Agumbe is 826 metres above sea level, at the edge of the Sahyadri range of hills in Karnataka. It is well-connected by road, with buses plying the narrow but well- maintained hill roads from Udupi, Mangalore, Tirthahali (the nearest town) and Shimoga. Mangalore International Airport is 135km away. There is a small bus station at Agumbe from where an overnight bus leaves for Bangalore (274km) every night at 8pm. You have to phone and book accommodation at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station. There is a dormitory-style hall for backpackers. Simple meals are also provided at a nominal cost. The Leopard Guest House is beautifully situated. It has simple but comfortable folding beds, clean sheets and pillows and an excellent bathroom, with electricity from solar panels at night .
Contact: P. Gowri Shankar, conservation officer, Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, Suralihalla, Agumbe, Tirthahalli, Shimoga, Karnataka 577 411. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, arrs.India@gmail.com. (O) (08181) 222301.
In the village, one of the more gracious options is to stay with Kasturi akka, who runs a home stay. (08181) 233075.
For those who do not care for snakes, the region is known for its spectacular trekking trails.
RAFFLE TICKET FOR A YAKSHAGANA PERFORMANCE
At Hallibidargude, the village next to the king cobra’s stomping ground, a local woman asked us to buy a raffle ticket. “It’s for a good cause,” she explained. “The local temple is having a festival and there will be an all-night Yakshagana performance.” These marvellous spectacles involve a heady mix of theatre, dance, music and storytelling from the epics. The most striking aspects are the elaborate headgear, costumes and jewellery worn by the dancers who represent celestial beings or Yakshas who have come down to earth for the evening.
“Do you know what you will get if you win?” she asked us, peeling off the tickets that were priced at Rs10 each. “A newborn calf is the first prize and a cellphone is the second!”
WHERE NAXALS ROAM
“It’s an area where Naxalite attacks are on the rise, so do not walk around alone after dark,” advised one of the villagers we met on the road. The Brahmin landowners, who cultivate the commercially attractive arecanut crop, complain that there is no one left to harvest the nuts. They blame it on the rise of the Dalit writers who have tried to expose the age-old social divisions that exist in such a remote area. For instance, one of them has written of how when he was young, his mother would collect cow dung at night and sift it for the undigested grains of cereals. These were all that she could get to grind into flour for her family the next day. On the other hand, the account provided by Englishman Francis Buchanan in the early 1800s, of his travels through the Shimoga district, speaks of raids by robbers on arecanut farms owned by the Brahmins as being a regular feature of their lives. When the robbers attacked, he says, they forced the inhabitants of the village to hide in their fields, because they were so ruthless.