View only the pictures & videos (The article only has a snapshot of the entire set of pictures. The full collection is available in the slideshow.)
If you are the naturalist kind, with great love for wildlife, nature and looking for some time off to hone or work on your hobby like photography, bird watching, herpetology etc you are spoilt for choices. Yes you have the backpackers holiday, then the budget holiday, then a normal holiday, then the elite holiday then the eco holidays, then the jungle lodges holiday but in none of these do you get the real down to earth or down to reality feel of a true naturalist or their home terrain, the conditions in which they must perform a great deal of day to day activities like surveys, tracking wildlife, noting temperature, basic living facilities, dueling weather conditions, treacherous terrain, unrelenting leeches / ticks, unpredictable surprises.
I signed up for the Agumbe Rainforest Expedition led by Amogavarsha.Our mandate was very clear- to get the feel of a naturalist working in a field camp and try to spot various snakes, insects, frogs and lizards.
Well to quickly give you a short reckoner about Agumbe, with a little help from wiki - Agumbe is a village located in the Shimoga district in the state of Karnataka, India about 360 KMs from Bangalore. Lying in the Thirthahalli taluk and the Malnad region, Agumbe is among the places in India that receive very heavy rainfall earning it the sobriquet, "Cherrapunji of the South".It is also the home of the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, the only permanent rainforest research station in India. The renowned herpetologist, Romulus Whitaker called Agumbe the capital of King Cobra. Since 2005, Naxalite activity has been observed near Agumbe and hence, a lot of Karnataka State Police personnel have been deployed and checkposts have been created in all intersections. This however has not hindered visitors from visiting the region to enjoy the natural beauty of Agumbe and its
surroundings. Agumbe has lots of waterfalls to visit and a famous sunset point.
Few emails exchanged, money changed hands, a few phone calls made and we set sail or must I say set foot to Agumbe, we started from Bangalore on Friday, 20th August. The trip members were Karthick,Dhurv, Umesh, Kiran & I. We took the KSRTC bus, the Rajahamsa variant, rickety but not too bad. The drive from Thirthahalli to Agumbe was very picturesque, it was about 30 kms of untouched beauty and was very scenic. We reached Agumbe in the morning at 7 and we met Gowrishankar-the naturalist at the bus stand . He is the legend who heads the King Cobra telemetry program and who features in the "Secrets of the King Cobra" video. Really nice to read his tales, first hand experience tales from the jungle and straight from his heart - http://pogirigowrishankar.wordpress.com/. A few of us got into a Maruthi Van. The vehicle and the location and the driver reminded me of the terrorist kidnap scene in the Tamil movie 'Roja', while the others were bundled into the sturdier counterpart - the Bolero. We passed through some stunning grass lands overlooking the mountains and then through thick forests which were so characteristic of the rain forests. The rain forests are usually dark, with damp under growths, leaves fresh and glistening with the dew drops and most of them adorned with rain drops and the canopy is high and consists of huge trees. We reached the base and were just wandering around when Gowri came and informed us that they had noticed some scat on the track and it could be a Leopards scat so we rushed back to the spot and they started their analysis, on the quantity, size, consistency, constituents, freshness, smell etc and eventually they were quite divided over the fact that it could have belonged to a leopard or to a pack of wild dogs. We then returned to the base field camp and we saw the field base camp, a nice few rooms with dorms, a kitchen, 2 washrooms and 2 toilets and a grand Multi Utility Area - lunch place, movie viewing area, animal surgery area etc etc. And within a few minutes we had our first sighting of the tigrina frog.
We then went and had a wash in luke warm water, The entire field station runs on solar power and they use the diesel generator for rare emergencies. We had some awesome kadambuttu (rice balls a coorgi / kodagu speciality) with dhall, chutney and Mangalore buns with nice plantains. Gowrishankar spoke of the station rules, jungle rules, facilities, safety precautions etc and in ten minutes we started chalking out the plan for the day. The plan was to complete a nice sighting walk around the property and try to spot interesting small little insects, snakes etc. We wore our leech socks as the place was teeming with leeches with Dracula intentions of sucking us dry. Our first sighting during the walk was the pill bug which comes from the family of Armadillidiidae. The interesting fact is that it has a natural defense and curls up when attacked or intruded by some foreign object.
We then started the battle with the leeches - this is one of the many battles that you cant win against nature. You kick them, pull them, trouble them etc but they have no complaints and continue to climb over you to have their meal in a very business, professional style. Actually when you realize that you are in their battleground and they are not disgusting you get used to their presence and go about your work like they go about their’s. A joke that I made out of this was the more tense you become the more hot your blood becomes and the leeches can track you better with their heat sensing devices. I really wonder of the things that man is yet to learn from nature- if only we could have painless injections like the way leeches attach themselves, have their full and then roll off to digest their food. The way they sense the heat and come towards the victim and then inject the
anesthesia so that the victim doesn't feel the pain and then inject an anti-coagulant so that blood flow is fast and the body doesn't clot the opening and when it is done it falls off without the victims knowledge - wow what a wonderful piece of engineering. We then spotted some very interesting fungi which we tried capturing using several tricks in the book. We kept walking in the middle of nowhere and kept spotting small spiders, flowers and several interesting patterns and plants.
Another interesting moth that we met.
After a 10 - 15 minute walk we came to the area where two tents were set up. A nice cosy tent with sleeping beds inside where the more adventurous of us were to spend the night. We continued and tried capturing the dew drops on the creepers which I assumed were the jewels of the rain forest. Gowrishankar & Amogh kept telling us nice interesting facts of the ecology of the rain forests and the different species of wildlife that is present there. We went in search of the viper and kraits but to our luck we didn't spot a single one.We spotted a type of Leptotyphlops http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leptotyphlops - the world's smallest snake which is also blind, this particular one was shedding.
