A tiny hamlet off Bhubaneswar, the capital of orissa “ Patia ”.
A population of 6000, human population , approximately 1000 and the remaining are snakes.
The human population of “ Kelas” snake charmers , thrive on this profession.
Unfortunately the ratio of 1:6 (Approximate), man to snakes is appalling as the count of snakes is of ‘captured snakes’ which are used for the purpose of trading, snake shows (as admitted by the villagers and snake owners), smuggling could also be going on.
Snakes are captured during the summer, winter and rainy seasons when they are easy to spot and capture.
Sadly they have a 70-80% mortality rate, due to refusal to feed in captivity and infection setting in when the fangs are broken for “Snake Charming”, the age old ‘art of charming a snake as not to harm the charmer’!!
Not to mention the fact that about 100 people have died of snake bite in the last 3 years from this village while trying to capture snakes.
Due to animal rights activists, legal mandates, wildlife protection acts the denizens of this village travel out of state into the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh mostly by buses and trains. Imagine the plight of the snakes carried in the baskets with just a cloth , more often nothing but bamboo baskets to keep them and we can only guess how they are hidden to be transported in public transport across villages and state boundaries. Each family has people traveling for 15 days and they travel and operate in turns.
With some amount of legal ramifications the “ snake charming” shows have moved to interior villages, or busy townships or “ foreign currency” shows where mostly foreigners pay for exclusive shows.
Inquiring about how they go about collecting snakes, another shocking revelation was apparently in winter a small exchange market is setup at some railway crossing nearby and these snake handlers, exchange , buy and sell snakes there. (Apparently King Cobras are also available sometimes on demand and for the right price).
This tiny village apart, snake charmers can be found across all major tourist destinations in India, starting from Manali till Goa !!
The charmers in the tourist places were willing to be photographed for a price, where as my driver who was from the village managed to convince people for photographs and fact, and of course a price !!
I had to pay heavily just to take reference images in the village and no one wanted to have faces captured, where as at the major tourist destinations the preference was for foreign tourists for “ dollars “ and who ask no questions.
With endangered species acts, wildlife acts, wildlife trading acts etc, this is not something that is happening on the sly, where are we ? What about conservation? The ‘Kelas’ and tribes dealing with snakes across other regions in India till date do not prefer regular jobs or alternative employment.
On my next trip, I intend to lodge a formal complaint about the capture and trade of snakes and lets see where this goes.
The photodocumentary can be found at :