Confessions of a leechophobic

“Eek!”, I shrieked unabashedly. I had spotted that ‘horror of horrors’ – that ominous creature which everyone had warned me I would see in hoards on my first monsoon trek in the western ghats. It was wriggling up my leg, sending shivers down my spine.

kurinji flower (Strobilanthes sessilis)

I had never seen a leech before, having lived most of my life in the urban jungle where, thank goodness, it cannot survive. Ironic, considering that the cities are full of its prey. Although I had made my peace with cockroaches, rats and house geckoes, this wriggly, slimy brown invertebrate was new to me. And to make matters worse, it wanted my blood. But then I realised that wasn’t the worse part. The worse part was, once it gets a grip on you, it’s next to impossible to get it off. All I could do was shake my leg like MJ on fire and scream at the top of my voice like Maria Sharapova during a match, until finally my dear husband whom I blame for all my miseries, managed to pull it off. That was the end of the trek for me and I am ashamed to say it had only just begun.

Wayanad Bush frog (Pseudophilautus wynaadensis)

However, what I had thought as the worse part, turned out to be a mere cake walk. Another monsoon came, and my dear life partner, who for some reason loves to torment me, decided that we should go to Agumbe. Now, I have this obsessive habit of looking up each and every detail of our travel destination on the internet. And, of course, the words that jumped out from the description about Agumbe on wikipedia were ‘known for its leech infestation’. That settled it for me. I wasn’t going.

A green vine snake ready to kiss

What followed then was a series of lectures by my better half on how its time I grew up and removed all irrational fears from my mind and I, in turn, threw a hissy fit. But once I calmed down, I saw reason and decided that surely its time I overcame this phobia so I could see all the wonderful sights hidden within the folds of the western ghats.

One of the many streams in the Agumbe rainforest

So I went to my therapist – the internet. And what it told me was that leeches in fact were harmless. Even mosquitoes were more dangerous than them as they did not transmit any life-threatening diseases with their benign bites. All they needed was a tiny bit of blood and they would leave you alone after that. Of course, reading about it was quite reassuring. But the thought of actually facing it, was not.

A wild flower (searched a lot for the name)

Finally I decided to just wing it and summoned all my will power and got on the bus to the motherland of leeches, Agumbe. I managed to finish the trek unharmed though my legs were scarred forever. That’s when I realised the worse part was the bite. It itched like crazy. And mine got even crazier until it got infected. Apparently, I was allergic. But thanks to modern medicine it was over in a few days.

A Wayanad Shieldtail feeding on an earthworm.
A spooky banyan tree

After several treks and infinite number of encounters later, I have reached a stage where I can stay calm and pull the slimy suckers out with my own two hands. It was just a matter of getting used to these harmless bloodsuckers. Meanwhile, I had seen things that amazed me and changed me so much. I can’t believe that I was ready to give up going to these mesmerising places just because I was scared of a tiny little creature that I could fit between my thumb and index finger. My hubby was right (hate him for that). It was an irrational fear.

edible mushrooms which we later had for lunch

How many of us have this misplaced phobia for some animals that on further reflection are completely harmless? An irrational fear that you just cannot get rid of. But are you even trying? Maybe you are carrying that extra baggage from your childhood or maybe it was passed down to you from your parents. I think this fear mainly stems from the unknown. It propagates through our ignorance. Its similar to the mistrust we have towards strangers. I suggest that you overcome it. Start by giving yourself a whack on the head and telling out loud that you are an adult for goodness sake. Read about your feared animal. Once you get to know it, who knows, you might even want to keep it as a pet… Ya, I think I went too far. Maybe you might not want to keep it as a pet. But maybe you might not crap your pants the next time you see one.

Taking a dip at Shendurney wildlife sanctuary

PS: the pictures shown here are a constant reminder of the beauties that I would have missed if I had let my fears overcome me.

So moral of the story is: fear of venomous snakes = good; fear of leeches = bad

my tormentor and me

7 thoughts on “Confessions of a leechophobic”

  1. A wonderfully humorous take on an a very relevant fear of most people trekking in the Western Ghats, me included 😀
    Fortunately (or unfortunately), I haven’t yet set foot in the southern part of western ghats having limited my excursions to its northern sub-part, the Sahyadris, which as you must have guessed is mostly free of leeches. But that hasn’t prevented me from freaking out at the thought of a dark blob sucking my own blood gleefully :/
    But after reading this, I guess the only way forward is roll up the pants and waddle deep into their territory! Leeches, here I come! 😀
    Cheers & keep exploring!

    1. Thank you! Yes, definitely you should turn your sights to western ghats. You will not regret it. I must say you have made me curious about the Sahyadris too. Being from Pune, I am ashamed to say I have not explored them much. Do suggest a a beginner’s trek which I can start with.
      Now please forgive me for saying this but do share my stories among your circle. I loathe self-promotion but I also want to make living with this blog so help me please! 🙂
      Happy trekking!

      1. Absolutely! I am always sharing well written articles with my friends and will do that for this gem of a post too 🙂
        And you aren’t alone! I too haven’t explored the Pune range as much as I would like to, with Rajgad-Torna and Visapur-Lohgad being my only escapades in the region. If you are looking for a beginner’s trek, the twin Rajmachi forts (Shrivardhangad-Manoranjangad), Sinhagad, Raigad, Visapur via Gaumukh khind, Lohgad, Tikona, Korigad are some that you should definitely check out!
        If you want to get an overview of the treks by region, do check out a site called Trekshitiz- they have categorised treks to over 300 forts of Maharashtra by range, region, difficulty and name 🙂

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