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Day 16: Nature. Check.

Trip map
Anjuna Dam
Lake Anjula
King cobra

Yesterday I used Google Earth to plan an amazing motorcycle trip. The loop took me along the northern edge of Goa, up the Western Ghat mountains, into the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, East through Maharashtra, South through Karnataka, and West back to Goa. The trek would begin about 50m above sea level and would peak at almost 1000m (3280ft).

I began the trip around 10:00, leaving to the North up NH17, and East at Mapusa toward Mhadai. Near the entrance to the park is Anjuna Lake, and the Anjuna Dam. Once in the park, I made a few stops.

The first was a path by a small stream. I entered the trail only about 50m to get away from the road to discover what I could hear and see. As I stood quietly, I realized I was surrounded by hundreds of monkeys. They climbed and swung from tree to tree. Although I got a few pictures, they were very difficult to photograph. They were in constant motion, and due to the canopy of the trees, light was insufficient for a fast shutter setting.

The next stop, much further up the mountain, was a lookout that faced Anjuna Lake. It is a beautiful view of the Western Ghats facing the West, Anjuna Dam in the distance.

Although the temperature started to cool as I climbed the mountains, I decided to change out of my jeans, and in to my shorts. I wouldn't normally wear jeans, but I've had enough mosquito bites this week; and covered legs are recommended for snake encounters. However, noon approached, and the heat was increasingly uncomfortable.

Further along, my map showed a mountain road. It turned out to be a trail. I could see on the map that there was a waterfall nearby, so I hoped the trail would lead to a view of the falls. I got off the bike and started trekking. Had I read the sign at the entrance to the trail I would have realized that it was a 6km trail to the peak of Vagheri, the main direction being up.

Tigers have not been confirmed in Mhadai in about 8 years, but it is ideal habitat, and it is estimated that there could be up to 50 living in the 400km² Mhadei and Bhagwan parks. Tigers like jungle, water, trees, and paths, so who knows!

After about 30 minutes of walking, the path on my map had run out, yet the path ahead just kept going. I couldn't hear any sign of waterfalls, so I gave up and turned around. It was around noon by now, but even in the shade, such a steep climb is exhausting in 30C temperatures.

As I walked back down the path, the leaves crunching under my feet, I kept an open ear for any signs of mammalian life. Many lizards scattered as I walked, and possibly the odd mouse. It would have been cool to see a boar, deer, or monkey at least.

I heard rustling in the bushes ahead. Then I heard what sounded like a large mammal taking a pee. Holy shit, I thought; this could be a tiger. I stood dead still as the sounds moved in the bushes, my eyes focused on the location of the sound, looking for motion. It took a few seconds before I realized that the motion no longer coming from the bush, but it was crossing the path in front of me.

Let me clarify, that I am not afraid of snakes, as such. Back home, a walk in the tall wild grass will often stir up a few garden snakes. They are usually about 20cm to 40cm, are quite narrow, and kind of cute. I don't go picking them up, but they don't bother me. Last night, I was reading up on Indian snakes, just in case I encountered one. That's why I had worn the jeans (that I changed out of). Of course, India has venomous snakes, and although for the most part they try to ignore humans, some 40,000 people die of snake bites each year. It is obviously a populous country, and on a per-capita basis it would  be comparable to about 1100 Canadians, about the same as the number of deaths by accidental falls. Nonetheless, while death-by-tiger would be the ultimate honourable sacrifice for my favourite mammal, death-by-snake-bite would leave me humiliated for eternity.

I mention this because the snake that was crossing in front of me was about 250cm long, and 8cm in diameter. At this point I was about 6m from the creature. Remembering my previous night's reading, I slowly stepped backward and grabbed my camera. It stopped to check me out. Remembering that stomping on the ground would send the snake vibrations that a large scary predator was nearby, I gave it ago. Now, I didn't spend any time while learning about snakes to memorize all the patterns and colours, and which ones were venomous, I did recall that only the cobra does that thing where it lifts the front third of its body and makes that hood shape and flicks its tongue at what it perceives as a threat — like the snake in front of me was doing.

Adrenaline kicked in, and I don't remember what I did next, but it resulted in the snake slithering away and doing its thing. I confirmed that its noise was going well into the distance before proceeding.

The rest of the trip was beautiful and enjoyable. If you made a list of what motorcyclists love, it would include twisty roads, mountains, little traffic, and perfectly manicured asphault. That was exactly what I got; at least while in Goa and Maharashta. The roads in Karnatika were awful. I had to ride for several hours in first gear, dodging pot holes, some 3m in diameter and 15cm in depth.

Sister wasn't home yet when I returned, so I went to the local shops and had a beer with the local men at the "wine store". Ulrike arrived shortly after I returned. I fired up the computer, curious about what snake I found. It was a King Cobra. In fact it looked exactly like this one:

I think that was my last nature walk in India.

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