When talking about rainforests, the Amazon rainforest of Brazil is what first comes to our mind. But did you know that India has its own rainforests that are no less fascinating than such forests elsewhere? I consider myself really lucky to have had the opportunity of visiting one such Indian rainforest recently – the Agumbe rainforest. And indeed, the experience was enthralling, and the forest was mesmerizing. Here, life unravels itself in forms never seen elsewhere. Those visiting this rainforest must always ensure to leave behind nothing but footprints and take back nothing but photographs and memories to cherish forever.
Agumbe is located around 350 km by car from Bengaluru and around 98 km from Mangaluru in the Shimoga District of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Here, a tiny village of a few hundred people is surrounded by fields of paddy and areca palms interspersed with sprawling meadows and dense rainforest vegetation. At an elevation of around 650 m above sea level, Agumbe is part of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The region receives extremely high rainfall and hence, has been dubbed the “Cherrapunji of the south.”
Agumbe is always thriving with life. But here, to look for the life forms, you really need to sweat it out. Be prepared to be bitten by leeches, splattered by mud, drenched in the rain, and walk through undulating terrain with streams, ditches, and boulders barring your way, to explore the rainforest. Yet, every bit of it is truly worth it. Here, life presents itself in all shapes and sizes, colours and patterns, and is literally everywhere.
Look below the leaves, and you might witness insect or frog eggs hanging down, look underneath a rock, and there might be ants and annelids crawling around, watch out for rain puddles and there might be dancing frogs croaking to attract their mate, look around tree roots, and you might enjoy the sight of colourful mushrooms of weird shapes, keep an eye on the tree branches, and you might witness a Malabar pit viper flicking out its tongue to detect your presence. In Agumbe, surprises await you at your every step into the forest in the form of the rainforest’s incredible biodiversity.
To explain this species richness in numbers, the Agumbe rainforest is home to over 200 species of birds, more than 30 species of mammals and reptiles, over 45 species of amphibians, more than 100 species of butterflies, and many more species of invertebrates. What is more interesting is that many of these species are endemic to these forests or the Western Ghats as a whole, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world in the wild. Of course, several of these species are threatened as well.
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This rainforest is also the perfect place to catch the fauna in live-action, like frogs displaying mating rituals, snakes predating on prey, insects mating and moulting, and butterflies emerging from the pupae and spreading out their wings for the first time. You can capture all these animals performing their designated activities on your camera if you happen to be at the right place at the right time.
Also, no description of Agumbe is complete without mentioning the species ruling the ecosystem here. Reigning supreme in Agumbe is its flagship species – the King Cobra or Ophiophagus hannah – the world’s longest venomous snake and one that is highly revered throughout the region. The King Cobra, being a snake eater with a cannibalistic trait as well, sits at the top of the food chain in Agumbe.
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Agumbe is also where some of India’s finest research stations on herpetology are based, like the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) and Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology (KCRE). Here, the country’s best experts conduct thorough research on rainforest ecology and biodiversity, with a special focus on herpetofauna, to mine out facts yet unknown to humankind.
Besides the biodiversity, one must not forget to mention the stunning vistas offered by the tall, green trees forming a canopy overhead, the numerous waterfalls, streams, and rivers roaring their way through the hilly terrain, and the pretty and vibrant wildflowers adding to the charm. The rainforest is also not just about a pretty appearance and vibrant life forms. It provides vital ecosystem services worth millions. It keeps the environment cool, influences rainfall patterns, gives birth to and sustains life-giving rivers, and protects the soil against erosion. It also nurtures life forms that aid in pollination and pest control and provides forest produce that supports the lives and livelihoods of local communities.
The Agumbe rainforest is a magical wonderland for those who are deeply connected with Nature. Here, life unravels itself in forms never seen elsewhere. Those visiting this rainforest must always ensure to leave behind nothing but footprints and take back nothing but photographs and memories to cherish forever.
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About the author
Dr. Oishimaya Sen Nag is a wildlife conservation writer and editor at World Atlas, Canada. She has written several articles on issues related to wildlife conservation and interviewed renowned wildlife conservationists, wildlife biologists, and forest department officials working to protect wildlife across the world.