Agumbe – A Tryst With a Thousand Leeches !
I have been fascinated by strange dreams of venturing into the lush and humid Amazon; of wandering deep into the rain forests and spotting a gorgeous bird of Paradise dancing its way into glory. Curiosity took its toll when I got to know that I wasn’t too far away from a hidden rain-forest hiding in the lap of Karnataka. I decided to explore Agumbe, also referred to as the “Cherapunji of the South”.
Agumbe is known for its picturesque sunsets, virgin waterfalls and snakes- especially the King Cobra. However, someone who has visited Agumbe in the monsoons will vouch that they have fallen short of words when asked to describe the unparalleled beauty it beholds during the monsoons. Agumbe is situated in the Shimoga district of Uttara Karnataka, approx 360 kms from Bangalore. Since we weren’t lucky enough to get a booking at “Dodda Mane” (significance of this place has been mentioned later in my blog), we decided to book a room at Mallya Residency. Don’t be fooled by the name tag as it is a very basic lodge located adjacent to bus station. The caretaker, Sudheendra was very hospitable and made all arrangements for our trek including a guide and a jeep. He can be reached at 09448759363.
Our first pit-stop was to visit a ruined temple atop a small hillock. We followed our excited driver–cum-guide through continuous drizzle. When we reached the top, the wind blew forcefully with a “whoosh-whoosh” making us shiver within our wind-cheaters. The rain and clouds played a constant hide and seek, disappearing and reappearing every few minutes.
We returned to visit the Rain Forest Research Station to seek information about the insects, snakes and amphibian species of Agumbe. One of the researchers took us to a spot where a Pit Viper had snuggled itself in a corner under the thatched roof and played dead! Next, we headed to Dodda Mane. Dodda Mane which translates as “Big House” in Kannada holds a special significance in Agumbe. This popular home stay is managed by a very humble matriarch; Kasturi Akka, commonly addressed to as “Kasturakka” with love and admiration by the locals. The legendary TV series of the 80’s, “Malgudi days” which showcased a collection of short stories based on the book by the famous cartoonist, R.K Narayan had a few episodes shot in this 150 year old heritage home! We weren’t lucky enough to experience the warmth of this house as it was already booked 2 weeks in advance, however, I did not want to miss the chance of having a glimpse of Dodda Mane that looked charming in the dull twilight.
Next morning we took off to Kavaledurg fort, a few kilometers beyond Agumbe. The fort was at a gradual elevation and distinct from the other forts that I have seen. Moss and creepers had enveloped the grey stoned fort with shades of the brightest and freshest green. Whilst strolling through the fort, we met Mr. Pill Millipede who resembled a mini goods train. Transforming into a ball when I tried to gently greet him, he refused to budge until I left! We encountered loads of frogs in varying sizes and colors. I moved on and halted after a few feet to capture a miniature temple next to a bare tree on a small hillock within the fort. It instantly brought a word to my mind- companionship!
The fort that comprised of a palace when it was alive was now reduced to a few remnants – a weathered bath tank, some stand-alone and fallen pillars, a proud Nandi, a few carvings and a beautiful temple which still looked quite sturdy.
A dog appeared from no where, like the guardian of the premise and giving us company all through our exploration. A juvenile monitor lizard was busy in a portfolio shoot by a group of highly enthusiastic photographers.
Agumbe holds some virgin waterfalls- Jogigundi, Barkana and Onke Abbi, to name a few. Access to these falls were restricted due to the heavy downpour, except for Sirimane. Around 50 odd tourists were crazily enjoying the ice cold showers, occupying the best place for themselves under the falls. For a moment it felt like a complete no-go, however we decided to join the madness. Placing our feet carefully on every rock, we managed to get directly under the falls which was firing incessant ice pebbles though its machine gun. After soaking in the ultimate bombardment, we got out shivering and headed straight for a sizzling hot cup of tea at a stall nearby. By the time we returned to Agumbe, darkness had crept in. Our eyes tiptoed into sleep with the lullaby of the continuous drizzle and the orchestration of crickets.
The next morning we met Vittala, our local guide who specialized in snakes and knew the forests in and out. Vittala spoke only Kannada and barring a few words, I could comprehend nothing of it. to keep leeches as bay, we smeared a magic potion consisting of snuff, castor oil and limestone prepared by the seemingly confident Vittala.
A few meters into the jungle, we were welcomed by the true owners of Agumbe- the leeches- thousands of them! I started getting paranoid by their number. My spirits dampened as my entire focus shifted to save myself from the blood suckers! The leeches kept sticking to my slippers, trying their luck to move their way up. In an attempt to pull of every leech that tried to stick itself to my feet, I lost track of Vittala who was moving with lightning speed. A rock-thrush whistled faintly in the woods, the tune was so mesmerizing that I could follow it blindly and get lost. A green vine snake made its appearance in the bushes. We ventured deeper and reached a spot from where we could hear a gushing sound. Within minutes I was standing next to a beautiful waterfall that tossed and turned with tremendous vigor like a mad bull set free.
In this part of the earth, the air had a refreshing scent of wet mud and woods. The pleasant pitter-patter of raindrops merged with the symphony of insects was so soothing that it made me drift away into another realm of existence altogether. Alienated from civilization, Agumbe reached the peak of its beauty. I realised that I had long forgotten about the leeches. Whilst returning to outskirts of the forest, I looked down at my floaters. Around 30 leeches that had attempted to reach my feet, had given up and died, all thanks to the magic potion.
Agumbe was in fact their kingdom and the leeches play a very significant role in the survival of the dense rain forests.
My trip to Agumbe had ended with memories of my tryst with a thousand leeches and glimpses of nature in its purest and untouched form.