INDIA
2001


"The Cobra's Revenge"

Patia, Orissa State

 

A shrine in Patia
snake charmers' village,
click to enlarge the cobra icon at the top
of the monument


Patia is a snake charmers' village just north of Bhubaneshwar.

We visited to film the snake charmers and some local 'colour'.
There were many cobras and other snake species in the village but we learned it was a rule that any venomous snake kept longer than two weeks had to have its fangs pulled - a barbaric and primitive way to make the snake less dangerous, but certainly not safe.

This may account for why small children are allowed to handle some of the cobras in the village, notably the sick-looking cobra, a pale form of Thai monocled cobra (Naja kaouthia) that resembled a Suphan cobra from Thailand.

Because of this our contact's favouite King cobra, a 4.0 m male, was kept outside the village boundaries, so that it could be kept in its original 'hot' condition, ie. fully in possession of its fangs, venom glands and venom and therefore capable of delivering a fatal bite.

Whilst in the village we also learned that the snake charmers' baskets are lined with cow-dung as a defense against external parasites on their snakes.

 

Patia proved a very lively place with lots of film-worthy images so we spent two days filming there.

Patia snake-charmers' village, Orissa
Snake charmers with Indian spectacled cobra, Naja naja, on left
and
King cobra, Ophiophagus hannah, on right,
also notice child with seemingly sick
Thai monocled cobra, Naja kaouthia
Snake charmers with various cobras
also notice
Indian sand boa, Gongylophis conicus, on basket lid
Snake charmers with King cobra, Ophiophagus hannah,
and
various other cobras

 

Identifying Common Cobras at Patia
There are two common cobras in Northeastern India
Thai or Monoclate Cobra, Naja kaouthia
Indian or Spectacled cobra, Naja naja

There are two common cobras in northeastern India, the Indian or Spectacled cobra (Naja naja), which ranges to Pakistan and south through India to Sri Lanka, and the Thai or Monoculate cobra (Naja kaouthia), which occurs eastwards onto the Southeast Asian mainland. These two cobras can be easily distinguished from each other, and the King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) by their hood markings. All three species were present in Patia snake charmers' village.

Distribution of the Indian cobra Naja naja (red) and Thai cobra Naja kaouthia (blue)
showing approximate overlap zones in northeastern and northern India
click to enlarge - note ranges are approximate only

When the 4.0 m King cobra arrived I spent some time getting familiar to it before I handled it for the cameras. The Director wanted some close-ups of a king for the 'top of the show' and this snake was perfect for that purpose too. After walking around the king cobra for several minutes I was able to reach forwards and catch it by hand, but I would not recommend others copying that action.

Gazing into the eyes of a 4.0 m male King cobra, Ophiophagus hannah

 

Mark & Anees wrangling the king cobra for the film crew:
(l-r) Terry Meadowcroft (sound), Julian Dismore (director), Richard Edwards (camera)

 

Mark with 4.0 m male King cobra, Ophiophagus hannah

 

King cobra at Patia
4.0 m male King cobra, Ophiophagus hannah

 

 

Lizards from Patia
Leschenault's bark gecko,
Hemidactylus leschenaulti
Common house gecko,
Hemidactylus frenatus
Eastern bronze skink,
Eutropis macularia macularia

There were also a number of other captive snakes at Patia which I took the opportunity to photograph: Indian sand boa (Gongylophis conicus conicus), Red sand boa (Eryx johnii) and Indian ornate flying snake (Chrysopelea ornata ornata).

Snakes at Patia
Indian sand boa,
Gongylophis conicus conicus
Red sand boa,
Eryx johnii
Indian ornate flying snake,
Chrysopelea ornata ornata

 

The Patia children were as fascinated by us as we were by the snake charmers.

Soundman Terry and his equipment creating interest amongst the village children

 

After filming at Patia village we returned to Bhubaneshwar.