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Through the year the understated landscape of Agumbe, in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, exists as a tranquil leafy haven. But it is in the monsoon that it truly comes alive. The forest suddenly takes on rich luscious hues and the rainforest resonates with a magical cacophony. Steams gurgle, frogs let out loud, continuous mating calls. Caecilians crawl, mushrooms spring up from the most unexpected places. And suddenly rain-soaked, the pristine paradise wakes up. It’s like watching a motion picture from very close quarters. While most of the Western Ghats transform miraculously during the monsoons, Agumbe is probably its crown jewel because of how staggeringly biodiverse it is.

Photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee who has travelled to Agumbe in the monsoon several times says that the rains are special because the landscape opens itself up and allows people to take a close look at the smallest of species. “It has a very cinematic quality to it. To give you an example from photography — when you travel to a Central Indian forest like Kanha, it’s like using a wide angle lens. The beauty lies in the landscape — getting that perfect shot of the orange glow of the sun as a deer or a tiger walks though the sal forests. In Agumbe, beauty lies in the little things — like zooming in with a macro lens. And every step takes you a little closer. A stream, a tree, a snake. And then you get a little closer — you find a fallen log with mushrooms growing on it, you upturn a rock and find caecilians and ants under it. Every moment is one of discovery.”

Researcher Varad Giri, who has worked extensively in the rainforest points out that the high rainfall and heterogeneity of habitats is one of the reasons Agumbe supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna. “The king cobra may be the most popular species in the Western Ghats, but it is the lesser life forms which build a strong foundation in maintaining the crucial ecological balance. It is this amazing diversity of lesser, but equally charismatic species that make Agumbe truly special.”

Stop, and take your eyes off the expansive landscape. The true beauty of Agumbe lies in the micro-habitats it supports. Small rainwater pools and puddles like these with ephemeral vegetation are breeding grounds for a variety of insects and amphibians that assure a healthy ecosystem.  Cover photo: Steep valleys with an evergreen rainforest and cloud-laden peaks, Agumbe Ghat offers spectacular views of the Western slope of this pristine landscape.

Stop, and take your eyes off the expansive landscape. The true beauty of Agumbe lies in the micro-habitats it supports. Small rainwater pools and puddles like these with ephemeral vegetation are breeding grounds for a variety of insects and amphibians that assure a healthy ecosystem.
Cover photo: Steep valleys with an evergreen rainforest and cloud-laden peaks, Agumbe Ghat offers spectacular views of the Western slope of this pristine landscape.

Several unique micro-habitats thrive under stones, in the gap of the roots, in the tree trunk, on the forest floor, in the stream, in the many puddles.

Several unique micro-habitats thrive under stones, in the gap of the roots, in the tree trunk, on the forest floor, in the stream, in the many puddles.

This beautiful Cantharellus sp. grows on the forest floor during the monsoon and is often found around trees. Mushrooms are not plants but they are the fruiting body of fungi loaded with spores.

This beautiful Cantharellus sp. grows on the forest floor during the monsoon and is often found around trees. Mushrooms are not plants but they are the fruiting body of fungi loaded with spores.

Agumbe’s diverse habitat is home to over 25 species of frogs. One that’s truly special is the endemic blue-eyed frog (Raorchestes luteolus) named after the bright blue rim on its eyes. Its melodious calls resonate through the rainforest.

Agumbe’s diverse habitat is home to over 25 species of frogs. One that’s truly special is the endemic blue-eyed frog (Raorchestes luteolus) named after the bright blue rim on its eyes. Its melodious calls resonate through the rainforest.

It is impossible to miss the call of this Kudremukh bush frog (Raorchestes tuberohumerus) during the monsoon in Agumbe. But they are tricky to spot and hence fondly called the “hidden singers” of the Western Ghats by herpetologists who spend days looking for them. They are also called knob handed shrub frog, a name derived from a small bony projection on their forearms.

It is impossible to miss the call of this Kudremukh bush frog (Raorchestes tuberohumerus) during the monsoon in Agumbe. But they are tricky to spot and hence fondly called the “hidden singers” of the Western Ghats by herpetologists who spend days looking for them. They are also called knob handed shrub frog, a name derived from a small bony projection on their forearms.

Many of these snakes are also encountered in the human settlements around the forest. The buff-striped keelback (Amphiesma stolata), a common, non-venomous and docile snake is a common visitor to the human habitation around the rainforest. It is also one of the few snakes that feeds on toads.

Many of these snakes are also encountered in the human settlements around the forest. The buff-striped keelback (Amphiesma stolata), a common, non-venomous and docile snake is a common visitor to the human habitation around the rainforest. It is also one of the few snakes that feeds on toads.

