They wanted to kiss a frog even if there was no promise of Prince Charming!
Like a heady concoction of all things beautiful, Coorg is about the irresistible aroma of coffee and other spices, of a rich culture, of an irreversible love for the land, of relentless rains…and of the lively little creatures that thrive in the monsoons, of throbbing natural beauty all around and so much more.
And to explore the Kodava Nadu went an excited group of participants with Toehold Skippers, to live every moment of the Coorg Tour to the fullest.
Nestled snugly in the moist-deciduous forest of Honey Valley is the cosy home-stay that the participants of the July 2015 Coorg Macro-Photography Expedition reached. The Honey Valley home-stay welcomed the participants with a delicious lunch about 4,250 ft from sea level, which they thoroughly enjoyed amidst the verdant rainforests on the first day of the Tour.
The valley is home to a diversity of frogs that emerge during the monsoon; which is why the Tour is aptly planned during this time of the year. This is also the time for macro photography enthusiasts to hone their skills, as the opportunities to capture the little creatures in the rainy season are aplenty.
After a scrumptious lunch, the Skippers briefly discussed the plans laid out for the crowd that was new to the rainforests. Later, they met for orientation, during which, different aspects of photography were discussed: settings, challenges and solutions, possibilities of finding the frogs and other creatures, and how and where to find them.
While Sachin engaged the audience with his immense knowledge of the frogs by sharing some fascinating information with a matchless enthusiasm, Santosh, with his never-fading calm, discussed the possible challenges in terms of photography and how best to deal with them.
No Sound is a discord in the monsoon forests of Coorg.
That evening, as the group set out on the adventure, the coffee estate seemed to mull over the grand transition of the day making way for twilight and an eventual night. While the participants vigilantly waited to hear the male frog calls, so did the female frogs that were hiding away in the dense bushes.
The thin, inflated vocal sacs of the frogs during the time are a sight you wouldn’t want to miss for the world. So, decked up for the evening, and with the special leech socks running up to their knees, the participants walked on until they heard a frog calling out. But before they could carefully follow the trail of the sound, they were led, as if in a dream, to a lily pond that looked like it had come alive from the pages of a fairy tale. Next to the comely flower was an extremely attractive skittering frog, which looked like a million bucks in the faint light of dusk.
The Tour participants got a glimpse of the frog before it skittered away from view, living up to its name. It was time to go back to the frog whose call had first grabbed the group’s attention. To their astonishment, it was a Raorchestes chromasynchysi, a bush frog, found perched on the bamboo fence of a garden in the coffee estate flanking the path they were treading. Although it was hard to photograph the frog that the participants spotted, they were more than happy watching it from a close distance.
A few minutes into the evening and Sachin found a keelback! Barely had the Tour begun, and the group had already seen a snake!
There is no end to surprises when one sets out to explore different types of ecosystems at the right time of the year. And Coorg aids conspiracies for such rendezvous for you with the other living beings during the monsoons.
The group was still reeling under the charm of the snake, when another grand surprise was bestowed on them: there was a beautiful Raorchestes luteolus waiting a few yards away to be fondly gazed at and photographed. Among the commonly found species of frogs in the region, the blue-eyed bush frog, locally called neelanetra, did not fail to impress the group with its orangish-yellow body topped off with a blue eye-ring, and an overall adorable appearance.
Then they saw something that was a delightful green dappled with dainty black dots on top, and whitish grey with a pretty pattern underneath. If this makes you think of something out of an Antoine de Saint-Exupéry book like The Little Prince, may we just say that it was a Raorchestes akroparallagi that stole the show after the blue-eyed bush frog? Also, a few froglets were around and the participants had a celebration photographing them, without the flash, of course: a point to remember on Tours such as this one.
Too much is never too bad when you are exploring the wild, especially in the natural dim light, while the night’s veil is slowly shrouding a dense forest like a lazy blink of an eye. The coffee estate had more in store for the group. Spiders, grasshoppers, locusts, slugs, and caterpillars, among other creatures of the night, made it a completely rewarding experience to walk in the dense mountain and battling the fears of the dark and the wild.
