Kiss the Hissers – A Trip for Live Encounter of Snakes

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I was all excited to make my outing with Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) on Sep 16th, 2012 when group of 22 people decided to walk over the green fields to encounter the elongate, legless, carnivorous reptiles called Snakes. The trip was organized by Rajanna & Rajavel, code named as “Kiss the Hissers” even though we weren’t sure before the trip, whether we would be able to really kiss the hissers.

The journey started before Chennai city had Sun as its hat. On a very pleasant morning of Sep 16th, the Rain God had mercy on us and let the weather to be chill and breezy. As per the plan we all gathered around 5:30 AM at Tiruvanmiyur near Marundheeswarar temple.

The casual chit-chats started with the introduction when all of us met over on the road. I clubbed with Yuvaraj in his car along with Shankar, Rocky and Praveen. Isai Prakash and Madhu arrived in their car with the tagline of “Press”, making most of us to think if that would be a media coverage of our trip. We all clustered and clubbed as groups along with Muthu, Kannan and Saravananan in their cars and the journey proceeded in East Coast Road. All of us stopped alongside of ECR road to sip hot morning coffee & bun to energize us for the rest of the journey hours. We crossed Mahabalipuram and continued alongside of Poonjeri Village which further proceeded towards Thirukalungundram. After the travel of about 70 KMS away from busy Chennai city, we voyaged along the calm and quite roads that lead us to the village called Palanthandalam.

Mother Nature gave us green carpet welcome by lush of rice fields when the morning sun was still sleeping inside the yellowish orange clouds. It was around 7:00 AM when we all reached the farm fields and got down from the cars. The breezy air dashed our faces with the moisture of the previous day rain mixed with the smell of the damp field soil that gave a wonderful feel. Munusamy and Ramesh from Irula Community welcomed all of us with a broad smile in their faces. Irula people are hunter-gatherers by tradition and they use their expertise in catching snakes which is legendary. Historically Irula community hail from the jungles of Southern India and are now sparsely spread over Thiruvallur district of Tamilnadu.

The Snake Walk begun when we all started walking along the rice fields guided by Munusamy and Ramesh. As we walked through the farm way, we met Kuppan who was rearing heard of ducks in the watered rice fields. Shankar’s quick witty jokes in his Nellai Tamil was entertaining all along our walk. As we walked through the fields, the photographers started to experiment and intercept their SLR with nature into a photo square combining their skills in Shutter Speed, ISO and Focal Length.

We could spot lots of wells around the fields which are used to irrigate the rice crops that had fresh water which was as clear as our bubble-top water at home. As it was post-harvest season the rice fields were empty will the remains of the rice straws and green grass. Rice fields are famous habitual place for snakes as they have lots of rats in them, which are the best capture for snakes. Snakes spend their holidays inside the burrows made by rodents in the fields and also have them as prey during their holiday. While we were walking along, Munuswamy was seriously looking into the bushes and burrows along the fields for snakes.

Our first live encounter started when Munuswamy captured a Yellow Belly Snake (Water Snake) which was hiding beside the well area. He just used his hands and picked up this yellow fellow by holding his hand around its jaw. Since it was caught by its jaw, we had our guts to surround Munuswamy and started to touch and feel the snake. That was the first time for many of us including me to touch a live snake. While we were eagerly watching the snake, Munuswamy explained about the characters of Water Snake and meant they are non-venomous but will cause painful bite. After so much of poses to the photographers, Munuswamy left the yellow fellow to go into the bush and our walk continued.

Ramesh was utterly busy searching the scrubs to find a big catch for us and he made it. It was around 8:00 AM, this time it was the long, slender, brownish, spectacle patterned, highly venomous cobra. Ramesh pulled its tail from the scrubs with the help of Munuswamy and the cobra was grounded on the rice field to show case to us. This was a 4 feet fellow, spreading its hood with the ferociousness to bite and hissing sound. Ramesh told us it would be a 3-4 year female cobra with high venom. That was the first time for most of us to see a live full-venom cobra at the closest. As Ramesh used the cotton bag and waved before the cobra, it rose up and spread its hood with anger and aggressiveness. While Rajavel, Praveen, Shankar, Muthu, Sindhuja, Ranga, Prabhu and myself surrounded the cobra with our cameras, Isai was busy in video-shoot of the sequence.  After 25 mins of show and some 100+ snaps, Ramesh packed the venomous cobra into the white cotton bag as many of the villagers who gathered there requested to let the deadly snake deep inside the fields as it may harm the humans there.

