Into the wilderness @ Sharavathi !

“Oh ! What a beautiful scene !” was what I exclaimed first thing as soon as I got out of my ride that morning when we arrived at Sharavathi. We had stopped at the bridge over the river going by the same name, and it was around 7 am. We had just finished our night long journey from Bangalore ( a few conversations and tea-stops on our way en route ! ), and I was pretty fresh after a good enough sleep.

Sharavathi in the morning !
Sharavathi in the morning !

On one side of the bridge, we could see the first rays of the rising sun as it hit the river, which was flanked by low lying hills on both sides. The hills were draped in greenery and the breath of air felt so fresh as we rushed forward to grasp in all we could. Mist was just beginning to clear from the hill tops, and it appeared quite dreamy. On the other side, the river just seemed to flow for a bit before vanishing away from view into a rocky outcrop. Hills on that side and a structure on one of them, possibly a hotel, were being lit by sun’s first rays. Vantage point I’d say !

Shutter bugs that we were, we came all out with our cameras, eager to capture the scene around us. Shutters started going click, click ! Moving about the bridge along with us were some local guys who had come in for a morning ride, as well as another bus with a young, enthusiastic crowd. My guess, they had turned up from Bangalore as well. We had our first meeting with Suhas and his team at the very bridge. Being snake and amphibian gurus, they were to guide us throughout our tour.

We moved about on the bridge for quite some time, taking in the scene and clicking pictures of the landscape therein, when it suddenly occurred to me that this is the land of Jog falls, the 2nd highest waterfall in India ! I went over to our mentor Girish, and asked him about it. No words, he just rolled his eyes to that side of the bridge which had the sun-lit hotel we had been watching for some time now. It was then that I noticed a faint layer of steam rising above from where the river seemed to disappear … That’s exactly where the falls were and we were on the upstream side of it ! Wow ! That was quite some information for me …. I just looked in that direction and stood there for a bit, once again, enjoying my moment there !

It was now time to head towards our home-stay as we all embarked on our bus, fresh from our first view of the Sharavathi. It was barely a couple of kilometres ahead and with my eyes wide open, I took in all of greenery that I could, with the vehicle winding it’s way through the hills. The home-stay was a pretty decent accommodation with all the basics thrown in, along with HOT WATER ! Our welcome drink comprised of hot cups of tea/coffee and just as we settled down in our rooms and started getting fresh, piping hot idlis arrived for our breakfast.

Done with breakfast and getting freshen-up, we huddled together in a room for a briefing from Suhas and his team. We were treated with beautiful shots of wildlife ( different snake varieties, frogs, flowers, birds etc. ) taken by Suhas in this area. I learnt that Lion-Tailed Macaques ( LTMs as they will be referred to hereafter in this write-up ) are endemic to W. Ghats and feed mostly on jackfruit and another fruit of citrus variety. We were given safety instructions to keep ourselves as well as the animals safe once we go inside the rain-forest. We were told not to handle any wildlife ourselves as we could end up harming them inadvertently. Many of us got quite a few of our snake-doubts cleared and finally, we had to stop our discussion to avoid spending the whole morning in the room rather than venturing out into the forest ! After some last-minute leech advice, we were ready to venture out. Excited and our legs well-covered ( anti-leech socks etc. ), we headed out with our gear, chatting along the way. Weather was pretty decent. It wasn’t sunny and wasn’t threateningly cloudy either. All in all, good weather for our session outside !

Just opposite our home-stay was something that looked like a man-made lake with water flowing outwards towards a set of gates at one end. All of this came from Sharavathi river I’m sure. We crossed a small bridge at that end of the lake and made a turn towards the forest. Suhas had just announced a prize for the first snake spotting, and we were all excited trying to spot one.

Barely a few steps inside, our first view was that of a cicada perched on a tree bark. We were given a close view of the same and heard it’s pretty loud call, which it supposedly makes from it’s stomach ! When a group of cicadas are nearby, trust me it can get pretty obvious, and deafening ! Leaving it alone, we moved ahead. Looking out for a snake, I did learn that it needed quite some eye ! Suhas had already spotted one and he was challenging us to point out where it was ….. I had been busy trying to photograph a beautiful flower and a millipede in the meantime. After many of us could not spot the snake, it was Suhas who showed us the beautiful creature. It was a slender green vine snake, green as it’s name suggests, entwined in a pack of dried up twigs ! The green colour is supposed to be it’s perfect camouflage when it goes out hunting … Very thin and couple of feet long, it was a delight to photograph ! It looks sleepy forever and doesn’t move much, giving us ample opportunities with our cameras. Even with all the shutters clicking nearby, it was pretty cool and calm ! Looked like it was used to the photographers !

