I have heard about Agumbe for the first time, during my interaction with Suchi and Vineet when I met them during my photography tour to Gir & Jam Nagar in Gujarat. When I checked Suchi’s blog on her prior trip to Agumbe, I was quite impressed with her experience and thought about going there one day. When Dilan e-mailed me about the trip and that he had planned for the weekend of Aug 29th, I was both happy and concerned. I was happy because it falls on the long weekend (which means no business impact), and sad because it falls on Lord Ganesh festival weekend. When I proposed the idea of me travelling for the weekend, Radhika instantly said yes, and encouraged me to go for it.
Dilan sent a follow-up email saying that I need to get leech socks, rain boots, rain pants, raincoats, long umbrella, 100mm macro lens and more. I went back to Suchi’s blog and learned further what involves in a rainforest trip, and did get concerned if I am really ready for this trip, specially mention of leeches, snakes, and reptiles
I Googled further, and have learned a quite bit about Agumbe, via quick wiki search. Agumbe is a small village located in Shimoga district, in the Malnad region of Karnataka, India. Agumbe is sometimes called “The Cherrapunji of the South” after Cherrapunji, (which we all learned in our high school. It was one of the most popular GK question too), in Northeast India. Agumbe is associated with rainforest conservation efforts, documentation of medicinal plants, tourism (trekking and photography, hence we ended up here this weekend)
Agumbe is approximately 350 km west-northwest of Bangalore ( 6 hour drive) and is approximately 55 km from the Arabian Sea. As part of the Western Ghats mountain range, Agumbe lies in a UNESCO World Heritage Site (thank God for the same, as some sanity sure will prevail in the region, with regards to conservation). Agumbe is a small hill village with very limited visitor accommodation, hence we stayed in ‘home stay’ @ Hingari where we were served with awesome food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and southern hospitality
Dilan, Suchi, Vineet, Jessu, Arun, and I met in Bangalore on Aug 29th around 9AM near Esteem Mall, and travelled to Shimoga in two different cars. I had taken 6AM flight to reach Bangalore around 7:30AM. Since it was Lord Ganesh festival day, I had woken up at 3AM in the morning, and performed standard Lord Ganesh Pooja rituals. I did not want to miss it for multiple reasons, one because of tradition, and other reason is that Lord Ganesh is revered as remover of obstacles and I wanted to return safe from the rainforest trip. I was able to accelerate entire Pooja process, as my father-in-law had setup entire Pooja ingredients (which usually takes few hours) previous evening.
We reached Agumbe around 3PM and got settled in our home stay place, ‘Hingara’. This is a no frills home stay. It was good that Dilan had alerted me to get my own bed sheet, and other toiletries. Highlight of this place is it’s location, good food & decent hospitality. But if you are traveling with kids and/or picky spouse, they may not like the ‘no frills’ part of this place. Check out the first 30 seconds of my video to see awesome drive to home stay place. Best part of the place is location, which is surrounded by lush greenery with no signs & sounds of traffic. We started for rainforest around 6PM, amidst heavy rain. It took me 15 minutes to fully dressed to protect myself from possible leech attack. I was asked to wear regular socks, top it up with leech socks, wear rain paints, and then wear heavy-duty rain boots. Check out the below photo, it looks as if I am getting ready for war with leeches :-). We spent 4 hours around ARRS (Agumbe Rainforest Research Station) and captured snaps of Malabar pit viper, few lizards, fungi cup, wild flowers, and more. It was an interesting experience walking in thick darkness, following sounds of frogs, and searching for them based on the sounds. I was amazed at the speed and accuracy Dilan was able to spot nightlife, and giving us opportunity to photograph them. It was taking about an hour to get everyone a chance to photography a snake in the round robin approach, all in the midst of rain and darkness, surrounded by leeches. We walked back to the main rood, took the maruti van ride, returned to home stay, took hot shower (to ensure we do not have leeches anywhere on us), had sumptious dinner cooked in home style, and returned to bed
We started again for ARRS in the morning post breakfast, to search for snakes and other species in the daylight. We were able to spot Green Vine Snake within 15 minutes of walking around ARRS. It was a beautiful sight. Dilan helped us with camera setting, and encouraged us to get closer to snake without making noises, and take close and personal shots of green vine snake. He did mention that it is not poisonous, which gave me comfort and confidence to approach the snake for macro shots. We felt as if the snake was doing modeling for us, and some times playing hide and seek with us. It wasn’t to easy to spot the snake, when it’s on a tree. Later we did a long walk in slush and leech infested waters to get to waterfalls. It was one of the highlights of the trip. I do not ever remember spending quiet time near waterfalls, where there was zero tourist crowd, and something which is in the midst of lots of greenery, surrounded by sounds of forest, and water, and nothing else. Dilan helped me get great shots of waterfall using long exposure settings. Check them below. We returned to home stay for lunch. In the process of walking to waterfalls, I got bitten by half a dozen leeches. I had to keep calling out Vineet and Dilan, to get leeches out of my body. To ensure that they are out of my body, I took hot shower as soon as I reached home stay
Later in the evening, we headed to Kalinga research center for rainforest ecology, for spending our evening in forest. This was highlight of the entire trip. Trip to KCRE was much more intense than I had expected, involving upto 6 KM trek into thick rainforest in the thick of the night, and in heavy downpour of incessant rain, walking through slush, uneven and not so friendly terrain, amongst land of zillion leaches, and sounds from nocturnal beings in the forest. Owing to my fear of getting bitten by leaches, I have actually become a leach magnet during the trip to KCRE, attracting half a dozen leaches at one time all over me, constantly sending SOS messages for leach extraction.
One-hour stop at KCRE gave me lots of gyan and appreciation for what researchers do here. I have once again learned that Frogs, toads, caecilians and salamanders together constitute amphibians. There are over 6639 species of amphibians in the world, of these around 4750 species are frogs, and roughly 300 species are found in the India. The Western Ghats mountain ranges (older than Himalayas) are home nearly 150 endemic species. We spotted just about half a dozen yesterday. There are about 3000 species of snakes in the world, and India home to over 285 species. However, Kalinga research team in Agumbe says that they are discovering are more and species. The mountain forests of the Western Ghats are rich in herpetofauna where close to 85 species of snakes are found, of which more than half are endemic to this region.
Check out Kalinga web page, to see Gowri Shankar and team’s effort to protect rainforest ecology and endemic species in the region. It is quite endearing. I met one student in the Kalinga camp, who is scheduled to spend 6 months in the camp, to document endemic species and their habits. I saw him walking alone around the forest, with torchlight, and taking notes of what he sees. His camp is surround by poisonous snakes, and other forest life. It is not way called as “comfortable stay’ despite level of passion one has in this field. I felt scary and creepy walking around the forest though I was with group of folks, who knew the terrain so well, and I can never imagine myself doing it alone. This trip did give me another perspective of definition of rainforest ecology and associated species, and folks who spend their life to protect and conserve the same, in whatever the way they can.
This is a once in a lifetime trip. I am so glad that I did it, at a place, which is so close to my home. I may not do it again, as I have so many other things to explore in life. My bucket list is growing rapid than ever before 🙂
Here is the 7 minute video clip which is equivalent to million words that I wanted to write, but could not do it.