Updated: Apr 6
Sundarbani is in the Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir. It is mostly hilly area at a distance of about 70 kilometres from Rajouri town.
Sundarbani is located along the Line of Control on Indo - Pak border. It is notorious for cross border terrorism and infiltration from across the border from Pakistan side. Cross border firing is common in the area.
It is mostly hilly area with elevation of about 2700 feet with dense forests. Infiltration from across the border becomes easier in such a terrain. About fifty-five years ago, I was on temporary duty with an infantry battalion in Sundarbani area as artillery Fire Observation Officer. My objective was reconnaissance in the area and registering targets across the border for military purposes.
The main regiment was deployed in the foothills during peace times. Only a platoon was deployed on top of the hill along with a Fire Observation Officer from artillery. It took me almost six hours to reach hilltop to occupy my position. Enroute I met many civilians who had to trudge this distance to get their daily necessities of life.
From my observation post, I could clearly notice movement of Pakistani troops and their deployment. Ours was vantage position since we were at the top of hill. Pakistani troops were on the ground level. Our trenches and bunkers were dug on the hilltop.
There was no officer mess in the area since I was lone officer there. But food from langar of jawans was delicious, as well as nutritious. Even non vegetarian food was served once or twice a week.
Once during the night-time, I was sleeping in my bunker on a temporary bed made of bamboos. Since area was mosquito infected, I was under my mosquito net. My bunker was small, and my bed just fitted in it. I heard hissing sound in the mud wall towards my feet. I had a torch with me.
I focused it on the wall and what I noticed was a black cobra snake. I was stunned for a moment. Snake started climbing on my mosquito net. It was now on top of my mosquito net covering its entire length. I was in a dilemma. What to do next.
Cobra could find an opening and get inside my net. But if I try to get out, it could still attack me. Then and there, I decided to get out of net and make a dash for exit door. Let God’s will prevail. I held my breath and followed my plane of action. Luck was on my side and in seconds, I was in open area. My batman was in next bunker. He noticed the commotion and came out of his bunker. Sentry on duty also joined us. I told them about the cobra.
As we were talking, cobra came out of the bunker and headed for my make shift bathroom where a bucked full of water was there. The snake lifted its hood and drank water to its heart’s content. It came out of bathroom, sat erect on ground with its hood raised. It looked around, straightened itself and crawled into deep woods.
I thanked my stars, thanked God for the mercy. Anything could have happened. My movement could have incited it and out of fear or anger, it could have bitten me. There was no medical aid around. But then, luck and destiny were on my side. I have been face to face with death many times. But every time with God’s mercy, I had narrow escape.
As the saying goes;
जाको राखे साइयां मार सके न कोय – Jako Rakhe Saiyan Maar Sake na Koi
I shifted to another bunker nearby but could not get a wink of sleep whole night. Next morning, troops demolished the bunker and made another one with sturdy walls. Nothing else could be done.
We stayed in the same area since duty is duty and that too in forward area on the Line of control. I think it was a friendly cobra. It never visited me again. But once or twice, I saw it in the area. But there was no encounter. Cobra went its way and soldiers their own way. As they say, they co-existed and lived happily thereafter.
I have old association with snakes. They never harmed me. Those days, I was living at Ambala with my aunt, Soma Masi. I was doing my Inter Science from Jain college. I used to go for evening walk with my friend Sagar Kapoor. That day, we chose the road beyond Railway station, which had thick foliage.
We were in deep conversation when he halted all of a sudden and pulled me back. He pointed towards middle of road about three feet away. A child cobra was sitting right in the middle of road. We slowly retreated our steps. Cobra went its way into deep shrubs.
We were staying in a hundred-year-old haveli at Ambala. It was in a depleted state. A snake was living in this haveli. On several occasions, we found its dead skin hanging in the old almirahs. It never harmed anyone. Man, and snake co-existed.
Story about the haveli and snake speaks about a treasure buried deep down in the haveli hundred years ago and snake guarding it. Our Soma Masi worshipped both lord Shiva and snake. She tied a black thread on our leg after worshipping Mahadev, which provided us protection.
Another incident which looks strange but is true relates to my unit, 91 mountain regiment, now a medium regiment. Our regiment moved from Madhopur Headworks to Mirpur, just 10 kilometres from Pathankot. This place was snake infected. Locals believed that this land was under the curse of a seer.
As we set up our tented accommodation, snakes started popping up from different places. It took us some time to clear the area of snakes. I still remember, a severe storm hit the area, uprooting several tents and blowing away sheets from top of some buildings. Along with storm, area was lashed by torrential rains. At that time, I was in my tent changing my clothes. My tent was blown away and I was thrown several feet away from my tent. I had minor injuries. After the storm, most of the snakes were either killed or left the area.
I firmly believe that reptiles or animals mostly want to stay away from man. They do not harm you unless you disturb them. I think, both can co-exist.
There are tribes in India who excel in catching snakes. You can call them if you notice a snake in or around your house. Snakes and other reptiles are found around independent bungalows where foliage is thick. Some time back, a snake was spotted inside my sister's house in Bhopal.
My brother-in-law contacted a snake catcher, who came and trapped snake in a bag. My sister pleaded with him not to harm the snake. He assured her that snake will be released in nearby jungle. My brother-in-law aptly rewarded snake catcher that thanked him for his services.
Snakes often visit me in my dreams. They are all around me and all over me. But they never harm me. Perhaps this favourite pet of lord Shiva, adorning his neck is kind to me. With snake around his neck, Shiva is also called Nageshwara.
It is said that eighty percent of snakes are harmless. It is not the bite but shock and scare of snake which proves fatal.