It was my longtime wish to stay inside a rain forest and to experience the amazing flora and fauna of a typical rainforest. But due to hectic office schedule and travels, I couldn’t concentrate on a travel plan.
But this monsoon (* monsoon is the seasonal wind which brings lots of rains from Indian ocean to Indian Subcontinent) I was determined to travel to Agumbe, a place at Shimoga District in Karnataka. Agumbe which is surrounded by the Western Ghats Mountains and lush rainforests is in the Thirthahalli taluk of the Malnad region. Agumbe is among the places in India that receive very heavy rainfall earning it the sobriquet, “Cherrapunji of the South”. But, landscape, hills, streams were not the destination for this time. Agumbe’s rainforest is the habitat of numerous invertebrates and snakes but this is the home of the King Cobra. (Ophiophagus Hannah), the longest venomous snake on the earth and also the national reptile of India.
Agumbe is not only renowned for its rainforest ecosystem, but also for the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station or ARRS which was founded by Renowned herpetologist Romulus Whitaker in the year of 2005.
ARRS was my destination and shelter for my next 3 days. 3 of my colleagues were also interested to travel with me and wanted to experience the rainforest.
There is only one bus goes to Agumbe from Bangalore every night. So, we got into that bus on one rainy Friday evening from Bangalore Kempegowda Bus-stand. The night passed away in the bus and we touched the wet ground of Agumbe on the Sat day early morning. It was a small town, drenched in rain. We have a cup of fine Coffey at bus-stand and hired an Auto Rickshaw to go to ARRS. The research station is 2/3 km far from the town and deep inside the forest but is well connected by the Auto-Rickshaws to the research stations. Soon, we reached at ARRS, quickly finished the formalities of accommodations and food. We have been given the Leopard Cottage (Where we would be staying for the next 3 days) which was absolutely brilliant and is surrounded by the greens. It was the time for our eyes to adjust with the greens around as they are not used to in city life.
We had our breakfast at the research station dining hall. After having breakfast, we were trying to explore the surroundings and found lots of frogs, grasshoppers, praying mantis and lots of unknown colorful insects and off-course leeches around us. The rain was giving its company and it was lush green all around. We were tired after a hectic bus journey and decided to take a little rest after lunch.
After a quick nap, we decided to explore around the campus and went towards a stream which was flowing in full strength. During our trek, we found numerous species of frogs, beetles, and butterflies. A beautiful bush frog posed in front of my camera. It was resting peacefully on a leaf.
After taking a couple of pictures without disturbing its afternoon rest, we started heading towards the waterfalls.
During this exploration of the new place, we didn’t realize that the afternoon has passed away and evening is knocking at the door. The place didn’t have any electricity except a few dim solar power units only inside the campus. So we headed back fast to our camp.
The evening passed away fast with some Jungle Fowls and Jackals call and as soon as night came, all surrounding changed totally. It was pitched dark. As the station runs by solar power so it has lights only where it is required, unlike an urban area. We had torches with us but my 5 cell torch was appearing like a candle in that darkness. And the sound of crickets from the jungle in that night – wow it was something to feel.
At ARRS, the researchers offered us a night trek with torches to trace nocturnal animals around the campus. We were ready for all kind of adventures – Few people started searching for mammals using torch lights in the pitched darkness of the kingdom of snakes. Every step was made with extra care. After a search of two hours, we could manage to spot a hare, few scorpions and couple of Slender Lorries. It was a hectic day and we decided to take proper rest at that night. So we came back had our supper and went to our camp without knowing what is waiting for our next day.
A warm sunlight welcomes us next morning. After a proper rest our energy level was on top, so we didn’t waste much time to have our quick breakfast and to start a trek towards the same stream os last evening. The road was surrounded by thick jungle. The path was slippery due to heavy rain at last night. A continuous sound of crickets was coming from the jungle. We were walking inside the meadows carefully. But nature has something different in his mind. He played with us little. I realized soon that our extra carefulness also a joke to natures camouflage when I just stepped a Malabar Pit Viper.