Green Vine Snake
Green Vine Snake – A very beautiful and calm variety for shutter bugs !

We were busy picturing in the green-vine when one of us noticed another snake on a mud-wall nearby. Not long and slender as the green-vine, it was predominantly brown, and hence, pretty difficult to spot in the mud I’m sure ! Suhas told us it’s Beddome’s Keelback, and that it had fed recently and could be moving out from the scene when one of us spotted it. It was not as lazy as the green-vine but nevertheless, gave us a few photo opportunities!

 

Beddomes Keelback
Beddome’s Keelback ( Pic courtesy: Prasanth Kumar )

Having our feed from these snakes we moved ahead, wherein we clicked a pretty big leech, couple of bugs, the giant wood spider and a baby scorpion on my shoe ! And we did encounter few more green-vines ! Happy with our finds and clicks, we decided to stop for a bit. Our path led us to a small farmer’s hut ( It did seem we were not much inside the jungle yet !! ). We spent some time there, learning that the farmer had encountered a pit-viper in his bathroom a couple of days back. Not knowing much, he had resorted to killing it, and he showed us it’s unfortunate dead self, a bit decomposed by now.

Fresh now after some more rest, we started moving out once again. I clicked a few grasshoppers on my way until I could hear a musical gurgling sound, the sound of water flowing past. We took a turn and lo behold there was a stream right in front of us, it’s view partially blocked with pretty thick vegetation. And off course we had to descend down a bit. That’s when I spotted a few amongst us huddled around something on the ground. I went closer and that was my first frog encounter ( a bull frog, I guess the biggest of all that we encountered during our trip ) of the day. Got a few clicks and noticed that it jumps quite a bit, which I thought was difficult given it’s size. A few other guys had spotted another green-vine nearby. I remember Angad ( Suhas’ team and an avid bird photographer ) counting a total of 7-8 green-vine spottings that day ! After all of this and a few more grasshoppers, we descended in to the stream below us, with clear instructions to watch our every step, and to be careful while holding branches for support.

Making my way behind one of the instructors, I descended down slowly to see the stream come into full view. Clear water streaming down a path of small slippery rocks ! Some of our team members had already got their feet wet, while some were sitting on the rocks chatting up ! I saw Girish getting close to the water and drinking from it. I was a bit doubtful when told that this water is much safer and tastier than that in the mineral water bottles that we are so used to. I decided to give it a try and it was definitely tasty, a bit sweet I would say … I took in a few more gulps and then huddled close to other team members for a group selfie that was clicked shortly !

Rainforest Habitat
Rainforest habitat that we were moving around in !

We started moving again, this time through the stream. Even though I tried to avoid being in water for obvious reasons, I had to give in at some point of time ! However, I did realise that being in the water was much more fun and that you could move around more freely, if you take care to balance your feet steadily. Encountered a beautiful orange crab on our way, but could not click it as it looked a bit frightened and moved out pretty swiftly. We kept moving on slowly, traversing slippery rocks on our way and being careful not to step on any it’s inhabitants. Overall, it was easy. After I joined in with the rest of the group, some of us had again found a place to sit down and rest. However, my eyes went towards a small group that was trying to photograph something very tiny on a rock. I made my way towards them and my view went to a juvenile yellow bush frog. My first reaction: Wow ! Beautiful ! I could only admire it’s beauty even as I waited my turn to click it. It’s yellow skin was slimy and with all the water around it, it shined beautifully in the afternoon light. It’s dark round eyes only added to it’s beauty !

Yellow Bush Frog - Very tiny !
Yellow Bush Frog – A very tiny variety !

 

After a round of photo-session with the yellow bush frog, it was time to head back for lunch. We headed back the same route, clicking a few more of these amphibians and encountering another green-vine on the way ! When I got back to our home stay, I saw a group of guys who had reached before us, but were fiddling with their shoes and socks. It seems their short-cut path had quite a few leeches in it ! Pretty tired by now, we had a simple but tasty lunch to our fill. Some of us guys went to nap for a bit while some of us sat around in the corridor, with Suhas’ company, and his stories of his jungle encounters and what to expect from our next journey into the forests later in the evening, and well beyond dusk ! Stories of frogs mating, taking care of their eggs etc ! We were told not to forget our torches for our next one 😉 ! Some guys were seen birding by now !

