Who does not enjoy rain-watching? In Karnataka, as the rains hit the ground, the state starts to cast her spell on us. Temperatures drop generously and vistas grow greener by the day. I love how the monsoons add a hint of romance, draping luscious hills in silvery mist. New streams burst into existence, and enchanting waterfalls all along the Western Ghats make you want to sit and stare. And precisely for this, we decided to explore one of the wettest regions in Karnataka during the monsoon.

This time around, we ditched the luxury of a car, deciding to take local transport throughout – the experience of travelling in regional buses, exchanging pleasantries with or without words, asking locals for directions, and experiencing their warm smiles and curious questions as they guide us, is something that one cannot put a price on.

Our first stop was Jungle Lodges’ ‘Bhagawathi Nature Camp’ in Kudremukh National Park. With no mobile network around the camp, and with the rains as a constant companion, we were in for a proper digital detox. This is a place where tranquility has set in deep.

A view of the habitat at Kudremukh National Park.

Our main reason for staying here was to summit Kurinjal peak, for which this is the basecamp. The hill gets its name from the Neelakurinji flowers that bloom once in 12 years. This was not the time for it to bloom; nevertheless, we wanted to catch a glimpse of nature’s marvel. As we prepped for our morning hike, we rolled up our rain pants to get a view of any leeches that might victoriously climb onto our legs. Our guide filled a cloth bag with tobacco dust and salt; he believed that would force leeches to let go. After all, we were hiking in a leech-infested zone.

Shola-grasslands enroute Kurinjal peak.

As we hiked through Kudremukh National Park in pounding rain, the guide told us stories of the region, enhancing the beauty of this trek. With not many birds that could be seen or even heard due to the rains, we enjoyed the hike silently, devouring stunning views while occasionally watching the forest floor for critters. The steep climb to reach the peak added up to the best experience one could ever imagine. Back at the camp that afternoon, we wandered around within the campus, spent time watching the river Bhadra flow in all its glory, and retired to our beds after dinner.

A Neelakurinji plant near the summit.

A flower our guide called “Sita’s jade” (Sita’s braid, in Kannada).

The day after our trek, we made a rather spontaneous decision to explore another camp nearby. A local bus took us to Jungle Lodges’ ‘Seethanadi Nature Camp’ in a few hours. Being close to Agumbe, this camp gets bombarded by heavy rain. The camp gets its name from Seethanadi River, which flows through it. Along the river is a semi-evergreen patch of forest which is home to abundance; from dracos (flying lizards) to the famed King Cobra, tarantulas to the Slender Loris, innumerable frogs, pretty fungi, and magnificent birds – this region is rich in biodiversity.

The camp contained innumerable tiny frogs lurking around.

When the outdoor is such an endless beauty, how does one rest inside the tents? Naturally, post-lunch, we found ourselves walking a small trail with our cameras and binoculars. What followed was one of the most scenic walks we had ever experienced. Seethanadi Nature Camp has many small trails within its boundaries. If one has their eyes and ears open, one can spend a few hours on a rather small and flat course that will loop back to the camp.

One of the trails within Seethanadi Nature Camp.

As we walked, there were no conversations, because the noise surrounding us was deafening. Cicadas broke into their regular rhythmic shrieks, Malabar Giant Squirrels let out their share of signals with long, metallic notes, and frogs went about their raucous croaking from all places – streams, trees, and bushes. It is true – if you listen, the forest talks, and it can be quite a loud conversation.  We were lucky to not have rain that afternoon; in fact, it was a pretty sunny day. Though midday, we found ourselves walking in darkness, broken by occasional sunrays shining through breaches in the otherwise dense canopy. This sporadic sunshine piercing through the forest was a welcome relief.

We walked at snail’s pace, constantly scanning trees as well as the undergrowth, lest we miss something. Our eyes, usually trained to watch trees and shrubs for birds, were instinctively watching the forest floor that was covered with leaves; it was brimming with life that I barely knew about. Our eyes started to zoom in like a camera lens – our focus shifted from tree canopies to their trunks, and then the cervices in those trunks, to what was there within those crevices. On fallen trees and branches, our focus narrowed to what was growing on and under them. Tiny fungi, lizards, ants, bugs, and beetles, which do not come into focus in a typical jungle setting, caught our attention here – on the fascinating and mysterious forest floor.

A tree, well dressed in fungi, on our trail.

A Common Earthball fungus.

Along the trail, innumerable, colourful fungi sprung up at the most unexpected places – a sight to behold. As this was an impromptu walk, we had not asked for a guide, a mistake that we would like to correct the next time, for we were unable to identify and learn more about any of the entities we were looking at. We just walked through, observing and documenting them, and asked for help later on.

The sublime beauty of Candlesnuff Fungus.

Fungi of the Clavulinopsis genus light up the floor.

Every now and then, slight movements on tree barks caught our eyes. Forest lizards slithered all over – some carefully camouflaged, while others proudly showing off their brilliant colouration. Dracos flying from one tree to another left us in awe, as we struggled to capture them digitally.

A forest lizard on a distinctive Indian Prickly Ash tree.

Our hearing senses seemed to be at their prime by now, because just as we were about to return to the camp, we heard a faint rustle from the leafy floor – a dung beetle, busy going about its job, performing the crucial ecosystem service of breaking down dung and releasing its nutrients. The fact that an average dung beetle can roll a ball of dung over 50 times its own weight is a wonder! Later that day, I also learnt that they roll dung balls following a straight line, despite all obstacles. The dung beetle is far more extraordinary than we think.

We headed back to the camp, where tea awaited us, as did the end of our trip. We didn’t really see Agumbe’s stars this time: pit vipers or the King Cobra. But we definitely learnt about the tiny creatures that make this place what it is. In this jungle, I understood that I was a very small part of a very vast ecosystem. If I had to summarise my learning experience, nothing is more apt than this quote by Henry David Thoreau – “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”