20 of us including three professors left mumbai on 12th eve exactly at 5:00 p.m. for Amboli reaching at around 8:00-8:30 a.m. as we lost our way in the darkness jut before dawn. As soon as we reached the hotel gate we were greeted by a pied bushchat, white wagtail and a blue rock thrush and the day had hardly begun. No sooner had we settled in our rooms we had to move out for a short trail. We stayed at Vrindavan Hotel very next to Amboli Bus Depot and took the left turn along the depot for our trail. We started by observing plants by the roadside and found hidden treasures in the form of elephant hawk moth caterpillars with a pattern of yellow and blue basking in the honey gold sunlight. With almost 90% of their body erect in air they looked like miniature snaked about to strike. As we walked ahead we sighted alpine swifts and Asian palm swifts having an early morning breakfast up above in the sky. All along the trail we had more such gem of a sightings, a Red Helen Butterfly enticing us with her red spots making us run after her to take her shots like some big-time celebrity trying to hide from papparazzi. Green Bee-eaters did short flights in the air taking sharp turns in mid-air having caught a juicy insect went back to the same perch to savor it. A Common Kestrel also graced the occasion wearing and orange feather jacket. Just as we rounded a bend we had a very good sighting of a Short Toed Snake Eagle. Near a culvert under which a gentle stream flowed we saw a map butterfly looking so much like a miniature map with yellow, black, blue lines am sure representing roads in some unknown town. We also saw Whirligig Beetles in the water weaving around each other doing a very vigorous dance but not once did they bump into each other. We decided to turn back and head back to the hotel as the sun was quite high in the sky and burning our faces with his fierce rays. As the other people moved ahead, I, Gaurav, Pranad and Aparna heard brison from bushes around a stream and decided to wait and try to catch a glompse of the singer, it was a warbler but we could not ID it. So went back on our ways and as we neared the main road we saw a most peculiar sight, a crimson backed sunbird came flying after a thick billed flowepecker and both of them snag a little duet following which the thich billed flowepecker flew off closely followed by the sunbird. Here we again saw a warbler and this time we identified as a Booted Warbler based on its appearece and and call. We had two more trails, one in the evening and one night trail so we quickly ate a very delicious lunch and retired to our rooms. In the evening by 5:00 p.m. we all got ready to move out and piled in our bus to go to a waterfall a short distance away from amboli. Though the waterfall area was in a dismal situation what with tourist trying to beautify it more with bottles and shiny wrappers and also fading light we saw a grey wagtail wagging away its til in merry abandon and an Orange Headed Thrush with two black lines across its eye looking like a commando in camouflage. There was also a moment of excitement as Dr. Lattoo found a Green Vine Snake in the bushes and it was quickly bagged to be identified later on. After returning we had a short botany session in whcih we revised what we learnt in the days, we were joined by Mr. Hemant Ogle owner of Whistling Woods Resort amboli, and Mr.Rohan Korgaonkar owner of Vrindavan Hotel.Both of them are conservationist and members of Malabar Nature conservation club. They gave us a brief idea about amboli and what they are doing for its conservation. We all discussed several issues regarding environment, general civic habits of people or non-existence of those habits. Mrs. Mugdha had a very interesting point that we should not try to change people based on faith and belief but through knowledge. Later we had our dinner and then a short night-trail where we upturned every rock, searched every crevice to look for frogs, toads, geckos, lizards and were rewarded with a bush frog, Prashadi Gecko, several insects and also a bird sound asleep on a very low hanging branch and having puffed up its body against the cold, it somehow looked like a ball of wool caught in the branches, like a weird Christmas tree ornament.
We released the vine snake and a rat snake rescued earlier in the evening and returned to our hotel to sleep for a few hours, waking up at an unearthly hour for a morning trail to Parikshitgad.
On the way to Parikshitgad our very first sighting was of a Black Bulbul sitting on the topmost branch singing to the rising sun. He looked like a handsome African man with braided hair, his bright red beak in complete contrast with his dark body. Even the way he sang has a very jazzy quality, a bit like air being forced out of an air-bellow.
Like a curtain raising at an opera the light around us increased and so did the singing of birds. We had a tough time identifying the calls but had success at a few like Brown headed Barbet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Indian Scimitar Babbler and Brown Cheeked Fulvetta. Bablers complained to each other in loud voices of our early morning intrusion. I, Gaurav, Aparna sighted a scarlet minivet and white cheeked barbet on a tall bamboo branch welcoming the warm sun on their tiny red, green bodies, a swirl of colour on the dried gold branch.
As we reached the trail from where we had to climb uphill a few members had the good luck to sight a mongoose. Also we saw a grey count looking quite regal in his grey white cloak. We started our climb uphill on the dewy ground and leeches ran towards us for a morning breakfast of warm blood. The deep jungle with tall trees made a lace of the strong sun and we had less bird sightings but we did see a very tattered red spot duke returning from a duel for a fair duchess, the two red spots gleamed on his body like drops of blood.
Ahead Pranad scared a red spur fowl from hiding and it flew off into the trees looking like a belly heavy bomber plane and soon was out of sight.
