It was 10 pm, on a Friday evening (29th May) at the Bangalore bus stand. Our group of 15 photography enthusiasts including the photographer-guide Amoghavarsha and I waited impatiently for the bus to depart to Agumbe. It finally did and early next morning, we found ourselves at Agumbe.
A short trek in the morning mist and we reached our camping site – the ARRS (Agumbe Rainforest Research Station). Here, we were introduced to Gowrishankar, the Chief of ARRS and a renowned researcher and herpetologist know for his path-breaking efforts in conserving the rainforests in this region and most importantly, the deadly King Cobra.
Gowri (as he is called by most people) introduced us to his team and what followed was a fabulous breakfast of steaming idli’s and chutney. We then set off on a short trail. This was basically a walk around ARRS. The cameras came out in full force and everyone went trigger happy clicking a variety of insects, endemic frogs and the varied flora around. We did encounter a few leeches but had absolutely no idea as to what was in store for us the next day! We found a vine snake close to our site and spent the next one hour trying to photograph this beautiful green serpent.
We returned to the ARRS camp site for a good lunch, rested for a while and ventured out into the forest again to experience Radio Telemetry Tracking of King cobras. We were amazed by the trackers as they needed to trail the King cobras in the midst of leeches, rain and shine, from morning to dusk. The tracker was on the trail of a male King cobra and we ventured into a thicket but couldn’t sight the big fellow as he lay buried under a pile of dried leaves. We got back to town, had some coffee, tea and hot ‘Mangaluru bajji’ after which we left to Kundadri hill.
This beautiful hillock has a 2000 year old Jain temple (or so the priest claimed). The temple also had a beautiful natural lake alongside it where most of us spent a lot of time dipping our feet in the water. We spent a good couple of hours here and let the mesmerizing view sink in. As usual, the entire group was busy clicking away and then came the glorious moment we were waiting for – the sunset! The cameras again came out in full earnest and I must say, even novice photographer like me managed to get a decent snap. Unfortunately (and much to the amusement of all the others), one of our participants, in his enthusiasm to get a fantastic shot, landed up formatting his camera, thereby erasing any and every photograph taken! This single incident turned out to be the binding factor and somehow overshadowed the rest of the events during the entire trip. Obviously, the others rubbed it in big time and I am sure the participant will not forget this incident/accident anytime soon.
Well, back we were, at ARRS where we had mouthwatering dinner waiting for us. After packing in a stomach-full, we were shown a Nat Geo documentary that was shot around ARRS that featured Gowri. This documentary highlighted the conservation efforts undertaken by ARRS and gave us an informative overview on studying these elusive creatures. We had a night trek scheduled, but most people were tired and retired early.
The next day, after breakfast, we set off to Onnakabbe falls, which required us to trek for 4 kilometers (one way). The terrain was not-so-difficult, but we were welcomed by a zillion leeches that were all over us. They seem to come out of nowhere and were putting our leech socks to shame. One participant had a small tear in the leech socks and this was enough for a leech to get in with its entire family and friends. We finally reached the waterfalls and the view from top was a treat! We looked down the cliff and photographed the waterfall and after an hour’s halt, headed back and encountered leeches, leeches and more leeches!
We got back, had a good lunch, with beetroot to replenish all the blood we lost to leeches. All of us were exchanging notes with regard to leech bites. Some of us had nasty bites while a few were lucky to get away. After a quick nap, we set off to ‘Doddamanne’, the 120 year old house where a few episodes of malgudi days was shot. The people who run the place are really hospitable and the place takes you back in time.
Thereafter, we got back to the camp, had an early dinner and headed to the bus stop to catch our bus back to Bangalore. All in all, this was a very different and unique experience for all of us. We were treated to some fantastic sights, saw some wonderful creatures and were feasted on by leeches. In addition to photography, we got to experience the research station first hand and were all happy to have been a part of this expedition that helped in contributing to research efforts at ARRS.
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