Monday, November 14, 2011

Amboli Amblings (July 2010)

Frogs, centipedes, scorpions, snakes, spiders and not to forget LEECHES! Sounds appetizing? Then head over to Amboli to drool over such creepy crawlies and more! That's what I did at the end of July. There were 12 others in the group including a clutch of do-or-die, `shoot at sight' photographers!
Adesh had warned us not to expect to spot any birds. Though we heard lots of birdcalls – scimitar babblers, brown-cheeked fulvettas and barbets – we spotted only two or three at the most. This place is more well-known for its unlimited variety of insects, amphibians and reptilians. And not only did we have Adesh and Mandar to guide us, but also Hemant Ogale who runs Whistling Woods, a Bed and Breakfast place in Amboli where we all stayed. Not to forget Shashank who is a young expert on amphibians and snakes.
Hemant runs the Malabar Conservation Centre and is training a group of local youths to raise awareness about environmental issues in the region. It is threatened at least from what I saw, by the huge tourist influx during the monsoon and the unplanned development. The tourists come from Goa and nearby places to bathe in the waterfalls that cascade down the hills. We saw at least a thousand or more congregated at the biggest one. The plastic litter, beer bottles and cans were grim reminders of how little people cared about destroying the very natural beauty they had come to enjoy.
Hills in the distance, and rainforest around you as you "amble" along tarred roads through the mist – yes, it makes for a pretty picture, doesn't it? And if you like rains in the countryside, then good for you – Amboli is known as the Cherrapunji of Maharashtra. Unluckily for us, it did not rain all that heavily. There were good rains only on the day we were leaving!
We went to a place called Madhavgad and Parikshit Point, the highest at 900 metres. This was through a leech-ridden forest path. Gauri spotted a Malabar pit viper and won the `prize' promised by Adesh (an old cap!!). We spotted this snake three or four more times. The beautiful Bombay Shield Snake, the Green Vine snake and the Olive forest snake completed our kitty. We also spotted a variety of frogs including bullfrogs and burrowing frogs. Lots of frog's eggs in which we could see the tadpoles (that was an awesome sight). Hemant put his feet inside a pond at one stage and all the tadpoles swarmed all over them to give him a `pedicure'!
The crowning glory was a glimpse of the Malabar gliding frog in Hemant's backyard. He had a rare video of the mating of these frogs and showed us the foamy nests studded with tiny yellow eggs. They build these nests on branches overhanging water so that the tadpoles drop directly into water.
Three days of unlimited fun…walking in the rain, enjoying the white mists swirling down the path and stopping here and there to exclaim at the amazing sights that nature provided us. If this isn't the greatest stress buster and balm for jaded urban souls, I don't know what is!
And of course we all enjoyed the spicy Konkan food (a bit too hot for me!), especially the fish eaters who feasted on surmai and bangda…washed down with cooling Solkadi. Mmmmm…
Our trip wound up with a visit to the colourful Sawantwadi wooden toy bazaar. All of us picked up some gleaming memento or the other of this lovely, unspoiled place. And I added one more leaf to my album of memorable journeys with Adesh and Mandar. More strength to this pair of nature-lovers…

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