Mar 312013
What would YOU pay to stroke a charmed snake?

Would YOU pay $3.50 to stroke a charmed snake in India?

“TWO HUNDRED RUPEES?!” our India tour guide, Manu, gasped. “That’s WAY too much, David!”

“Sheesh,” mumbled my brother as we walked out of the Gandhi Memorial in New Delhi. “Three and a half dollars isn’t a terrible price to stroke one of those fancy snakes, especially since the guy said the fangs were removed. Anyway, I bargained him down from 1,000 rupees.”

The snake starts to turn in to bite...

The snake started to turn to bite, and the charmer slammed on the lid!

“Next time,” Manu instructed my little brother, “Pay only 20 or 50 rupees— less than a dollar. And by the way, snakes are deaf, so they’re only “charmed” by the movement of the flute.” As our van pulled off, Manu turned around with a smile. “Anyway, the better sight is the DOUBLE snake charmer when we get to the City Palace in Jaipur. Two snakes for one!”

A DOUBLE snake charmer in another spot of our India tour.

A DOUBLE snake charmer in the Jaipur section of our India tour.

Whoa! Double snake charmer?! As you see from these photos, we found that charmer soon enough. Unfortunately for his pockets, by that time we already had our snake photos from the first encounter. And really– how many snake stroking photos can one have?

What a job, eh?

What a job, eh?

But this whole episode presents several questions. First: How much would YOU pay to stroke one of those famous charmed snakes of India? Second, at what point do you NOT care about getting “ripped off” in a country where your money goes so much further than at home?

Snake charmer is angry the photo-happy man didn't pay!

The snake charmer got angry that the photo-snapping man didn’t pay!

When I paid $15 to pet fifteen live tigers in Thailand, I assure you that was worth it as heck. (I still use those photos on my business cards and make people faint.) Manu had a point, however, that the more tourists unknowingly pay inflated prices, the more annoying it is for everyone. The notorious price scams of Vietnam travel show this in action.

Come on and stroke the snake...

Come on and stroke the snake…

So… if a snake charmer in India beckoned for you to come hither, what would YOU do and why?


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  23 Responses to “How Much Would YOU Pay to Pet a Charmed Snake?”

  1. We would not do anything either. It is sheer animal cruelty and we don’t want to have anything to do with such activities. The same applies to visiting zoos, scuba diving and participating safaris. We love animals but want to see them and be with them only when it does to hurt them, preferably spontaneously in their own natural habitat on their own terms. Animals are not toys, money making tools or food, not even for tourism industry. Animals are living and feeling sentient beings just like us humans.

  2. Not a penny… I like snakes, they are fascinating animals, but it’d rather not be so close to them; I don’t trust that fangs have been removed even if they say so and I would rather not want an upset cobra dangling from my wrist… If I visit a zoo you’ll soon find me among the snakes and crocodiles though. And I can very much recommend the Pasteur institute in Bangkok, run by the Red Cross, where they educate you about snakes and also make serum. VERY interesting! I also had the opportunity to hold one of the snakes when I was there, a Boa or a Python – I can never remember which one is which. Have done it before and they are truly fascinating, pure muscles. Normally they don’t have “petting zoo:s” at the Red Cross, I was just lucky enough to be one of VERY few visitors so an exception was made. It wasn’t the first and surely not the last time I held a snake but this time I was sitting with it for much longer than I would normally have done.
    But cobras? No thanks…

  3. You could not pay me enough to get near that snake, defanged or not. Same with any tigers or lions. I would like to see one, but from a safe enough distance. People often forget these are wild animals with wild instincts we do not have which makes them very unpredictable. I always think of that poor woman who was mauled in Connecticut by a friend’s pet chimpanzee (or maybe it was a baboon? some kind of large monkey). She was completely disfigured and nearly died (I watched the Oprah special about her, it was very difficult to see the damage inflicted to her face), and this animal had been a pet of her friend’s for many, many years and was supposedly comfortable around her. I’ll admire the animals, but from afar and give them the distance (and respect) they deserve.

  4. I’d definately pay it! Are they easy to charm?

  5. You raise a great point about the effort and time it take to haggle over price differences that would be inconsequential back home. I appreciate that bargaining is very much a cultural/geographic matter and that, even if you don’t want to, you do haggle because you don’t want anyone to feel they “got one over” on a tourist. But sometimes I don’t care about the extra 10 cents or 2 dollars and I just wish I could pay, see, do, and go. Maybe there’s such a thing as bargain burnout?

  6. I have pics of me when I was very little cuddling a lion cub at a local safari park. I still remember it well. It was only years later I realised it had to have been drugged, but that wasn’t the most alarming thing… the safari park was in freezing Northern Ireland! Those poor lions.

