Amboli

Don't go just for the waterfalls. This hill station has an abundance of biodiversity

Shashank Birla


Amboli

Located in the northern Western Ghats, Amboli has always been a popular hill station, particularly during the monsoons. It is known as the Cherrapunji of Maharashtra, and from July to September, residents of neighbouring towns such as Sawantwadi and Kolhapur visit to enjoy its lush green hills and pristine waterfalls.

About a decade ago, researchers and local nature enthusiasts started exploring the wilds of Amboli. Since then, dozens of species of reptiles and amphibians unknown to science were discovered. Today, Amboli is known for its sheer abundance of herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians). Monsoon nights are filled with the croaks and whistles of frogs and toads eager to sire the next generation, among them the critically endangered Amboli Tiger Toad and the endemic Amboli Bush Frog.

It’s not just amphibians and reptiles. The hill station is a haven for a wide variety of flora and fauna, many endemic to the Western Ghats.

Plan Your Trip

Getting there

Air

Belgaum (80 km; 1 hour, 30 mins) is the nearest airport, though there are very few flights. Dabolim airport in Goa is also an option (approximately 100 km; 2 hours, 45 mins).

Rail

The closest railhead is Sawantwadi Road. There are regular buses plying from the Sawantwadi ST stand (about 30 km; 1 hour). Alternatively, one can also take a train to Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj station in Kolhapur, and then travel onward by bus (about 120 km; 2 hours, 20 minutes). Thivim station in Goa will require a private vehicle transfer (65 km; 2 hours).

Road

It is a 2.5-hour drive from Panjim (80 km) and a 6-hour drive from Pune (350 km).

Best time to visit

June to September: This is peak season in Amboli. One of the wettest places in India, Amboli receives almost 7,500mm of rainfall every year on average, so it is a paradise for monsoon lovers. This also happens to be best time to see the diversity of herpetofauna in Amboli, as it is breeding season for many of the species.

October to March: The rains begin to relent in October, and the mercury starts to dip towards the end of November. By late December and January, temperatures start to nudge the single digits at night, though it stays very pleasant during the day. This is a good time to see the quieter side of Amboli and you often see some intrepid birders here at this time, hoping to come across winter migrants and other avian treasures of the Western Ghats. Early mornings are a good time to see butterflies mud-puddling in some of the moist habitats here.

March to May: While the beginning of March is often pleasant for most of the day, you can just about start to feel the sting of the sun during the afternoons. It never gets exceedingly hot here, though some days in late summer may touch 40°C. Amboli remains popular among locals as a hill-station getaway during the summer. It’s a good time to look out for mammals such as the gaur in some of the quieter parts of Amboli, close to water sources.

Stay

Green Valley, a state-run property, is one of the most popular options for accommodation in Amboli. It is walking distance from the bus stand. Rooms are clean and equipped with the basic amenities (approximately ₹2,000 per night).

There are several budget-friendly options in Amboli town, such as Shiv Malhar, Vrindavan and Satpurush (approximately ₹1,000 to ₹1,500 per room per night).

Whistling Woods is the preferred option for most nature enthusiasts and photographers (around ₹4,000 per night). Owned and managed by Hemant Ogale, an avid photographer and naturalist, it is located a 10-minute walk away from the main town, but is nestled in a quiet lane facing the forest. Ogale is one of the co-founders of the Malabar Nature Conservation Club, an organisation that works on improving awareness of the area’s biodiversity among locals, and on in-situ conservation of species such as the Malabar Gliding Frog. Make sure to check out Ogale’s enviable collection of butterfly images when you’re there.

See|Do|Shop

See: There are several trails that nature enthusiasts can take to explore the biodiversity of the region. The most popular is a walk along Chaukul Road, where you can explore a variety of habitats, from evergreen forest to scrub to lateritic plateaus. During the monsoon, the plateaus are a haven for breeding frogs including the Amboli Tiger Toad. You’ll often see hundreds of them balled together in a mating frenzy. The small streams resonate with the call of Wrinkled Frogs at night. The area is also productive for birding. The open areas yield regular sightings of the Grey-fronted Green Pigeon, Yellow-browed Bulbul and Malabar Grey Hornbill.