On the way we saw a dead fat hairy and long caterpillar of a moth with a round white cottony nest of some parasite attached to its rear. Hemant informed us that he has seen this phenomenon earlier as well but has not been able to id which insect parasitizes the moth. While walking ahead I, Varun and Neeta heard a typical flycatcher note of 'churr' and saw a paradise flycatcher in his breeding glory of white. Just as we were reaching the top we had to walk under a very narrow arch of karvi plants with a few purple white blooms, here in the undergrowth we observed a very beautiful white bellied blue flycatcher endemic to the Western Ghats and on the endangered list. This sighting was the high point of the trail because when we came out of the archway and reached the plateau the sun was scorching and we had no more sightings. All of us rested for a few minutes clicked pictures, saw hare scat and were again ready for descent. It was all downhill from there and we reached the base in 20 mins flat the same path which had taken us 2-3 hours to climb. The bus thankfully was waiting for us at the bottom and Anand while waiting for us sighted a monitor lizard and a yellow browed bulbul.
Back at the Hotel after a heavy lunch with srikahand as dessert everyone slept soundly for 2 hours. In the evening Dr. Lattoo returned to Mumbai and a few faculty members and students accompanied him till Savantwadi for sightseeing and shopping and bought wooden toys as souvenirs.
After dinner Hemant Ogle brought a few of his pictures for us to see. First we saw plant and flower pictures, very well shot, then butterfly and reptile pictures. Most of them were shot with a very basic nikon coolpix camera but were very sharp and artistic. We thank Hemant for bringing his precious pictures for our perusal.
Early next morning we left for Malvan along the way someone spotted large pods of liana. We got down for a closer look and found that the pods were of Entada pursaetha a gigantic woody liana among legumes, which produces 90-150 cm long woody giant pods with 5-30 seeds, one of the largest pod found in the plant kingdom. While we were there we heard the cackling laugh like call of a Stork billed Kingfisher and near a stream saw two of them flying off one after the other. Across the road a hoopoe with his fan like crest hopped on the ground, while white rumped munias flocked in a small field. A crimson backed sunbird his red back aflame danced in the trees while lorikeets called cht-cht-cht as the whizzed overhead. A Malabar whistling thrush whistled lazily his schoolboy song and a scimitar babbler threatened sweetly of beating the daylights out of him. A Nigger butterfly kept close to the shady forest floor as overhead a giant wood spider mated with her minuscule mate.
We stopped around 13-14 kms from Kudal at a small rustic eatery for breakfast. While waiting for our poha we saw a chestnut headed bee-eater, rich chestnut cape glinting in the sun. A Rustic butterfly flit into the bushes and a common baron in his shiny green coat of arms lorded in the warm sun and mud-puddled at the same time.
From here we reached Dhamapur lake a huge water body surrounded by verdant greenery and cool shade. On our arrival we saw a pair of pied hornbills with their huge beaks eating fruits which rolled down into their mouths somehow reminding me of a bowling alley. We were a little late and reached in the afternoon so we had no more interesting sightings except for a forest palm squirrel and as we had to reach Malvan by 2 to take advantage of the low tide we were soon on our way. The topography while on the way was a contrast between green trees and golden grassy plateaus. Red soil coated the green in thick layer hiding the green completely.
Reaching Malvan beach we saw a lot of boats in the water and also a huge boat being built a very intricate and detailed affair almost 2 storeys high. Having lunch we got onto the boat which took us near the Sindhudurg-Janjira fort for snorkeling. Most of us didn't know how to swim and were scared in spite of a huge inflated ring to keep us afloat and a very able guide with us in the water. Goggles on air hose in mouth the water became another planet altogether. Fishes flit by flashes of colour in the murky water. Watching fishes is like bird-watching of marine life. Zebra fishes with the same black and white stripes like their namesake, black damselfish and blue, butterfly fish, rabbit fish, grouper, sturgeon, an angelfish with a very contrasting combination of blue an yellow and sweetlips is what i saw in 20 mins. Others also saw Parrotfish similar in colour and beak like a parrot, bulletfish shooting by etc. Plate corals red with white edges almost 400 years old dominated the ocean floor. Corals grow at the rate of 1 inch a year and are very sensitive to water pollution and increase in water temp. Also sea-cucumbers and crabs were seen. Sargassum and other flotsam and jetsam of the sea flaoted by. Snorkeling was a lot of fun, very interesting and informative.
As the boat returned ashore a white bellied sea eagle skimmed over a sea tinged with a medley of pink, orange and red reflecting the sky above , the artist was the orange red sun coveered in paint retiring for the day, a perfect end for a fulfilling trip.
Back in our buses and now on our journey back to m'bai all of us shared our favourite fish sighted during snorkeling. Anand and Pranad made us all very jealous regaling us about their snorkeling experience in Lakshadweep and we also discussed shortcomings in malvan. Anand informed us that this is a new venture and there will be a few beginning glitches. The enterprise is run by local fishermen and they are not professionals and dont know many things about how to conserve the reef. Anand talked to them about several things and made them aware of what steps to take to better the experience for other people. The reef was discovered only a few years ago and steps have not been take to study its natural beauty or its fragile nature. Local people and fishermen will have to be made aware of its imp both in terms of its ecological imp and how they can use it as a source of income by attracting tourist for underwater sights. It could be developed as a scuba diving or snorkeling destination.
The night deepened and all of us gradually drifted to sleep weary and tired from 3 fully packed days of fun, frolic and a lot of learning. Our bus trundled towards Mumbai and except for the wheels grating on the road nothing could be heard, not even a snore.