Agumbe's tryst with monsoons

Agumbe's tryst with monsoons

Heaven on Earth Pavan Kumar H tells you what is  so unique and aesthetically appealing about the forests of Agumbe, along the Western Ghats.

A  female King Cobra makes use of her long, majestic tail to build a warm nest with dry leaves amid thick bushes and sky-high bamboo trees in the evergreen forests of Agumbe.

The nest will now house 20 to 25 eggs in its core, while the world’s longest venomous snake will guard them vigilantly, without leaving her place, even to hunt.

The nest, however, is two feet above the ground. This is because, it is meant to be a fortress against the flow of water caused by the heavy downpour in the Western Ghats, especially the Agumbe Forests.

Ants, moths and many such insects and animals have adapted themselves to beat the rain, completing their life cycles.

The monsoon arrives

Agumbe is one of the highest rainfall receiving stations in South India. With an average annual rainfall of 10,000 mm, this is considered the wettest place in the Western Ghats, that is spread over from Kanyakumari in the south, to River Tapti in the west. However, the last two years have been seeing a below average rainfall in the Agumbe valley.

The Agumbe Rainforest Research Station has spotted as many as 34 varieties of mammals, 51 species of reptiles, 34 kinds of amphibians, 114 types of butterflies, 202 species of birds and numerous varieties of trees and plants in this green strip.

Every year, hundreds of new species are born during the monsoon and equal number of species perishes at the end of monsoon in the Western Ghats. Agumbe acts as a natural laboratory for researchers and ecologists because of its diversity in flora and fauna. 

Agumbe also houses some unique animals like the endangered lion-tailed macaque, sambar, giant squirrel, dhole, gaur, barking deer and the cobra. 

Nature’s bounty

Agumbe is not just a hotspot for researchers, but also for tourists and trekkers.

It is surrounded by the thick forests of the Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kudremukh National Park on one side (towards Udupi). Barkana Falls, situated around seven km from Agumbe, is said to be among the ten highest waterfalls in India.

The River Seeta takes a free fall from approximately 500 ft amid the lush green forest. Though the river is perennial, it becomes more voluminous during the monsoon. One has to trek for almost four km to reach the top of the Falls from Mallandur village; but be warned of the bloodthirsty leeches, which make life difficult during the trek. 

The Onake Abbi and Kudlu Theertha Falls are two other important waterfalls near Agumbe. Both the falls are located deep in the jungle. Kudlu Theertha, about 36 km from Agumbe, is considered sacred by the locals as it is believed that many sages meditated here a long time ago.  Research centres

Two research or study centres have been set up at Agumbe to help hundreds of research scientists who arrive from different parts of the world every year.

The Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) was set up in 2005 by India’s well-known herpetologist Romulus Whitaker to study and conserve rainforests through applied ecological research. The primary focus of ARRS was to study the ecology and behavioural pattern of King Cobras (Ophiophagus hannah).

ARRS also has an automated weather forecasting unit to have a better understanding of the changing climatic conditions of the region. Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology, the other research centre, came into existence in 2013. The main ambition of the centre is to educate people about the importance of conserving the Western Ghats. 

Both centres entertain only researchers and ecology enthusiasts to stay at their base and venture into the forest for research, study and photography.  “The purpose of these centres is not to promote tourism, but to educate people, especially schoolchildren,” says P Gowri Shankar, well-known herpetologist and King Cobra rescuer, and also the Director of Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology. 

The Agumbe Medicinal Plants Conservation Area (MPCA), which was established in 1999 for protecting important medicinal plants, has identified nearly 182 plants with medicinal qualities.

The 14th hairpin bend on the Hebri-Agumbe road forms an amphitheatre for most beautiful sunsets. The local panchayat has constructed a platform from where tourists can see the mesmerising forest-covered valley bathed in the glow of the setting sun.

 On a clear evening, from a height of 800 m above sea level,one can watch the sun change colour – from red to orange to a pale yellow, much like a chameleon, before slipping into the fiery horizon.

Kundadri Hills, a monolithic rock formation, towering approximately 3,200 ft above sea level, is another location from where sunrise and sunset can be viewed.

Though Agumbe is an important tourist destination in Karnataka, it lacks proper accommodation and transport facilities. One can either stay at the 110-year-old ‘Dodda Mane’, where the much famed ‘Malgudi Days’ was shot or at the Mallya residence. Without a private vehicle, visiting places becomes difficult.

 Since there are no signboards for spots which are hidden deep in the forests, one has to depend on a local guide for commuting.

Ecotourism

Too many tourists are also not good for the ecological aspects of the forest, said an ecologist who wished to maintain anonymity. “There would be a strain on the forest if large number of footfalls are recorded in these biological hotspots. Forests should be untouched and uninhabited,” he said.

Most of the tourist spots in Agumbe have become polluted with non-biodegradable substances. In spite of the Gram Panchayat making assurances of providing eco-friendly tourism, it has failed to do so. 

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