Intro: Way to Heaven.
Home seemed far away as I started my journey to the ultimate destiny. A place where one can find the essence of beauty and the strength of peace. My Balance in the phone is nearly zero and still, the job of finding the way to my destination left unchecked. Like always, my heart started to beat hard, as the train jolted down slowly to the Chennai Central station.
The pillion ride on the coastal roads of Chennai did bring me the old memories of the small and God blessed town, (…….). As the milestones passed us like light rays, Shafeeq began to count down the distance to the destiny – “Heaven on Earth” well known as Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT). Heaven is the right word for MCBT, according to a herper or to any wildlife enthusiastic. Finally, the Madras Crocodile Bank came into view as Shafeeq counted down to Zero. A long wish came true.
About the trip:
The Trip was decided upon by all the members of Save Every Breed Community. Our First educational trip. As usual, none turned up. So, the count drastically fell down to 3 in front of our very own eyes.
We parked the vehicle and got into the park as neatly as possible, good thoughts budding inside our hearts. Ganesh was no where in view, so had to search for him. We, at-last, found him rushing through “The Hindu “newspaper, at the Mess Hall.
We then marched together to the Office. The office slowly came into view as we marched forward with high hopes. A small cottage like, when opened revealed ourselves to Smiling Faces. “Good Morning Guys” said she, as she swung herself from the Chair. We were dealt by Dr. Gowri, The Educational Officer. Another Smiling face was visible at the other end of the room; the lady whom I later came to know was Payal. As we were told about the Rules and Regulations, as usual with a cigarette in the hand and with roughly grown beard, the Guy smiled at us. Revealing himself slowly through the Office doors, it was Nik (Nikhil Whitaker: Curator of MCBT). The Office looked magnificent with all the framed photos of Snakes and other reptiles. Lots of Stickers of A.N.E.T and other organizations.
Mr. Soham (Asst. Curator) handed us 2 volunteer registration forms as we have to fill it up and get ourselves registered. After the usual formalities, we were asked to get into our tasks. Ms Gowri asked Ganesh to show us the area, so that we get used to the pens and enclosures. Soham described our first task as Shafeeq and I handed him the duly filled forms.
We were asked to complete the Enclosure of “Aldabra tortoise” with Red sand. The task as it seems was tough. A very physical job. Carrying the basket full of red mud on our shoulders was like building muscles. We were on our fifth round, when a blue TATA SUMO went past us. A very familiar face driving it. I shouted “Its Rom. Romulus Whitaker “. We walked till we reached him. Left our baskets aside, Rom approached us and introduced himself. He recognized us as volunteers and wished us the very best. The weight on our shoulder seemed to be shifted, with his wishes. The day ran away. The enclosure was half full when we decided to take rest. We spent some time at the “Young Reptiles” hut, educating the visitors about the Indian Python, The Indian Black Turtle and the Mugger Juvenile.
The lunch session was fun, when Ganesh introduced his friend “Mike“. An American biology student, who was preparing some paperwork at MCBT.
As the sun decided to cool down and so did we. We spent the evening at the beach. It was as usual, AWESOME. Heavy tides were crawling down the beach due to the rainfall it seemed. We acted insane. Ganesh was busy burring himself in the beach sand like a mole. Shafeeq the walrus, enjoying the waves hitting him. And Myself, Running around with my camera, taking macro shots of objects that fascinated me.
We were greeted back at the cottage, by the warm water waiting to let it roll down our body. We took a quick bath and sat at the mess hall. We then started discussing about Save Every Breed and its future. Everything seemed promising. We proposed our plans with Nik as he came to the mess hall to have his dinner. The day passed away with Fun and happiness.
Thoughts of our vehicle spending the night lonely on the highway; brushed by the chilly wind sounded insecure to us. So, we decided to take our vehicles into the MCBT. I drove Shafeeq’s vehicle, while Shafeeq made himself comfortable in Ganesh’s ride. The distant sound of the drums and singing drove our foot unknowingly to the source. We were surprised. A group of Irula Tribal people was enjoying their evening. They have been rehearsing, what we thought to be their tribal dance. A slim guy, dancing like a girl was accompanied by another who had a whip well hidden under his Clothing. The Latter was whipping the girlish guy in regular intervals. Shafeeq and I were asked to dance with them while Ganesh started clicking his camera. The thought of getting ourselves whipped, didn’t allow us to show our dancing skills.
The Irula people had a drum which sounded like Dhol and many other instruments, whose names; you are not supposed to know. They sang different tribal songs at the same rhythm of the drums. It was a moment to cherish.
