My previous visit to Goa, in my long gone youth, was the usual touristy affair replete with feni and a prurient young Indian male’s enjoyment of the fabled beaches of Goa. This time, however, I was out on a trek and on the look out for the beauties of nature that had little to do with the female form!
Vinod Hari – my usual Good Samaritan for these ventures – had managed to get a couple of friends in Goa to organize the trek for us. Damodar and Sandeep had a difficult time, apparently, in getting the tour itinerary organized thanks to the fact that the YHAI chaps, who have experience in conducting tours in the area, were extremely reluctant to share any information regarding the trek. Such reticence from a purportedly non-profit organization surprised us when we were told of it, but then I suppose there can be bad apples everywhere! Be that as it may, our intrepid duo did manage to hook up with some very decent guides and the tour was on!
We set off on the trek from Mollem on a very broad jeep trail and, as usual, walking into the embrace of the forest was a balm to the soul. Walking on easy terrain while in the forest on a trek is not the norm – as I may have mentioned before – and, thus, we made the most of the luxury of soothing your eyes with the green vistas around you, instead of concentrating on where you were placing your foot. The jeep track being broad, there were patches of sunlight and shadow on the trail and looking up provided visions of emerald and sapphire embedded in the platinum of diffuse sunlight. Bird song, as ever, provided a backdrop though one must admit that it was desultory here compared to the symphonies one got to hear in Parambikulam.
This jeep track must be familiar to anyone who has gone to the Dudhsagar falls in Goa. Of course the usual entry point is from Collem, which would have cut short the trek by about 6 KMs. We didn’t mind the extra walk…not at the start, at least! After a 15 KM trek we reached the Dudhsagar falls and started climbing up the dense forest to the top..rather than the bottom of the falls that tourists normally reach.
The point we arrived at, after walking along the railway track for a few minutes, is next door to the Dudhsagar railway station. There was a beautiful pool at the bottom of the snaking white lines of the falls. Vinod was into the water in a jiffy and started climbing up the falls in his usual exhibition of a reversal of the evolutionary process. Being the timid non-swimmer that I am, I contented myself with disporting in the shallow reaches of the pool.
After that invigorating bath we proceeded to climb up a relatively steep incline through the forest. Damodar, Sandeep and Sagar (Not of IIMB88!) were accompanying us, as I should have said before. The climb proved a stiffish task for Sandeep and Sagar, who had not been on long treks before. Sagar, for a fifty-year old, showed amazing courage in continuing with the trek even after cramps had threatened to incapacitate him in the course of this climb. We were headed to a village near Kuyeshi (having heard it pronounced only, my spelling may well be totally off!) which was where our guide – Krishna – lived and where a school was to be our camp for the night.
The climb ended in grasslands and to our left was a hillock on which a magnificent Sambar deer looked disdainfully down on us for a few minutes and then galloped gracefully away. Golden dusk painted the light green of the grass and the cup of trees behind us framed a fairy tale setting.
We reached the village by around dusk after about 12 KMs from Dudsagar. Part of the reason why it took us so long was the fact that the trekkers’ usual companion in these parts – leeches – were present and my companions were busy de-leeching themselves every now and then. Actually by the end of the trek others could proudly sport a few leech bites while the leeches showed total disdain for me and I felt moved to tears when a lone leech took pity on me and deigned to climb up my shoe! I can only postulate that the Ombattu Gudde leeches had probably marked me as their herd animal and, thus, these leeches did not want to challenge their territorial limits!
Krishna had arranged for dinner at his residence. He provided the Goan equivalent of Alu-mutter and, with the bread we had along, we ate a good meal. He, probably had not bargained for the fact that we would find his house a cosier place to sleep in than the school but we ended up inflicting our company on his household for the night. Sleeping with a buffalo calf chewing on your mat at the foot of your bed was indeed a new experience to me.
I have been with people from Isha before and, thus, I am blasé to being woken up by the sounds of snakes hissing and crows cawing around me! These sounds that necessarily accompany the observance of the Isha Kriya was new to the village, however, and an inquisitive neighbor dropped in to check out the menagerie that Krishna had brought home! After a couple of hours of Kriya and hatha yoga, we set off to the next destination.