Our snake walk continued as Rajanna, a Herpetology expert & enthusiast, chatted with us on details on the snakes and their habitats, characters and presence. Shankar’s comedy crisps continued as he entertained the whole audience by kidding others. Praveen’s photo excerpts and techniques helped some of us on handling cameras, buying cameras and usage of light. As we walked along, we could spot the green meadows of tiny rice saplings with the stand-still of morning dew drops slipping to roots. The breezy cool morning was pleasant and the walk along the farming fields with the casual exchange of chit-chats made our journey more enjoyable.

Around 8:30 AM, as we moved further, Munuswamy had another interesting catch for us. This time it was a brownish, 3-4 feet, bubble-eyed Rat Snake. He pulled it from a dry bush and holded its slender body and loaded the snake around his shoulders. He also briefed us that Rat Snakes are non-venomous but the bite would take away a bunch of flesh and pains hell. Now saying this he suggested us to take the rat snake in hand and wrap for a play. Saravanan, Muthu, Ranga ,Kannan,Hari, Shankar,Sreeni and Sindhuja tried to hold the snake in their hand and posed for pictures. I too took the chance and holded the snake around my shoulders. Munuswamy suggested me to hold the snake in a forward-swirly movement in hands, so that it doesn’t feel it’s caught and I did the same. The snake wrapped around my neck with its tail and I too posed for some pics. Had that snake was known of royalty, it would have sued all of us in court, for the number of pics we took with him and posted on web. After too much of photos and all of us turning to be a real “Snake Babu’s”, we let go the Rat snake and continued our walk through the fields.

We were able to spot lot of fresh-water wells in the farm fields which were as clean as drinking water and tasted so well. With lot of good swimmers in our group, the show begun as Rocky dived into the well for a deep dip. Navaneeth accompanied him, followed by Shankar and they all became Michael Phelps of the day doing some gorgeous swims and dives.

As we walked along the fields, we conversed and grouped with new friends sharing profession, interest, nature and what not. Rajavel, Isai, Madhu and myself striked a long conversation beside the green lands exchanging previous trekking experiences, camera handling techniques and some media stuff. Praveen was sharing and offering consulting about his photographic phenomena as many people in our group got some serious tips from him.

Meanwhile Munuswamy had something different for us during the day. Around 9 AM, he got us a live bee-hive from the tree after chasing out the big-bee swarms. We all gathered around him and tasted the best nature honey. Around 9 00 AM the group rested in the tree shade near to a pond whereas Isai was busy in making his travel documentary.

We all walked again along the pond bed when Ramesh was searching for Green Snake. We were bit unlucky as we could not find the Green snake on that day. Breakfast time begun at 9:30 AM and we all choose a well-bed which was shady and surrounded by trees for eating. Our taste buds relished chappati’s, bread-roll, rajma curry, tomato curry and cheekis sweet. As there was a well, there were  Michael Phelps too. This time Rocky, Navaneeth, Shankar and Iasi dived in followed by Nachiket who just preferred to swim in water. They all proved again that they are “Walking fishes on earth”. We all helped each other to serve food, fed some bread crumbs to the fishes in the water and also cleaned the place leaving no litters behind.

The journey continued along the green field beds as we stopped for water near a pump-set that refreshed us and quenched our thirst. Our last find by Ramesh was a Black Cobra, found inside the burrow resting. He along with Munuswamy dug the burrow and showed us the spiral black highly venomous male cobra. Ramesh pulled the snake out of the burrow just by using his hands. The cobra was 3-4 feet long, rolled spirally on the ground, spreaded its hood and hissed us ferociously. We gathered around and watched it close as Ramesh made the cobra to swing showing the white bag in front. SLR’s captured the magical swings and swirls of the cobra.

Our snake walk ended around 11 AM as we all decided to move to the place where we parked the cars and head towards Crocodile Bank in ECR for a quick sneak peek of the bigger reptiles. We thanked Ramesh and Munswamy for being with us and guiding us in this lively adventure. They waved their hands with a big smile and a warm greet.

We proceeded towards Crocodile Bank, where Gayathri welcomed us and guided us to the whole of farm explaining us on features and lives of the bigger hunter. Our day ended with a group snap captured by Ranga and we all departed with sense of happiness and spreading smiles to our newer friends.

Rajannna and Rajavel’s efforts to make this lively adventure a great experience had its success as we all cherished the journey, restored and recalled in our memoirs forever.

Say cheese 🙂 See you in my next blog.