Dudhsagar Falls Trek, etc.

I’ve been meaning to put a lot of travelogues in here. I would start writing them in my mind after the journey is over, and in the best case, some scribbles would make way to my pocketbook, mostly on the way back on train (and this too mostly on Maveli Express, since most of my journeys originate from Mangalore) when you are really in the tired, content and retrospective mode, and invariably my laziness would always get the better of me to actually type in stuff.
So one of these weekends I was bit by the travel bug again, and we travelled in total about some random 1000 kilometres in three days. Documenting the whole journey in words is too much pain, especially so considering this constipated-for-words predicament that I am now perennially in, so I will recount the best part of it, which was our second day, the trek to Dudhsagar Waterfalls – partly because my travel mates had asked to do it, partly because I feel a first-hand account would be useful to people who are actually planning to visit the place (whatever be the odds that this actually comes up in a search result), and more importantly, to inspire people to experience it. The latter is too ambitious for an intention, and counts perhaps too much on how I can transfer the experience to words - I will come to this in the end.

Here is the wiki link, if you are into that sort of thing. Research, I mean.

Now, there are two main routes by which you can reach the falls from Madgaon. One is via Castle Rock, and the other one via Kulem.
The one via Castle Rock is the more popular one – Castle Rock is a small village located in Northern Karnataka, the part that shares its border with Goa. It is about 70 kms from Madgaon and I assume, 7.84 kms from Dudhsagar (DDS) Railway Station (this was the distance written at the Railway Station) - means around 9 kms from the actual falls. If my assumption about the distance is correct, this is the shorter of the two routes. You could reach Castle Rock with your own vehicle (not so sure about the buses plying between Castle Rock and Madgaon), either catch a train and alight at Dudhsagar Railway Station or choose to trek the distance to the falls by rail. There are trains plying on the route – again, not sure of them all, but you will need to make sure prior hand that it does stop at DDS. Alternatively you could make use of the many freight trains that travel in the route.

The alternate route is from Kulem Railway Station. Kulem is a small town, part of Goa, located around 40 kms from Madgaon, and around 11 kms from the falls. This is the less popular of the routes, perhaps because the distance to the falls is more or may be because that the freight trains from Kulem that pass via the falls don’t stop at DDS (since the track goes uphill). You could search for passenger trains that stop at DDS from Kulem, or rail trek the 12km to the falls.

We intended to take the shorter route, but mistook the Kulem route for the shorter one. And I swear we don’t regret it one bit, now that you think of it.
We started from Madgaon on a rainy Saturday morning, aided by google maps and navigation which I hold as inarguably Google’s second best contribution to mankind. Goa is majorly known for its beaches and churches, I felt it is much underrated as a monsoon destination, (when the North Goa literally shuts off), at least that was the impression I got based on my preconceptions as we travelled through the beautiful landscape, looking all the more beautiful when drenched in rain. 

Okay, perhaps those pictures dont justify my description of the beauty of the place but they were the ones I could manage from the backseat of a running Scorpio.

The road started getting narrower, the vegetation on either side of us more prominent and the number of people/houses on the way scantier as we neared Kulem. We finally reached a railway station which read Callem, and took it for our destination, assuming it to be a typo on Kulem, and would have started our trek from there (in which case we would have been dead from exhaustion by the time we reached the falls) but were saved by this lady who explained to us that both of these were two distinct places and that we still needed to go about 10 kms further in the direction of Vodlem in the board below to reach Kulem. The place names can be a bit confusing, because there were three places named Kulem, Callem, and Kalay in the vicinity of each other.
We finally reached Kulem, parked our vehicle, asked for directions and a couple of people appeared skeptic at our intention to rail trek the distance to the falls. “Chalkar Jayenge?!” One guy actually gave us pointers to bike to the falls for 600 bucks/person - They lead you to the base of the falls. All the people we interacted with during the journey firmly reiterated my belief in the observation I have made after all my journeys – the more farther you are from “civilization” and the hustle bustle of the towns, the deeper you go down into places, the more helpful and genuine the people are.

So, armed with a backpack consisting of food supplies (couple of packets of bread, and some biscuit packets) and around 4 litres of water, we headed out to the railway track to start the trek. We had a packet of salt and a bottle of an irritating-smelling deodorant as a precaution to leeches which we expected to find on the way. When we started the trek we found that the track passed right through a forest (part of the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park), and we weren’t really prepared to face random wild animals on the way, and even if we were to be, it was too late to retreat back then.

