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Bollywood and Animal Rights at Amber Fort

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India is full of surprises and always more than what it appears. It was a beautifully sunny day when we arrived at Amber Fort and in the open courtyard inside the main gate it was glistening with sparkles and banners of glorious colors and full of flashy dancers: it was a Bollywood movie set and the upbeat music blared as the chorus of dancers were rehearsing a musical number. In the background of the set elephants were carrying tourists up the hill sauntering back and forth behind the movie set, and between Bollywood sound tracks the sing-song of wooden flutes could be heard as snake charmers coaxed rupees from tourists for their side show.

Bollywood is by design for our entertainment and the spectacular set in the context of the grandeur of the fort was a beautiful site. And from Bollywood to Hollywood, the movie industry has taken great strides to protect animals from harm; we have more work to do in the tourism industry. Although it is a tradition in India and many other parts of the world upon which livelihoods depend, I believe snake charmers as tourist entertainers should be banned due to the harm they impose on the reptiles. Typically, snakes are used for a year and then released into the wild if they survive. The problem is they are defanged for safety reasons and don't survive in the wild without their fangs. There was a wildlife protection law banning snake charming but it no longer seems to be in effect. More: Snake Charmers Protest for Their Right of Tradition.

Another animal rights concern at Amber Fort is the use of elephants to carry tourists up and down the cobblestone walk from the bottom of the hill to the interior courtyard past the main gate. Of course, elephants have always been working animals in India and other areas of the world, but here at Amber Fort conditions are harsh. For decades these elephants were subject to terrible conditions working all day in blistering conditions ferrying tourists in an endless stream of caravans up and down the mountain. Today thanks to efforts by Elephant Family and Help in Suffering, a small but ambitious charity working to save the Asian elephant from extinction and abuse, conditions have improved. Elephants now are restricted to carrying only two passengers at a time, may only transport people up to the fort (and not down), and work limited hours in the morning.

Tourists have been killed and injured in recent years riding these elephants, and around the same day we were at Amber Fort one of these working eles had to be euthanized for a broken leg. Furthermore, veterinarians and animal rights activists have also documented the fact that the constant up and down track over the uneven hard surface of the cobblestone ramp up the fort creates pressure that is harmful to the elephant's sensitive feet and especially its cuticles. And on this trip I took this picture; it's not a pleasant site but when we passed by the elephant staging area I looked down and zoomed in this one elephant's foot to see a massive, puss-filled sore. I'm no expert but this certainly looks like what I had read about in reports documenting this issue. Clearly this ele had an infection and was working this day nonetheless. This firsthand evidence further reinforces our position at Wildland Adventures that riding elephants at Amber Fort should probably be banned. At least from our point of view it is not an activity we condone or include in our trips, and we discourage our travelers from supporting this side show. Instead we hire local jeeps to take us up and down the back road to get into the fort.

Throughout the world there are various ways in which animals and people are abused or mistreated for the entertainment of tourists. Such forms of entertainment that may be harmful or abusive of people, animals and the environment require our keen awareness and personal responsibility as travelers.

Keeping it wild,

Kurt Kutay

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