“Hey! There’s blood on your shirt!”
In that moment, all my fear vanished, and that’s when I actually saw how beautiful the forest around me was. I’ll never be sure if I was really over my fear or it was realising that leech bites were inevitable, but, I now saw things differently.
It was a late October evening, we were walking a trail in Agumbe Reserved Forest, a tropical evergreen rainforest in the Western Ghats. I’ve been to forests all over the country, I’ve hiked in a few as well, but this was unlike any place I’d been to before. Receiving upwards of 7500 mm of rainfall a year, some call it the Cherrapunji of the south.
I was staying at the prestigious Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) for a two day herpetology camp and I planned to make the most of every minute there.
Agumbe, even though classified as a reserved forest, is a biodiversity goldmine. It’s not only home to megafauna such as tigers, leopards, elephants, dholes and gaurs but also lesser-known reptiles and amphibians such as the King cobra – its flagship species, endangered cane turtles and blue-eyed bush frogs and is equally popular amongst birders who come looking for trogons, frogmouths and hornbills.
But Agumbe is more than just its fauna. Never have I seen a forest as mesmerising. One moment you’re walking on a trail barely wider than you, crisscrossing through the dense undergrowth, when suddenly you walk into a grassland half a kilometer wide. Sometimes you’re walking along a rivulet and in a moment you’ll end up knee-deep in a myristica swamp (a highly endangered freshwater swamp ecosystem).
Every inch of this forest is teeming with life. I remember seeing fungi growing on elephant dung – not even waste gets wasted here. Things like this make you realise how interwoven an ecosystem is.
After walking through the swamp for a couple of hours on another trail, we ended up at a two-stepped waterfall. An almost surreal setting in the middle of the forest. The sun was about to set, the last of its rays reflected in a shallow pool making it orange. It was a three hour walk, getting there but seeing what we were, it was worth every minute, and more.
I’d travelled to forests before and I’ve travelled to more since, but those two days are forever etched as a life-changing experience. Seeing nature at work the way I did there, made me realise a lot of things and made me see my life in a different perspective. I’m not sure how to describe how, but at the end of those two days I felt different, changed. One thing I’m certain of is that I left with a lot more humility. I guess it’s all a part of Agumbe’s charm.