The group went back to the lodge, and before calling it a night, discussed the eventful evening and went to sleep.
The next morning, after a tasty breakfast, the Tour participants and the Skippers set out in search of the golden and bronze frogs. Going up the hill, however, they found none of the terrestrial frogs. So the group was initiated to some abstract photography. The Skippers helped the participants see how even thorns could be made to look like pieces of art, and how even a mute, moss-covered fallen log could be framed beautifully.
Capturing beauty in all its abstraction continued, and a few flowers made for some delicate frames.
A participant found a pair of insects camouflaged and mating, which offered some interesting photo-making opportunities. Different types of ferns, mushrooms, painted hoppers and plant hoppers, four-ringed butterflies, snails, ants, and a variety of bugs seemed to please the Tour participants as they were able to click several vibrant images.
After a good morning’s walk into the wild, the group returned to the home-stay, and had yet another lip-smacking lunch, before taking a nap to gear up for another evening which was anticipated to be full of action.
At 5:00 that evening, the Skippers reviewed the images taken by the participants and discussed how they could make the images better by tending to a few finer and technical details of photography. After this educative session, the group was able to spot some male purple-sunbirds and make pictures of white-bellied tree pies, Malabar parakeets, coucals, and plenty of hill mynas among other birds.
On the second night of the Tour, the group decided to explore the border of the estate and the adjacent forest. To reach the perimeter of the estate, they had to pass through a stream. Just as they were crossing the stream, they realised that the estate was going to grow denser towards the border. The participants wanted to spot snakes, especially the Malabar pit viper (Trimeresurus malabaricus) that night, but they couldn’t find any.
But there was a Raorchestes tuberohumerus that endearingly compensated for the no-show by the snakes. Although the participants could not really make pictures of it using their cameras, they were able to watch it in the striking setting of the night.
In the meanwhile, one of the participants located a completely green-coloured frog sitting on a dead twig, this turning out to be another chromasynchysi, the reason behind its being called the ‘confusing green-coloured bush frog’ now very evident. The participants who were enduring the tough path were delighted to make some stunning images of the pretty, although confounding, amphibian.
As they continued the walk, they were finally able to spot a wrinkled frog for the first time on the Tour and even photograph it. Apart from the frog, the group had a good time clicking the pictures of millipedes, centipedes, daddy long-legs, moths and a few other nocturnal creatures.
The group had a productive time making several photos that evening and happily returned to the lodge. As they were discussing the events of the day, they realised that a frog that used to make a peculiar noise near the lodge every night was calling out longer into the night than usual. It had always kept the group company but that night, it stayed a little longer while the pet dogs at the home stay and a few bats also added for the company.
The following morning, the group left for a walk through the stream. If Ryokan’s poetry about the streams has haunted you with its simplicity, this place will leave you spellbound as though it is brimming with lyrical beauty. This is why the Skippers chose to help the participants practise photography, which also included taking pictures of the clear, transparent stream flowing like a silky white veil.
This stream in the estate creates a couple of small waterfalls and the participants assembled near one of them. Just when all thoughts seemed to get exhausted in the woods, Sachin and Santosh walked a little further to see if they could find any creature of beauty and joy.
They weren’t at all disappointed because there was a big, attractive bronze frog that beckoned attention – finally! The Skippers called the participants to the spot and they all photographed the bronze frog until the moment it jumped into the water and swam slickly, stirring the waters, like how a bird glides in the sky.
The participants then went back to the stream and made some more photographs while the sun seemed to play hide and seek with the clouds above. It was in a magical moment that a torrent frog appeared on a rock, half-immersed in the stream water. The stream-spell was sweetly broken again. A few minutes later, the Skippers guided the participants on the use of tripods and filters. The challenges and solutions of stream photography were also discussed at length as the light continued to be inconsistent.
Shortly, the group was thrilled to see a gecko and a skink too. To add to their excitement was another wrinkled frog of a different species. The ecstatic group continued its happy high walk to photograph Impatiens scapiflora that Santosh had found. Making images of this rare species of flower was even more exciting because it is known to be found only in the Western Ghats.
