So many controversies surrounding this place… The Temple of mercy or The Temple of horrors?
After weeks of online research and wondering whether to write about this experience or not and more importantly what to write, I finally made up my mind to tell the story just the way it happened.
Strangely enough though, when I had enquired with a travel agent who was a family friend about the places to visit in Bangkok, the Tiger temple was not mentioned. When I asked about the place, I was met with a none too enthusiastic response of “Yes, you can go there too”.
A brief History of Tiger Temple as known before visiting the place.
Tiger temple is a refuge for tigers that were either injured by hunters or abandoned as cubs after their mothers had been shot and killed by hunters.
It all started a few years back when once a man, not knowing what to do with an injured tiger brought it to the Kanchanaburi monks. The monks started taking care of the creature and fed it and nursed it back to health.
It later became a regular practice to get the tigers to the monks. Whenever a tiger was spotted near human territory, it was shot and brought to the monks. The ‘pet tigers’ when they grew too big to be kept as ‘pets’ were also left with the monks. Sometimes abandoned cubs on account of the tigress being shot to death were also rescued and given to the monks.
Over the years, the place was converted to a tourist attraction. In 2009 when we visited the place, Tiger Temple had a population of 78 tigers and five new cubs which we learned on reaching there.
Kanchanaburi was about 3 hours drive away from the main city and expensive as compared to the rest of the tourist attractions, about 1700 THB per person for an organized combination tour which included a visit to a war cemetery and Kwai River Bridge.
It was quite difficult to reach there on our own as language is a problem in Thailand. Very few Thai people can communicate well in English. We weren’t too excited about the other places, but since we didn’t have any other option, we decided to take the tour.
Since the place was so far off, we started at 7:00 AM in the morning from the hotel. After a few quiet minutes at the war cemetery, we left for the river bridge.
The Kwai River Bridge was beautiful and the place was decorated with flowers and haystacks by the students of the local college at Kanchanaburi for the King’s visit there.
After spending an hour at the river we finally left for the much awaited Tiger temple. Outside the entrance to the place, we had to first sign a form saying that we agreed to follow all the rules as instructed inside and in case of any untoward incident despite following the rules, we alone were responsible for any injuries caused to us or even our deaths. That was the first indicator that being around wild animals is not a joke and needs to be taken seriously. The form acted as a warning as well as added an element of further thrill to the experience.
Once inside, we followed the guide inside and walked for about 15-20 minutes inside the gates. It was like walking inside a village surrounded by a forest. The terrain was sandy and rocky and there were trees all around us. We had no idea how and where we would come across the tigers and that made all of us a bit nervous. When I had researched the Tiger temple on the internet, I had not come across any travelogue or website, which described the place completely. All the websites mentioned was that one could interact with Tigers at this place.
Soon we reached a clearing. We could view a few tigers tethered to the trees a little far off, but we were forbidden to go there yet. We were asked to gather around the tour guide, who then stated the guidelines that we were to follow at all times.
- We were expected to follow instructions at all times.
- We could first see the tigers that were tied to the trees. Out of them only few were safe to be approached and touched. The rest were not used to people and aggressive towards humans and so we were not to attempt to go near them.
- At all times we would be accompanied by the volunteers working there who were wearing the pink t-shirts.
- If we wanted to touch any of the tigers that we were allowed to touch and be photographed along with the tiger, we were to tell the volunteer standing next to the tiger and form a queue wherever required.
- Under no circumstances were the tourists expected to approach the Tigers on their own.
- Touching a tiger means patting him firmly with your palm opened completely and facedown. Tigers do not like light flimsy scared pats. The pats have to be firm.
- One cannot touch the tiger ahead of the shoulder area and on the head.
- Since the tiger is a territorial animal, we could not go within about 3-4 metres of the area from where he is sitting.
- No sudden and loud noises or screams were permitted.
- All pictures would be clicked by the volunteers. If anyone wanted to click a picture of the tiger, they had to make sure that the flash was off.
- Most important of all, no one should ever stand with his back to a tiger. That according to the guide arouses the tiger’s hunting instinct and may cause them to try and attack the person.
After listening to all the instructions, we were all ready to interact with the tigers. However, this story is getting rather long, so for what followed next, read the next instalment.
And Oh…here’s a teaser to keep you hooked to this story… 🙂 🙂 🙂