INDIA
2001


"The Cobra's Revenge"

Bangalore, Karnataka State

Bangalore, also known as Bangulu, is India's third most populous city, the centre for the Indian aerospace industry, telecommunications and defense industries, and so high-tech is is often known as India's "Silicon Valley". We stayed at the St Mark's Hotel, in St Mark's Road, very apt!

Bangalore is also home to a large population of cobras so I linked up with Mohammad Anees, an Indian snake expert who spends much of his time removing snakes from houses and gardens in suburban Bangalore. Anees, as he is usually known, relocates the snakes to save the lives of both the homeowner and the snake, he has a deep affinity with serpents and was certainly a kindred spirit. I joined Anees on some of his call outs around Bangalore before we set off for the Western Ghats and between filming other Bangalore sequences.

Bangalore, the modern city of over eight million

The first day we received three call-outs:
The first was probably an Indian cobra (Naja naja) but it had disappeared under an extensive patio making recovery impossible without major destruction.
The second was probably a Dharman ratsnake (Ptyas mucosa) in a kitchen, but it had fled before we arrived.
The third was definately a dharman, a large one sighted by road-workers in a rock pile in the central reservation of a major road they were working on, and captured by us causing great amusement amongst the workers.

A cobra under the patio A dharman on the central reservation

The second day produced three more call-outs:
The first was a small Indian cobra, captured in a flooded area besides a house.
The second was a small dharman in a glass cabinet inside a house.
The third was another large cobra in a "Malaysian toilet" outbuilding, but again the cobra has escaped, probably down the hole.

The third day produced a number of call-outs but we only managed to bag a small dharman.

The fourth day started quietly without any calls in the morning, then in the afternoon we got five calls resulting in a baby dharman, a cobra by a pool, a cobra in a garden, and a South Asian Russell'sviper (Daboia russelii). Then we got an unusual call, the doctor who was due to accompany us to the Western Ghats believed his father had been bitten by a snake. We drove over to his house and examined the 'snakebite', concluding he had not received a bite from a venomous species. Preferring to remain and tend his father, this doctor would not now be joining us on the film shoot and his place was taken by Dr Asif Ali who previously was to have joined us only for the Orissa half of the film.

A cobra by a pool and another a garden
Don't try this at home !!!

 

Another aspect of the interaction between cobras and humans interested us in Bangalore, the cult of snake charming. Since snake charming has been driven underground by animal rights groups in India, actually finding a snake charmer can be difficult. Most of them live in the huge Bangalore slums that are home to millions of the poorest Indians, a stark contrast to the glass and steel of the Silicon Valley high-rises, and they have to be contacted through 'middle men'. It felt almost like a drugs deal or illegal arms trade, but all we were doing was booking a snake charmer for a filming sequence.

Our snake charmer arrived, a smart, greying, snake-charmer with an intelligent face,accompanied his Indian cobra (and a minder on the street). Our idea was to explain the myth of snake charming, how the cobra is responding to the movements of the nearest object, rather than any music, be that the movement of the pipe, or the palm, fist or knee of the snake charmer. After the snake charmer had 'charmed' the cobra I took over with his pipe and got it to move in the same way, but without playing a note, simply by moving the pipe or my hand to attract its attention.

Bangalore, the slum dwellings, home of the snake charmers
Mark meets a Bangalore snake charmer and his Indian cobra, Naja naja,
and communes with the cobra

 

Our four days of call-outs produced four dharman ratsnakes, three Indian cobras and a Russell's viper, but we also found the Asian black-spined toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), Kandian day gecko (Cnemaspis kandianus), Northern spotted gecko (Hemidactylus maculatus maculatus), Spotted supple skink (Lygosoma punctata), and a Brahminy blindsnake (Ramphotyphlops braminus).

Kandian day gecko, Cnemaspis kandianus
Note the heavy mite infestation on this gecko
Northern spotted gecko,
Hemidactylus maculatus maculatus
Kandian day gecko, Cnemaspis kandianus
Note the heavy mite infestation on this gecko
Northern spotted gecko,
Hemidactylus maculatus maculatus
Dharman ratsnake, Ptyas mucosa
South Asian Russell's viper, Daboia russelii
Indian or Spectacled cobra, Naja naja

 

Mark wrangling a Bangalore Indian cobra, Naja naja

From Bangalore I, the rest of the crew (AP Matthew Catling has gone on ahead the day before to sort out car hire), Mohammad Anees and Asif Ali were due to take the one hour flight to Mangalore, on the coast of Karnataka, and then set out for the Western Ghats. It did not turn out quite as easy as that as the airline twice unloaded all our baggage and eventually they left some of it behind, resulting in the flight being delayed three hours.