When you think of Goa you think of beaches, babes and booze. I stress on the ‘you’ because I can’t even recall the last time I was down there. There is another side to the state that I discovered last weekend. One of quaint little laid back villages and evergreen forests.
I got a call from a friend who said he was organizing a trek for the Bangalore Ascenders in the Doodhsagar region and wanted me to join. This wasn’t the regular walk along the tracks to Doodhsagar falls; the objective of this outing was to explore tiny village trails atop the hills Doodhsagar cascades off.
Only problem with that was, I had recently moved to Mumbai. This meant I’d have to get to the trek start point, Castle Rock, on my own. Our team from Bangalore was comfortably seated in a train while I had to take an overnight bus to Belgaum, switch buses and head to Londa to intercept the train there.
I set off from home on Friday the 26th of July. I got into the Belgaum bound Volvo without hassle. But a few hours in I realised the bus was running late. My only connecting bus from Belgaum was to depart at 6.30am. I was up by 5am but I could see no signs of any urbanization till 6. Then at 6.15 the bus stopped at the Belgaum junction. I managed to hitch a ride till the main bus depot and got into the bus to Londa in the nick of time.
A pleasant 2 hour drive later I made it to Londa. To my relief the train was late which meant I could get in without breaking a sweat. We alighted at Castle Rock station as planned and proceeded to purchase supplies we would need for the Trek.
As this was an exploration trek I had a fairly good idea that we were going to get lost somewhere down the line. Little did I know that the first turn we took would be a wrong one. We wandered aimlessly for most of the day following pipelines and jeep tracks in the constant rain. Just when we gave up hope and decided to head back we ran into a local who directed us to the correct route.
Thus began a mad dash on the trail, trying to make up as much ground as possible before night fall. We traversed across multiple overflowing streams and crossed a couple of meadows along the way. I tried my best in keeping at the front of the pack and pushing the pace. We managed to put in about 6 kilometers in a little over an hour through some really tricky terrain.
At this point we stumbled upon a paddy field and a single house in a vast meadow. We decided to ask for directions there at the house. At that moment the rain increased ten-fold in intensity and brought us to a standstill. It was past 5pm and visibility was diminishing fast. We had no option but halt for the day.
The house owners, the Sawant family, were kind enough to let us have a room to set up our sleeping bags. I wouldn’t have wanted to camp outdoors is such harsh weather. Dinner was a communal affair with our hosts graciously preparing a meal while the masterchefs among our bunch tried to whip up their own a lip smacking addition.
The Need to Know Bit:
Castle Rock station comes under the South Western Railways network. Train is the best way to get here. There is a road to the town but I’m not aware of any public transport that plys here by road.
An ideal night halt on this route is either Kuveshi or Ghansoli. The direct trail to either of these villages goes through Ghotga and a few scattered houses and fields. The area also has other tiny villages; all connected through a network of confusing trails and jeep tracks. A guide is not essential but make sure you take detailed directions from the locals before setting off. Keep an eye out for painted arrow marks along the foot trails to Ghansoli and Kuveshi.
After a decent night’s sleep the Sunday began on a slightly sour note. Our brave leader Sudheer had a bit of a medical worry to deal with. This meant we would have to leave late and hence move at a fast pace again. It was 8am by the time we set off from the house, which I’m told was in Saunsarwadi. I have no idea where the rest of the wadi is, all I saw was a single house.
The trail begins with a gradual climb through thick jungle and then opens up to a grassy plateau region. It was here where we were to meet a guide arranged for us by Mr. Sawant from Saunsar wadi. The man, Seetharam Naik, had been patiently waiting for us for more than an hour in the meadow under pouring rain.
This meadow appeared to be the highest point in the area. There were markings indicating the border between the states of Karnataka and Goa. A small part of the trail is along narrow no-man’s-land between the states lined with bright pink flowers on both sides.
Here, the trail began meandering downward again and the rain eased up for a while. We again entered the lush green forest. The plants and creatures of these forests are a combination of those found north in Maharashtra such as the short grasses and wild turmeric and further south through Karnataka like the pink impatiens and giant millipedes.
In the forest the trail reached a 2 way fork. We take the one on the right but quickly descend to a smaller, almost invisible trail to our left. We were told that this trail is the shortest way to Ghansoli. Soon we crossed another flowing stream and got to a wider trail. We spotted and crossed a single paddy field in the west which I could assume was a part of Ghansoli. The trail then took us along the banks of a raging Mandovi river which would drop down Doodhsagar falls.
We continued to head downwards till we reached a small meadow where we could hear the train running below us and get a clear view of the hills across the railway tracks. This was also the point where our guide took a diversion towards his home in Kuveshi.
A few kilometres and a stream crossing later we glimpsed upon a ruined railway bridge and descended onto the railway tracks. We were between the Doodhsagar waterfalls and the Doodhsagar railway station. The falls being easily accessible by rail and road have become a crowded nightmare. We started moving towards the falls as per our Initial plan of walking to the next station, Kulem where we could hop onto a train and avoid the hordes of people that had arrived at the falls.
Five minutes on these tracks proved to be more taxing than half a day in the wilderness. I was hungry and exhausted. My rucksack weighed down upon me due to the wet clothes in it. Walking of the railway line stones is a punishing ordeal. Being completely drenched all day, my thighs had begun chaffing adding to my misery.
It was way past 2pm at this point and we realised we wouldn’t reach the next station in time. We had no choice but wait for a couple of hours at Doodhsagar station for a train. We sat on the tracks and munched down on our remaining food supplies. The weather changed for the worse and a relentless torrent lashed upon us and drenched us to the bone.
There we stood, upon the tracks, shivering, as the train slowly came to a halt. It was a mad scramble to enter the train due to the crowds but we eventually got in. The rest of the team had to alight at Londa but I took remained in the train till it reached Belgaum. There I got into a bus for Mumbai concluding a fun filled and hectic weekend.
The Need to Know Bit:
There are multiple routes heading to both Kuveshi and Ghansoli but not all are accessible in the rains. From Kuveshi one can get to the very top of Doodhsagar falls. But this can’t be attempted during the monsoon as it involves crossing a overflowing Mandovi river via a small bridge.
The path to the railway tracks is marked with painted arrows. These arrows are difficult to spot though.
Doodhsagar is truly stunning but to truly enjoy it I suggest visiting on a weekday to avoid the unruly crowd. Though Doodhsagar station is not an official stop for most trains, they halt there none the less. One can also try hitching a ride on the many goods trains and engines that pass the route.