At first, passengers on board Sundayâ€™s Karaikkal-Kottayam Express spotted a bag lying on an empty seat. Several hours later, nobody came forward to claim the light grey bag, which appeared to move suspiciously.
Little did passengers realise, however, that their traveling companion had been a python all along.
The snake, which had travelled more than 150 kilometres on the Express train, was eventually rescued by Forest Department officials.
According to the Forest Department, a 29-year-old man from Alappuzha illegally caught the python in Palakkad. Jijo George then put the snake in his bag and took a train to Ernakulam from Ottappalam in Palakkad. However, when Jijo jumped out of the train on reaching Ernakulam South station, he accidentally left behind the bag that had the live snake inside it.
But as it turns out, it wasnâ€™t just the python that was in Jijoâ€™s bag, but also his ID cards. Police then tracked Jijo down to his house in Alappuzha and arrested him.
Plachery Deputy Range Officer Ratheesh tells TNM that Jijo caught the python with the intention of killing it and making a curry out of it, probably as part of new year celebrations.
If Jijo hadn't forgotten the bag in the train, the crime would have not come to light, the police says.
"Jijo was returning from a relative's house in Ottappalam on a lorry when he spotted a crowd that had gathered in Sreekrishnapuram. Hopping out of the lorry, he went to enquire what the matter was. The people had gathered there seeing a python. Jijo picked up the snake and put it in his bag. Scared, the lorry driver refused to let Jijo travel in the vehicle. Later, he took another lorry and reached Ottappalam to board the Karaikkal-Kottayam train," Ratheesh says.
The train that earlier used to go till Ernakulam, recently extended its route to Kottayam. Not aware of this, Jijo, who wanted to travel to Kottayam, got off in Ernakulam South station, sans his bag.
"Some passengers noticed the abandoned bag, but didn't pay attention until they spotted some movement inside the bag. But not many people gave any importance to it. On reaching Kottayam, as the passengers were vacating the train, one of them informed a cleaner about the abandoned bag and the mysterious movement from inside it," Ratheesh explains.
Little did the cleaners expect to find a live snake when they opened the bag. Soon, the Railway Police searched the bag and recovered Jijo's identity cards.
Jijo was arrested on January 1 and a Kanjirappilly court remanded him to 14 days judicial custody.
Jijo, who works as a supplier of drinking water bottles to fishing boats, has been charged under the Wildlife Act, 1972 for illegally catching the snake and confining it. If convicted, Jijo faces up to three years in prison and a fine of Rs 25,000 for the crime.
According to Ratheesh, Jijo is a seasoned offender, who has previously illegally caught snakes to cook them.
"In Alappuzha, it is not rare to cook snakes and eat them. Jijo had expertly caught the snake and casually travelled on the train carrying the snake inside his bag. This indicates that he has done this previously too," Ratheesh says.
As for the snake, following a court order, the python was later released into a forest in Kottayam.