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.
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.
e 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.