The 10 KM trek to Castle Rock was largely through flat terrain and a large portion of the trek was to be by a tar road. Needless to say this was not greatly to the liking of Vinod and me since we had enough tar roads to walk on in our respective cities. Krishna suggested that we could detour for about 6-8 KMs, if we felt like it, in order to take in the Vajra river. Water rats that we are that idea was immediately seized upon and we plunged into deep forest immediately after cutting the tar road.
The Vajra river was a sight not to be missed and worth every thorn that scratched us on the way. Imagine walking out of the forest to see rapids on all sides of you pouring into various pools that join a stream in between and all of them shimmering in the sunlight. Imagine the sights of rocks carved in shapes, which no sculptor would dream of, declaring to you the mighty power of flowing water. Imagine, then, hot and sweaty bodies plunging into the pleasantly cold water and being pummeled by the flow of the rapids! Bliss!
Well! Slipping down a rock on the way and banging your knee on the rocks does not count as bliss but then I have become accustomed to doing something like that on every trek! If one fall a day serves to satisfy the Gods of mischance, I will take my spills to get to un-spoilt places like these!
After about an hour of splashing around in the water and then bulling our way through the jungle to minimize the time spent on tar roads we, perforce, hit the road and walked on to Castle Rock. When one talks of treks in Goa it is normally Dudhsagar to Castle Rock but Castle Rock seems to have nothing to recommend it but for having been a camping spot for trekkers maybe. We, however, were not camping there and were to proceed to Anmod (Again, only heard it pronounced not spelt!). We exchanged guides here and shifted from Krishna to Govind.
One of the interesting parts of trekking with Krishna was the fact that he knew only Konkani and, thus, Vinod and I were left in the dark groping for translations from the rest of the group. The others, apparently, felt so much at home with us that they would chatter away in Konkani and then walk on presuming that we were abreast with the conversation till we asked them for translations. Sometimes we would have asked them to ask Krishna something and they would duly do so and receive the answer and, then, feel no need to pass it on to us in English or Hindi! There is such a thing called being too much at home! Govind, however, knew Kannada as well as Hindi which made us more comfortable!
The about 8 Km trek to Anmod from Castle Rock started off on a tar road but, after about 1.5 KM we were led off into the jungles again. Walking in the jungle with imminent dusk is a sublime experience and, when you are pleasantly tired, you tend to do it in an almost trance-like state. By the time we hit the outskirts of the village it was twilight and we reached Govind’s house to put up for the night. There is a bus stop at Anmod and, finding that beer was available, Sagar and I made the most of the opportunity and downed a couple before retiring for the night.
The first stop the next day was a place called Tambdisurla which was about 13 KMs away. A 13th Century Shiva temple, built by the Goa-Kadamba dynasty was the highlight of the place. The route from Anmod to Tambdisurla involved steep descents and, as any trekker can tell you, descents are not much easier on you than ascents. Any descent tests your knees and ankles and when you walk on loose stones overlaid with dead branches it can be very treacherous. Top it with having to walk on a path with thorny plants to both sides of you all thoughts of the scenery around you vanish in the effort of having to keep your footing while warding thorns off you. Why people enjoy doing this is a mystery on par with why people want to climb the Mt. Everest and the only answer one can give is the classic one of “Because it is there”.
We reached Tambdisurla, which is on the regular tourist route and when we were enjoying a invigorating bath in the nearby stream a huge crowd of Russian tourists landed there. A few of them ventured to the stream with a view to taking a dip but were apparently put off by the fact of having to share the stream with us. As one of us commented, maybe if they had been Yanks they would have piled in till we found ourselves ousted from our cosy spots in the river!
Having ogled the temple with our sculpturally uneducated eyes we had our lunch and proceeded onwards on our way back to Mollem. A further 4-5 KM down the line we came across another inviting stream and jumped in for another bout of water sports. The rest, as they say, is anti-climax and the worst of the anti-climax was the long 5-6 KM walk on the road to Mollem gate where Damodar had parked his car.
Seldom, indeed, have I been on a trek that brought me back into civilization so often and it had its own charm. Every day of the trek we were reminded once again of how wonderful an experience it is to be one with nature in the jungle precisely because it could be contrasted with civilization repeatedly. It is difficult to thank our Goan friends adequately for having put in all the effort to make the trek possible. After about 80 KMs in the Goa/Karnataka forests I am in Chennai for a spell of wonderful carnatic music before I set off on a trek in Kodai by end-December.