To my horror, I just realized I almost stepped on a venomous Malabar Pit Viper which was completely camouflaged in the dry leaves and with wet tree branches. Now it was the time to handle it carefully to watch its behavior. I did with a small stick and the viper was in a striking pose. Later my friend handled it which allowed me to click some images of this beautiful creature. This was our first meet with any snake in the kingdom of snakes. Till then we were not aware of what is waiting for us for the day. We spent a good time with the Pit and let it go. We headed towards the stream. After spending some time in the stream we came back to ARRS.
We had our lunch and I decided to explore the nearby town. While other 2 decided to take rest we two friends started towards the town through the same forest trek route. After spending a couple of hours in the town and having some best local Coffey we decided to go back to ARRS and later I thanked myself to take the decision of coming back to the cottage at that time for rest of my life. When we reached ARRS, I heard a local young boy was shouting that he has just seen a very big snake. We immediately started looking in that direction while ARRS volunteers also joined us to scan the spot. It didn’t take much time and to my utter disbelief, we found a black tail of snake going inside the bush. My adrenaline was high as I knew what we have spotted. When we spotted the head of the snake we knew at that time we were meeting the King of Agumbe just inside the ARRS campus. It was a 12 feet long King Cobra which was going inside a bush and then turned its big head towards us.
My fingers were busy on the shutter of the camera and to my sheer luck, I was shooting a 12 ft King in daylight with a 100mm macro lens from just 4/5 ft away.
Suddenly the snake changed its position and we felt the distance was not very safe for the king and we should respect the lethality of this beautiful snake.
We all were then in a little safer distance. We watched the beauty of the rainforest for more than 40 minutes and then decided to leave the place and let the king live in peace. It was a moment of my entire life. Everybody was telling about our luck to spot the king in the 2nd day. On the way back to the cottage we spotted a rat snake and a green vine snake too. We spotted the King again just after a couple of hours inside the field searching for food. It was dark at that time. We went there with torches and found it was aggressive at that time. We were just observing its behavior as there was no chance of photography in the darkness.
The night was again pitched dark and full of noises from the forest. We had our dinner early and were very careful while coming back from dining hall to Leopard Cottage. I was using a searchlight then to scan the pathway as the King was in the campus. Soon we reached the cottage and just for curiosity I switched on the searchlight and started scanning on the field where we spotted the King last time. Instead of King, I could spot a Big Krait and it was moving. The krait was not even 15 ft away from our cottage and then we also spotted the King too in the field. It was a fearful experience to spot two snake eater tremendous venomous snakes just 15-20 ft away from the cottage. The King was hungry and it was looking for its prey. King Cobra preys on other snakes including venomous snakes. So it was obvious the king was hungry and the probability was the krait will fall under king’s prey. As the rain started heavily, we lost the sight of the king or krait but it was obvious the king was behind its meal.
We waited for long but there was no sign of stopping the rain. We came inside the cottage, locked the door scan the whole room carefully and went to the bed with some awesome experience.
A warm sunshine welcome our third day at Agumbe. We were expecting the king or krait again infront of the cottage but couldn’t see any of them. The horror of night disappeared with the broad day light. It was our final day at ARRS. In morning we went to see Yogikundi falls which was 6 KM away from ARRS. We took an Auto-Rickshaw and went to the falls. The final stretch was a km trek through the forest. It was a beautiful falls flowing in full strength empowered by the monsoon.
After coming back to ARRS, we again went on a search for the King Cobra, but there was no sign of it. We did another short trek through the stream. We spotted many frogs on the way. While walking through the knee-deep water of the stream we noticed a couple of snakes fall down in the water from the tree branches.
My watch was telling me that time has arrived to say goodbye to ARRS and to start the normal routine life back in Bengaluru. So we came back to the cottage, packed our luggage and bid a goodbye to ARRS team. A big thanks to the entire team for the hospitality, for the homely environment and thrilling adventure experience.
Finally, we started our journey back to home bidding goodbye to the amazing forest and its animal.
Few Random Images: