Our journey from Bengaluru took us to the beautiful village of Heggarne approximately one hour from the bustling town of Sirsi, in Uttara Kannada district. Sirsi is located at an elevation of 2,600 ft ASL and is a nature-lover’s paradise. Waterfalls, great flowing rivers, and dense forests surround this town and as we drove towards our field station in Heggarne, we were treated to the silence of the Western Ghats, away from the cacaphony of Bengaluru.
Our field station overlooked endless fields of emerald paddy. Paddy, or rice, is one of the chief crops in Sirsi, the others being areca nut (locally known as betal nut or supari), cardamom, pepper, and vanilla. Local women work the paddy fields from dawn til dusk, their sharp scythes cutting stalks of paddy, creating neat paths in the waterlogged soil for the workers to navigate.


But why Sirsi?

WhatsApp Image 2019-09-11 at 1.01.00 PM
Our group comprised of my supervisor, Jagdish Sir, Yogesh Bhat, my labmates Girish, Tarun, and Rasika, Tarun’s colleague Nisarg, our collaborator, Mihir, from Pune, and eleven students from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) M.Sc. Wildlife Science programme. The trip was a field trip as a part of the Freshwater Ecology course that Jagdish Sir takes for the students, and I was lucky enough to tag-team along as one of the lecture assistants and resource persons for the trip. The purpose: to teach the students field sampling methods in freshwater ecology, including fish sampling, macroinvertebrate sampling, and water quality analyses.
Our first site for sampling was a tributary of the Aghanashini River that flowed through a verdant arecanut plantation owned by one of our colleagues in the area. Here, we offloaded everyone into the frigid water and determinedly taught the students the finer points of measuring river characteristics such as depth profiles, flow rate, riverbed composition, and water chemistry.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Fishing in a Downpour

It poured every day that we were in the Aghanashini basin, and the river was nearly overflowing. Water swirled past our legs as we struggled to cast our nets and survey fish species in the lake. We collected water and fish samples from multiple points in the river in order to compare the quality of riverine habitat at different sections.
Jagdish Sir taught us the best techniques for using cast nets and drag nets. These large nets are used to dredge up and capture fish and macroinvertebrates from the water profile, spanning from the surface to the riverbed. We found a lot of fish, namely Rasbora spp. and Rosy barbs, and quite a few unique crustaceans as well.


A Trip Back in Time to the Relic Myristica Swamp Forests

We visited one of India’s rarest ecosystems, the primitive swamp forests of the Western Ghats that are dominated by trees in the family Myristicaceae. A type of flowering nutmeg, Myristica species are endemic to these swamps, where they are specially adapted to life in waterlogged conditions.
We chanced upon a Malabar pit viper in the Myristica swamps (P.C. Arjun Kamdar).
The bubbling stream provides a perennial water source for the ten households surrounding this relic swamp forest. Most of these households make their livelihood through arecanut plantations, which form a ring around the hill bordering the Myristica swamp. Luckily, this swamp is protected by the law as a reserved forest, else it would likely be taken over by plantations as is the fate of swamps elsewhere in the Western Ghats.


The Power of the Aghanashini

The mighty Aghanashini pours and froths a steep path through the Western Ghats, emerging from its source at Donihala near Sirsi and thundering westwards towards the Arabian Sea. This is one of India’s last remaining undammed rivers, indeed, one of the few undammed major rivers in the world.
Unchalli Falls, on the Aghanashini River, is one of the most pristine waterfalls in India, with a drop of 116 meters. In the monsoon, water pours over the ridge, throwing spray high enough to shield the waterfall from view. In the occasional clearings of the mist, raging, tumbling water captivates the viewer.


An Enchanting Experience of Fieldwork in the Monsoons

It was a wonderful trip, this forage into the wilderness surrounding Sirsi. Accompanied by experts in their respective fields and enthusiastic co-learners, the experience was heightened by tiny joys that only fieldwork can provide – the sound of rain hammering on tin sheet roofs, the bright whiteness of a heron against the twilight paddy fields, the bloodstains left behind by countless leeches in swamps, the calling of birds in the predawn golden light, the taste of hot anna-sambar and pakoras after a long day of standing in a frigid river. I highly recommend the experience…



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s