snake sri lanka

Snake Survival Episode 2. Kataragama, Sri Lanka

If you spend some time in the forests and jungles of Asia like I have, you can expect that sometimes danger might cross your path. Danger could be a wild boar or an elephant or a crocodile or a snake but there’s one thing to keep in mind- most creatures will be much more wary of you. As humans, we don’t have a very good reputation with wildlife. Most creatures will hide when we come stomping through the undergrowth – they know the rapacious cruelty and destruction that humans bring. So let’s be clear – the most aggressive, destructive and dangerous life form is our species. Let me set the scene for this tale.

9 am

We’re in the jungle outside a sacred pilgrim town for Buddhists and Hindus called Kataragama in South East Sri Lanka, if you look on a map it’s near the bottom of the country – about 230 kms from the capital Colombo. It’s washing and bathing time and that’s why we are all down at the small but fast flowing river that that tumbles down from the hills and cuts through the jungle. There are five of us soaping up. I’m staying in a village house with a young local Singhalese couple,   Shelton and his wife  and their little three your old son. A friend of Shelton is with us too, Romson.  It’s a sunny day around 30 degrees Celsius but we’re well protected from the glare  by the huge canopies of the tall trees lining the river banks. There are families of monkeys gathered in the tree tops, chatting and watching us and lazily swinging back and forth.

Shelton and Ranjanie’s house is made of brick but it is an unfinished home, where glass windows should be there are just empty squares framing the view outside. Where the doors should be , there are just frames in the brick walls. The floor is packed dirt and concrete has been laid in one of the three floors. There is a cooking room cum kitchen where the fire smoke rises up and filters out to the sky through the thatch roof, then just two other sleeping rooms. There is no running water, there is no electricity, there is no shower, there is no bathroom. That’s why the river is so important.


While Ranjanie washes clothes, slapping them against the side of the boulders strewn in the river, we men soap up and help to wash the baby boy who looks just like a little Krishna boy, laughing and splashing in the glistening shining streams of water rushing past. Shelton and Romsom hold and wash the boy while I sit bestriding a large rock in the middle of the stream with the gushing water channeling through between my legs. The only sound is babbling river, the chattering monkeys and baby boy talking away the morning. The water is cool and delightful. Its peaceful at the river, there are no other villagers anywhere, we are alone.

As i am sitting, perfectly relaxed, a long snake perhaps 1.5 meters floats down the river toward me, but my back is turned.

Shelton is looking toward me and he can see the silvery black snake coming toward me and he quickly lifts his son out of the water and holds him in the air. The snake swims between my legs and I only see it as it has passed me and continues gliding downstream – what the ……!  it’s head held high like the bow of a Viking ship, surveying the channeling water urging it on – it swiftly passes Ranjanie who is bathing alone on the other side of the stream with all the washed clothes stacked on the riverbank. Shelton calls to me “Did you see it? A big snake just swam between your legs man! We are all lucky. The snake included.

So let’s talk about the “could have beens”. Shelton could have shouted a warning to be and I could have leapt up and frightened the snake and been bitten. With a local doctor maybe 20 kms away, hmmm. The snake could have become tangled in my legs, but i guess it judged there was enough space or it would have ducked? Baby boy could have been playing alone but that’s unlikely, someone would be watching him.

I guess the main “takeaway” is that with four adults, that means more eyes to look in multiple directions. And there was no panic, we all only shouted out after the snake had gone on its merry way.

Just passing by, lovely weather,  enjoy the day.


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