The forest park, a mix of human-altered and natural landscape, is another popular destination. Here, you can sight the Malabar Gliding Frog, Malabar Pit Viper, Bicolored Frog, and Green Vine Snake. From the second gate, you can go all the way to Parikshit Point, and explore relatively undisturbed forest. If you’re lucky, you could encounter rarely-seen caecilians (a form of legless amphibian) here.

There are other trails to Mahadevgadh point, the Malay stream, the Hiranyakeshi temple, all of which are productive spots to spot wildlife. Sightings of different species vary with the season. In August, look out for the Northern Dancing Frog that displays its amazing foot-flagging behaviour, reminiscent of a dance, during its breeding season. Butterflies such as the majestic Southern Birdwing, India’s largest butterfly and the beautiful Blue Mormon, Maharashtra’s state butterfly, are also regular sights here.

Shop: Locally produced lacquerware and Ganjifa cards make for good mementos to take back home.

Eat: The region in and around Amboli is a good place to enjoy some of the best Malvani seafood. Bhalekar Khanaval at Sawantwadi and Atithi Bambu at Tarkarli are among the famous eateries here.

Good to know

  • Keep an eye out for herpetofauna on the roads when driving in Amboli. Unfortunately, in peak season, too many snakes and frogs end up as roadkill. 
  • Visitors need to be prepared for extremely heavy rains; this is among the wettest places in India.
  • If you intend on venturing into the forests here, know there will be leeches and ticks.
  • Night trails are the best way to come across reptiles and amphibians, since this is when they are most active.
  • Avoid handling any of the wild animals you come across; leave that to the trained local guides. Animals such as pit vipers are venomous, and best viewed from a distance.
  • Do not litter when you’re out and about in the field; pack plastics and other trash in a separate bag to dispose later.
  • If you can, avoid festivals and long weekends, as Amboli can become very crowded at these times.
  • It is always a good idea to register your group’s details before embarking on a trail. The forest department office is located close to the entry of the road to Mahadevgadh point.

What to pack

  • Umbrellas and raincoats are a must. Ponchos will do an even better job of keeping you dry.
  • A good pair of gumboots and leech socks will offer you protection against leech and tick bites.
  • Tobacco powder and salt help combat leeches.
  • A flashlight is highly recommended if you intend to explore the forest at night. Headlamps will also make things easier.
  • Carry a light jacket during the winter and reusable water bottles during the summer when you’re out in the field.
  • Keep a first aid kit with you at all times.
  • Zip-lock bags will help you protect important items from the rain.
  • Carry spare batteries for all equipment.

For photographers

Amboli offers prime opportunities for macro photography, so a true macro lens providing a 1:1 magnification ratio would be ideal (a good wide-angle lens can also provide interesting compositions of animals in their habitat), along with an external flash unit. A minimum focal length of approximately 100mm is recommended to keep safe distance from venomous subjects. Remember to protect your gear against rain – fashion a simple DIY kit from a plastic bag, or carry a professional rain cover. Amboli offers good potential for long-exposure images of both landscapes and subjects, so a tripod would be a good addition.

Don't Miss

Look out for insectivorous plants such as Ceropegia fantastica, bio-luminescent fungi, rare butterflies such as the Common Onyx, birds such as the nocturnal Sri Lankan Frogmouth and mammals such as the Indian Chevrotain/Mouse Deer, Indian Giant Squirrel, Small Indian Civet and the odd leopard as well. There have also been some sporadic reports of tigers here too.

The quiet beaches of Vengurla (60 km from Amboli) provide an idyllic getaway for those craving sun and sand. Dolphin-spotting boat rides are arranged here. Tarkarli, (about 80 km from Amboli) is one of the few destinations on the west coast that provide scuba diving opportunities. Visit the Sawantwadi Palace to interact with the royal family, and learn more about their efforts to revive local handicrafts.

Budget per person

Amboli is a fairly budget-friendly location for nature enthusiasts. On average, a traveller would spend ₹1,500 on accommodation, ₹700 on food, and ₹60 on local transportation by bus every day. Travelling by auto would work out to be more expensive.

Shashank Birla - Writer and Photographer

Shashank Birla

Writer and Photographer

Shashank Birla works in a family business in Mumbai involving imports of recovered waste paper. Passionate about wildlife since childhood, he is happiest tramping off into the wilderness whenever the opportunity arises. He has undertaken several short-term courses to improve his understanding of natural history and conservation and participates in various citizen science initiatives. He posts as @birlashashank on Instagram and blogs at shashankbirla.wordpress.com.