    Snake charming, however, is a bit tamer. I don’t condone the snakes being defanged for tourism, but I can totally see why charmers would do it. For them it’s a means to an end, so while people do pay, and have no idea of how much is a ‘cheap price’, then it’s going to happen if it means they can feed their family for the week.

  7. This reminds me of the main square in Marrakesh, where you could pay to have a monkey put on your head, or wear traditional clothes or have henna painted on your hands. Charmed or not, I’m not a fan of snakes!!

  8. I know that now this is mostly for tourist value, but I’m curious why this practice developed in the first place. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the guy who first developed the technique. . .or the second. . . or third. . . shudder!

  9. Nope, wouldn’t do it, for the reasons Cristina and Katrina mentioned above. I’d probably watch the snake charmers in fascination, though. Have had a thing for cobras ever since reading/watching Riki Tiki Tavi as a child.

  10. Yeah… no thanks. I, too, also tend to stray away from the animal entertainment.

  11. Not sure if I could overcome the fear on this one…I’m crazy afraid of snakes, and not sure about the idea of PAYING to pet one. Tigers? Yeah I’d pay for that one, although now that I think about it a tiger could turn and eat me. A snake with no fangs…not so much…

  12. Nope. I avoid all snakes, ever since my brother helicoptered a garter snake at me when we were young, and it landed on my neck. We were both stunned – but the snake moved faster than I did, at getting off me. Now when I see snakes, I just leave. ICK.

  13. Surprised to hear some of you so upset about the exploitation of snakes. Tigers and lions are one thing, but really snakes?

    That snake seems to help this man earn some income for himself and his family, and in exchange the snake gets protection from predators and a warm place to sleep. Sounds like a good deal to me.

    If you really want to save the tigers, lions, elephants, and snakes who are being exploited, lets deal with the economics that lead to it in the first place.

  14. I usually just carry some small denomination with me & eek a sensible amount into a pocket at a time. So when I go to pay it looks like I’m giving them all my change, which usually avoids too much disagreement. I believe as long as you pay what you feel is fair and a price that is not too inflated this is reasonable.

    I wouldn’t have the negotiating to pose problem as I don’t spoil the pics by putting me in them 😉

    I’m returning to India myself in May/June so it’ll be interesting to see how I get on with snake charmers and other performers etc.

  15. you had to pay HIM? I would make him pay me!

  16. I just would not do it. It is a miracle that I was able to read through this post because my biggest fear in life is snakes. As a child, if I saw them on tele, I would spend hours screaming my head off. My mother is not sure what caused it either because as a child, I only ever saw a harmless garden snake. I was never bitten by one.

    Are they are a common sight in India? If so, think I would end up staying in my hotel all the time!

  17. This is a topic that really upsets me. I also don’t support the exploitation of wild animals for human entertainment.

    Wild animals don’t belong in petting zoos or in walking with dangerous cats schemes. I cringe each time I see of somebody posting their photos of themselves petting a baby lion or tiger or cheetah.

    Of course this photos make for a great facebook photo that everybody will be very jealous of. But think about it: a baby lion belongs to their mother. Ask the people in charge where their mother is (it is probably breeding again to produce more baby lions). And then ask what is going happen to the baby lion when he is grown up and he is not cuddly and cute to pose for photos. They end up in caged hunting. Killed. Or declawed and sold to those walking with lions places. These places will tell you they work with lion conservation and that their purpose is to educate. If they were working for lion conservation they would not allow any human-lion contact and they would work to return these amazing animals to where they belong, the wild.

    This article about the walking with lions programs written by Panthera director, Luke Hunter is worth a read.

    We can stop the fate of these wild animals by not supporting these shady businesses. If they don’t have customers they will stop breeding animals for entertainment.

  18. Posting this comment at Lillie’s request. It was part of a discussion we were having behind the scenes and she asked that I share it:

    I wouldn’t pay, but not because I’m afraid of snakes. I don’t like supporting the capture and exploitation of wild animals. As I understand it, many of them are defanged and fed milk, which is not good for them, and they end up living short, ill lives.

    I often think of that tiger temple I learned about from your site. Ignorance really is bliss. Now I know that the tigers are most likely drugged. Sigh. I love animals, but nearly all of the ways that people – especially tourists – interact with them is harmful. I hope to swim with dolphins some day, but only if I happen to be snorkeling when they pass through, you know?

    • Katrina, thanks so much for bringing up this important view of the topic. Curious to hear the thoughts of other readers, adding that element of animal treatment to the questions!

    • While I don’t support the mistreatment of animals, I get upset when people seem to show more care for animals than they do for children.

      Anyway, I am terrified of snakes and even if you paid me, I would not pet one. 🙂

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