It seeps in slowly, the gravitas of David Abram’s choice of words for the tagline of his book, ‘The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World’. It is a rainy August day, and we’ve reached Jungle Lodges’ Anejhari Butterfly Camp at about midday. The monsoon-ing forest, whose one nook shelters the camp, is a wet, verdant quiver. The air shivers with avian chuckles and songs. A heady fragrance emanates from the rain-soaked soil. To refer to all this as the ‘non-human world’ is to unfortunately, blindly assume a separation, to falsely sever an inseparable connection. This is why David’s phrase ‘more-than-human world’ is perhaps more accurate, and more importantly, aware of our own small place in it, which is deeply humbling.
Mookambika Wildlife Sanctuary, named after the divine feminine energy called Mookambika, is not too far from the unique geographical marvel called Maravanthe Beach in coastal Karnataka. As we drive slowly towards the camp’s parking area, we realise how inebriated we already are after beholding the sea on one side of the highway and River Souparnika on the other, less than an hour ago. The location of the camp has already brought us joy even before we check in.
We are eager to set out even as we finish the formalities and get into our wooden cottage. In the meantime, a feast for our senses has already begun. As our eyes stay ravenous, noticing the details of everything around, our ears are aware of the soft rumbling of River Souparnika, which flows bordering the camp. As we walk down to meet her silting waters, a few Tamil Lacewings and Blue Oakleafs gently ruffle the air around them to invisible unrest. From under the shelter of our umbrellas, we see her, Souparnika, her surface rippling in the drizzle. Two Bonnet Macaques play on a tree to our far left. A bullfrog leaps into our vision and disappears in a second into a thicket to our right. We sit by the waters, keenly aware of the luxury of doing nothing but to simply be.
The staff is warm and welcoming; when we exchange information about the towns and cities we hail from, a few interesting stories are traded. After a refreshing lunch, our foray deeper into the forest leads to a Giant Wood Spider, known to be the second largest amongst orb-weaving spiders, apart from the recently discovered Nephila komaci. Under a rather sombre sky, the spider is a nice, vibrant distraction.
When dusk arrives, the drizzle increases to a near-crescendo, but we gear up with our gumboots, raincoats, bigger umbrellas, torches and cameras, and head out to look for frogs. I am aching to see Malabar Gliding Frogs. But we first meet some bush frogs instead – a vocalising male Wayanad Bush Frog, with its vocal sac bulging into what looks like a gaseous galaxy that is glittery and milky, rightfully demands our attention.
We move along a non-path and reach an old well covered by a mesh, on which are four Malabar Gliding Frogs! The green, the yellow and the orange-red – little volcanic eruptions of hues dotting the fabric of darkness! The inside of their eyes contain, as it were, astral orbits we are far from fathoming. But there they are – four of them sitting like the masters of four directions. We glean ourselves away from them because there is simply so much more to see. A little snake slithers beneath my feet and vanishes before I can recognise it. Then there is a Common Bushbrown, hanging upside down from a tender twig.
Further up the path, there is a lizard on the other side of a leaf, and we don’t struggle to identify it. Can’t a thing of beauty be admired in unknowing, too? And so, we happily hoard the moment as only a silhouette.
As darkness deepens, we learn from our guide, Azhar, that this place is home to a species of bioluminescent fungi. He says if we do not mind walking far from the cottages in the rain that is now pelting down, we could get lucky. “The whole point of being in a forest in the monsoon is to explore it, rain or no rain, isn’t it?” we ask him, and he is more than happy to lead the way.
After a climb up a small elevation, Azhar asks us to stop and turn all our artificial sources of light off. We wait until our eyes adjust to the darkness, while the details of the forest half-reveal themselves. Then it starts – the gradual, hypnotising appearance of the bioluminescent fungus around us. It appears as dots and lines in most places, but is more prominent at the root of a tree. It is almost like a bonfire, we realise – only, cold and green. A cold fire indeed, if you will. It is so ethereal and otherworldly that it is almost scary! Too much beauty is not easy to bear after all, as Rilke had once said, is it? The camera picks up some more details from the canopy of the forest with long exposure, something our eyes cannot see clearly. And then, we make more images of the fungus to preserve these precious moments of breath-taking magic.
As if this itself isn’t too overwhelming, we hear a Malabar Grey Slender Loris calling out in the night. It is our guide Azhar who helps us identify this aural delight. We wait until it stops – a little eternity in its own right – and walk back to our cottage, muted by everything we have marvelled at thus far, especially the phenomenon of bioluminescence which was only theory in our minds until now. We have seen it now – we have seen it in the flesh!
The next two days are almost a retelling of the same experiences, like a cherished music playlist on loop. And we abandon ourselves to the volley of beautiful, haunting moments nature throws at us in this small patch of our gracious, graceful planet. The Anejhari experience will remain luminous in the denes and alleyways of our memory for a long time. Time has been an exquisite entanglement, of all things then and now. We are grateful.