And the rains started pouring. The monsoon clouds crashed on the Indian subcontinent. Once more the green started sprouting everywhere and the smell of damp moist earth embalmed my senses. I didn’t want another monsoon to pass me by without revealing the life-magic that the heavens bring in.

The desire to witness life as it is in its most natural form—living, breeding, and growing—prompted me to (most willingly) join Darter Photography Tour to Agumbe in the June of 2018. Thereafter began the unravelling of mysteries and magic that any amount of research couldn’t have prepared me for.

 

The door that leads to Kalinga Mane, or the house of the Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology

Fifteen minutes of off-roading from the Guddekeri bus stop through the last human habitat and beginning of forests left us at the doorstep of Kalinga Mane – the house of the Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology.

Huffing and puffing with our bags and gears, we climbed down three flights of rocky steps to be greeted by a snoozing Common Vine Snake, so conspicuous that it took me quite some time of bobbing my head to spot it. I still look back at that precise moment when I saw a snake in the wild, on its luxurious bed of green, for the very first time in my life. And I knew I would never behold snakes the same way again.

Me wearing ‘Leech Socks’ before entering the forests

 

A sumptuous breakfast after, as we got ready for our first rainforest walk, I was handed two brown cloths that looked like socks stitched for giants. These socks would be my saviour (though not a 100% guarantee) from the leeches for the next three days. I was in a rainforest in the rainy season. Did I not see that coming?

Three hours later, returning from the walk, I felt the beginning of amazement and wonder. I had seen Gliding Lizards fly from tree to tree, dragonflies of varieties more than I could count, the discarded shell of a cicada stuck to a tree—was it a miracle handcrafted in mud by the one above with perfect eyes, limbs, and body? There were beetles in multi metallic colours shaming the existence of metallic colours in the world of humans. And frogs. One golden, the other brown, and another one with an hour glass etched on its back.

 

Western Tree Frog

Dragonfly

Damsel-fly

Metallic Tiger Beetle

Tiger Beetle

Cicada Shell

Leech

 

The overcast sky, saturated to the brim, poured down heavily, drenching the forest, its native creatures, and the handful of humans who happened to be there. When all you otherwise hear is the splitter-splatter of water on concrete, rain falling on the topmost leaves of tall trees and finding their way through the thick canopies to the floor of the forest is no less than balm for thirsty eyes. The more you drink off it, the more needy you become.

And thereafter began the frenzy of activities and sounds that engulfs the woods after a good rain—sounds that are rhythmic and musical, coordinated and orchestrated, and pleasantly deafening.

That night, the elusive Malabar Tree Toads descended from high up in the trees to the shrubs below. The Malabar Gliding Frog left the hollows of the well to perch on a tree nearby. Green and brown Pit Vipers lay stoic and motionless in wait of prey. In a rare sighting, the Web Casting Spider spun its net so adroitly and speedily that I wondered if weavers learnt their art from these tiny creatures of the wild.

 

Malabar Pit Viper – Brown

Malabar Tree Toad

Web-casting Spider

Malabar Gliding Frog

 

Tent-accommodation at KCRE campus

Ah! My tired limbs and brimming heart had a restful sleep in the tent that first night in the rainforest.

Morning saw the forest blooming with fungi—resembling cups, saucers, eggs, snow-covered Christmas trees, umbrellas, flowers, and so on. The one above really went wild with his imagination.

 

Cups?

Big one

Dead Man’s Finger

Umbrella?!

 

And if that wasn’t enough, a magnificent blue coloured ball, hard as shell, caught our eye. No amount of speculation could have made me imagine that the little blue ball is a millipede.

 

Ball Millipede

 

A misty view of the Western Ghats from top of the Akki Baththa Rashi Gudda

 

Happy faces on top of the hill

Rain clouds gathered again that evening and the cool, soothing wind accompanied us as we trudged up the Akki Baththa Rashi Gudda. As I stood at the top, I realised the expanse of the rainforest of Western Ghats. My eyes saw only a miniscule part of it, but the comprehension of its entirety sent chills of overwhelm down my spine.

 

Coffee Locust

 

With no rains, the forest lay quiet that night. But the bush frogs put their vocal sacs to use and croaked all night. A three-feet (close to) long green Pit Viper hung loose on a branch above and gave us chills to remember for a very long time to come.

Malabar Pit Viper – Rare Yellow Morph

Large-eyed Bronzeback Tree Snake

 

Walking through the rinforests

No path ahead

The last walk on the final day through the rainforest, through leech-country, through the sights and smells of moist earth and greens evoked an undefinable love in me.

 

My eyes had seen the wonders of a rainforest, a spell-binding experience that drew to a close that weekend with us chancing upon a yellow Pit Viper, a sight too rare even for regulars—a yellow so bright, yet mellow, a snake so poised even in its sleep. All these years I had been unaware of the magical, colourful, and vast kingdom of rainforest creatures, a world that now intrigues me immeasurably.

 

Rising from the ground and touching the sky – that is what a rainforest is!

 

In a rainforest, there exists multiple layers of life-forms (unlike anywhere else), both plants and creatures, that exist in perfect, symbiotic relationship, dependent on and feeding off each other. There are plants, fungi, and creatures that live and breed so close to earth; there are shrubs and creatures dependent on them; then there are trees and the tallest of trees that umbrella the entire forest; and the sky above with birds scurrying around. The woods adhere to no boundaries, differentiate not the shades of green, and welcome life in every form.

I heaved myself into the cab that drove me away from a love I had just found. My ignorance had metamorphosed into sheer passion for creatures I had been prejudiced about. I stared into the dark of the rainforest, knowing deep inside that nothing could snitch the bond created over one weekend in the rainforest, a bond that will make me tread these forest paths yet again, very soon.

 

 

Travel Advise

Getting There:

Agumbe is close to 360 kilometres from Bangalore. We got off at Guddekeri, which is 10 kilometres short of Agumbe and is a small village that leads up to total wilderness of the Western Ghats and tropical rainforests.

If you love to drive, this is an ideal, scenic route for you to ‘take on’ the roads. Especially scenic is the segment between Shivamoga and Agumbe.

You can also take the KRSTC sleeper, night bus. It is comfortable and most often, on time.

Stay Options:

There are plenty of hotels and homestays in Agumbe and nearby areas. If you want a real-jungle experience, get in touch with the Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology. You may get to learn quite a bit about rainforests and the King Cobra.

Happy Tummy:

Try the local food here. Make a stop at small dhabas  and tea shops that are known for the best local fanfare. Try to get yourself invited to the house of a local family and enjoy the most-yummy ubattu (we were fortunate enough).

For the Eyes:

Read the post. Need I say more?

 

(Also published on http://www.darter.in/rainforest-tales/.)

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