The route was beautiful – the monorail was flanked on both sides by pristine forest, and thankfully we encountered no wild animals on the way. It rained all the way through our trek, and we were all soaked to the skin within the first 10 minutes. The rain actually helped, since we never sweated even once, and walking on the tracks can get really weary after sometime – there was no other option but to keep to the track since except at some places there was no way on either side of the tracks to walk on. The heavy rains had created mini waterfalls out of small streams all along the way, so during most of the trek we were treated to the sound of falling water. There was also thankfully no fog along our way.
We were able to calculate the distance travelled and remaining thanks to the marker milestones that were placed by The Railways at every 200m. We occasionally encountered workers who were doing maintenance on the track, and I duly unleashed at all of them the only Kannada sentence that Multi (who had arguably picked up some basic Kannada during his PUC years at Bangalore) had helped me structure – “Dudhsagar illinde eshtu kilometre ithe?” Not that we needed to know the distance, since the markers were always there, but you know, just for the heck of it.
After a while on the way, and a couple of food breaks and rests later, we met with two guys who introduced themselves as forest officers, which we didn’t buy at first, but had to when they produced an official-looking ticket machine and gave us tickets for entering the forest. They turned out to be kind gentlemen and gave us directions. They showed us a muddy parallel road a little down below us to the left, which also led to the falls, they said, this was the motorable road that led to the base of the falls (probably the one which we would have taken if we had travelled by bike from Kulem). Travelling on the same with a car was impossible, they explained, since due to the rains the points at which you had to cross the river on the path had become a bit deep.

We continued along the trek, and came across our first of the five tunnels on the way. Contrary to what we had imagined, the tunnels had enough space for one to stand beside even if a train were to pass through them while one were inside it. This is not advisable though, because as we found out during our return, the noise level can be deafeningly high.
We passed more tunnels, and soon sighted what seemed to be like a small railway station of sorts - which means a couple of house-like structures and a board, that is. I had seen this one up while googling, and though google said the place name was Sonalem, the yellow board proclaimed “Sonalium”. Desperate, we knocked in and asked the only guy we could find there if there was any way we could get five teas? Negative, he said, and told us there was no way you could get tea anywhere in the near vicinity. We encountered a couple of batches of guys on their return journey, who were visibly dejected when we told them Kulem was at least 9 kms away.
We went further along, and were soon rewarded with the first glimpse of the falls. Yes, the much famed view with the bridge in the foreground, narrowly visible as a blue line in the mist - Majestic. The first of the many Masha Allah moments.  This is the best I could salvage with my phone camera during rain, and in any case, for that close yet detailed shot that one gets to see in the forward mails, you need to have an SLR cam or a decent point and shoot at the least.
The thought that our destination was just around the turn made us cover the last two kms in no time, and by this time we could see a lot of other people. We got through the last tunnel before the falls and there it was – a sight more spectacular than we all had imagined at all. The good monsoon had helped in no less proportion to embellish the grandeur of the falls. We all gaped at each other for a good minute, spell bound, before breaking into a war dance that would have made any aborigine proud.

The falls is multi-tiered, and the railway bridge stands across the strip of land on either side of the falls, directly facing the falls. The falls in the first tier, just near to the railway bridge, causes the water to hit, explodes into a million droplets and hits you as a travelling aerial wave that soaks you.
I cannot describe enough the feeling when you stand on the bridge, facing the falls, and trying hard to catch a glimpse of the falls in between the spraying of the water droplets. Arms spread sideways, eyes closed, I stood, humbled and let myself the moment sink in. The droplets hit me wave after wave drenching me all over again and again, and it was as though they washed out all  the thoughts inside you one after the other like from top of a stack, with a growing sense of content, and all that was left was the basic underneath sensation that I was alive. And you realize how fulfilling a feeling it is. You are alive, you are experiencing that moment, and that is enough to be thankful for.
I am sure many people felt the same as me, because the place seemed to bond people in a strange way. On top of the bridge every random stranger you met exchanged smiles with you; maybe euphoria does that to people. And so did all the passengers of the Amaravati Express which happened to pass through while we were on the bridge. 
We spent around half an hour on the bridge, and then retreated to this small establishment where they sold tea and some assorted snacks. Tea, finally! After some more time of gazing at the falls from the other side of the bridge, we decided it was time to leave. We waited near the tunnel for some time for any freight trains going in the direction of Kulem to pass through, but none came. A guy who looked like he belonged to the place told us there was a train at 4:30 PM to Kulem, and we walked in the direction of DDS Railway Station. There was a very big crowd already gathered on the railway station for boarding the Goa Express, which was the last train to Castle Rock. The Station Master told us there were no train going in the direction of Kulem at 4:30, and that though freight trains did ply between in the route, he would not be able to guarantee when and if one would come at all (since they doesn’t follow a time table), and that it would be good for us to board this last train and either
- Alight at Castle Rock and ride our own luck in trying to get a taxi and then go via road to Kulem (around 35 kms)
- Alight at Londa station, a fairly big town, about an hour’s journey on train, and then get a taxi to return to Kulem ( around 60 kms)