And so, after a while, we boarded our bus once again to take us to the kattalekana forest area, with a brief stop for tea included in our itinerary! We had to wait for Suhas and his gang at the tea stop for a while, as he had to go rescue a king cobra in the meantime ( regular day for him I’m sure ! ), and we made good of the time by chatting up and spotting a bunch of langurs in the area, feeding off a what looked like a fruit tree ! It was dusk already by the time we arrived outside the forest area. It was then that I recalled forgetting my torch in the home-stay ! Suhas gave me a spare one that he was carrying, reminding me that there are always some such guys in the group ;-). It turns out I was not the only ‘such’ person, and thankfully some other of our mentors were carrying spare stuff. Good for all of us ! We were now ready to venture inside. A quick round of safety instructions later ( being careful of snakes near our paths included ! ), we started treading forward. Very slowly this time and looking all around with our torches. Suhas kept telling us where he had found snakes in his earlier tours, but there were none to be seen this time. Perhaps they were tired of us photographers !

It started to drizzle a bit, but the vegetation being so thick, it didn’t trouble us much. It stopped later anyway, by which time I could hear another stream near us. We were in the waters once again, and trust me we were pretty used to it by now ! We were pointing our lights at each and every rock in the stream to see if we could find something, and it took only a few seconds for us to spot our first one … a small, slimy, pink coloured micrixalus frog species. Once again, shutter bugs went out in full glory, with torch lights helping us with our exposure and focus ! One by one, we spotted quite a few frogs in that stream ( almost every other rock ). Golden frog, Night frog, lot of the micrixalus species ( mating and otherwise ! ) … There was one fellow who quite enthused us with it’s antics … That joy can only be felt and cannot be described here in words ! You would find different groups of people in different directions clicking up so many of those frogs. It was quite a sight !

Micrixalus Species - We found quite a few mating pairs of these !
Micrixalus Species – We found quite a few mating pairs of these !

Time for some rest ! We were asked to switch off all our lights and with utter silence, enjoy the sounds of nature. Water rushing past, crickets calling, fireflies flying around, and then when you look up, you see those stars on a clear night ! The air was so pure … it felt awesome ! It was a blissful few minutes for all of us, away from the chaos of our cities and one with nature. There was nothing frightening about it, only awe at how lovely the whole experience was !

Time to leave once again ( do you want to 🙂 ?? ), and we had to traverse our way back to the waiting bus, which took us back to our home-stay, with a brief stop en route to see the malabar gliding frog. It’s a beautiful green-coloured species with red-coloured webbings  between it’s toes, which help it glide while hopping between trees. Off course we couldn’t see it glide. It was dark and I guess the night had made the frog pretty lazy … It just lay there on a big green leaf ( pretty decent camouflage ) for quite some time, giving us ample opportunities to click away ! For ppl who got enough of the frog, there was a big leaf-like cricket waiting for it’s turn … If it wouldn’t move, you would not recognise it as another organism, it was such a perfect leaf-like camouflage!

Malabar Gliding Frog in all it's glory !
Malabar Gliding Frog in all it’s glory ! ( Pic courtesy: Sajitha Nair )

Finally, we were done clicking for the day and we headed out towards our home-stay, where sumptuous dinner was waiting for us, time for some party after a hard day at work ! We discussed the days’ pictures over the dinner, and enjoyed the general chit-chat going along, ppl making fun of each other by now ! It was a bit late before we slept, but thankfully, it was a leisurely morning the next day.

Wake up I did, thinking it might have got a bit later than planned, only to realise that I was one of the early ones ! Girish was already decked up btw ;-), talking photography with Sajitha who had woken up as well … and a couple of guys had already gone on an early morning photography stint …. rest of us were getting up leisurely, recounting last night’s fun and frolic !

