“Switch the torches off."

“Are you mad? No!"

“Switch them off!"

“We’re in the middle of a forest and I saw a snake 10 minutes ago. So, no."

Nirmal Kulkarni, ecologist, herpetologist and naturalist, switches off his torch, and his face is covered in a mask of darkness. A few seconds later, we reluctantly follow suit.

The night immediately closes in, giving us the full effect of being on a night trail. I stand uncomfortably in the dark, listening to the orchestra of cicadas, crickets, frogs and owls. Rain clouds hang low, blocking the stars, and I understand every “inky black" reference I’ve ever read.

One by one, the trees begin to glow.

The barks of the trees around us turned a pale green, bathing the length of the trail in an almost unearthly light. Our tiny group stares in awe, at what looks like a sci-fi movie set.

The explanation is nowhere as dramatic as we’d have liked it to be. The Western Ghats host a species of bioluminescent fungus called Mycena. Bioluminescence is an organism’s ability to produce and emit light through a chemical reaction, dependent on the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. So, in the monsoon, due to the moisture in the air, Mycena puts on quite a light and special effects show in the forests of Goa, which I’d just witnessed.

Glassy Tiger butterfly. Photo: Ajith U/Wikimedia Commons

Unlike most forests in India, the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary stays open in the monsoon, with full waterfalls and green landscapes. After seeing the show of the Mycena, as we walked on in the darkness, we heard Malabar Gliding Frogs serenading their lady loves, and the Slender Loris hooting its approval from the canopies. Both species are endemic to the Western Ghats. We also meet two species of snakes, a poisonous Malabar Pit Viper (which we leave well alone) and the non-venomous Vine Snake that camouflages seamlessly into the green.

This is the Goa I’ve never seen, be it the cascading crystal-like water of the Chorla Falls or the twin Vazra Sakla Falls roaring their descent into the valley from a height of 150m. As I look out at the panoramic view of the Western Ghats and the Mandovi river cloaked in clouds and mist, I realize this is the Goa I prefer, with its glowing trees and rain-soaked trails.

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Getting there

The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is 62km from Dabolim International Airport near Vasco da Gama. You can take a cab from the airport, or if you are staying with the Wildernest Nature Resort, then arrange for them to pick you up ( 600). The resort offers rooms and nature walk tours. Charges for one night, double occupancy, from November to April, are 6,300 for forest-view rooms and 7,300 for valley-view; from May to October, it is 5,500 for forest-view and 6,000 for valley-view.

For reservations, visit Wildernest-goa.com; email reservations@wildernest-goa.com or call 8323266911, 918314207954.

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