The Thrill of cleaning the enclosure, woke us early the second day. We were supposed to report at 7:30 in the morning, but then realized that we were running late by 2 hours. We had our breakfast and left to help, clean the enclosures. We jumped into the “Spectacled Cayman” pen and started to clean it. We were later accompanied by other volunteers.
When the pit showed itself clean enough, I rushed to help Ganesh in the Mugger Enclosures. There I found myself cleaning the enclosure in middle of crawling crocs. The cleaning was satisfying enough. Then we continued our work completing the Enclosure for the Aldabra Tortoise. We completed it with minimum fuss at the break of noon.
We then, after having our delicious lunch prepared by “ Akkas “, decided to attend the voice training session on the Alligators with Soham. It was a controversial hour for a normal person - A dog or a cat can make good pets. Do Crocodilians make good pets? Ally (the alligator), Mick(the Salty), Abu(the Nile guy), Thai(the Siamese) , Komodo, Ben and others are the answer. Soham showed his skills in petting these crocodilians. The training was mind-blowing for amateurs like me.
When the mosquitoes found our blood tasteful at the voice training, we were again forced to take the refuge at the “Young Reptiles” Hut. Sekhar (Asst. Educational officer) helped us a lot in increasing our range of knowledge, and was situations when I stood “Mouth Opened “seeing his interaction skills with the visitors. Ganga then asked us to feed the Muggers with Beef, to entertain the visitors.
The evening welcomed us with lots of Foreigners at the Young Reptiles Hut. It was complete fun to see their enthusiasm and interest on us holding the reptiles, rather than having it on the amazing reptiles.
Night came fast approaching when we were forced to get back to our cottage. The day was good, and the bathroom stayed neat to let us bath. “Guys, be there at the Entrance at 7:30” Said Soham, as we made ourselves look good enough for the Night Safari. Like the name suggest, Walking through the Heaven was indeed a special moment. Glittering eyes, like Fireflies of the Crocodiles. We walked back to the cottage and Nik hosted a late night movie “The Naked Weapon 33 1/4“. The Movie was hilarious and whiled away the time for good.
We woke up quiet early, without the roosters crowing. The realization of our final day at MCBT bought tears from my eyes. The day seemed a little gloomy. “We are going to feed the JAWS and the SNAKES “said Ganesh. A wave of excitement rushed the shore of my heart. We then had our breakfast. The tea and the “Uppma“looked very promising for our days work.
We then discussed about SEB to Dr Gowri and Payal.
Sampath, an experienced caretaker at MCBT, asked us to be at the “Snakes Haven”, for the feeding of serpentines. I and Shafeeq watched as Sampath and Ganesh started feeding the dead rats to the Indian Rock Python, and Reticulated Python.
A wave of Violence hit my heart, when I saw Sampath peeling of the skin and other parts of the rat, to feed the King Cobra. Disturbing, but a very truth. The King Cobra feeds mainly on Snakes. And Captive One at MCBT is fed with Rats, Which look like snake without its skin, ears and legs. For the feeding, we were accompanied by Mike.
Nik’s voice training session with Henry and Nichole (American Alligator) was one of the most captivating events at MCBT. Nik’s brave actions were witnessed by hundreds. A clip of the long training was caught on my camera. It was a great feeling to see an expert dealing with the beauties of nature.
They say “Marriage takes place in heaven”. It’s true. One example is of Henry and Nicole. 20 successful and happy years at MCBT. They are one of the most beautiful couples found.
We spent our rest of the time with Sekhar at “Young Reptiles” Hut. Ganga called us when he was about to feed the JAWS. It was a rare and captivating scene. The Asia’s Largest Captive Crocodile came charging towards Ganga, when he offered beef to him. Bulks of meat seemed a piece of cake for JAWS.
I then, moved in for a patrol to keep the visitors with enthusiasm within their line of control. Thinking of the new occupants at MCBT, bought eagerness to our minds. But an opportunity to feed them was more than satisfactory. Ganesh and I were feeding the Aldabra Tortoise with leaves, as suggested by Dr Priya. We ticked away the time feeding the Aldabra Tortoises which seemed to enjoy them.
The Evening approached with certainty that we have to leave the place at-last. Went on for a final round, biding “Good Bye” to all the people working at MCBT. The tears from my eyes were brushed away, when Shafeeq made me realize that I’m a volunteer now and I can come here anytime, any day.
Heaven on Earth: A Special Place on Earth, where one can find the Essence of Natural Beauty and the Strength of Peace. MCBT is surely one among them.