Two species of snakes, encountered rarely in the tricity region, share common aspects. The Common Bronzeback Tree snake sports a distinct white spot on its head. The orange-reddish Black-headed Royal snake displays inky splotches across its body and is the only Indian snake known to change its patterns and colours through its lifetime.
Both these species are adept climbers. The very thin tree snake prefers to dwell in twiggy bushes, leafy branches among trees and merges deftly with drooping vines. It has a very long tail and can grow to 5.5 feet. To the uninitiated observer, the sheer agility of tree snakes is mistaken for a magical power to fly among trees! But this is not so as the legendary herpetologist Rom Whitaker points out: “Unlike other snakes, bronzebacks have no fear of falling and regularly jump about branches and to the ground from heights of 10-20m…the female lays about six long, thin eggs in a tree hole or old bird nest…(food is) mainly frogs and lizards. It is not uncommon for bronzebacks to hunt tree frogs and lizards in thatched roofs; consequently they sometimes get into trouble with human occupants.’’
Snake rescue personnel in Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula have found tree snakes in balconies, backyards and kitchens, especially in the rainy season. The royal snake also nurtures a ferocious climbing ability. In fact, the first record for the tricity of the royal snake was when Salim Khan rescued one specimen hiding in the lofty ceiling of Room No 26, Punjab and Haryana High Court, in June 2011.
Referred to as ‘Rajat Bansi’ in the vernacular, the royal snake is a destroyer of rodents and helps farmers. It looks like the venomous Russell’s viper and emulates the viper by hissing madly like a bursting pressure cooker when challenged. Both the royal and tree snakes are basically non-venomous, though the former’s bite is reckoned as possessing a mild toxicity to humans.
A FLOWER FROM MEMORY LANE
Himalayan Blue poppies on the road to Zanskar, Ladakh.
PHOTO: PETER SHEPPARD
What is more blue, the Indus or the Ladakh sky? Neither, if you have a glad eye for Himalayan flowers! Then, it is the dreamy blue of the Himalayan Blue poppy, deeper than the oceans glimpsed from eyes in the high skies. Last year in July, tourists and travellers were soaking in the awesome spectacles of Ladakh, wondering, and wandering to a blue horizon. No one could have imagined then that a year hence, that ethereal horizon would be lost.
A brutal Covid lockdown and LAC tensions turned the paradise into a no-go zone. So, what do we have left but memories. A gorgeous picture of poppies. That juxtaposed the fragility of the flower with the gaunt grandeur of rugged ridges. In turn, they were streaked with a sigh, of ebbing snows.
It was a traveller from far away New Zealand and an accomplished photographer, Peter Sheppard, who had chanced upon poppies in July 2019. In his words then, the magical moments.
“From New Zealand, late last July, I was heading for Zanskar in the remote Himalayas with Lynne Welch and Tenzin Wangjor. I was interested in seeing the high Himalayan Blue poppy. We were driving towards Zanskar from the wonderfully-isolated setting of Rangdum, which sports a wonderfully-perched monastery. On the drive to Zanskar, we suddenly noticed these rare poppies among rocks close to the road. We stopped, leapt out, and admiringly photographed their intense blue colour and characteristic foliage. As you will know, they are regarded as rare, even endangered,’’ Sheppard told this writer.