Habitat

Forest Getaway: The Wet and Wild Agumbe Experience

About a seven-hour drive from Bengaluru, lies one of the country’s most vibrant rainforests. And it’s still (thankfully) largely off the tourist track

Text by Riccha Paul

 

We’ve heard, read, and studied about Cherrapunji (now renamed Sohra); the wettest place in India. The town in Meghalaya receives rainfall almost all year round and is a haven for lovers of petrichor, like myself. But how many of us know of the “Cherrapunji of the South”?

About a seven-hour drive from Bengaluru is the town of Agumbe, part of the Western Ghats and recipient of 7,640 mm of mean rainfall every year. Understandably, it can get a bit cumbersome for the human residents, but the jungle thrives in the humidity.

The rainforests of Agumbe are spectacular: a plush carpet of green that gleams in the sunlight (especially after a shower). Trees tower above the head, ferns sprout from everywhere, and moss cloaks most walls and rocks. The buzz of cicadas reverberates through the trees, interspersed with the call of hornbills. The biodiversity is palpable, and a reminder that the Western Ghats are one of the world’s eight “hottest” hotspots in terms of  its significance for biodiversity conservation efforts. Agumbe alone is home to an astounding number of species, from big cats like the leopard and tiger, to frogs no larger than a baby’s toenail.

The male Malabar trogon is one of the many photo-worthy birds that live in Agumbe’s jungles. Photo: Pradosh Joshua

Hike up to one of the viewpoints to catch views of Agumbe’s waterfalls, cascading down the mountainside. Views are especially winsome in the monsoons when a silvery fog as thick as pea soup glides over the Ghats. When you’re there, keep an eye out for the lion-tailed macaque, whose silver mane seems to match the fog. Treks are best enjoyed in the company of a trained, local naturalist. These treetops are nesting sites of rare, endangered birds, including the Malabar trogon and the great hornbill, but spotting these beauties through the dense foliage is hard enough with a guide; it is near impossible without one.

Climb up to one of Agumbe’s viewpoints for sweeping views of fog and forest canopy. Photo: Sarangib

For lovers of reptiles, a visit to the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station is in order (with prior notification to the centre). Founded by famed herpetologist Romulus Whittaker, the station’s primary objective is to study the biodiversity in the region, with a special focus on snakes. Story goes that Agumbe was where Romulus spotted his first ever king cobra, and the exquisitely deadly snake remains one of the chief reasons photographers and wildlife enthusiasts make a pilgrimage here. That being said, there’s plenty to take in even if you’re not a snake-person. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you make the trip. Agumbe is not manicured for tourists. There are no boutique hotels in this jungle, no air-conditioned restaurants, and no jeep safaris either. But there are humble homestays and nature camps, no-fuss eateries that serve basic meals and vanilla tea, and naturalists who know this region like the back of their hand. If you decide to trek—and you should—don’t forget the mosquito repellent.

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