A Day With Snake Doctor

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After I read about Dr. Ravindranath Aithal of Puttur and the work he does, I couldnt help  but talk to him and arrange for a visit to meet him. I was travelling to Mangalore to attend a friend’s wedding and I thought, it will be a good time to visit Puttur as well. Dr. Aithal as you all may have read is a Ayurvedic physician with special  interest in treating snake bites and conserving snakes.  He also  has a large herbal garden in addition to his collection of snakes.  He grows medicinal plants at his herbal garden and uses the snakes to teach the community about snakes.

I left Mangalore around 8am by car and needless to say roads were in terrible condition both up to Bantwal Cross Road and after Mani to Puttur as well. The road to Puttur is also narrow, so two vehicles can’t stay on the road while passing each other. Some of the pot holes are so big, it was nightmare trying to negotiate them. I am glad I had driver with me, otherwise I would have never made it to Puttur!
I reached Puttur slightly after 10 am and as I entered the town, I asked a gentleman, where Dr. Aithal’s house is and he asked me, the snake doctor? I said yes and got the directions. When I reached Dr. Aithal’s house, he was busy attending to patients but when I introduced myself, he was happy to see me. I sat in his office and saw patients with him. He is a very busy doctor indeed, patient flow was nonstop. We saw myriad of patients, complaining of knee pain to fever but what caught my attention was a patient with a cobra bite.

Apparently this patient, his name is Ganesh, was working in a field cutting grass when he saw a cobra and before he could withdraw his hand, it bit him and disappeared into the woods. As you can see from the photo, his entire backside of his right hand has sloughed off  but with Dr. Aithal’s treatment, fortunately it is healing.

As I was talking to this patient, my ear perked up, because I could hear Dr. Aithal on the phone talking and asking where in the house is the snake. Then he told me, it is my lucky day, there is a snake in somebody’s house, we can go together and see what we can do. I had to hide my excitement, as my whole purpose of the visit was to see him catch snake!!! I readily agreed and just couldnt wait for the moment.

At this juncture, I must admit, I am Ophidiphobic! I am deathly scared of snakes but they fascinate me as animals. I always wanted to photograph them in their natural habitat and what better opportunity than with Dr. Aithal? I did see some of the collection of snakes he has for educational purposes,  as you will see in the photos, they included, Russel’s Vipers, King Cobra and many other snakes. It so happened the day I visited  Dr. Aithal, a group of NCC cadets visited him to see the snakes and to hear him talk about first aid for snake bite.

Once he finished that talk, he came back and saw few more patients and he called the house where the snake was and we were on our way to the house. I made sure, my camera battery was fully charged and all was functional and I had a spare battery in case there was a problem. At this time, I couldnt contain my excitement and at the same time fear. We were not sure, what type of snke it is. I was praying silently that let it be a cobra and I can photograph in all its fury.

As we approached the house, quite a crowd had gathered to see the “snake doctor” catching a snake. Dr. Aithal asked, where the snake was and he was told in the bathroom. He told everybody to stay out of the house and both he and I entered the house. I was getting nervous as we reached the bathroom door and he noticed me getting little apprehensive. He immediately told me Dr. Mallya, relax, as long as he is there, he wont let any snake near me. But I am so scared of these creatures, they give me cold sweat and nightmares. But I was not going to back off now. He had a old wooden tennis raquet with no strings and he attached a red bag and used simple clothes clips to attach it to the raquet. He said follow me, and opened the door and looked around before entering.

There was no snake in the doorway nor anywhere we could see from the doorway. We entered the bathroom and he said look its a cobra! When I looked, this snake had curled around the vessel that we use for heating water for taking shower. As you will see in the photo, the snake had already spotted us and was there with his hood raised. Dr. Aithal said, he will keep an eye and I could go ahead and photograph him. After few pictures, the flash must have bothered the snake, he tried to runaway but Dr. Aithal was faster, with a metal rod, he gently lifted the snake off the floor and grabbed the tail and carried it to the living room of the house.

Then he said, lets go outside and he will let the snake free and I could photograph him in natural light. Now I was really worried but he said nothing to worry and he will keep an eye. As we came outside, he let the snake loose but kept the snake in sight and by using the red bag he stimulated the snake to curl up and raise its hood. This snake was fiesty one and was very upset at this time and was hissing and biting at anything and everything in sight. I kept clicking and when I was done I had 48 shots of  the snake in every possible position!

Once I was done, he gently coaxed the snake in to the red bag and then to another bag and we were on our way back to his house. I was told that he will call another person, who normally comes, collects the snake to be released in a forest about 100km away.
After the snake was put away in a safe place, we went for lunch. During lunch, I found out most of his work with snakes is voluntary and he is in desperate need of funds to keep the snakes as well as to maintain the herbal garden. He has established a trust and any money donated goes to the trust for conserving snakes.

As for me I am visiting him again and needless to say, I was most impressed by his  hard work and his dedication. He is a thorough gentleman and doesnt even ask for money from his patients. If they say, they can’t pay, his answer is “pay me whenever you can but get better first”……I have seen the results of his treatment of snake bites and there is no question it helps….

I left Puttur around 4pm and it was indeed a memorable experience, which I will remember for a long long time to come….

Author: Dr. K.B. Mallya- Canada

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