Godfather, Terminator, Toy Story, Bourne Supremacy, Evil Dead, Harry Potter, Agumbe Rainforest Rendezvous Recurs - what's common in this list?? All have successful sequels to their name and the sequels have been more engrossing than ever before.
As part of fulfilling my vows to the nature god I had planned another pilgrimage trip to the Agumbe rainforest to be in the company of the members of the rainforest dynasty.
The rainforest welcomes you in a rather bizarre manner. You will have to shut your vehicle windows about 30 minutes as your near the periphery of the rainforest as a steady drizzle starts. You will start sniffing & gathering a rather new scent which is nothing but the dampness and the high moisture content in the air. As I got down in the Agumbe bus stand, a wave of nostalgia and unique sense of pride engulfed me..the feeling of an elite privileged class - to be one of the lucky select few to witness the beauties, mysteries and mystique of a rainforest personally and repeatedly.
The rainforest deity does a basic check to verify if you are an ardent devotee. She doesn't want wanderers given the same treatment that is being meted and doled out in the cities. As you walk to the Agumbe Rainforest Research Center, you will be tested with strong bursts of rain, persistent howling winds and then the leech army takes over, the slushy marshy terrain will try to discourage you. The faking devotee will back out at this point or make mental notes to never ever even sleep with his / her head in this direction. If you pass the basic check the rain becomes a massage shower, the winds shape into an orchestra, the leech army starts getting non intrusive and you treat them like your hair ends. You take to the slushy marshy like an imported SUV. Yes you guessed right I passed the test with flying colors and I was inducted into the roll call of the friends of the rainforest.
Day one started rather on a sad note, there was vegetable UPMA for breakfast, for the uninitiated that's an araldite like paste with few cut vegetables thrown in to adorn the mess and give the porridge look alike some respect. After thindi we armed ourselves with rain jackets, rain ponchos, shooting gear - an assortment of camera bodies and lenses and me with my floaters marched out of the base camp in search of reptiles (preferably snakes), insects, frogs and toads. We started off doing an area survey of the base camp where we hit upon an assortment of snails, dew covered moss sprouts and yes we did see my favorite frog the Indian bull frog (Tigrina) - love the patterns and the various reflections found in the eye of the frog. As we were scouting the area we received a call that some one had spotted a Vine Snake - the elegant well behaved snake. It was raining quite heavily and it was time to test the weather sealed claims from canon for the 7D, took the bazooka with the trusted 100 mm bomber and shot a few sensor imprints. This particular snake had few abscesses on its body, again loved the rain shots and the pattern found on the snakes skin.
Water Droplet Jewels
Tigrina / Indian Bull Frog Series
Rainy Conditions which the camera (and me) braved
Green Vine Snake Series
More details & photographs of the vine snake -
We then continued the walk towards a stream, let us name it the Golden Stream of Agumbe. The entire rainforest had thousands of streams, many more still undiscovered & teeming. We can walk through a flowing stream to reach this water fall but we didn't have that wish fulfilled as it had been raining non stop for the last few days and the currents were quite high. Shooting in the dark rainforests is always a challenge. With the weather conditions and the dense canopies, you fiddle around with the aperture / shutter speed / ISO in search of the perfect focus and a good shot. While the majority of the group were stuck with the agenda of the doing the waterfall stream to death, I for one being lazy to change my macro bomber to a wide angle bomber decided to wander off in the other direction. It is such a different experience while in the rainforests that you can actually hear your heart beat. The quote silence is golden might have had its origin in some rainforest. I spotted a damselfly and tried being its companion for more than 5 minutes, I guess it took a liking to me as it kept coming back to a twig close to me (high hopes!!).
Rain in the Rainforest (what else?)
Water the Elixir (pls conserve)
A mixed platter
Lunch time bought some respite for our weary legs and hands that were handling the bazooka and the bombers. After a nice meal we decided to walk for about 2 kms before driving to Kundadri Valley / Peak. We again explored, examined a few exhibits of the rainforest and shot a few. I loved the tree crab which was playing peek a boo with us coming out, and running back in if we stared at it. We spent about 60 minutes shooting the peak and the panorama that was witnessed. We finally got to see the pill bug. Another super action scene that we witnessed was the attack of a live earthworm (along with the attack of a live centipede). The earthworm was about 25 cm long and there were about 60-70 black ants, they had cut the earthworm into 3 parts 2 parts measuring 3-4 cm and the remaining part would have measured about 15 cm. The ants were attacking the live earthworm and carrying it off to their burrow. Every 5 minutes the earth worm would regain its composure and some strength and try hard to wriggle and shake off all the ants, the ants would back off and attack again in a few seconds. We watched this for about 15 minutes and finally left knowing that the ants would have a good source of protein stored away for the winters. We drove down to the sunset point which was engulfed in fog but yes we got to munch on some tasty melaga bajji's (Chilly Savories). We stopped at the main store of the town to buy some rare papads (jack fruit papads - ready to eat variety) and cashews.
