WHEN NATURE SPEAKS
WORDS KRUTTIKA NADIG
PHOTOGRAPHS T KRISHNA PRABAKAR
GREAT FROM Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Panjim
GREAT FOR Discovering natures’s smaller creatures
It’s close to midnight and you’re hiking through a wet forest twinkling with glow worms. The raindrops tap lightly around you and, beyond the steady patter, you hear arrhythmic sounds. A lone whistle, a typewriter-like clicking, a chorus of croaks. Your curiosity leads you down the mossy brick path to hunt for the source of the sound and you aren’t disappointed. At 2,000ft, in the misty hill station of Amboli, every monsoon reveals an intriguing side of nature: frogs of different species that come out to attract potential mates, and snakes that lie quietly in wait for them.
Led by experts from the Bombay Natural History Society, this camp in an unspoiled nook of the Western Ghats lets you explore secluded forest trails where amphibians and reptiles are easily spotted. Keep your eyes peeled for Malabar pit vipers curled up on leaves or draped across branches. This venomous snake, with its distinctive triangular head, is known to be “lazy but opportunistic.” While the day trails let you appreciate the moist evergreen forest in all its lush glory, it is at night when its froggy residents hop out to say hello. The trees are filled with bright green Malabar gliding frogs whose jumps resemble flights.
They gather around water bodies in the breeding season – huge bullfrogs, male cricket frogs whose vocal sacs swell into translucent bubbles as they croak lustily to attract the larger females, and male wrinkled frogs guarding their mate’s eggs or serenading them with a whistle. There are striking colours on display too, like the bright crimson of the Malabar hill frog, vivid black-and-yellow on bi-coloured frogs and the critically-endangered tiger toad, and the fluorescent green of the semi-venomous vine snake – harmless to humans.
Not all your time here revolves around frogs and snakes, though. The source of the Hiranyakeshi River is close by, a spring gushing forth from an ancient cave atop which stands a temple. It can get pretty crowded in the rains, but the guides steer you away from the din towards calm meadows across clean streams that you can wade cross, where you might spot a shy crab or a feisty scorpion before you stop for some hot corn-on-the-cob.
The guides, including a herpetologist and a local expert, leave no stone unturned in digging out the region’s secrets. The undersides of rocks are home to everything from caecilians, which look like snakes or large worms, to white- banded geckos. Over the course of several easy trails, you learn to look for wildlife in the right places and identify some species by their calls. If you’re lucky, you’ll even spot a Malabar giant squirrel romping about in the treetops, or a Malabar pied hornbill vaulting into the sky.
Few people come into the thick forest, so you pretty much get it all to yourself. And, if that were not enough, hot pakodas await you when you return to your hotel, where you reflect on the small creatures you discovered on this unique weekend as you unwind with your group of like-minded explorers.