In short, we were very much screwed. The Goa Express had only a stop time of about 2 minutes at the station, and there were already a lot of people swarming around. Walking back all the way was an option, but we were too tired for it. Also, thick fog was settling in, the route would be pitch-dark, and we didn’t know what else expected us on the route during night. A worker at the station guaranteed us there would be freight trains plying in the direction of Kulem, and another passenger who was a local concurred. So when Goa Express did finally come at around 5:30 we were too confused and undecided to take the trouble to board the train amongst all the din.
The Goa Express left, and by some miracle scooped up everyone but us on the station, all within about two minutes or so. We were pretty much the only ones left at the station then, and dejectedly walked to the signal board just after DDS Station where we all sat, huddled inside one umbrella, waiting for the miracle train to appear, even considering spending the night there in the open at that sequestered place. After waiting for a long time, the signal turned green, and to our dismay a freight train passed again in the direction of Castle Rock. We snapped, and decided to walk back all the way, come what may. When we passed the DDS station again, we again saw the worker guy who advised us to wait, and he strongly advised us against crossing the forest at the time, and guaranteed that a train would come sooner or later. Confused again and now resigning ourselves to whatever that may come in the way, we waited at the railway station for about 15 minutes, when the station master suddenly came and announced that he was expecting a freight train in the direction of Kulem in another 5 minutes.
Elated, and with new found strength in our legs, we ran for our lives to the signal board again. And there it was, the light beam, and I can think of only less moments of being more overjoyed than then.  We waved frantically to the engine driver (who was about to stop at the station anyways), and when he stopped, out of sheer relief I wanted to go inside his cabin and hug him, er.., in a non-homosexual way, of course. Some guys already aboard the train advised us to wait for the guard’s cabin to arrive, where in there may be space for everyone to stand but we were in no position to wait, and we all climbed up the engine cabin, and stood in the narrow walking space to the cabin. It was about 7:30 PM, and our miracle train had finally arrived.
The train stopped for a good 5 minutes at the station, and then started moving very slowly, and this was another new experience to pin on to the day’s adventure. It was getting dark, and from the train I realized how stupid it would have been had we decided to walk the way back. The only light was the flickering of hundreds of fireflies from in between the trees. The train moved very slowly, and I wished it had arrived a bit earlier, so that we could have enjoyed the ride and would have had a better view in the daylight. We reached Kulem at around 8:30, and reached our room in Madgaon at 10.

Later the next day, on the way to Jog Falls, while we were relishing the previous day’s experience in the car, while opining about how to best describe the experience to a third person, Faji said what I believe is the best way to describe it, which is that “There is no way to describe it. The best you can say to someone is to pack your bags, go and experience it for yourself. Its worth it.
That is what I have to say too. It’s not just my handicap in expressing something completely to words, but I believe even the best documenter would advise you the same. Choose a monsoon time; take your backpack and go. Railtrek from Kulem, experience the falls, and if you are lucky, get stranded too on your way back.


Apurba Dutta said...

This is one heck of a blog. Glad I encountered this. You have made my day.

rameez said...

Thank you!

EnJay Kay said...

i so enjoyed reading ur posts...dey r so rich in detail :) ma eyes did get tired aftr a while hehe ;) although u dont seem to hav written nythin in a while...?

rameez said...

Thank you. Yeah I was bored of not posting anything here, so I bought my own domain, setup a blog there and started not posting there. Its fun.