Peek a Boo
Black Ant Attack
Video of the old pill bug
Kundadri Peak Series
Kundadri Peak View - A 65 megapixel picture stitched with about 9 different shots. The image size is 17930 x 3619. [zoom & zoom]
Video of the Kundadri Peak - Mist + Winds Howling
We had dinner at around 7:30pm. The base camp runs on solar and water energy. They have solar panels and a turbine generating power and storing it in batteries. Hence the research station is adorned with led lights which glimmer like stars and give out just enough light and consume almost nothing. After dinner we started for the night walk, again fully armed we left. We had Amogh and Vineith (a Naturalist from central India) to lead us. My sighting skills would have made an owl lower its hood in shame. It made me wonder if I was perhaps a nocturnal creature. We / I spotted a stick insect, several forest lizards, raspy cricket, a healthy green vine snake, a blue eyed prince frog (Blue eyed bush frog) [Philautus neelanethrus] giving out its legendary croak - treek tink-tink-tink to seek a mate and yes we did see it with its sac full but as soon as it realized it had uninvited visitors it threw a fit and stopped croaking. We saw this awesome lizard (similar to a software engineer on his bean bag) completely chilling out on the last twig of a tree, clutching the tree and sleeping. We then spotted the cat snake. It has a superb coiled pose before it strikes. A beautiful species (yet to ID it, looks like either a ceylon or beddome's variety). We called it a night after approximately 2 hours of the walk. We returned to the base camp and we all retired to the tents thinking all the adventure has ended. We cleared ourselves and entered the tent to discover both the zips of the tent door were broken and there was no way to zip up ourselves from the unknown surprises that the rainforest could spring up. I wore my thinking hat and went out into the jungle and started bringing back stones to weight the base of the tent down so that nothing can enter from the bottom. We then tried sleeping in a 50% open tent, at around 2:30 my tent mate and me woke up to strange crawling feeling on us, we discovered a host of leeches crawling on us, we played another round of carrom, tonking them out of the tent at high speeds, they must have felt like in a roller coaster.
Blue Eyed Prince
Mid Air Siesta
The second day started on a good note. The breakfast spread was kadambuttu (rice balls a coorgi / kodagu speciality) with dhall, chutney and Mangalore buns with nice hill plantains as the dessert. We were off to Yogigundi waterfalls. It has a nice 1-2 km trail off the beaten track to reach the waterfalls. You can spend hours shooting the waterfalls and the small little surprises that are lined up along the trail.
Ferns, Mushrooms, Fungi etc
Yogigundi Waterfall Series
After a small tiff with few visitors who were drinking and littering the place, we were to have a bonanza of snakes. We were driving down a slope with Gowri at the wheel while suddenly he yelled "shit guess we killed a snake". He braked abruptly and we all jumped out of the jeep, only to realise that the jeep though in gear continued moving due to the steep slope. Gowri had to jump back and stop the jeep properly and we started scouting the area and we found a juvenile Hill Keelback, a rather rare find. It was beautiful and we spent few minutes recording details of this species. Within a km we spotted a rather healthy rat snake with a yellowish tinge on the underbody. A few of us decided to walk from the village to the research camp and we spent hours walking peacefully and carefully exploring and watching things. We spotted the checkered keelback in the same area where we had spotted it yesterday. It was underwater with its head above water resting on a bush’s roots, giving an impression that it was enjoying a sauna in the snakes world. We reached rather late around 3.00 pm, when others had finished their lunch and were getting ready for another stroll. We had a working lunch, and enjoyed chatting with Siddharth, the field director of ARRS. Nice to meet dynamic people and the faith returns that nature, conservation and wildlife still have a hope.
The rare hill keelback
We then started off to a nearby stream, just about 10 minutes from the camp. We kept hearing calls of the hornbill, the Malabar grey hornbill and suddenly we heard a helicopter take off, whoosh, whoosh, whooooosh whoooooosh, and as we looked up we saw two hornbills fly above us to a tree high up the canopy. Another nice spotting was the cicada. I have always heard the high pitched drone from the drum like organ of the male, have also seen the moult but have never seen the insect as they are usually high up on the trees. Spent lots of time in the stream just chilling and wetting our legs and just before we leaving spotted a huge green forest calotes.
First Sighting of a Cicada
I will flow
Green Forest Calotes
Returned to the base camp and realized rather sadly that it was time to wind up and that the pilgrimage to the rainforest deity has actually ended. With a heavy heart and a stronger resolve to return again faster and longer we boarded the bus to return to Bangalore. A special thanks to Amogh, Gowri, ARRS and yes the rainforest deity for accommodating us. Thank you Anu for editing and correcting the several errors in the article. Also a mighty thanks to my dad for changing his 2 day visit to meet us at Bangalore just so that I may make it to Agumbe, thanks and I love you appa.
Thank You Amogh & Gowri
The wildest animal - moi
THE FRAGILE RAINFOREST - PLEASE DON'T BREAK IT!
Pictures Slideshow - Full Set