We spotted a few nice damselflies and lots of hoppers. Then we decided to do the stream and waterfall trail. We had to walk in nice marshy trails and through streams and finally we reached the waterfall. Now it was time for more trial and error with the camera settings. On our way back we walked for few hundred meters in the stream which had nice flowing water. I really felt I was in the middle of an adventure in search of some hidden treasure. This is where I loved the fact that I wore my floaters and not my boots as floaters are really useful for these conditions, dry faster and are more comfy (than wearing wet shoes).
We got back to the base camp tired after the nice walk and had some great chow - vegetarian nutritious food. This is when we had our first snake sighting, we spotted the green vine snake. For the last 2 years it has been my dream to see a lot of snakes and if possible photograph them as well. I got to see a few big fat rat snakes in JP Nagar 7th phase but was not able to take pictures. Hence this spotting made me overjoyed. Kept clicking pictures till my index finger started aching By the clicking of the shutter, the snake must have thought - did I become famous overnight? the press is after me! :) . We were lucky to see the snake hunting, the way it is dangles low for like 15 – 20 minutes and once it spots its prey it goes almost parallel to the ground about a few cms away from the ground and in a poise ready to strike. Since it was going to feed we didn't want to disturb it and we went away in search of greener pastures. We spotted a gecko and a bush frog.
Then we had a 30 minutes break during which a few of us went on a walking trail and spotted the pill bug again and a few insects here and there. Highlight here was the offbeat locations that we were in.
Amogh then took all of us to the kundadri peak / hilltop. we could not see the kundadri valley there as mist was covering the entire place. we saw the ancient 17th century Jain temple and photographed a few impatiens flowers.
While we were descending we were able to see the Kundadri valley below, here are few shots.
On the way back we stopped at the bus stand and went into a small little hotel and belted everything that was in sight and returned back to the field station. We freshened up and in some time we started watching the documentary - secrets of the king cobra, a documentary shot right at the research station and the forests nearby and you will see Gowrishankar in most of the footage. Amogh was also part of the production team. It was such an inspiring, interesting, & scary video and we were all so involved that we didn't notice a few leeches taking this lack of concentration to their advantage and making us blood footed. I would recommend this video so highly that I could type the reco here. Then we had a question and answer session with Gowri and it was very insightful. One would definitely admire him and his courage. Now time to get back to photography..we had a photo review session with Amogh who reviewed and critiqued our pictures and shared a few tips We had an open session on flash photography etc . Time again for chow and by now the Cherrapunji face of Agumbe started to show up, it was belting, pelting raindrops that it was almost like crackers going off, thump thump thump....it would have made a royal enfield owner proud.
After chow few of us decided to brave the rains and try to track the bull frogs and the gliding frogs and the snakes. A few of us set off in the rain with our rain jackets. This is where we underestimated the heavy rain. It was so heavy that in less than 30 minutes we were drenched and cold. We were walking in pitch darkness in muddles of water with torches providing a thin trail of light. After about 50 minutes we decided to call off the expedition for the night. We then braved the way in the darkness to the tent, that itself was like an adventure. We then took about 20 minutes to get each and every leech off ourselves and then got into the tents. All we could hear was crickets screaming and frogs croaking. My phone was totally wet and started working in a way it was never intended to. It switched off and on at its own will and then open applications that it liked.
Inside the jungle in the tent I opened the entire phone and started to blow dry it and finally it worked enough for me to tweet for a while with my BSNL sim and then it conked off and I also dozed off.
Morning I was woken up the Malabar Whistling Thrush singing a new tune making me feel out of the world, imagine being woken up by a bird singing out a nice rhyme.
We went back to the base camp and got ready and had a nice English breakfast. We were going to go and participate in the telemetry project, Dheeraj one of the research affiliates who is working on the king Cobra tracking program would take us to the last spot where it was spotted yesterday. He explained the process where they capture a snake, insert the chip surgically and then release the snake back into the forest and track it from the morning to evening and then leave after the snake has settled for the evening. They take the weather & humidity reading at regular intervals and keep tracking the position of the snake. The day we went the King apparently had a huge meal and was well settled in a hole in a delayed trunk of a tree. So there went the sighting for a toss but we were happy to share the same vicinity of the King. We then went to some hidden waterfalls discovered by Dheeraj during his spare time. There we spotted the scarlet minivet and the tree pies and few bee eaters. We also saw the skittering frog, lantern insects and a gecko.
We then started the trek to the Jogigundi falls. It was nice and adventurous with fallen trees and slippery terrain. We spotted a Calotes rouxii and a few camouflaged trees, makes you wonder if the army fatigues are inspired by these trees.
and here is the waterfall.
After this we returned for lunch and then we planned for the final trek. It was a 3 hour trek in complete wilderness. Our trek leader was carrying a machete to clear several branches for us to even proceed. The undergrowth was very thick. After a grueling 90 minutes we reached another hidden treasure - a waterfall, sat for a while and marched back. Had to pack our bags and board our bus to get back to Bangalore. A big thanks to Amoghavarsha and Gowrishankar for their help and taking us to some great spots.
The article above only has a snapshot of the entire set of pictures. The full collection is available in the slideshow below.A special mention to Prashanth as well for giving us some lip smacking, soul searching pork fry for dinner on the second day, we licked the vessel clean.
Here is the link for the complete set of pictures
Video - 1 : Pill Bug
Video - 2 : Kundadri Peak
Video - 3 : Jogigundi Falls
If you like the pictures or would like to provide some feedback please provide in via the following links
All the pictures and the video have been shot with a 5 year old P&S Canon S3 IS camera.
Thanks for reading.
Few Pictures have come out in the Furs Fins & Feathers Magazine, January 2011 Edition – Article Here