Dark canopies, incessant rain, free-flowing streams, forests full of life, and frogs and toads in bewitching colours croaking in a chorus–this is Amboli in the Western Ghats. The south Maharashtra hill station is popular for weekend getaways; some even call it a honeymooner’s paradise. People visit it for the waterfalls, temples, resorts and caves, but we were visiting to photograph reptiles, amphibians and other wonderful nocturnal creatures.
The roads to Amboli are good, and the drive from Goa particularly scenic. We chose to stay at a hotel very close to the Amboli Forest Park. The staff know that many of their guests come to the hill station for night trails, so, after a long evening of photography, we were pleasantly surprised to find them up and about and ready to serve us.
Before my trip to Amboli, the idea of a night walk in a rainforest was terrifying enough, let alone the possibility of encountering creepy-crawlies. But I was up for a challenge, and I was certainly not disappointed. We were well looked after by Kaka Bhise, president of the Malabar Nature Conservation Club, Amboli, who has nearly two decades of experience in this field and in conducting such trails, and who placed our safety before anything else.
There were no maddening jeep safaris, nor any other disturbances. We slept during the day and ventured out at night. It is easy to sight and photograph animals in daylight. In the dark, the rules are different, the settings unique, and one must abide by nature’s rules. It goes without saying that it is not advisable to do this without an expert. But, despite the risk, there is great excitement. At one point, I lay down in a running stream to photograph a frog; at another, I bowed down on my knees at a safe distance from a snake, all to create unique shots.
Of course, none of this was a bed of roses. The incessant rains had us pause the shoot and take shelter more than once. Moisture started affecting our gear–for a while I was sure some of my equipment had croaked. And, obviously, one must exercise caution with wild animals. It was my dream to photograph a pit viper, but I was just as nervous as I was thrilled on sighting my first. It was a spine-chilling experience, especially since I was quite close to it. Thankfully, Kaka Bhise was there to pull us away in case we got dangerously close and we were only too glad to oblige.
There’s a lot to learn from these wondrous amphibians and reptiles and I really respect them for their adaptability. However, not many believe that we are more dangerous to them than they are to us. Maybe, one day, more people will appreciate them for what they are.
The nearest airport to Amboli is Dabolim in Goa (3hrs/117km), while the nearest railhead is Sawantwadi, 30km away. There is a lot of affordable accommodation in and around Amboli. Two excellent options, both run by MTDC, are Ogale’s Whistling Woods (from â‚¹2,000; 9423856724, maharashtratourism.gov.in) and Amboli Green Valley (from â‚¹1,300; 02363-240236). Whistling Woods is close to the forest. If you’re raring to go on a night trail, just call or email Kaka Bhise (7588447161, 8007121517; firstname.lastname@example.org).