A trek to DOODH SAGAR between Karnataka and Goa
Away from the pristine beaches, Gothic churches that unfold the grandiose of erstwhile Portuguese era, not all are aware of Goa’s rich and bounteous flora and fauna. Predominately relegated to lesser ranks during the rainy season, many tourists debunk places around Goa stating ‘off season’. But for any adventure freak, the touted ‘off season’ in Goa unfolds a sequence of destinations which would test their endurance on par with any other adventure locations in India.
Gifted with the bounteous wealth of nature, Goa boasts of rich natural vegetation. Sandwiched between the Arabian sea and lofty Western Ghats, the eastern areas of Goa within the jurisdiction of Sanguem, Ponda, Canacona are often compared with the tropical forest of Amazon and Cango for their rich biodiversity. The rainy season or the sidelined ‘off season’ unveils the sylvan beauty of Goan forests. Though not easy to explore, the forest areas with steep valleys, thick fog and heavy rains sets up a perfect ambiance for the seasoned rain trek for trekkers.
Rain trek, even though not as popular as any other packages of Goan tourism, is a refreshing experience to encounter the wilderness from a close quarter and the cheapest means of enjoying the nature in Goa. Trekking along the Konkan railway lane cutting might hills and thick vegetation, offers you the guided way to a certain level. Pitch dark railway tunnels spanning several kilometers, pounding rains all through the trek, chilling weather, unique wildlife and bewitching beauty of water falls will charge you with an utmost energy level.
Perched amidst the Bhagwan Mahaveer wildlife sanctuary the Doodh Sagar water falls, which is around 60 kms from the Goan capital Panaji and 30 kms from Margao. Cascading from a height of 600 ft in three different phases, the Doodh Sagar falls is said to be the boundary between Karnataka and Goa. Like any other falls in the Southern plateau, Doodh Sagar too treats you with exquisite charms in its full flux especially during monsoon and post monsoon. The beauty of the falls, similar to the idyllic Eden basking atop lofty mountain cliffs, appears like a stream of milk converging deep inside the earth amidst lush green forest from a distance.
Provided with relatively good infrastructure, the falls is well linked by road and rail network. However, for any trekkers, the rail lane offers a memorable experience. People often trek to the falls in two different routes. A few find it easy to trek from Madgaon (Goa) side while a few wish to trek from the Castle Rock (Karnataka) the last railway station from Karnataka side. But trekkers starting from Madgaon will have better advantage over others in capturing the beauty of the falls as they trek parallel to the falls from a distance spanning a few kilometers. Be prepared to save yourself from leeches and sliding hillocks.
Frequent trains plying between Belgaum and Madgaon will drop you close to the trek route. Starting from Madgaon side, trekkers begin their ardous trek from the Sonalim station which is around 15 km before the Doodh Sagar station and 10 km before the falls. The stretch interspersed with railway tunnels, passing by streams, tall trees of evergreen rain forest and heavy rains will make you run for the cover. Braving the odds till a considerable distance will lead you to makeshift huts of railway gang men. Hailing from the native hamlets around by, these workers will explain you the ‘folk tale’ which lent the name ‘Doodh Sagar’ to the falls.
According to these men, a powerful king lived atop the mountains of Western Ghats along the Goan frontier. His palace was built with pure ivory and embellished with precious stones and beautiful gardens of exotic flowers. Towards the end of the forest which marked the boundary of his palace, there was a huge lake used by the princess for bathing. The princess while bathing had the habit of sipping sugared milk served to her in a golden kettle. Once, while she was bathing in the lake a prince of the neighbouring kingdom passed by and stopped at the lake after hearing chuckling voices. Noticing his presence the princess poured the entire milk into the lake to shield her body from the glances of the stranger! The lake water mixed with the Sugared milk by the humble princess till falling down as a cascading stream of milk or Doodh Sagar!
Whether you believe it or not. But the tale by the locals will take you to a different world and thus further enriching your trek. A few people will also introduce you to medicinal herbs and plants available around. A few species of aromatic plants and creeps will catch you by surprise. But for nature’s sake do not pluck them but enjoy the aroma and beauty. Further, an hour trek from the shelters of gang men will bring you right under the falls! But all along the way whenever the forest canopy opens you to broad daylight, the view of the falls transforms to be a large canvas for the shutterbugs. Click as much as you want, till your camera card goes full! If you are lucky enough the passing by trains on the backdrop of falls atop the tall bridge will get you the frame of your life.
But once you reach the falls, keep away all the optical instruments, accessories etc safely wrapped in polythene. Because your enjoyment and ecstasy should not inflict you with huge losses. Two watch towers one in front of the falls and another next to the falls will cover you from getting drenched. However, if you are determined to get drenched then be careful and stand on the tracks while keep your ears open to the chugging sound of train from either side. Get drenched till you are satisfied. Once you are done with water exercises, sit at a crucial point enjoy the cascading beauty and unknowingly your mind will be engulfed in the myth you had listened to initially.
Though there is no hospitality services around, the station master house at the Doodh Sagar station will offer you some respite. You will get a few cups of tea and crispy local cookies with which you could ward off the chilling cold for a while. Catch a train towards either the Castle Rock or Madgaon and board the train without any ticket as the Doodh Sagar station does not have ticketing facility. Travel free of cost upto Kulem towards Goa or Castle Rock towards Belgaum and then buy a ticket. Despite the single conectivity through rail lanes, the popularity of the falls especially during rainy season, has spread across just by the teams of trekkers who visit every year.
Photos: Manjunatha Swamy M and Niranjan Kaggere