Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dreams of Slithering Things

A visit to Sri Lanka would not be complete without experiencing a cobra and python show, or so I was told.  I, for one, am not in the least fond of or enamored with reptiles of any kind, but snakes are lowest on my list.  I grew up in Western Kansas where the threat of rattlesnakes was real and a healthy fear for slithering creatures was imprinted on my mind.

Cobra Charmer
So when the host for my visit to Sri Lanka took us to the central province deep into the jungle area to visit Sigiriya and the Lion Fortress, and I learned that a reptile "show" was part of the entertainment at the posh hotel where we stayed, well, I was more than ready to forfeit the "show" for sipping a chai while lounging about at the pool.  However, that was not to be. The Cobra and Python Show was too important an event to be missed and I was soon presented with a front row chair for the "show".

Several baskets of varying sizes were set on the floor about six feet from my chair.  Near one of them was an interesting double reed flute-like instrument.  The rest of the "stage" was bare.  Instinctively, knowing the baskets probably contained snakes, since this was the Cobra and Python Show, I curled my feet and skirts up on the chair making sure nothing was touching the floor.  And, what a smart move that was!

Soon the snake charmer entered the room, picked up the instrument (which I soon learned is called a pungi), and began to play.  The sound is at once wailing, piercing, and crying but obviously is one cobras respond to.  Why? Who knows how that fact was discovered, but thankfully the charmer did know the fact that cobras will "dance" to this sound and can be somewhat "controlled" by it.  Thus, the ability to show deadly cobras to the seriously concerned tourists with feet gathered onto their chairs. 

The turbaned snake charmer kicked the lid of first one basket allowing a slithering creature to emerge, then a second and eventually a third.  Each cobra responded differently to the sound of the pungi:  one standing straight up in its basket and puffing out its neck; a second slithering FAR too close to the legs of MY chair before being "halted" by the charmer; and the third lazily emerging somewhat from the basket and weaving in a trance-like dance.  Mesmerizing to be sure!  Danger lurked too close for my comfort.

But wait, just when the last cobra was finally back in its basket and the final simple straw basket lid was replaced (with no hasps or latches I noted) to cover the cobras once again, a second snake charmer arrived wrapped, and I mean wrapped from shoulder to foot, with the largest pythons I have ever seen.  (Not that I have closely looked at phythons in the past.  Those are the exhibits I quickly pass at the zoos I visit!) But, this slithering creature was HUGE.  It could have eaten a pig before in preparation for the show it was so large.  This creature was then allowed to entwine itself around not only its keeper, but several willing tourists as well.

I however, was still perched on my chair with skirts wrapped around my legs with absolutely nothing touching the floor.  My eyes were still glued to those baskets containing the deadly cobras!  Just why did those snakes stay inside those whimpy little baskets?

Sleep that night?  Impossible!  Dreams of slithering things slid through my head!

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