The quiver of the Impatiens still created invisible waves of utter joy in the air and a pair of damselflies seemed to be eavesdropping. One of the participants found them mating on a leaf, and the damselflies flew together and sat on a participant’s hat, creating a hearty moment.
It started raining and the group went back to the lodge. They de-leeched themselves and were happy about having made a lot of pictures before it started raining. As they discussed the events of the day, the participants had become appreciative of the rich ecosystem of Coorg. There was an eerie closeness to the seclusion that the Photo Tour had offered them and they did not shy away from acknowledging and appreciating it.
And like an epiphany, the group managed to find out the species of the frog whose calls were always in the background as they lazily sat at the home stay while they weren’t in the wilds. It was a Raorchestes charius, and there was a strange solace to this knowledge. The strange nocturnal creature had become an acquaintance.
On popular demand, the group then left to explore the forest borders. And before reaching the stream that flows somewhere on the way, the participants saw an extremely beautiful golden frog. The terrestrial frog, with its beguiling colour, held the participants captive for a few minutes until Sachin suggested that he and Santosh walk down the stream to see if there were more of such exotic creatures.
And as they walked down the path by the stream, each of them cried out in a sudden excitement. While Santosh saw an unusually huge frog to his left, Sachin had managed to discover a torrent toad, which is a rather a rare creature to be spotted. The texture of its skin was drab on the back, but its belly was embellished with dabs of yellow and red colours. The Skippers called the participants to the venue and it was sheer enchantment to watch and photograph it as its belly being grandly reflected in the clear waters of the stream.
The group then saw another wrinkled frog relaxing nearby while another torrent toad appeared out of nowhere. Nature seemed to be weaving a moment of absolute magic when the wrinkled frog lunged at the torrent toad and the latter disappeared without leaving a trace!
There were two frogs that belong to the Genus, Indirana, sitting in the crevices of a rock like they were the only creatures in all of Coorg cosmos. The group also saw another snail, a few spiders, and a couple of centipedes.
The sensory overload had to be dealt with at this point of time as the night was throbbing with natural beauty all around. When one of the participants suggested that it would be a nice idea for the whole group to stand still and breathe in the silence of the forest for a few minutes, everyone obliged.
While their hearts were calming down as though to follow a rhythm that the quietness of the forest had, the insect calls and the sound of the crickets felt like something akin to a prayer. Those few moments of silence were like an intense epilogue written to an eventful day, with the arching tree-line above making the sky nothing but an endowment.
“The sound of clarity was deafening.”
Sunaina, one of the Tour participants, describes her experience with a touch of metaphysics: “For someone who is obsessed with shooting mammals, understanding and appreciating the world of macro took time. The wealth of knowledge that the Toehold Skippers had of the place and the natural habitat of these tiny-but-adorable creatures propelled my newly-kindled interest. We had an almost enlightening experience capturing frogs, spiders, insects, and snakes from as close as six inches from the subject.
“This Tour has helped me fathom the world of some less-explored species of the forests better. And one of the highlights for me is that I was able to defeat my worst enemy – fear. Exploring these species under a moonless sky in the night transported us to a world beyond what the best pictures can capture of it.
“We are so busy pursuing what we think are larger goals in life that we fail to notice these fleeting moments of sheer joy and an eventual liberation. We were fortunate to live a few of such moments when we stood still and quiet in the dark, giving in to the clutches of the night. I experienced a sense of freedom of a different kind. The sound of clarity was deafening, and in that instant, I was sure that I was coming back for more.”
After what seemed like an intense stretch of quietness, the group started walking back to the home-stay, adventuring through some fallen logs on the way. They could not see a lot of snakes but there were other fascinating creatures captured away in their cameras. And when something stirred responding to the torchlight, the group saw a brown-coloured moth fluttering its wings in the rippling night.
When the participants gathered after a delicious meal, they spoke, as if in a trance, of their personal favourite moments of the Photo Tour. They knew they had to leave an ecosystem that they were just starting to treasure, but they were a satisfied bunch of people who had numerous photos waiting to be viewed and reviewed, so that they could live all the magical moments all over again. After all, isn’t that the reason why pictures are made?