went on our way.
You’d think that was all about my encounter with the wild cats but it wasn’t! During my internet research on Bangkok, I had discovered another place in Bangkok where you could touch fully grown Tigers!!! More about this in the next blog…