Meeting Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the rainforest

The two faces of a forest stream are so unlike each other 
Encounter 1: Flamboyance
The cab driver drops us at the end of a muddy road and says he’ll wait till we return. The rains have let up a bit and a few drops that cling to leaves is the only precipitation. The path winds uphill first and then starts to descend. Can’t stop, leeches are climbing up our legs from every direction. Can’t run – you need to be sure of where you are treading.

Soon the sound gives it away — a stream rushing through the rainforest. A fallen tree on the way forces us to take another path, winding down, careful not to step on leaf litter. No one knows what lies beneath the dried and decomposing leaves.

Glimpses of white shine through the leaves. The sound is loud now — a low, continuous roar. We find a rock jutting above the stream and step on it, then exclaim in unison: “Wow!”

Winding through the canopy the stream flows right before us. It dives under the rock on which we stand and swivels over to stabler terrain to the right of us. It is not just the rushing roar we can hear now. There is whistling, hissing, gushing, rustling… along with a dozen other sounds that I can’t put to words. Also the rushing water works up a wind. Leeches still clamber up my shins, and I drag, roll and flick them into the water as I set up the tripod.

Not sure what but something (other than the leeches) makes you feel vulnerable standing next to such a forest stream. There is this urge to finish stuff fast and move on. Am I worried about a flash flood? Scenes run in my head in fast forward – Arwen on horseback, mumbling mystic words that unleash water on the wraiths trying to cross the placid river: water that races down on them in the shape of a dozen horses and wash them away.When Bijoy says “Let’s go” I find myself eager to comply. Climbing uphill, though the route was steep, doesn’t feel tough at all – what more inspiration is needed than seeing leeches inching their way up your legs when you keep them still for a moment?

Encounter 2: Tranquility
We walk past the cottage reserved for Romulus Whittaker and, at the edge of the forest, there is an electric fence (which was not electrified). We climb it and take a few steps downwards into the foliage. And we realize that we have just been transported into another dimension. Pandora, maybe?
The diffused sunlight that enveloped the open grassland in front of the cottages is absent here, cut off by the canopy that makes us feel we are inside a tunnel. An occasional croak is heard, succeeded by soft mumbling whispers as the running water gossips with the rocks.Everything sports some shade of green. The water, the leaves and the canopy…

The interns at ARRS said the place throngs with life at night, but unfortunately they never went on a night-walk that side during our stay, so we couldn’t accompany them…

These were two natural streams, both flowing right through the same rainforest. Perhaps both would merge somewhere, or one may get consumed by the other. But when we met them, they sported entirely contradicting personae – as different as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Text and photos by Sandeep Somasekharan
Read more Agumbe Diaries

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