During the monsoon, the roads around the forest become death traps for many of these snakes that try to cross over and become roadkill in the process. This particular cat snake (Boiga sp.) was lucky, it survived to live another day.

During the monsoon, the roads around the forest become death traps for many of these snakes that try to cross over and become roadkill in the process. This particular cat snake (Boiga sp.) was lucky, it survived to live another day.

But it’s not only the snakes that become roadkill in the monsoons. Even rare gems like this Ichthyophis sp., a caecilian, which are rarely seen on the ground can be seen crossing roads. People don’t often encounter these limbless amphibians through the year due to their secret, subterranean life.

But it’s not only the snakes that become roadkill in the monsoons. Even rare gems like this Ichthyophis sp., a caecilian, which are rarely seen on the ground can be seen crossing roads. People don’t often encounter these limbless amphibians through the year due to their secret, subterranean life.

There are several such fascinating species in Agumbe that live intriguing lives. With its stout built, swift flight and special mouthparts, the robberfly is an agile predator known to feed on varieties of insects by catching them in flight. With their specialised mouthparts, they first stab their prey, inject toxin to kill, liquify its flesh and finally suck their slimy meal. There are several such fascinating species in Agumbe that live intriguing lives. With its stout built, swift flight and special mouthparts, the robberfly is an agile predator known to feed on varieties of insects by catching them in flight. With their specialised mouthparts, they first stab their prey, inject toxin to kill, liquify its flesh and finally suck their slimy meal.

There are several such fascinating species in Agumbe that live intriguing lives. With its stout built, swift flight and special mouthparts, the robberfly is an agile predator known to feed on varieties of insects by catching them in flight. With their specialised mouthparts, they first stab their prey, inject toxin to kill, liquify its flesh and finally suck their slimy meal.

Leaf insects are masters of camouflage. With their flat body, expanded legs, matching colour with a midvein and secondary vein, these leaf insects look strikingly similar to a leaf. Chances are you won’t notice them until they move or fly. The occurrence of these leaf insects represents a pristine forest.

Leaf insects are masters of camouflage. With their flat body, expanded legs, matching colour with a midvein and secondary vein, these leaf insects look strikingly similar to a leaf. Chances are you won’t notice them until they move or fly. The occurrence of these leaf insects represents a pristine forest.

The Jerdon’s jumping ant (Harpegnathos saltator) is an extremely efficient predator on the ground thanks to its elongated body, big eyes, long mandibles and ability to leap a few inches. What’s also unique to this species of ants is that the workers and the queen of this species mate with each other.

The Jerdon’s jumping ant (Harpegnathos saltator) is an extremely efficient predator on the ground thanks to its elongated body, big eyes, long mandibles and ability to leap a few inches. What’s also unique to this species of ants is that the workers and the queen of this species mate with each other.

Sometimes the natural world in Agumbe is stranger than fiction. Zombie fiction. The hero of this story is the Ophiocordyceps fungus that enters the body of an ant and then induces it to leave its colony and move to a more humid place close to the ground. Here, the ant holds on to main vein of a leaf and dies in few days. This is when the fungus takes over and grows inside the body of ant. After a few days, the fruiting body of fungus grows out of the ant’s head and releases spores.

Sometimes the natural world in Agumbe is stranger than fiction. Zombie fiction. The hero of this story is the Ophiocordyceps fungus that enters the body of an ant and then induces it to leave its colony and move to a more humid place close to the ground. Here, the ant holds on to main vein of a leaf and dies in few days. This is when the fungus takes over and grows inside the body of ant. After a few days, the fruiting body of fungus grows out of the ant’s head and releases spores.

Each one of these beautiful, mysterious species represents how essential inter-connectedness and coexistence is in a habitat like Agumbe. Their health is indicative of the health of the entire ecosystem. Giri explains, “We need diversity among insects to be able to sustain the frogs and lizards. The frogs and lizards are essential to sustain snake species like the pit-vipers and the rat snake. And finally, we need a diversity of these snake species for the king cobra to thrive because it feeds on other snakes.” It is this collective alchemy that creates a habitat like Agumbe.

Dhritiman Mukherjee
Dhritiman Mukherjee

is one of India's most prolific wildlife and conservation photographers. His work has been featured in leading publications. He is also a RoundGlass Ambassador, and an RBS Earth Hero awardee.


RoundGlass Sustain is a media-rich resource on India’s natural world.


Enabling Holistic Wellbeing & Meaningful Living


RoundGlass Sustain is a media-rich resource on India’s natural world.

Enabling Wholistic Wellbeing & Meaningful Living