Breakfast at a nearby mess over ( simple and delicious to say the least, not to mention quite economical as well ! ), we freshened up by which time Suhas and his team arrived. We huddled up in our room once again for a talk on wildlife conservation, where we got to hear from a well known expert in that area. Going on for nearly the whole of first part of the day, we never knew how time passed by. Topics ranged from tiger conservation, to the disaster of Hesaraghatta grasslands, to GM crops, to chemicals used in our day to day food ( pesticides / fat free etc … ), to the basics of our everyday life ( using less plastic etc. Etc. ), to how photography is the means to teach people about conservation ( something which I have always believed to be the ultimate goal, at least so far as wildlife/nature photography goes ). A good learning nevertheless, I hope I’ll be able to spend some time on conservation issues.

Discussions and lunch over, we were back with our gear once again and huddled in the bus to go to Jog falls; time for some landscape photography! Pretty nearby, we reached there in a couple of minutes, ventured in and were presented with a pretty decent sight ( water was not as much as we had expected ) …. Nevertheless, mother nature always has a way of  ‘aweing’ you with what she has in store for you … we made best of the scene and light in front of us, and headed out after a little more than half an hr there. Not to mention the group pic !

The mighty Jog falls - not much water though.
The mighty Jog falls – not much water though. ( Pic courtesy: Prasanth Kumar )

We were now headed out for a view of the Sharavathi valley … the Sharavathi river flowing in between a pair of hills draped in greenery .. a very pleasant sight indeed ! Having clicked the scene to our fill, we now walked a little ahead until we came to rest at a site just ahead.

Sharavathi river winding it's way past those hills !
Sharavathi river winding it’s way past those hills ! ( Pic courtesy: Prabu T Sunderam )

Yes .. Lion Tailed Macaque territory ! We waited there, chatted there ( although a little hush hush so that we don’t distract those LTMs ) .. pretty tall trees, dense jungle on both sides and a place to sit on by the side of the road … we spent a fairly ‘fair’ amount of time there, but could not spot any LTMs to our disappointment .. perhaps not our day that day ! Meanwhile, shutterbugs got busy with other macro subjects ( beetles, bugs, a very beautiful orang/brown crabbie etc etc ) …. After spending more than an hr there, we were ready to head out, convinced that it was not our day for LTM sightings that day .. some other day may be.

We came back to our home-stay after a chai-stop, just before dusk …. We had to start moving out soon, and hence had to miss out on another visit of the kattalekana forests … Sharavathi beckoned us for another visit I’m sure ! Just before the final pack-up, there was another quick activity to be done 🙂 .. Suhas and Girish had to review 5 best pics of each of us, and what a wonderful round of discussions that was …. composition, focus, noise etc etc ! Lots to learn from here, and so the photographic flame keeps burning bright ! In the meantime, ppl had spotted another last frog species for the day … and then, what else do you expect from them !!!

After a quick pack-up, we bid our final good-byes to Suhas and his team ( who were to travel separately back to Bangalore again ), and hopped on to our ride …. Sharavathi whizzed past, all of us sleepy in the first few minutes, darkness surrounding us and cool wind gushing inside from the windows … I never realized in what time and after how much travel did we reach Shimoga town .. had a decent dinner with our mates … recounting tales from the last few days …. some new friends, some old acquaintances …. ! time passed by, dinner over, we were once again huddled together inside our vehicle … On to the road …… no more stops, tired well-deserved sleep and good 8 hrs ahead, we were in Bangalore close to dawn … People started hopping out now, waving their final good-byes before meeting again on another trip … promises to put up their pictures as soon as possible …. some wishing they didn’t have to go to office that day ( Monday ), others saying they won’t go anyway !

I came home, slept well for a few hrs and dragged myself to office that day … tired a bit but very well refreshed so far as photography goes … Bangalore seemed like a different place, I was already wishing to go to W. Ghats once again, perhaps soon enough !

And then another regular part of my life began … as it did for each of the others on that trip …. whizzing into and out of our offices, waiting to whizz past the city once again soon ! All good things come to an end, and so did this trip ….

Thanks Suhas, Girish and team for organising the whole thing, and thanks a lot ppl for making it a wonderful one …

Until we meet again ! Chau folks ! Lot of similar trips to be made to quench our photographic thirst, which forever shall remain insatiable ….

The group pic below seems pretty apt to end this write-up !

The motley crew !
The motley crew !

For better quality pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/27741849@N03/sets/72157648023736695/

Just the needed info: http://www.tripoto.com/trip/into-the-wilderness-sharavathi-8841

Please leave your comments !

 

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