Amboli: The Jewel in the Crown
Actually, I was going to label this blog as “Amboli: The stuff of dreams or the stuff of nightmares”. This may sound odd, but in the monsoons, Amboli really wakes up.
Oh hang on, whats Amboli…. Amboli is a quiet hill-station in the southernmost end of Maharashtra, nestled in the Sahyadris at an altitude of 2250 feet , just before Goa. It is in the middle of lush and evergreen forests and in the rainy season, its very famous for its waterfalls. The serene atmosphere, often misty and cool days, lend it a mystic and pleasing climate. Sounds dreamy right??? And it is!!! But hidden in those very same forest, along those very same gurgling streams and around those very same roads, is the stuff of nightmares for many. You see, among nature-lovers, Amboli is famous for its herpetofauna. That means snakes, lizards, frogs, large tarantula like and smaller spiders and hundreds of leeches which seem to outnumber even ants.
Ant mimicking spider
We had gone with Adesh Shivkar to Amboli long time ago. We had stayed with Hemant Ogale. Hemant is the owner of a wonderful resort in Amboli and you will not find a better host or a better guide in Amboli if your interest is in Herpetofauna. His knowledge is unparalleled and he has recently written a fabulous book on butterflies. Look it up.
So after we reached we dropped off our bags and immediately set out into the jungles. I didn’t know what I was getting into. If you have ever been with Adesh, you wil know that he absolutely loves wildlife and he takes great efforts and pains to make sure you see each and everything in it. So forget about little human needs like rest, food, timings etc… Ok, maybe I am kidding a bit, but really, he makes sure everyone is involved all the time. On this trip, we were lucky to have Shashank with us. Shashank is a brilliant naturalist who has done monumental work in northeast and now pretty much everywhere.
Photographing a green vine snake
So we were walking down a jungle trail which went along the side of a stream, chatting, when suddenly Shashank cried out and jumped into the stream and came out holding a snake in his hands. How he spotted a wee snake hiding under the rocks of a gurgling stream, identified it in a nanosecond and then jumped in to catch it, will remain one of life’s unsolved mysteries. This kind of set the mood for the rest of the trip.
We used to wake up early in the morning, have a sumptuous breakfast and then leave on our adventures, amongst snakes, lizards and geckos, spiders, insects and all the possible creepy crawlies.
We must have easily seen 15-20 species of snakes, maybe 8-10 of geckos and lizards, 12-15 frogs and toads and many many other things, from dawn to midnight. Many of the target species being nocturnal, we had many late nights.
Burrowing Frog (i think)
Few incidents come to mind. Adesh and Shashank have magic eyes and they can spot anything anywhere. I was the only one who was wearing a photographer’s jacket at the time. If you don’t know, a photographer’s jackets is basically a jacket with many pockets, as many as 12-24 pockets. What I didn’t know was that Shashank had come down from the northeast and wanted to study some of the species. So he decided to catch a few of the species and take them back to the hotel to study. Obviously, nobody was carrying tins or anything at that time, so what was the solution….. Yeah, the pockets of my photgraphers jacket!!!! They basically stuffed a couple of snakes and a gecko and a few frogs into the pockets of my jacket and zipped them up. I mean I didn’t mind so much, but they were really ticklish. There were times when I was trying to photograph something but couldn’t concentrate because I was getting tickled from about 6 different locations.
Another time, we saw a Malabar pit viper in a tree up above. Thinking nothing of it, Shashank promptly climbed up, broke the branch, and climbed down with the viper. Those guys then proceeded to find a nice T shaped branch to perch the viper on so that the others could photograph it. Unfortunately, I was the one stuck with holding the branch which was about 4 feet tall and the T was around 3 feet across. The viper seemed to think its a wonderful arena and proceeded to slither from one end of the T to the other continuously rather than keeping still. I had already decided that as long its going across the T, its fine. But if decided to come down the T, then I would abandon ship and run like crazy. After watching the viper like a hawk, doing laps across the branch and minutely gauging its direction of locomotion, I’d had enough. So, when it was my turn to photograph the beauty, my mind wasn’t really in it.
One time, we had a chance to go to a far off stream to photograph “tarantula’s” but only 4 people could fit in the car. I was happy to sit that one out. The same night, we trudged for many kilometers in search of the extremely rare Koyna Toad, which is found only in the Koyna and few nearby regions and nowhere else in the world.
Koyna Toad: yeah…. its tiny and very difficult to find
So all in all, it was a very unique and interesting trip. The one thing I was uncomfortable about though, was the leeches. Amboli is absolutely choc-a-bloc with leeches and its almost guaranteed that you will get bitten, there are so many of them. But if you can take your mind off that, there are also many many wonders to see
The Amboli trip was definitely memorable and interesting, but its not for everyone. You really have to be interested in Herpetofauna to appreciate it. If you are squeamish about snakes and lizards, then this is not the place for you. But you can still visit it, for it has a wonderful charm about it. And that’s why, it could be a place of dreams ….. or nightmares.
I love your style of writing, Girish. I had a full technicolor version of it playing in my mind’s eye. I totally agree with you about Amboli being the jewel in the crown.
We stumbled upon Amboli quite accidentally, more than a decade ago, when we lost our way from our way back to Mumbai from Goa. Those were the times before Google Maps, and data being available easily on the mobile phones. We had our route instructions printed out, but we left it on the shoerack before leaving home.. and then had to rely on road signs & stop and ask for directions, all the way to Goa & back. One wrong turn, and we hit the dense forests which lead us to Amboli. But that was one wrong turn that turned out to be the best & most memorable part of the journey.
I am looking forward to getting more of the glimpses, reading more of your blogs and anecdotes in your journey into nature photography.
hey thanks poonam, i am going through them one by one, so lot more to come for sure