Going green in Goa
The haunting beauty of Chapora fort and Vagator beach makes it one of the best places to visit in Goa in the monsoon. There are other forts as well which are great but Chapora definitely makes it to the top of the list when it’s cloudy and beautiful. Though Goa is most famous for its beaches, it is a hilly state, with the Sahyadri hills of the Western Ghats extending about 125 km along the state’s border with Karnataka and Maharashtra. Covered with tropical evergreen and moist deciduous forests, the Western Ghats are beautiful during the rains with impressive waterfalls, seasonal streams and blooming vegetation.
Take a lengthy siesta, or a rainy walk along the beach. If there’s adventure on your mind then hike up to Fort Chapora (of Dil Chahta Hai Fame) and watch raindrops crashing into the ocean. If it’s relaxation you’re after, then sit on your balcony and enjoy the rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book. Having arrived in Goa during the monsoon, we headed north from the airport to the hilly area of Baga-Arpora. The next morning, as it was not raining, we walked out of our resort to the Baga river. The rains bring out the birds. The first bird in the morning was an Asian Paradise Flycatcher, a beautiful silvery white and metallic blue bird with trailing feathers, which flew fairy-like between the branches.
The walk continued through lush green countryside with excellent bird sightings - Purple-rumped and Loten’s Sunbirds – and brilliantly coloured birds flitted among flowers feeding on nectar using their long down-curved beaks, reed warblers moved among the riverside grasses, a Greenish Warbler was creeping up a bush, a Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker worked its way up the trunk of a tree in jerky spirals. Kingfishers were abundant near the river - we saw a White-throated Kingfisher on a wire, a Black-capped Kingfisher, with its velvety head shining in the morning sunlight, perched on a branch over the water, a Pied Kingfisher hovered over the river for a few minutes before diving onto a fish with wings held on its sides. Brahminy Kites and March Harriers were flying low over the marshes, and we saw a Black Eagle hovering way above us. In a wooded patch away from the road, we saw a flock of Plum-headed Parakeet, an aptly-named Golden Oriole, and a Flower-pecker. Further ahead, we could see green hills.
After breakfast, we set off east for the hilly region of the Bicholim and Sattari talukas that are barely known to tourists. Presently we came to the Mayem Lake set among woods. We watched kingfishers and herons fishing in the lake before heading west to Valpoi, on a road winding through picturesque countryside with pineapple and areca palm plantations.
This part of Goa posseses some of the most glorious scenery of green valleys, waterfalls and cashew bushes. From here, we drove to a forested area near Valpoi with a view of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in the Mandovi river basin which is part of a Global Biodiversity Hotspot – the sanctuary is declared an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International and is considered an area of high Endemism by Conservation International. From the smallest to the largest of butterflies, huge moths, mantids, nymphs, the insect fauna here is also diverse. We watched thrushes, hornbills and other birds in this area, and also spotted a vine snake on a tree branch.
From this forested area, we drove to Sanquelim. This area was occupied by Shivaji’s Maratha armies in the 1660s and he ordered the building of temples like the Sri Saptakoteshwar, which has a lamp tower and a five-pillared hall with arches, paintings, chandeliers and a polished lingam. This area also has the Nazamgarh Mosque. Sanquelim’s main attraction is its 19th century Datta Temple and the rebuilt medieval Vithal Temple. Turning east from here, we came to the waterfall at Arvalem which is impressive during the monsoon. Shaded by rocks and hills, this waterfall is formed by the end of a gorge and is barely visible till you actually reach them. Since the river was in spate during the rainy period when we visited, the waterfall was magnificent. Walking around, we enjoyed the greenery with its palms, banana trees and other vegetation.
Near the falls, the driver took us to see a cluster of five rock-cut temples hewn out of laterite rock in the third to sixth century AD, probably as Buddhist monastic caves, with the chaitya and vihara layout, a fact ratified by ‘historical finds in this hilly area but they are now worshipped as Shaivite cave temples, with granite lingams. The local people call these Pandava Gufa, as they believe the Pandava heroes of the Mahabharata lived here during their exile. This area also has historical Jain temples.
After a Goan lunch at a local, no-frills place, we headed south to Backwoods Camp at Tambdi Surla. Owned by a birdwatcher, Quipelieo, this camp has tents set in forests. Quipelieo showed us birds at the camp like a pair of Sri Lankan frogmouth, an Indian pitta and a scops owl. The next morning after breakfast, we walked from the camp to Tambdi Surla Mahadev Temple. This Shiva temple was built in the 12th-13th century period when Goa was ruled by the Kadamba dynasty and is the oldest structural temple surviving in Goa. The fine reliefs and sculptures on the shikhara roof include Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with their respective consorts. The temple is in a compound with trees where we saw hornbills, barbets and pigeons foraging on the fruits. The highlight was a Malabar trogon which is an absolutely superb looking bird, brilliantly coloured and with a long, truncated tail.
Since the weather was still clear, we hired a jeep to visit the Molem forests, much of which is now the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. This sanctuary is home to a variety of wildlife, including leopard, Indian bison, giant squirrel and a variety of birds. The driver took us into the sanctuary where we saw a group of Indian bison and a family of wild boar. Having our fill of wildlife, we continued in the jeep towards the Dudhsagar Waterfalls, one of the top attractions in the state. These spectacular waterfalls are among the highest in India, dropping about 600 metre along the face of the cliff. The fall gets its name, which means the River of Milk, from the white foam created by the force of the cascade as it drops in tiers, forming frothy pools on the way. The waterfalls are awesome in the rainy season. Trekking is a popular activity at Dudhsagar Falls and there are four trekking routes you can take to reach the falls. There are two abandoned shelters for the benefit of trekkers. Do carry drinking water and medication. You can also glimpse the falls from passing trains.
Returning to Molem where we had a quick lunch, we drove west to the Bondla Sanctuary, which has a zoo. Trails in the forests are excellent for butterfly and bird spotting. We also saw a giant squirrel leaping among the trees.
From Bondla, we travelled to the Priol -Ponda Road in Goa’s midlands, which are thick with plantations. Some of the spice plantations, like Tropical, Savoi and Sahakari, offer garden tours. Various spices, herbs and fruits are grown in the plantation like Cashews, Cloves, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Nutmeg, Ginger and Pepper. The tour usually ends with watching men swinging among the areca palms to harvest betel nuts, but this was not possible in the wet weather. After your tour, you can enjoy a delicious, traditional Goan Saraswat meal.