The snake man from Agumbe

Gowri Shankar displaying his skills.
Image courtesy: Sharmila R

A soft haze of clouds, ridiculously green surroundings and a cold, damp, almost ominous weather surrounds you as you approach Agumbe in Karnataka. This small village gets the second highest downpour in India and is therefore blessed with copious reptiles including the King Cobra. This majestic serpent has found special place in the heart of Gowri Shankar, an educationalist and researcher with a mission to create awareness about reptiles.

Gowri’s fascination for snakes started when he was only thirteen and while most teens took to rock music and sports, Gowri ended up handling some of the most venomous creatures in the Western Ghats. He has amassed a wealth of knowledge from his prior experience at Karuna Animal Welfare Association of Karnataka, the Center for Herpetology, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Mamallapuram Chennai and at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS), which he is putting to good use at Agumbe. Gowri has also worked on dozens of documentaries with media stalwarts like BBC and Nat Geo and attributes a large part of his knowledge to renowned herpetologist and wildlife conservationist Romulus Whitaker.

He now runs a camp that provides the facility to learn everything about the King Cobra. He discusses everything from its nesting ritual, male combat, courtship, mating and cannibalistic behaviour in a series of workshops. The tented camp is situated adjacent to the forest which, needless to say, features an impressive amount of reptilian company. If you are looking to whet your knowledge about reptiles or just get over you fear of snakes, you may want to sign up for a weekend at Gowri’s camp.

Travel Vitals

Getting to Agumbe: Overnight bus from Bangalore is the easiest way to get here. The closest stop to the camp is Guddekere (4km). A pickup can be arranged from there. The closest airport is in Mangalore (106km) from where you can take a local bus or taxi.

The Experience: Some jungle living with basic amenities, an authentic camp experience and tons of jungle trails to explore with Gowri. Look out for pit vipers, vine snakes, coral snakes, cobra nests, a variety of frogs and if you are lucky, the King Cobra. It’s an easy-paced learning experience with workshops, discussions and documentaries.

Cost: From Rs 2000 to 3000 per night including full board.

 

With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications. More on www.supriyasehgal.com.